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Lisbiz strategies: Incivility can lead to a hostile environment

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

While a training program on workplace manners and courtesy may seem like overkill, the reality is this: Rudeness is an epidemic costing industries millions a year. For nearly two decades, Christine Porath, acclaimed business professor at Georgetown University, has studied and observed a sharp rise in rudeness, emotional harassment, bullying and other toxic behaviors that can cost companies financially and employees their health and well-being.

Civility represents social norms and rules that must be followed to positively and productively relate to others. More than ever before, people are feeling disrespected at work. Employees feel they’re working in a toxic culture with insensitive managers and being treated disrespectfully based on gender, race or religion.

Oftentimes, this incivility leads to more serious forms of harassment. All incidents of harassment require employers or managers to respond quickly and appropriately. If issues are left unaddressed, a hostile work environment can develop, which can expose employers to further complaints and lawsuits. What society seems to be gaining in terms of both knowledge and technological advancement, it’s losing out on basic social values that directly impact the bottom line.

To address the growing problem of incivility, a company must make it a top priority. Everyone must understand the concept of civility, its importance to a company as well as its typical causes and effects.

Skills needed to effectively practice civil behavior, as well as different ways organizations can systematize civility in the workplace, need to be discussed. The benefits to civility in the workplace are countless and will pay off immensely in every aspect.

When Porath asked people in one survey why they were uncivil, more than 25% blamed their organization for not providing them with the basic skills they needed, such as listening and giving feedback. If your employees aren’t behaving well, and you’ve already gone through the trouble of hammering home the organization’s civility message, ask yourself, “Have I also equipped them to succeed?”

Don’t assume everyone instinctively knows how to be civil. When coaching employees, focus on helping them learn to listen, give and receive feedback, work across differences and deal with difficult people. Don’t just impart information; be explicit about your organization’s values.

Make civility a part of your mission statement, posting it somewhere visible. Engage your team in a dialogue about what your norms should be, then make it clear to your employees they need to hold their managers and colleagues accountable for living up to your norms of civility. Be explicit about your organization’s values.

One great reason to practice civility, you’ve heard this before—no man is an island. No matter how talented or indispensable you are to your business, you need to rely on suppliers and other people to get things done.

It’s worth noting—civility goes beyond good manners.

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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Lisbiz strategies: Managers should be trained to ‘coach’

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Every team looks to hire superstars. However, extremely talented people are hard to find and recruit—and did I mention expensive? Just look at major league sports teams and what they spend to bring in superstars. If you really want great talent, why not coach the ones you already have? Take those Clark Kents and turn them into supermen and superwomen.

If you aren’t already building superstars, consider the idea that your managers may just be managing and not coaching. Those who don’t coach aren’t necessarily bad managers, but if they don’t coach they are overlooking an important tool to develop talent. A good manager can kick your butt when it’s needed and help you focus on what you’ve been avoiding.

The coaching statistics are pretty impressive. According to a recent study by Knowledge Tree, sales representatives receiving at least three hours of coaching per month exceed their selling goals by 7%, increase revenue by 25% and improve closing rates by 70%. Who wouldn’t want those statistics?

Teams are how things get done in most businesses. Think about your own company—what jobs do you have that don’t depend on several people to get it done right? We usually don’t think about how we can coach individual members to make them even better. For example, if you owned a major league franchise, you would try to figure out how to get your investment to pay off.

Interestingly, you actually have a major league franchise and have a lot invested in the people who work for you. Think about how much you have invested in your showroom to keep it looking clean and up to date as well as your trucks and vans.

Things are good, you say, why change anything? This is often called the complacency of success and could be the beginning of the end. The more we want things to stay the same the quicker they are changing in the real world. They say hindsight is 20/20; it can also bite you in a place you can’t reach. You may be wasting a whole lot of time and money not doing anything. Here are somethings a coach can do for you:

Make your team more functional. You know those stupid jokes your employees play on each other when there’s nothing to do? Once they start building goals and questioning their values, they will have plenty to do. They will also begin to understand their team members and start working together. Tasks will get executed more efficiently when there’s something in it for everyone.

Help the team adjust to any changes. A good coach can act as a consultant and teach the team skills that will help them adjust. The coach can also teach problem-solving skills.

Help you see employee patterns. Good coaches look at nonverbal cues, the language people use when they speak about themselves and others. Do they say they feel powerful and then use “wimpy” or tentative language, such as “maybe” or “I should do that” instead of “I will?” These things take away from their power. Do they see themselves as team players but always use “I” instead of “we” when talking about how a task got done? Do they sit with their arms crossed while leaning back in their chairs? A coach can pay attention to these telling cues.

To learn more about coaching, join me at The Remodeling Show in Baltimore, Oct. 9-11, at the Baltimore Convention Center, where I will be speaking on, “The Coaching Edge, Building a Successful Team.” You can also call me at 518.495.5380.

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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Lisbiz strategies: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

I was traveling through Newark Liberty Airport recently and stopped for a bite to eat. I didn’t have much time in between flights and was definitely feeling rushed. By the way, I was on my way to do a presentation for the Mid-Atlantic Floorcovering Association on how to acquire more outside business. (This story kind of emphasizes this.) While I was eating, I heard the server say the credit card machine was not working and they could only take cash. I knew I didn’t have cash on me. When I was at the Albany Airport the ATM machine wasn’t working so I just got on the plane.

I told the server I didn’t have cash and would have to send it to her. She was very sweet and told me not to worry; she didn’t have an address or any alternatives for me. She also didn’t know where the ATM was.

I told her, “I have to worry about it because if no one pays you, that will be the end of the business and your job, and I don’t want that to happen.” I was obviously more worried about it than she was because she told me again not to worry. I finally stood up in the restaurant and explained the problem to anyone who would listen. I said we should try to figure out how to pay them. If we didn’t, the servers wouldn’t have any tips for the day. People clapped and agreed so I left. I found an ATM, I got my money and went back and paid the bill. The server was very thankful, but the problem was not corrected. I know I could have gotten away without paying but that’s stealing. What bothers me is there was obviously no contingency plan in place. Can you imagine the cost ‘per square foot’ for that restaurant?

When I got back to Albany I went to the UPS store. The staff was talking about how they couldn’t get the password to work in their computer and they couldn’t access emails. The discussion was about whether they should call the owner. There was a conversation as to whether or not the owner was out of bed yet. In the meantime, the customers left disgusted.

There are a couple of important issues in both instances. One, there seems to be a lack of communication between the owners and the employees, and how much authority employees should have. An even bigger issue is employees having an understanding about business and customers in general. Employees should understand they are actually entrepreneurs. Taking care of customers and bringing money into the business are their two main jobs. When they do both well, everyone gets paid and the business flourishes. In both instances, the owners seemed to be lacking in their understanding of business.

Motivating people isn’t easy. They have to feel needed and important if they are to take their job and the business seriously. Helping your employees understand their importance the best way to motivate them. The level of authority and responsibility given to employees varies, but they should at least know what to do in an emergency.

Hamburger University was created to train McDonald’s employees in the art of restaurant management. “Everyone who works there must understand that each of them is running a multimillion-dollar business,” said Rob Lauber, vice president and chief learning officer of McDonald’s Restaurant Solutions Group. “So, we want to make sure they have good business grounding.”

Don’t your employees need the same thing?

 

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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Lisbiz strategies: Make your store rock over the holidays

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

November and December are often the slowest months for flooring dealers. If you’re a salesperson, they can also be the most depressing. While everyone else is partying and rushing around, you’re waiting for customers to come in and buy flooring.

Here’s a list of things you can do to draw customers and bring cheer to your store.

Have “dress up” days. Put on your “Sunday best” and throw a party. There’s no limit to what you can serve, but how about hot chocolate, apple cider or blood orange Italian soda? Play holiday music and enjoy the day. Have your staff make their favorite holiday cookies and invite your customers. Post an event on Facebook and invite all your friends.

Create your own events. If there isn’t anything going on in your area, start something. Your store can be the center of the fun. Not sure what to do? Ask yourself, “What would I need to come downtown?”

Decorate your store so it becomes the focal point of the block. Look up all of the holidays and decorate for all of them. If it were my store, I would have vendors outside selling green wreaths, Christmas trees, holly balls and holiday scents such as cinnamon and cloves.

Give out an extra gift with every installation or large flooring purchase. In November, we gave out turkeys or gift certificates to the supermarket. Whatever you give out should be wrapped in holiday paper.

You can get free perfume gifts from Macy’s, coffees, mugs from Big Lots. How about having a makeup artist from MAC or Sephora come in and do free makeovers through the holidays? How about free manicures? It’s likely you will get plenty of customers to sign up.

Take photos for your social media promos. Use Twitter and Instagram and blog about your holiday fun. This is the time for an email newsletter filled with cheer and specials for or after the holidays. Fill it with photos from events through the year.

Hire masseuses to give free massages in your store if customers buy something. Market these ideas on your social media platforms. It works in the airports; I’m sure it will work in your store.

Hold a New Year’s Day party. This is a perfect day to serve lunch, bring in a piano and have someone play holiday music.

Buddy up with other retailers. How about doing the 12 days of Christmas and give away gifts every day? Bring in a florist, have festive wrapping paper and holiday cards. Offer to wrap presents.

Go high end with your store decorations. Customers should see a shop that looks elegant and up to date, even if they don’t buy. If you want to sell better merchandise, the holiday season is a good time to show your customers what they can look forward to for the new year.

Start showcasing products for the new year.  How about highlighting some of your best sellers for the holiday season? Bring in drapes, paint samples and quilts. This is the year of fleece, so why not have your store decorated accordingly? You can give them away with a sale or as gifts. Fluffy robes and slippers are inexpensive and fun to give away.

Don’t forget our pet friends. You can give away toys, bowls, catnip, cat and dog coats and treats. Have a contest for the best-dressed pet.

Whatever you do, enjoy the holidays and plan for a profitable new year.

 

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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Lizbiz Strategies: Don’t let red-hot sales leads get too cold

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

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoThe good thing about hot sales leads is they tend to fall right in your lap. The bad news is you can’t sit on them for too long before they get stale.

Managing and following up on leads can be tricky. I get it. You meant to call them, but you were too busy. Now you’re afraid to follow up because you think the lead is too old. Finally, you reach out to the customer and she tells you she has bought from your competitor.

Why didn’t you make the time to call? You’re not the only one who hates calling people you don’t know and the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes. You need to contact potential customers as quickly as possible. Remember, they have already expressed an interest. If they haven’t gone to your website and connected, it’s your job to get them there.

Are you a manufacturer who supplies consumer or commercial leads to retailers? Purchasing leads is a big investment for your company, but if no one is keeping track how will you know what’s become of them? This is where a targeted, touch-point email marketing program can keep potential customers interested in coming to your retail store.

A touch-point email marketing program is specifically designed to deliver a particular message to your potential customer and is personalized to her shopping needs. According to Campaign Marketing, email is highly ranked in the marketing kingdom with a 380% ROI and $38 for every $1 spent. An email campaign is about building relationships, not just selling. Each email should have a message that is important to the customer. Even if you haven’t met her, useful advice on your products will begin to build your relationship. It doesn’t mean sending one note to the customer and disappearing. You must be consistent and have a series of timed touch points.

It is also not the holiday card you send out to relatives to see if they’re still alive. This is an electronic magnet. Instead of putting it on the customer’s refrigerator, it will stay on her mind through digital marketing.

There’s no reason why you can’t put together a three- to five-week email campaign starting with a friendly hello introducing yourself and an invitation to come in and pick up a gift. You can also direct her to useful information on your website, such as design tips or color ideas.

The key is to build a relationship so the potential customer feels like she knows you and wants to meet you. This is also why you need to market using your personal picture. It has been proven trust increases by more than 75% if the customer sees your picture before she meets you. Real estate agents routinely include their photos in marketing promos.

Remember, these potential customers have been referred to your store, so you’re just reaching out and providing something of value before they meet you.

Following up with your prospects is not a new idea, and current Internet tools make it even easier and more effective. There are a host of customer relationship management tools out there to help you track prospects from initial contact to close. But the key lies in acting fast; recent data shows if you don’t contact someone who submits an online inquiry in about 10 minutes, your chance of converting that lead into a sale decreases by the time you get to 30 minutes. Don’t make a big mistake by ignoring them.

 

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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Lisbiz strategies: Explore the customer experience at TISE

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoRetailers have confused the customer experience with customer service, but they are not the same thing. Providing exceptional service and improving your competitive edge through customer experience will keep your customers and business operational.

Customer service is considered a single transaction that takes care of the customer’s immediate needs. This includes booking a customer’s install, product selections or an in-home measurement. You can do all of this effortlessly and still not provide a notable experience.

Practicing customer-service basics is not sufficient anymore. There are too many outlets competing for your customer’s attention. With increasing competition in the marketplace, all stores are looking for ways to create differentiation and offer value and an unforgettable experience their customers will share with family and friends.

The customer experience is what happens between you (your store) and the customer over time. It is the customer’s perception of what you do. Let’s say you tell the customer you will be at her house at 2 p.m., but you don’t get there until 3 p.m. and you forget to call. Even though you are late, you have taken care of the customer by getting to her house, but her perception of the experience is that you can’t be counted on. This perception will be hard to change and is part of her experience. Staying on top of the experience means paying attention to every encounter you have with the customer.

Once you have mastered basic customer service you must find a way to take it up a notch. Creating an outstanding experience alongside service will take preparation and planning.

This year at Surfaces there are two presenters who are well versed at sustaining the customer experience: Pamela Danziger from Unity Marketing and Tema Frank, chief investigator at Frank Reactions.

Danziger’s seminar, “Transforming your Floor Covering Store into a Shop that Pops,” will provide you with seven steps to extraordinary retail success. She breaks down the new retailing experience based on “people, people and people.” The key is to build a unique and personal experience with the customer. In addition, Danziger will take you behind J&S Designer Flooring in Morristown, N.J., and show you what they are doing to build the customer experience. Her session will be held Jan. 30 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., code TU05.

Frank is considered to be a customer experience and digital marketing pioneer. In 2001, she founded the world’s first company that tested both online and offline customer service. To do this she developed a panel of 75,000 mystery shoppers worldwide. In her seminar, she will talk about strategies that are essential in a technology-driven marketplace. She will also create a LinkedIn group to share best practices among the participants. Frank’s session will be held Jan. 29 from 3:30p.m.-5:00 p.m., code MN25.

According to both Danziger and Frank, the real keys to the customer experience are the people in your store who interact with your customers. If they continue to do the same things over and over, it’s likely the customer will not remember who you are or come away with a unique feeling about your store. If the experience is not different than your competitors it’s likely they won’t rate you very highly or talk about you on social media.

If you want the customer experience that “pops,” you will have to get your employees to another level.

 

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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Lisbiz Strategies: Fashion’s influence on flooring design

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoRecently I visited Oxford, Miss., to meet with Lisa Stout, owner of Stout’s Flooring, to present a seminar for local female business owners. Oxford is an interesting college town, the home of “Ole Miss” with about 50,000 residents, 25,000 of which are college students. They have wonderful shirts that read, ‘Oxford, Miss., population—full!’ I was here 22 years ago and the town is barely recognizable. Now it has everything you would need, including a luxurious town square with a boutique hotel that was formerly a gas station. The carpet design is an industrial, two-tone herringbone pattern. The lines in the room are very clean and uncluttered.

I asked Stout—who, with her sister, owns a high-end clothing shop—if she sees any societal trends influencing flooring. She travels to all of the boutique shows to buy for the store. It also gives her an idea of trends that will be influencing her flooring market. She believes flooring is definitely impacted by clothing and make-up trends. It may take a year or so for things to change but it’s definitely noticeable.

Not only is “what’s old is new,” but businesses are doing more than recycling. This technique sets the stage for interesting interiors but it only provides a background. Authenticity is not necessary, as artifacts from many places can wind up in the same room. For our meeting, we were in an interesting restaurant with floors that appeared hand scraped. The walls were stark white with pictures created out of tufts of cotton. The copper lighting was recessed into the beams.

According to Stout, it also includes sustainability. “We’ve been selling and installing tiles indicative of the early 20th century. We’ve had to do lots of research to find the right materials. It’s exciting to see buildings being recycled with a modern twist. For example, hand-scraped original wood floors in buildings with metal recessed lighting. Our sand and finished flooring business continues to take off. Natural looks in wood are very appealing to consumers.”

The matte finish prevalent in lipstick is also showing up in luxury vinyl, laminate and wood floors. Glossy floors seem to be out and shiny is hard to find. Another clothing trend, crushed velvet, is popping up in area rugs. This sounds like the velvet look, which caused plenty of problems in broadloom years ago. Carpet products with the industrial commercial look are selling well in residential settings.

A friend of mine in Knoxville, Tenn., who buys and flips houses, is installing the gray/beige patterned look. Herringbone patterns and high and low looped styles are widespread. These designs have an industrial feeling but are still soft to the touch. In the 1970s, when I was in the flooring retail business, we sold industrial patterned goods but for different reasons. We told customers the carpets were very durable; we never discussed the styling. Now the styling as well as the durability is very popular. It’s obvious the commercial carpet look has found its way into residential settings.

Trends such as “farm to table” and local breweries are giving a new meaning to home grown. Handcrafted, large beam tables pair well with the rough-hewn floors. The farm to table movement brings us back to a simpler time. Some other noteworthy design trends: Interiors are becoming more sparse; country chic seems to be on the back burner; and frilly is gone—at least for now—which leaves the interiors open for an emphasis on the flooring patterns.

 

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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Lisbiz Strategies: Put Surfaces on your must-attend list

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoThis year I was invited to be part of the educational committee to determine the seminars to be offered at TISE 2018. I have always wondered how the seminars were decided. This year I would not only participate in the process but would learn more about the industry.

Weeks before our arrival, Carol Wilkins, educational director of TISE, sent participants the evaluations of the presentations from the last year as well as the new submittals. We were asked to rate the new ones prior to arriving in Dallas. I must admit at first the task looked overwhelming, so I decided I needed to get right to it. The submittals encompassed all aspects of the industry, including installation, sales, marketing and showroom design—to name a few. This year there was also a submittal for a design competition to celebrate Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150-year anniversary.

It was great to see all facets of the industry represented as well as experts whom I rarely get to see. After our welcoming dinner the first night, I realized the process was going to be very enlightening. Since there were no “shrinking violets,” there was bound to be plenty of energy and opinions in the room. We all have our area of expertise, but I quickly realized I’m not informed on everything in the industry.

Most impressive was the passion expressed by everyone in the room. I started to wonder, How would we ever get this task done in one and half days? Better yet, How would we know what to use and what to eliminate? There were several newcomers to the industry who came with a different slant. There were a couple of storeowners who gave us firsthand views on what they are experiencing in the industry.

The process went smoothly and the conversation was exciting. The depth of the 2018 seminars is amazing. So what does this mean to retailers?

  1. Stop making excuses for not attending. This is your opportunity to learn from experts in our industry. Look at the seminars and decide which ones are relevant for your business.
  2. Share the education seminars with your staff before you go. You will probably get some useful information from your staff about what they think would be useful for your business.
  3. Bring a store manager, salesperson or trusted advisor. Have them attend as many seminars as possible and share the information when they get back to the store.
  4. Attend seminars with your suppliers. Many retailers depend on their suppliers to help them make decisions. Why not bring one of them to a seminar on trends or redesigning your showroom? You need to know what is going on outside of your trading area.
  5. Choose education over partying. I don’t mean to sound like your mean mother, but you won’t have an opportunity like this for another year. Sure, you like being romanced by your suppliers but if you don’t know how to maximize the products you buy, what good are they?
  6. Learn from other retailers. Many of the seminars include a question-and-answer section, which will allow you to get good information from other retailers.
  7. Attend at least one technology and design seminar. Technology is always changing and some technology is very pertinent to our industry. You can learn what’s working for other retailers as well as how color plays an important part for our consumers.

 

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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Lisbiz Strategies: Your brand reflects you and your values

August 14/21: Volume 32, Issue 5

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Brands have been around forever, but the theory of branding has changed.

Lisbeth CalandrinoIt used to be that bigger was better and the louder you shouted the more attention you got. Remember when Coca Cola owned the soft drink market? Sure, they still have a huge market share but have big and new competitors. They’ve been sharing the market for a while with Pepsi and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group. One of the newest entrants, Red Bull, created a whole new product category called energy drinks.

As the product markets continue to crowd, so does the difficulty in getting brand recognition. “In the old days,” you were in command of your message, and since there was much less competition, the consumer listened. Another big change is the way information is now disseminated. The Internet has changed everything and leveled the playing field. The consumer has become the product marketer and gained control of your brand. If you’re not using the tools available, you will get lost to the sea of sameness.

Businesses are used to starting with their product and telling consumers why theirs is the important in the marketplace. Today’s products are everywhere and by the time your consumer gets to your business, they already know everything about your products.

What they might not know is who you are and what you stand for. Today’s consumers are more interested in your core beliefs and why you do what you do. This can differentiate your product and business from others in the overcrowded marketplace.

Instead of starting with the product it’s more important to begin with core beliefs of the business and why you do what you do. The new branding, as pointed out by Samuel Sinek in his book, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” motivates consumers to bond to the company because of what they stand for.

There are other examples. Consider Wegman’s Food Market and their value statements. “Caring, High Standards Make a Difference, Respect and Empowerment.” Panera Bread continues to shout about its 100% clean message after eliminating artificial items from their food. “To Panera, a salad is more than a salad.”

One of my personal favorites is the Farmers Insurance commercial, “We’ve seen a thing or two.” Their commercials depict ridiculous things that have happened to their customers. Instead of talking about prices they dialogue about their core values. “Farmers not only prides itself on helping you plan wisely for the unexpected, but also on helping restore order when it occurs so you can keep moving along the road of your life’s plans.”

So what are your values? Do your employees talk about what you stand for and what matters to your company? What do you do that inspires your customers to want to be on “your team?”

To find the answers, ask yourself the following questions:

What do your customers think about you and how much do they share online? What are your customers saying about you? (Be sure to respond quickly to negative reviews.)

How are you educating your customers? Do your blogs explain to customers how to buy your products or what makes a good salesperson? Do you quote your customers in your blogs?

Remember, to your customers, you are just as important as the products you sell.

 

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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Lisbiz strategies: Lessons learned from my focus group

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoWhen it comes to selling flooring we keep hearing the big box is clobbering the independent retailer. I find this hard to believe, so I decided to hold my own mini-focus group to get a clearer understanding of the issues. I recently convened a panel of 21 women—ages 25 to 65—at a small restaurant near my house. I asked the participants to provide thoughts on their shopping experiences relative to home centers vs. independent retailers. I asked a friend of mine to take notes so I could collect my own data.

Following are some takeaways based on the comments of the participants.

Lesson No. 1: With customer service, perception is reality. “Customer service in retail today is worse than ever.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. If you have a problem with a product or service, according to my focus group, the independent store is the worst place to get satisfaction. This seems to be due to a couple of things. The big boxes have more money, so they are more likely to solve a consumer’s problem quicker. The more a consumer presses them, the faster her problem will get resolved. Furthermore, it’s hard to find anyone in charge in the independent business. The big boxes often have a customer service department to handle problems, while associates in the independent stores have very little power to solve problems.

For many who have closely followed this industry, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It is a long-held belief that home centers and big discount merchandisers lack the skilled work force to provide personal, specialized attention—the hallmarks of the independent specialty retailer. Furthermore, there are countless stories of specialty flooring retailers who operate in the shadow of large home centers and still have managed to not only survive but thrive. And now with the big boxes dramatically scaling back the pace of new store openings, there’s an opportunity for specialty retailers to recoup some share.

My advice: Invest in a customer service department with a different phone number and have the calls go directly to the owner.

Lesson No. 2: Installation is critical. My focus group experiment proved consumers are indeed interested in the installation process and believe certified installers are the way to go. (Another plus in the column for specialty retailers.) They all seem to be aware the big boxes sub-contract their installation and feel that is a bad policy. It signifies that the home center has little control over the process and the warranty is confusing. Furthermore, many home centers continue to de-value the importance of professional services by promoting “free” installation, which is often misleading.

Thankfully, specialty retailers understand the importance of installation, as installers often have the last word when it comes to warranties.

My advice: Look for opportunities to get your installers certified. This will bring credibility to your business and instill greater confidence in the consumer.

Lesson No. 3: More consumers are utilizing technology. In working with my focus group, I learned people utilize technology in different ways. When it comes to ordering online, most prefer to use their computers rather than their phones. In addition, many enjoyed using YouTube to get information on how things work.

My advice: Create a YouTube channel to show your customers how to choose flooring and explain the installation process.

 

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.