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Marketing Online: Make the most of social networking

November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.43.18 AMMost retailers understand the importance of developing a digital marketing campaign and having a strong social media presence. However, simply being on social media is not enough. In order to social network on these platforms retailers have to create and engage in conversation. If used correctly, experts say, the online world provides multiple avenues for retailers to connect with potential and existing consumers and stay top of mind.

FCNews spoke with several digital marketing and social media experts to uncover how retailers can make the most of their social networking.

Connect your plan with your tools. Retailers should make sure their overall marketing plans align with specific social sites before jumping into all of them. As Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant, explains, “It’s one thing to have LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but if you don’t have a marketing plan to go with those tools—and you don’t use those tools with consistency—then you won’t see positive results.”

Aligning a company’s goals and marketing plan with social networking sites can also save retailers valuable time. “It’s really important for businesses to understand what the company’s goals are for being on social networks,” said Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now. “Is it just to promote your business? Is it to generate new leads? Is it to address questions people have? It may end up being a combination of all three because people hang out on networks and they may try to reach you there.”

Have a strong home base. While social networking generally occurs on social media sites and review sites, experts urge retailers to have a strong website as well. “It’s really important for retailers to make sure their home base (their website) is as strong as it can be,” Whittemore explained. “It’s a good idea to make sure the website is mobile friendly and has helpful information.”

The content on a retailer’s website can help influence the posts or conversations he or she has while social networking, Whittemore added.

Do a quick company Google search. Most retailers aim to have their website appear on the first page of a Google search. But what they often forget is other public profiles, including social media accounts and review sites, can also appear on that first page. Experts warn retailers to look at those other sites and make sure branding and key information about their company is consistent.

Whittemore suggests: “Do a Google search on your company name and find out what public profiles files exist about your company. There are a lot of profiles that will be created automatically by virtue of you having a business phone number and address, and you want to claim them.”

Adding pictures and logos, along with making sure the information about the business is consistent across all platforms, helps as well.

Be consistently active. Most experts agree a retailer cannot network socially unless he or she is “in the conversation” or active on key platforms. It is also crucial for retailers to find out where their customers are interacting online. In addition to having a presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Paul Friederichsen, marketing expert and owner of BrandBiz, suggest retailers explore LinkedIn. “[This platform] is vital for business to business, particularly if you’re a dealer who does or wants to do a lot of Main Street or commercial business. LinkedIn is probably best at facilitating networking within your community of decision makers. Facebook is best for residential/consumer networking.”

Part of being active on social media sites is creating and maintaining conversations. As Calandrino explains, “One way to do this is to pose a question on social media—find out what people think. The more people write and say, the more opportunities you have for connecting.”

Examine the analytics. Why post on multiple platforms if only one or two are delivering positive results? Cutting down the number of active social media sites to include only those with positive results can save a retailer time and potentially money. Retailers can determine which sites are crucial to their success by looking at weekly or monthly analytics.

“Analytics are what help you change your campaign,” Calandrino explained. “It’s very important retailers look at their analytics and take the time to really see what has been successful.”

Provide helpful information to consumers. While social media would appear to be the ideal place for highlighting new products and flooring specials, experts suggest retailers provide consumers with useful tips and resources instead.

“Retailers need to approach social media and social networking as being a local facilitator of home fashion ideas, solutions, advice, tips, resources and value from the flooring point of view,” Friederichsen said. “Social networking is not the place to hawk the latest special in wood flooring by [this brand or that brand]. It is the place, however, to convey advice on the best place to install that particular wood flooring, how best to care for it or link the advice to a blog article on the retailer’s website.”

Today’s selling environment, Friederichsen added, is all about relationship building and trust. “That’s the huge advantage the independent retailer has over chains and big boxes.”

Be human. Social networking is very similar to traditional networking in that it involves a conversation between two entities. However, a major difference is social networking often occurs between a customer’s personal page and a company’s business page. Unlike personal social media accounts, business pages can often feel cold or look exactly the same. According to experts, social networking is most effective when a company comes across as a person and not business. This can be achieved through the types of posts on a social media page and how a retailer chooses to engage with the customer.

As Whittemore explains, “The more you can be human, the more successful you will be with networking socially.”

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Armstrong Flooring raises Airbase dealers to ‘Elite’ status

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.39.56 AMLancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring has announced that all 12 AirBase Carpet and Tile superstore locations have achieved Elite Retailer status. The retailers serve markets in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Jersey and South Carolina.

“We are proud to recognize and thank AirBase for their continuing excellence and commitment to the Armstrong Flooring Elite Program,” said Tom Cole, senior channel marketing manager, aligned retail, Armstrong Flooring. “They are consistently on the forefront of our industry and have been a valuable partner. AirBase is a great organization of people who love the home building and home improvement industry. You can see the pride they take in combining their resources to fulfill the home décor needs of their customers.”

AirBase, a third-generation, family-owned and operated business, is built upon a proud heritage of providing customers a unique combination of unprecedented value, massive selection and unsurpassed customer service. They carry a wide variety of flooring options for the home, available for pick up in store, shipped anywhere in the U.S. or installed next day by the company’s professional installers.

“We have worked closely with Armstrong for decades and enjoy a long-standing history,” said Michael Longwill, president, Airbase Carpet and Tile Mart. “The laser focus on flooring since Armstrong has become a standalone company demonstrates its full commitment to us, the retailer, as well as the consumer.”

Other Airbase dealers attest to the value of partnering with Armstrong. As Steve Milam, sales manager, Airbase Carpet and Tile, explains: “Armstrong is a globally recognized brand, and has both retailer and consumer confidence. The Elevate Program helps us with distinct product lines, provides selling stories, merchandising and training. It is customized to address our specific needs. As an Elite Dealer, we receive top of the line support from Armstrong and its reps.”

 

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Rise in e-commerce concerns flooring retailers

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4
By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.20.23 AMAs e-commerce grows in the retail channel, specialty flooring retailers have expressed concern that online sales could negatively impact their business. It’s a subject that has many store owners and managers on edge.

“Don’t get me going on this topic,” Ben Boss, owner of Boss Carpet One Floor & Home, Dixon, Ill., told FCNews. “Looking out 10 to 20 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the flooring retail landscape is completely different.”

Andrew Wiebe, co-owner of Red Deer Carpet One Floor & Home, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, echoed those sentiments and fears, adding, “It’s coming, folks.”

Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland Mich., had this observation: “Just look at Amazon and how it has taken [online retailing] by storm. Our world and the interpersonal relationships are dwindling. I am concerned.”

Looking at news reports, you can understand why dealers are feeling uneasy. Through June 20, there have been 5,300 store closing announcements in the U.S. this year, making 2017 the second worst year on record at the six-month mark. The worst year ever for store closings was 2008 during the Great Recession, when Credit Suisse counted 6,163 closings. Some believe 2017 might eclipse that number.

The growth of e-commerce and what retail experts say is an overbuilt retail landscape has contributed to this situation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2017 accounted for 8.5% of total retail sales. That compares to 7.8% of total sales in Q1 2016, 6.9% in Q1 2015 and 6.2% in Q1 ’14. Five years ago, for example, e-commerce represented 5.1% of total retail sales.

So while flooring dealers worry about e-commerce’s rise, there is some encouraging news. The retail consultancy Alix Partners tracked five years of financial performance for 20 publicly traded retailers. For the group, online sales grew from 10.5% of total sales in 2012 to 15.5% in 2016—but margins steadily declined by 150 basis points to 9% in the year. It concluded that retailers’ store fleets were subsidizing their online businesses.

What’s more, it cited a recent study of millennial shopping habits in which 82% of respondents said they still prefer shopping in stores.

While the tactile, face-to-face experience of shopping for flooring in a brick-and-mortar store will likely never go away, retailers like Wiebe said dealers must come to terms with the growing trend toward online sales, particularly among DIY and low-cost segments.

Deb DeGraaf, owner of DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., agrees there are consumers who will always want to touch and feel before they purchase, “but in that case some of us are going to be used for the touching and feeling of the product and the customer will then purchase online. I see this being a problem particularly with case goods. Rolls of carpet will remain primarily through retailers and box stores because of the challenge of receiving the roll. It is very important that we as independent retailers create an experience and romance the customers when we get the opportunity.”

As e-commerce sales grow some flooring retailers say they will turn to more private-label goods as a way to slow e-commerce’s growth. Others, however, worry that suppliers can use e-commerce to leapfrog the retail channel and sell directly to the end user.

“We should be very concerned,” said Casey Dillabaugh, owner of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, Boise, Idaho. “Anything that eliminates the friction of the purchase decision in the eyes of the consumer ought to be considered serious competition. As such, as retailers, we must be willing to explore other non-traditional ways of relating and communicating with our potential customers. With all that said, I do believe there will always be a sector of the community that still wants the experience that only a specialty flooring retailer can provide. In the end, it’s how we relate to the customer that will ensure our survival.”

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Pinterest: Inspiring consumers with visual appeal

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Jenna Lippin 

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 12.00.52 PMThe first half of 2014 has come and gone, and while most people are in summer relaxation mode, this is the best time to refresh your marketing strategy to get the creative juices flowing.

What has plenty of room for creativity? Many marketing and design experts are touting Pinterest, the social networking platform based on visual content. Users are able to create an endless amount of pinboards with photos that focus on the board’s respective theme. Typically when the images are clicked, the viewer is brought to the website from which the picture originated or a related page.

As consumer behavior changes, flooring retailers today are becoming more comfortable with social media. Once Facebook and Twitter are tackled (or attempted), the natural progression seems to be toward Pinterest.

“Pinterest is an incredible resource for design influence and a powerful tool for bringing people to your website,” explained Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier at Simple Marketing Now. “Look at Target and Nordstrom, for example. Their top pins on pinboards translate to products in store.”

Indeed, flooring retailers—though smaller than megastores like Target and Nordstrom—are proving to be successful with Pinterest to inspire consumers and drive traffic. Having a link to Pinterest on a store’s website, which typically appears as a small button with the Pinterest symbol, is a guaranteed way to bring customers to the platform and see what you have to offer.

“We’ve had a Pinterest page for a while, but we just put [the link] on our website,” said Tom Pelusio, general manager at Rochester Linoleum Carpet One, which has six locations throughout upstate New York. “Some salespeople said they’ve heard response [to our Pinterest]. In the next year I expect even more. Consumers love seeing galleries so they can visualize the products in their homes and get design ideas. With more to look at, an extensive amount of content, we keep their interest. We’ve seen lots of activity from our website because consumers are going through it to get to our Pinterest. It’s definitely helping generate traffic.”

Andy Kessler, general manager at Discount Dave’s, with two locations in southwest Missouri, said that the visual aspect of Pinterest is a great help in showing customers what the store has to offer, and aids customers in explaining the looks, products and designs they want.

“Pinterest has helped us meet our clients’ needs more effectively by being able to share visuals back and forth rather than verbal descriptions,” Kessler explained. “We have found this is the best and most efficient way to help guide our customers to the products they need to achieve the style or feel of the rooms they have shown us when looking through images together.”Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 12.01.18 PM

While retailers’ Pinterest boards are providing inspiration for end users, these dealers are getting help with their creative edge from other pinners. Rochester Linoleum, which has enlisted the help of local IT student Austin Bartlett for managing social media, follows not only Carpet One Floor & Home’s main Pinterest account, but also other Carpet One co-ops, industry magazines and manufacturers like Armstrong and Mohawk.

“We get assistance from Carpet One for a lot of web content,” Bartlett said. “Some of the content was organized by them, and it seemed to work well. There is a lot of interaction on Carpet One’s main page, so it seemed logical to go from there.”

Kessler has Discount Dave’s Pinterest profile follow other flooring stores to see the types of content his peers consider relevant. Keeping track of trends from other parts of the country adds some perspective as to what’s hot in design as well.

“I like following other flooring stores so we always keep up to date on what other companies are using as far as ideas, products, etc.,” he said. “I even interact with a few that are on the East and West Coasts to see what trends are happening there so that we can be ready if and when the trends in our area change and know what products people may be looking for in the future.”

Aside from pinpointing trends, Pinterest is also helpful in staying connected with consumers of varied demographics. For example, with the economic upswing, now is the time for young professionals to start buying homes, which, of course, need flooring.

Erica Hughes, who handles social media and marketing for Al’s Carpet, Flooring & Design Center in Machesney Park, Ill., noted how important Pinterest is in attracting customers from opposite sides of the consumer age spectrum.

“There are really two demographics,” she explained. “I’m 31, so I’m that second (younger) demographic we look at for flooring. I have a house, I’m married, we’re improving our home, we’ve had our jobs for a while and we have disposable income now. I’m sitting on Pinterest looking at what we can do.”

But there is also a target demographic with empty nesters in their 40s, 50s and 60s who want to redo their homes; they are all on Pinterest, too. “They come into the store and say they saw something on Pinterest they want to use,” Hughes continued.

Erin Appleman, vice president of marketing and merchandising at Rite Rug, with numerous locations throughout Ohio, also noted how Pinterest attracts the target audience of female consumers age 35 and up. “The photos [on Pinterest] are designed to provide ideas and inspiration for the home,” she explained. “We also want to create a relationship with consumers, so they will think of Rite Rug when they are ready to purchase flooring.”

Hughes summed up Pinterest best: “Pinterest has a format people will go to for ideas. With Pinterest you are getting a photo, and a majority of the time you are clicking on a photo and going to a link. You can create inspiration boards for different parts of the home.”

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Abbey Carpet & Floor: Business, exclusives, exposure on the upswing

by Steven Feldman

Dallas—Against the backdrop of some improving economic indicators that have helped rally floor covering sales, Abbey Carpet & Floor’s annual convention here saw its greatest attendance in the last five years. And paralleling the increase in bodies was a sense of optimism not seen at recent conventions. Continue reading Abbey Carpet & Floor: Business, exclusives, exposure on the upswing