February 29/March 7, 2016; Volume 30, Number 18
By Jenna Lippin
Las Vegas—Against the backdrop of a positive outlook for 2016, Abbey Carpet & Floor saw the highest percentage of membership attending last month’s annual convention since 2008. And to help dealers ride this wave of optimism, the group presented several new strategies and programs to cater to today’s consumer, which ranges from millennial to baby boomer.
“To stay ahead we must work smarter in order to take market share,” said Steve Silverman, Abbey’s president and COO. “Your customer continues to change. You must target marketing and advertising to focus on different needs. To win you must deliver value to every customer.”
Keynote speaker Joe Bondi, vice president of Armstrong residential flooring, North America, explained the changing consumer. “Arguably the most critical [market trend] is keeping pace with the consumer of today. There are different ways of shopping and purchasing flooring, which have really changed and continue to evolve.”
Part of this evolution is the focal shift to millennials, or Generation Y—those consumers who range in age from 19 to 35. Today the largest consumer demographic is Generation X, ages 36 to 51, but by 2017 Generation Y will surpass them in terms of buying power. To further the point, in 2021 millennials will be the largest consumer group and by 2025 will account for 46.6% of the nation’s income.
How does Abbey help its members address this sea change of shoppers? Helping to arm its members with the best RSAs in the business is one major weapon, because quality salespeople lead to happy customers, which results in positive online feedback via social media and review sites, driving new and repeat customers.
To that end, Abbey’s new RSA Training and Learning Center—available to members via Abbey InfoNet—features a plethora of tools to help the busy dealer train his sales staff. Topics include best practices and sales training along with product knowledge and detailed information on Abbey private-label brands. Both videos and written guides are available from customer service guru Pami Bhullar, director of retail development for Invista/Stainmaster, and renowned business coach Joe Calloway, a regular speaker at Abbey events.
“In our industry, training means a number of things,” Silverman noted. “It’s more than just selling; it’s knowledge and when to use that knowledge. There are so many components that make up our industry in terms of different types of flooring. Consumers today go on the Internet and learn about products before they are going to spend $10,000 to $15,000. They compare and know differences of products. All that information needs to be in the hands of salespeople. If they fumble on giving an answer [to a customer] it may mean she is going to a competitor.”
Ted Gregerson, owner of Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor with two locations in the Birmingham, Ala., area, had been anticipating a full-service training program from the group. “Now you are able to take someone you’ve just hired who knows nothing about flooring and have them sit down at the computer, watch videos and get basic flooring knowledge without having someone else on your staff take the time to train them. That will be a huge savings for us. And even veteran or seasoned sales personnel can now [easily] be educated on Abbey programs, Abbey brands and even sales 101 as reminders. We do a great job with education and training ourselves; this will go really well with what we’re already doing.”
In conjunction with its new training initiative, Abbey launched Performance Plus Rewards at convention, an incentives program for RSAs designed to encourage sales of private-label products.
“The basic concept is to provide a reward for salespeople to sell the brands you have the best opportunity to make more money on,” David Hardy, executive vice president, merchandising and member services, told members. “These products are really not ‘shop-able.’ Suppliers that create products in exclusive brands and private labels prevent people from going on the Internet and shopping prices.”
Any product under Abbey’s umbrella of exclusive brands earns points for salespeople. Points earned go toward electronics like iPads, DVD and Blu-ray players, desktop computers and more.
Abbey launched Performance Plus Rewards and the RSA training program in sync so members can educate and motivate their sales staff at the same time. With all information in one place on Abbey’s InfoNet portal, the initiatives work together seamlessly. “I have a small team of five and plan on using the training and rewards,” said Leon Wink, COO, Wolde Flooring, Madison, Ala. “Often a company sends just one representative or the store owner to learn more, but to grow your company you really have to delegate and everyone has to come up to speed. You want your entire staff to be knowledgeable, not just one person. This system simplifies the process.”
While customer service is a top priority for Abbey members, driving shoppers to that top-notch in-store experience is the first step. With that, the group has boosted its focus on members’ digital footprints to help bring consumers to Abbey member sites and ultimately their stores.
Abbey’s digital marketing program has been designed to guide flooring dealers through their social media efforts on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Houzz, Google+ and more. Email marketing is another major component, helping send store messages, news and promotions via Constant Contact.
Perhaps the most critical element of Abbey’s digital marketing program is Customer Connect, the group’s customized pay-per-click (PPC) advertising program. “It is a perfect service for small businesses looking for ways to cost effectively reach customers,” said Patricia Toledo, Abbey’s digital marketing coordinator. “You only pay when a consumer clicks on your text ad and is brought to your Abbey website. PPC connects to online shoppers the moment they start looking for flooring.”
As the largest search engine in existence today, Google continues to come up with tools to better utilize its features. The Google Results Page will give higher rankings to Abbey members using PPC, with the Google text ad and corresponding ad on the member website linking to communicate the same message. The Customer Connect dashboard lets Abbey dealers gauge how successful their PPC campaigns have been, showing statistics like clicks, views, click-through rate and costs per click, in addition to seeing from where traffic is actually coming. The best part: Every member can decide how much he or she wants to spend per month on PPC. The Customer Connect team helps determine what programming is best for each budget and monitors results to see what is working and what is not.
One member who can attest to the success generated by Abbey’s Customer Connect PPC program is Barry Lindgren, owner of Abbey Carpet & Floor of Puyallup in Puyallup, Wash. While he was hesitant about the initiative when it first launched in 2014, he soon increased his monthly budget when he saw the jump in his website traffic. One particular promotion he ran in May 2015 featuring a Karastan campaign changed the game for good. “I was extremely surprised at how much it increased our business. We continued to increase our PPC monthly budget and have held it ever since. About 60% to 65% of the traffic on our website is through PPC. I hope to find other ways to use PPC to enhance our traffic even more.”
Another initiative introduced at convention created to attract customers and entice them to buy was its Visions 2016 showroom design that helps members position products to keep on top of what’s trending in the market. The group has partnered with Ron Hodgdon of Creative Arts—who has helped develop member showrooms for over 25 years—to conceptualize this new design. Members who sign up for the redesign work with him directly.
“Unless you have recently joined Abbey or had your showroom redesigned by Ron, members that joined years ago probably haven’t changed their showrooms,” Hardy said. “Displays have been switched out but the flow hasn’t changed. The new, vibrant look is exciting.”
Silverman noted the consistent design amongst Abbey private-label displays, which helps a showroom look organized and inviting. “In a non-member showroom you see different displays. In an Abbey showroom you see displays with the same look; there is a homogenous feel. This design provides an upscale look that will hopefully increase selling price and margin. It’s like inviting guests to your home.”