August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4
By Tom Jennings
One of the largest hurdles many independent flooring retailers face is how to stand apart from the crowd. Promotional budgets are often insufficient to make a significant impact in our local media. The products we sell are perceived to be largely the same. No matter the size of the showroom, consumers are likely to see the same handful of brand names represented in each of them. That begs the question: How can your firm stand out in the customer’s mind when she is ready to make a purchase decision?
The short answer is to be proactive in your approach. Determine where your real strengths lie. Focus heavily on proprietary offerings that other firms may have difficulty competing with. Every flooring business should be doing something outstanding. (If yours is not, stop reading and begin your going-out-of-business sale immediately. Mediocrity in all areas of your business will not lead to a happy ending.)
So, what are your firm’s unique attributes? Let’s examine a few possibilities:
Facility. Is there something about your location that is outstanding? Is it in a historic area? Is parking plentiful? Is it easy to shop for those who are physically challenged? Does it have unique color or design characteristics? Is it adjacent to any landmarks?
Offerings. Do you feature any distinctive brands that aren’t available elsewhere in your market? Do you have a group affiliation? Do you have unique product warranties? Are you open convenient hours? Are you locally owned? Is an owner or manager available at all times? Do you sponsor or participate in local charities or initiatives? Is your showroom well accessorized?
In-store staff. Does your staff dress fashionably? (No aprons, please.) Do they offer any particular areas of expertise or any specific training? Do they have design degrees or any particular amount of experience or tenure with your company?
Estimating. Do you use employed estimators? (Many large firms use a third-party service. The results are often impersonal.) Do your estimators have an installation background? Almost anyone can measure a room. Do not confuse measuring with being able to analyze situations unique to each job. Examples could be: sub-floor conditions, moisture testing, transitions to adjoining surfaces, etc. This can be a very effective differentiator from the competition.
Installation. Do you offer installation warranties? Are your installers background checked and drug screened? (Security is an important issue. Customers want to know you are aware of who is in their homes.) Are you able to perform large installations in a timely manner? Are you willing to perform “odd-hour” installations? Do your installers possess any special industry certifications or documentable special training?
There are many factors that enter into a customer’s decision of where to purchase other than price alone. To succeed in today’s retail climate, independent dealers must perform well in those areas where the chain stores have difficulty executing. Place your focus on segments where you can excel. Simply having the lowest price is not always the answer. Now, more than ever, customers are looking for a business they can trust. While a competitive price is important, we will all pay a little more—if deemed necessary—for uniqueness and peace of mind.
Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.