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Lisbiz strategies: How to avoid common social media missteps

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Social media is like any other advertising medium—it requires thought and may seem overwhelming at first. It really isn’t difficult but starts with a basic understanding of your business and what you’re trying to achieve. If getting more customers and making more money is what you’re after, social media is the medium. It’s today’s marketing tool and can help you achieve what you’re after.

But like anything else, you need a good plan to execute it properly. Here are some simple steps and pitfalls to look out for:

Know your customers. You’ve heard this before—not all customers are the “right” customers. You want the ones that will increase your profit, not put you out of business. Decide which customers you’re after and determine where they hang out. How do you know? Ask your customers what types of social media they use. I don’t know any businesses that actually talk with their customers about their social media preferences. Only your customers can tell you which social media will work best for you.

Hire a professional. Sure, any 14-year-old can set up your social media sites and teach you how to use them. But please don’t put them in charge of posting, etc., unless they have a marketing degree and understand the flooring customer.

Review Google’s article on “The Zero Moment of Truth.” This article is from 2011 and explains the customer and the customer’s journey to your store. There are several updates on the article, but it will explain the customer’s route and how you can interrupt her journey. The key is to steer them to your store before someone else gets them.

Understand the value of blogging. I’m tired of hearing owners say, ‘I don’t want to blog,’ or ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ Here is why blogs work: they keep you and your customer connected, build deeper relationships and allow you to talk with them without being intrusive. Write about things that interest you. If you have a good barbecue recipe, post it on your blog. You will be surprised how many people will send you their recipes. After reviewing “The Zero Moment of Truth,” you will understand why you have to blog. If you don’t understand how and why it works, give me a call.

Be consistent. You can’t post one week and then post three months later. Social media is a way to develop friendships and takes time and consistency to continue to build the relationships.

Get inspiration from other businesses. Once you’ve looked at all your competitors, venture out to other businesses you admire. Who in your city does great business? More importantly, where do they post? What specifically do they post? Choose one and look at what posts get them the most comments. Do they hold contests or do “live” broadcasting? What about videos? What do they post that inspires you? Find a business you think does a good job, follow them and sign up for their blogs.

Create a calendar and stick to it. This way you won’t forget the holidays as well as important events such as “The Red Dress Month,” or Mother’s Day. You can add to it but start with the basics.

Expand your audience. Try using Facebook targeting options and other related campaigns.

Use great images. We all love videos and photos. Don’t forget to include your pets.

 

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Lessons learned: How to leverage your proprietary offerings

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.

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Retailer2retailer: What keeps you awake on Sunday nights?

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Scott Perron

 

With the exception of a four-year stint in corporate America, I have owned my own flooring businesses since 1993. During that time there have been hundreds of occasions where I have spent my Sunday nights contemplating what’s ahead and how to make positive changes in our business over the coming week.

One of the benefits of being a small business is—unlike a corporate ship that takes a long time to turn—most smaller businesses are nimble and able to move like a speed boat to stay ahead of the curve as the industry transitions. The present time is no exception with all of the movement in sourcing of new products, newly imposed tariffs and volatility in the supply chain.

We have spent the last several weeks explaining to all our clients, particularly the pros we serve, what effect these corrections mean to their product offering and the costs associated with them. Each day we get multiple inquiries to explain price hikes and product availability as countless orders are now being met with a back-order status. Many of our contractors are in a pickle as costs have risen sharply with minimal notice. And although most of their contracts allow for unforeseen price increases, it is still a difficult conversation with the end-line consumer. It forces them to spend more time redoing the project selections as people scramble to offset higher prices by changing their first choices.

Make no mistake—I really do not care what side of the political aisle we talk about as these changes are a reality and their effects must be dealt with. It’s a simple fact that when things cost more people can afford less, so we need to adjust our operations to accept these modifications. Remember, these cost variances do not apply only to flooring but everything that is imported from regions bearing the tariff. Price increases have extended to most building products, and freight is a moving target as well.

In the wake of these revisions, luxury vinyl plank has morphed with most suppliers moving toward manufacturing SPC vs. WPC. This approach allows the cost of material to be reduced while maintaining structural integrity, waterproof features and styling that is acceptable to the consumer.

We make it a point to physically shop our competitors on a quarterly basis and make notes of the differences we observe. Recently, while cruising one of our most formidable foes, I noticed it had moved the vast majority of its LVP line-up to SPC technology and in fact had effectively increased its profit margins while appearing to have lowered its costs at the consumer level. Although this company is a “big ship,” it had adjusted its offering in less than six months to stay ahead. Immediately following this visit I shopped two larger retailers within earshot of this big box and found they had not changed anything about their showroom, marketing or product focus in years.

Over the course of my career, a man much smarter than I am taught me the value of continuing to model ourselves after the most successful operators. Most business owners don’t anticipate changes fast enough and often bury their head in the sand, while progressive companies take advantage of their shortcomings.

Take a moment on Sunday night to contemplate your business, review feedback, anticipate change, measure, manage and then make a move to keep your business on the right track.

 

Scott Perron is the president of 24-7 Floors and Floor4Pros based in Sarasota, Fla. He is also an industry trainer and motivational speaker. He can be reached at scott@24-7floors.com or 860.250.1733.

 

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Al’s column: Ins and outs of concrete subfloor prep

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Lauren Picard

 

(Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.)

We have all been there. You show up to a job, ready to perform a quick walk-through with the general contractor or property owner when you realize you’re standing on a dirty, neglected concrete floor that desperately needs your help. Now what?

How you handle the concrete at this stage will directly affect the finished floor. Oftentimes, surface preparation is subbed out to a contractor that specializes in this type of work. But, what if you didn’t have to sub out this work? You could turn this job into a profitable opportunity for your team and business. There are a couple of things that should always be considered on a jobsite when dealing with a concrete subfloor: concrete hardness, moisture emissions and the desired concrete surface profile.

The very first step when performing a jobsite walk-through is to test your concrete slab for its hardness and moisture readings. Concrete hardness should be tested before a job starts to ensure you have the correct tooling to get your job done effectively. The most common test to perform during your walk-through is called the “Mohs Hardness Test.” It’s a scratch test kit with eight points to help determine the strength of your substrate and help you choose the correct abrasive for the job.

It’s also important to consider moisture readings before beginning a job to prevent future flooring failures caused by moisture in an existing slab. A relative humidity (RH) test will measure moisture readings below the surface for the most accurate readings deep in a slab. Another popular way to evaluate moisture is the calcium chloride test, which is used to test vapor emissions rates (MVER) coming through the surface of the slab. Hardness and moisture test results are critical to successfully winning bids and understanding the condition of a floor.

Once your tests are complete and your tools chosen, you’re ready to prep your concrete slab. One of the most underrated steps to installing a floor system is achieving the correct surface profile or “CSP” (the current condition of the concrete substrate, including its texture and roughness) for the job at hand. Note: When you profile a concrete sur- face, you are removing impurities from that surface to achieve a cleaner floor. There are multiple ways to profile a concrete floor—the most popular method being shot blasting. Often specified in bids as a CSP 3, the shot blaster offers the cleanest profile of all tooling options and does a wide range of profile finishes by adjusting the shot size. Another option for profiling concrete surfaces is diamond grinding. The planetary grinder is a great multi-use tool with the ability to remove mastic, prep concrete and polish a concrete floor. These grinders come with a wide variety of tooling options ranging from extremely aggressive abrasives meant to cut through the cap of a slab to incredibly fine resins for refining and finishing a polished floor.

Both surface prep options come in various sizes. Smaller equipment is best suited for residential and small commercial use due to the weight of the units and the limited electrical availability on these jobs. Larger units offer higher production rates for commercial and industrial jobs where heavier units and more power are required.

In the next installment, I will discuss the steps required to fully polish a concrete floor and provide various options to consider for your newly prepped surface.

 

Lauren Picard is national concrete outbound sales manager for Jon Don, which manufactures concrete shavers, scarifiers, shotblasters and grinders. She has nearly 10 years’ experience working alongside contractors and distributors implementing proper profiling and floor leveling throughout the industry.

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Marketing mastery: 15 sure-fire strategies to win customers

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

There was once a chiropractor who built up a million-dollar-per-year practice. He sold his business and quickly built another million-dollar practice. Then he did it a third time. Obviously, this man had a system for building successful chiropractic operations. So, he began to host seminars teaching other chiropractors how to grow their businesses. After almost every seminar someone would approach him and ask, “I need a way to get 50 new clients a month.” To which the million-dollar chiropractor would reply, “I don’t know one way to get 50 new clients a month; I know 50 ways to get one new client a month, and I do all 50.”

This is the exact kind of thinking you need to apply to your flooring business. Too many dealers fall prey to “silver-bullet” thinking. They are hoping to find that one strategy or social media/website platform that will solve all of their customer acquisition problems. Or, they get approached by a marketing company offering lead-generation services, SEO or pay-per-click, and they become seduced by the idea that this company’s product will generate all the customers they need.

The key to having a thriving business is to implement marketing and business systems. Following are 15 marketing strategies to get (at least) one new customer per month:

1. Market to your past customers consistently. The most effective way I’ve found to do this is with a monthly printed newsletter and a weekly e-newsletter. You can touch your list this often if in your communication you use the 90/10 formula: 90% fun, informative, welcome, entertaining content and 10% flooring subject matter.

2. Print extra newsletters each month and give them to walk-ins.

3. Subscribe all the businesses within six blocks of your store to your newsletter.

4. Wear shoe covers during in-home measures.

5. Five-around strategy: When you install flooring in a customer’s home, leave a promotional door hanger with their two neighbors on either side and the three across the street.

6. Follow up with every prospect every few days until they give you a yes or no.

7. Hand every walk-in a beverage menu and ask them what they’d like to drink.

8. Welcome packs for walk-ins: Have professional folders printed up and inside include your latest newsletter, customer testimonials and your guaran- tees and warranties.

9. When you do an in-home measure, give the prospect a free bottle of spotter with free lifetime refills.

10. Take photos of your customers standing on their new floors. Post the photos on your Facebook and Instagram page along with a testimonial.

11. Put a review campaign in place so every customer is automatically asked to review your business online.

12. Stream reviews on your website.

13. Record short video testimonials from your customers. Post them on your website.

14. Post video testimonials on social media.

15. Implement a system to generate referrals from every installation.

 

Jim is the founder and President of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with digital and offline marketing services, and coaching to equip dealers to make more money, work fewer hours and get their lives back. For information visit FlooringSuccessSystems.com.

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Eye on installation: Putting concrete polishing education front and center

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By John McGrath

Along with the growth in popularity of concrete polishing, there is an increasing need for proper training and education on the subject. INSTALL is leading the charge in developing and implementing a comprehensive concrete polishing curriculum by working hand-in-hand with manufacturers, contractors and industry influencers to craft a new curriculum based on real-world challenges.

INSTALL’s ever-evolving curriculum is designed to adapt to trends in the flooring industry—and polished concrete is one of the biggest growth opportunities in the market. This is illustrated by two recent training events held in conjunction with leading voices and authorities on concrete polishing. The events entailed an apprentice course held at the Thomas C. Ober Carpenters Training Center in Hammonton, N.J., and a three-day roundtable at the Carpenters International Training Center (CITC) in Las Vegas.

The Thomas C. Ober Carpenters Training Center is home to a wide variety of education and training, and it serves a unique role in preparing the future tradesmen and women of New Jersey. Earlier this year, INSTALL leadership gathered at the center to observe an apprentice concrete polishing class. The 40-hour course, which is required for students to complete their apprenticeship, covers vocabulary, industry news, machines, tooling, chemicals and processes. It also illustrates the evolution of concrete polishing methods and some of the latest trends in the industry. In addition to the classroom portion, students received intensive, hands-on training.

Jennifer Faller of Concrete Insite, a well-respected independent technical consultant in the concrete industry, was the guest of honor during the February event. She helped lead the course and brought a wealth of real-world experience and a tremendous amount of technical knowledge to the classroom.

“Faller’s passion and energy were contagious, and the apprentices were impressed by her attention to detail,” said David Gross, INSTALL instructor. “Her experience in concrete construction, manufacturing and installation allowed her to really connect with the students and provide unique insights.”

Gross and Faller also worked with the apprentices to complete a five-step wet polish, finishing with a 3000-grit resin. The edges were also completed with a coordinating grit.

“As an instructor, it’s always satisfying to see the class transform from no knowledge of polishing concrete to having specialized, marketable polished concrete installation skills,” Gross said. “By working as a team and showing initiative, they are able to build their skill set together.”

Faller played such an integral part in the success of the apprentice class that INSTALL invited her to join a dozen other concrete industry professionals for the roundtable working session at the CITC in Las Vegas. The group discussed the future of INSTALL’s polished concrete curriculum and provided insight into hands-on training components of the course.

“The curriculum development session was a highly professional, well-run and organized experience,” Faller stated. “It was a great use of time, and people gave respect and attention to the curriculum advisors. This is something that is lacking in our industry.”

While the curriculum is only 75% complete, INSTALL has made great strides in this effort. The group is aiming for a late 2019 release.

 

John McGrath, Jr., is executive director at INSTALL, the International Standards and Training Alliance. The association comprises professionals representing the entire flooring industry: installers, contractors, manufacturers, associations and consultants.

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Installments: He who fails to prepare prepares to fail

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Amy Johnston

 

Recently at an industry dinner I was embarrassingly reminded that I need to stay current with manufacturer installation instructions.

I am not sure how the topic came about exactly, but I was mentioning that at our shop we charge considerably more money to install one manufacturer’s product over the same type of product made by others. When I was asked the reason why, I explained it was because of an extra installation step/instruction. This extra step was not a part of other manufacturers’ instructions and was called out by this manufacturer to maintain its warranty. Unbeknownst to me, that manufacturer recently removed that installation step from its instructions, as it was no longer required to keep the warranty in force.

Sitting like a deer caught in proverbial headlights, I wondered when did this happen? Why hadn’t my local distributor told us about the change? My colleagues were quick to point out the change had been communicated in an industry publication. Industry publication? Which one? After all, who has the time to read every article in all of them?

That night I discovered I need to make more time. If I can’t, then I am not being a responsible project manager. The biggest responsibility I have as a certified installation manager is to convey all of the details of a job to our installers. The work order delivered to our installers is “the bible” for that job. They all have the minimum of the following information:

•Job name and address
•Jobsite contact
•Job delivery instructions and locations
•Pre-task safety documents
•SDS
•A detailed copy of all of the materials and tools provided and delivered for the job
•Detailed scope of work
•Detailed plans with installation direction and method highlighted
•Housekeeping and disposal instructions

That night at the banquet table I realized I had failed my installers when it comes to the installation details. Do I feel that product changes, adhesive requirement changes, prep requirement changes, installation method/step changes should be communicated to a contractor via local distributor and manufacturer representatives? Yes. Are they? Not often enough. Local reps are quick to push new products, yet changes to the older products are rarely communicated.

These are products we may have been installing for decades. These are products I would rarely look up any information on as we have been installing them for years and know what we are doing, right?

That night I was humbly put in my place. I was embarrassed as I realized I have been doing a disservice to not only myself but my installers. I now realize I must look up and review the installation instructions for all products our shop installs. I also realized I need to read industry publications regularly.

Whether the information comes from a local industry representative, website, publication, conference or at a dinner table is not important. What is important is the information is out there, and responsible project managers should take the necessary steps to be informed and stay at the top of their game. I wasn’t, and I needed a reminder.

Amy Johnston is a project estimator and project manager for Flooring Services, Inc. A certified installation manager (CIM), she sits on the board of directors for the FCICA education and training and membership committees, and she also chairs the CIM steering committee for the FCICA.

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Marketing mastery: Differentiate yourself by being unconventional

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

Earl Nightingale, the late author, speaker and radio host, wrote: “Watch what everyone else does. Then do the opposite. The majority is always wrong.”

Most of the sales, marketing and differentiation strategies I teach flooring dealers break convention. I do this because unconventional strategies offer the biggest return on investment for dealers who have the courage to implement them. Some of these benefits include: creating differentiation from competitors; commanding high margins; long-term customer loyalty; increased referrals and market share; and a business that stands the test of time.

The only way to achieve extraordinary results is to do the extraordinary. After all, how are you going to create differentiation, command higher margins than your competitors and create long-term customer loyalty if you follow industry norms or simply copy what’s going on around you?

Almost everyone says they want to be different. But when presented with strategies that are truly different than anything inside our industry, some flooring dealers recoil out of fear or discomfort. Case in point: I recently spoke at an industry event on three proven, but unconventional, strategies flooring dealers I work with have used to create differentiation, attract customers and sell at high margins.

To demonstrate the power of embracing these strategies, I presented case studies, including:

•A dealer from Florida who increased his revenue by 50% multiple years in a row.

•Two different dealers from Illinois who brought their businesses back from the brink of bankruptcy and are now thriving.

•A dealer from Texas who stays booked out for six to 12 weeks, with customers happy to wait one or two months because they only want to work with him.

Most of the attendees seemed open-minded and excited about the impact these unconventional approaches could have on their businesses. But there were a couple of store owners who weren’t convinced. During the Q&A one asked, “How does the dealer from Texas get customers to wait that long for their flooring? I don’t see customers waiting for weeks to have flooring installed.”

This attendee had just sat through a 90-minute session where I outlined exactly how the dealer created differentiation from competitors by using unconventional sales and marketing techniques. I reminded him that the Texas dealer cultivated differentiation in his business, and as a result his clients were willing to wait because they saw him as being totally different.

Two of my coaching clients also happened to be in the audience. They told the audience, because of these unconventional strategies, their customers were also willing to wait six weeks.

The same dealer shook his head, stating: “Customers just aren’t going to wait that long.” Even with all this evidence, he refused to believe it was possible. After all, conventional thinking says you have to install the customer’s floors right now or she’ll run off to Home Depot.

Some dealers left the event determined to implement the unconventional strategies they had learned. The first dealer left firmly ensconced in his conventional thinking. Who do you think is more likely to make real improvements in their business over the next 12 months?

 

Jim Armstrong specializes in providing turnkey marketing strategies for flooring retailers. For a free copy of his latest book, “How Floor Dealers Can Beat the Boxes Online,” visit BeatTheBoxesOnline.com.

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Lessons learned: The pitfalls of relying on email proposals

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Tom Jennings

 

We’ve all had our share of the “I’ll-be-back” type of customer. One thing we know for sure is that time was wasted during the presentation phase in the showroom. Question is, did the salesperson waste the customer’s time by being uninformed or unprepared? Or, did the customer waste the salesperson’s time by being something less than forthcoming with her wishes and budget constraints? Regardless of who was to blame, both the salesperson and their employer lose.

Today’s floor covering sales- person has a modern-day form of the “I’ll-be-back” response; it’s called an email proposal. Are you one of those sellers who graciously agree to email your prospect the proposal? You know the scenario: Your prospect wants to “think about it” and will call you in a few days. As time passes, however, you can’t seem to get him or her on the phone to discuss the proposal. There the opportunity languishes, lingering in your pending file while you try to figure out the best way to re-establish communication.

Don’t get me wrong: It is perfectly fine to email proposals to established customers who already have a relationship with you. Oftentimes they will accept your call and discuss their thoughts willingly. But with cold prospects, it is a shot in the dark whether you will hear from them again. Emails are the electronic “be back” of today. So although you want to be accommodating with a new prospect, I feel this is a time to push back.

Look at presenting proposals as another opportunity for you to get in front of new prospects and continue building their trust in both you and your offerings. If at all possible, you need to be there in person to review the needs discussed, present your solutions to address these needs, point out the financial details, answer any questions or objections that may arise, etc.

Without this personal conversation, you have no way of knowing if they’ll remember your previous discussions or jump to incorrect conclusions. When your prospect requests that you “just email me your proposal,” push back. Say something to the effect of: “Mrs. Smith, I believe it would be in both of our best interests if you will allow me a few minutes to walk you through the proposal. We’ve discussed a number of different products and their applications. I want to be sure we both fully understand each other’s thoughts so any questions you may have can be resolved before any work commences rather than afterwards. Let’s go ahead and find a time that will work on your calendar to get this accomplished.”

Let me clarify what I mean by “presenting the proposal in person.” You don’t actually have to be on site with the prospect if time or distance is an issue. What’s critical is that you review it together, voice-to-voice. If you aren’t going to be on site, email the proposal 10-15 minutes before the meeting. This will allow enough time for the prospect to review your proposal, but not enough to “shop it around.”

Adopting this strategy will allow you to continue to build trust in a prospect’s eyes. She will see you as being interested in her as a person rather than just a client. At the meeting’s conclusion, you can either close the sale or determine the next appropriate steps to be taken.

 

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.

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Al’s column: Covering all the bases with sign-off sheets

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Lou Morano

 

(Editor's note: This is the third installment in a multi-part series.)

Many retailers have had to deal with customer complaints over the course of doing business. Perhaps you had a client who though her carpet was defective because there are pulls in it. Or she’s looking for monetary compensation because of the mess your installers made when you ripped out her old ceramic tile flooring to make way for the new materials. “No one told me this was going to happen” is the common response from the consumer.

We all could come up with dozens of other complaints from customers on things that are just normal and customary for the products and services we provide as flooring retailers. Over the years, my sales associates have been diligent in trying to manage our customers’ expectations by letting them know what could—and probably will—happen, yet we still receive complaints. The customer will often claim the salesperson never told her, which could be the case because it would be very difficult to cover all the scenarios verbally.

So how do you address this issue? Over the years we have utilized “sign-off sheets,” documents that aim to cover normal and customary expectations of product performance as well as scenarios that are inherent with the product they purchased. For instance, when we’re on a job that entails a hard surface removal we have a specific document that states the items we normally cover with plastic, and we advise customers on what they need to remove from the area to limit exposure to dust. We also inform the homeowner that the area will likely need to be cleaned after the job is done.

Every product category has its own sheet that must be signed. The sheets are self-explanatory and cover almost all bases. We’ve found this process has drastically reduced customer complaints. First, we educate the customer at the time of purchase to manage her expectations. Second, when a customer states, “I was never told…” we refer to the sheet she signed showing she was indeed properly informed.

Of course, as a retailer who is customer-service oriented, we always do what it takes to satisfy the customer. In the past this has cost us money and eaten into the profits for the job. But now that we’ve implemented sign-off sheets, when there is a situation that is clearly no fault of our own—or the manufacturer—we’ll still take care of it, but at the consumer’s expense.

A perfect example is our sign-off sheet for carpet installations, which states that “seam placement will be at Capitol Carpet’s discretion unless specifically indicated on the signed contract.” During a recent job, we installed a patterned carpet on steps and in a hallway. The consumer wanted the carpet to run in a different direction than we laid it, and she insisted that we change it at our expense. We explained that we did it the correct way and showed her the signed sign-off sheet. She argued she wasn’t home when we measured, and that her husband signed the contract and sign-off sheet. We explained that we are not responsible for lack of communication between her and her husband, but we would replace the carpet at her expense. She agreed.

Bottom line: Our salespeople can’t realistically come up with every possible scenario for product performance/expectations, nor can they come up with all possible installation scenarios. With these sign-off sheets customers are educated, they have realistic expectations of the project and/or products and they have proper maintenance guidelines.

 

Lou Morano started selling carpet for a major retailer at the age of 19 in 1981. In 1985 he and his father incorporated Capitol Carpet and opened their first full-service retail store in 1986. Today Morano operates five retail stores, including a commercial division, under the name Capitol Carpet & Tile and Window Fashions.