April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23
By Lisbeth Calandrino
A flooring retailer recently told me she couldn’t understand why customers weren’t coming to her store. “Don’t they know I have the best prices, and that I’ve been here 20 years?” she asked. “We only get the cheap customers.”
The movie, “Field of Dreams” memorialized the saying, “Build it and they will come.” That was nothing more than a line in a movie, but it doesn’t mean the customer equivalent of Shoeless Joe Jackson is going to show up. We’re already overbuilt with retail space and restaurants; how much fast food can we consume?
In the old days, you didn’t have to try too hard to draw customers. But then again, this was a time before the Internet, social media, blogs and Amazon. Differentiation meant you existed. Today, you have to do more than show up if you’re going to thrive.
Need proof? Just look at what’s going on with the fast food industry. I live in Upstate New York, where Friendly’s, a family restaurant, is closing the remainder of its Albany stores. They aren’t the only ones; it appears that Ruby Tuesdays, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Outback and Hooters have all been selling off their restaurants or shutting them down. Several are reportedly basing their lackluster performance on trends showing millennials like to cook at home. Really? That’s hard to swallow.
Fact is, many of these fast food chains pretty much look—and taste—alike. A blooming onion or scantily clad servers won’t cut it anymore. (By the way, I heard Hooters has plans to open new restaurants under the name of “Hoots” and put more clothes on the servers. No, I didn’t make that up. According to my research, several of the older chains had internal disputes about what they should do when business was declining, and they chose to do nothing. You need more than new paint to attract today’s customer.)
So, what can you do to differentiate your business? Here are a few ideas:
Teach your salespeople to be marketers. No one knows the customer better than your RSAs, so ask them to post regularly on social media. I’m appalled when I see a store that’s been in business for 50 years but only has 500 friends! If you have 10 salespeople and their average number of Facebook friend is 338, that’s potentially 3,380 people who like your employees and should be on your business page as well.
Organize a ‘Product Day.’ Pick a day of the week or month to promote wood, carpet or even area rugs. Invite people on social media to attend; the ones who are interested will come in. Give away goods and get people excited.
Use your parking lot to stage events. Putting up a tent and throwing some remnants in the parking lot isn’t exciting. How about having an antique car day or animal adoption to bring in customers? In my area, Curtis Lumber hosts a car, truck and jeep show—an event that brings in hundreds, if not thousands, to their parking lot. Better yet, how about a yoga or Zumba event?
Partner up with local businesses. One retailer I know organized an event with a nearby landscaper. He offered advice on how to make them thrive, and he sold a ton of plants in the process. Spring is the perfect time for such a promo. Memorial Day typically brings everyone out to buy products to spruce up their homes.
Bottom line: Always be on the lookout to find ways to market to both new and returning customers. This way, when they need flooring, you’ll be top on their list.