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Retail Education: Creative promos spark sales during lull

December 18/25, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 14

By Ken Ryan

 

This special FCNews Retail Education series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help specialty retailers build their business through proven merchandising and marketing strategies as well as general best practices.

 

There’s a reason many flooring dealers use the weeks leading up to Christmas to take a much-needed vacation—it’s because those 30-45 days between Thanksgiving and New Years are generally the slowest time of the year for business. To that end, most flooring retailers refrain from investing too much in advertising and hold off promotions until January.

As a general rule, Carpet One Floor & Home—the largest retail buying group—does not share information on past or future promotions because it does not want to disclose this information to competitors. However, the group’s members—individually—are free to come up with their own sales promotions, and some did this holiday season. Atlas Floors Carpet One in San Antonio, for example, is running a “12 Days of Christmas” promotion with a local radio station whereby the winner receives a $500 store gift card. “It definitely generates some excitement and is a fun way to lead into the holidays,” said Billy Mahone III, manager. “The winner actually sings about our company to the classic holiday tune on live air. This is our second year doing it. We weren’t sure how it would go the first year, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.”

Fellow San Antonio retailer, O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring, similarly held a “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway” with local TV station KSAT 12. Contestants entered through ksat.com, with the winner taking home a festive holiday rug from O’Krent’s. During the holidays, the retailer also launched a Pet Defense promotion offering 35% off of select styles of carpet.

In order to drive sales during what is typically a slow season, retailers are reaching into their promotional bag of tricks. At Annville, Pa.-based Allwein Carpet One Floor & Home, for instance, the retailer is offering discounts on rugs and remnants in a move to clear out inventory and make a few extra bucks in the process. “Around this time of the year I like to offer extra discounts on all in-stock products and products that can walk out the door within a few days,” said Lauren Allwein-Andrews, manager. “We have been running extra discounts on all in-stock area rugs in addition to special order rugs because they are a quick sell. Customers can instantly upgrade their décor and satisfy their instant gratification fix. The same is true for all in-stock remnants, bound rugs and anything else that we want to unload so we can get our inventory down before the end of the year.”

As the weather gets colder, according to Allwein-Andrews, the store sees an uptick in carpet sales. As such, it offers various sales on carpet because consumers are looking for a sweet deal this time of year.

Not all dealers see the holidays as a time to play off seasonal promotions. At Flooring America/Flooring Canada, which just finished a strong national promotion on two of its key proprietary brands (Innovia carpet and Downs hard surface) no December promotions are planned for its members. As Keith Spano, CEO, explained, “Most of our members use this time prior to conneXtion (our winter convention) to evaluate the products and programs on their showroom floors and make plans for new product introductions. This is also a good time for our members to evaluate retail trade-ups by category, local representation, stock items and vendor partnerships as we head into a new calendar year.”

Throughout the year 

Crest Flooring in Allentown, Pa., is no stranger to year-round promotions to drive business. Starting Nov. 20 and running through most of December, the retailer is offering a 36-month, 0% and no-money-down offer on carpet and LVT. Customers can get new carpet in their entire upstairs for $99 a month based on 800 sq. ft. of carpet. As well, they can have LVT installed in their kitchen for only $30 a month for 36 months based on 110 sq. ft. of kitchen.

Rusmur Floors Carpet One Floor & Home, in Bridgeville, Pa., is offering customers $20 off carpet remnants on 12-foot x 9-foot and larger carpets. Customers are instructed to go to the dealer’s Facebook page, download the coupon and redeem it in-store for the savings.

Several other flooring dealers are offering similar deals. Flooring America of Ashburn, Va., is inviting customers to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a $1,000 gift card to REI (Recreational Equipment), an American retail and outdoor recreation services company that sells sporting goods, camping gear, travel equipment and clothing.

 

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Retail education: Training remains priority No. 1

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.30.07 AMThis special FCNews Retail Education series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help specialty retailers build their business through proven merchandising and marketing strategies as well as general best practices.

 

 

August 14/21, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 5

A flooring retailer stood up at a trade conference and bemoaned the amount of training he was providing his staff. “What if I spend the next year training them and then they leave—maybe even go to the competition?”

Sitting nearby, a second retailer stood up and said: “That may be true but what if you don’t provide any training, and they decide to stay with you?”

Professional training—whether it’s for sales associates or installers—may be a necessary evil in the flooring trade but it is necessary nonetheless.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.26.37 AM“Training your employees will give you a return on your investment that is practically immediate—and it never ends,” said Donato Pompo, president, Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants.

Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), said training is more important than ever. “The bottom half of most any market is gone whether you are selling flooring or T-bone steaks. For the independent retailer I think their real fertile fields are middle and up, and the customer is going to want more from an associate than what she can find with a national chain. Those who are succeeding are doing so selling better goods, and the better goods need to be sold with the right sales help.”

To that end, the WFCA continues to refresh is training curriculum, which is divided into management and sales modules. The association is working on a certification for its online university so it can “hold people accountable,” Jennings said. “The average retailer does about $2.4 million and not all of those people have had business management classes. You’d be amazed how many people don’t know ‘mark up’ from ‘margin.’”

Following is an update on the various training programs available from several major flooring industry associations.

WFCA
WFCA University has expanded training programs by nearly 20%, with 46 training modules available online through its subscription program and 11 new destination camps planned in seven locations across the U.S.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.27.55 AMThe extensive training program offers educational courses for professionals in a wide variety of functions such as sales, merchandising and human resources. The coursework is broken down based on the career path and professional stage. “Upon initial launch of the WFCA University program we saw many middle-, senior- and owner-level executives tapping into the training program,” said Freida Staten, vice president of marketing and communications. “Since that time, the adoption rate of our program has broadened to include many professionals in the early and middle stages of their careers.”

CFI
The CFI Institute offers accelerated training and professional certification to individuals seeking to learn how to install all types of flooring. “We created our school and launched the first accelerated carpet installation training course as part of our commitment to tackle the installation problem that touches everyone in our industry,” said Robert Varden, vice president. “Together with WFCA and our many supportive partners, we are working continuously to put an end to a problem that affects everyone.”

Through the proprietary class, CFI can take individuals with no prior experience or knowledge in flooring and—after an intensive, five-week course—turn out certified residential carpet installers capable of completing a highly professional job in a standard three-bedroom home. In addition to the accelerated carpet class, the school offers long- and short-term training programs in every flooring product category for students at all levels.

INSTALL
With polished concrete flooring growing in popularity as an attractive option for large commercial and retail spaces across America, INSTALL—the Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.26.42 AMInternational Standards and Training Alliance—is are working quickly to produce dedicated training for the installation and finishing process. “There is a surprising amount of care that goes into concrete floor polishing,” said Mark Olson, INSTALL flooring instructor at the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Untrained installers can miss critical steps, including scratch-testing to ensure the concrete has reached an adequate level of hardness.”

Large installations can have hundreds of pours, meaning multiple rounds of scratch and moisture testing are necessary. Much like hardwood flooring, it is critical that installers use special vacuums to remove all dust and debris between polishings, experts say. If anything is left over, it can easily scratch the floor and the team will have to start over. As an INSTALL subject matter expert, Olson flies to the Carpenter’s International Training Center once a month to develop curriculum that will help prevent these failures from occurring in the first place.

“We are hard at work developing classroom and hands-on training specifically geared toward polished concrete flooring,” he said. “From dying concrete to creating insets with logos, INSTALL will be the only organization with a formal training manual for concrete polishing and resinous flooring. It’s cutting edge.”

NWFA
Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.26.46 AMThe National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) offers training for wood flooring sales both in person and online through NWFA University. Since being launched a year ago, more than 15,000 online courses have been completed. Online training, in particular, is extremely convenient because large sales crews can be trained simultaneously. At the same time, individual members can complete the training at their own pace. “It also allows us to provide timely, accurate education in a way that is extremely affordable,” said Stephanie Owen, NWFA director of education and member engagement. NWFA’s training costs $100 per company per year, and any number of company employees can participate in the training even if they are in multiple locations.

Another advantage of NWFA University, according to Owen, is the digital “badging” component. Digital badges are graphic images that represent a learned skill; in NWFA’s case they also contain metadata verifying the recipient’s proficiency with that skill. This metadata includes the date the badge was earned, information about NWFA as the issuer of the badge and the specific skill that was learned and confirmed through testing. These digital badges can be shared publically on social media platforms, websites and e-mails to market the sales associate’s expertise. They also can become part of the sales associate’s life-long digital resume.

NTCA
The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) has completed the first year of related content for its Apprenticeship Program. Year one of the two-year online training program consists of 64 courses that serve as an introduction to the tile industry beginning with the basics of cutting, mixing and grouting before moving on to surface preparation, underlayment application and other installation processes.

With 500 enrollments for the first year of curriculum, these courses are intended to support contractors in training by serving as a training resource for employees who are new to the industry or for those who may be affiliated with the contractor’s Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program.

In addition to proper training for new hires, these courses may also serve as continued education for tile professionals who would like to refresh their memory on basic industry knowledge. “When we started developing these courses, I knew very little of the actual tile installation process including materials, tools and all of the steps required before installing tile,” said Becky Serbin, NTCA training and education coordinator. “We worked with experienced contractors and manufacturers to simplify the courses so someone such as myself, who is new to the installation process, would be able to understand industry terminology and apply course information on the job.”

Ceramic Tile and Stone
Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.28.29 AMAt Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, Pompo developed a university (UofCTS.org) tool featuring online training courses for tile and stone salespeople and installers. The courses are developed with the latest technology to maximize learning and retention. The courses take five to eight hours to complete, and the student can take the course in one night or over a two-week period with 24/7 access. Upon completion, students receive a personalized certificate and a student reference guide that can be downloaded and kept for reference.

The “Understanding the Basics of Tile” and “Basics of Stone” courses are designed to give students the requisite background and technical information while teaching them how to professionally sell using consultative approach. “Students who complete these courses become immediately more effective in their jobs,” Pompo explained. “It gives them knowledge, confidence and credibility in the eyes of the customer. The student becomes confident and feels good about their knowledge, which motivates them and improves their performance.”

UofCTS includes the “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards” (ITS) verification course, which teaches installers the industry installation standards, practices and methods so they can avoid costly failures. The course is available in English or Spanish.

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Retail Education: Tried-and-true practices for recruiting, hiring and training

This FCNews Retail Education series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help specialty retailers build their business through proven merchandising and marketing strategies as well as general best practices.  

December 19/26, 2016: Volume 31, Number 14
By Reginald Tucker

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-3-10-13-pmFor Majorie Benson, owner of Friendly Floors, the key to hiring the right salesperson lies in finding someone who is sincere. “I believe sincerely wanting to match a product and installation type to a consumer’s wants and needs is the key to a successful, full-service flooring business. I don’t hire ‘salespeople’ types; I don’t want anyone on our team who has the tendency to sell whatever is most advantageous to his or her own pocket rather than what is best for the customer.”

Billy Mahone III, Atlas Floors Carpet One in San Antonio, takes a similar approach. “Over the years we have put more of an emphasis on interpersonal skills and professionalism and less on industry-specific experience. We have found that you can teach new hires the floor covering business, but you can’t teach someone to have a customer-centric attitude.”

On the other hand, at A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring in Burlington, Mass., experience is a non-negotiable requirement. “We look for solid selling skills and being able to connect with people. People like to buy from someone they trust, so it is essential for our salespeople to be likable and connect with people.”

Experts in the field of hiring, training and recruiting believe the onus lies on the person or people making the hiring decisions—not on the candidate. David Romano, founder of Romano Consulting Group and Benchmarkinc, advises retailers to follow a tried-and-true formula for not only hiring the right candidates but also retaining them if they turn out to be a good fit.

Step 1: Create an interview agenda; Step 2: Zero in on the candidate; and Step 3: Decide what to ask. While Step 1 is rudimentary and self explanatory, Steps 2 & 3 allow the interviewer to really drill down and get inside the interviewee’s head. “Before asking the first interview question, review the job description—especially the hiring criteria as well as everything the interviewee has submitted (i.e., résume, cover letter, online profile). This allows you to hone in on what you’re looking for in a candidate.”

This step, according to Romano, reveals information about the candidate’s background, work experience and skill level. More importantly, it gives the interviewer the chance to clarify what they learned from the résume, profile or even previous interviews. “It provides a general sense of the candidate’s overall intelligence, aptitude and enthusiasm/attitude and whether he/she fits the job. It also provides the capability to evaluate a candidate’s motivation to tackle job responsibilities, desire to join the company and the ability to integrate into the current work team.”

Above all else, Romano strongly recommends owners or hiring managers pay careful attention to the candidate’s responses. “Don’t rehearse your next question in your mind. Although you have your questions written down, don’t hesitate to veer from those if you want to reword or follow up on something, or even eliminate questions that were already covered.”

Broaden your horizons
Some experts recommend retailers take the recruiting/hiring process a step further by taking generational considerations into account. Just ask Lisbeth Calandrino, who for the past 20 years has been consulting retailers on everything from hiring, training and recruiting to marketing and designing showrooms. With respect to hiring and training, she believes it’s important to focus on millennials as potential employees as they represent the future.

“Companies used to rely on hiring salespeople who were well versed in flooring; these days, companies are looking for employees who have the skills that match the new customers, which includes computer knowledge. The problem with hiring older employees is their lack of computer skills and understanding the attitudes of the younger generation.”

Like Romano, Calandrino offers a few proven tips on how retailers can nurture (and even retain) this important demographic:

  • Provide educational opportunities as often as possible. Gen Y is well educated and believes in learning and achieving. Instead of having a boss, they are more likely to want to be part of the process and would appreciate having a coach to help them achieve.
  • Since they are team oriented, getting along with others is a priority. They want to collaborate and learn from others on their teams. They will work hard to make sure the team concept is efficient.
  • They don’t expect to stay with one job until retirement. This group is considered mobile and is willing to move to another job if possible. They aren’t as tied down as their predecessors.
  • Take advantage of their technological talent. Many companies are struggling with their social media presence. Since this is pretty much second nature to millennials, learn as much as you can from them and put the strategies to work.
  • Provide as much flexibility as possible. These employees are talented and capable of working alone. They are clear about their positions. They tend to be very home and family oriented.

Regardless of the strategy or approach, at the end of the day you have to hire based on the needs of the business and the market dynamics in your area. As Romano states: “Always focus on your business needs during your interview process, and you’ll find the best new hire time after time.”

 

 

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Retail Education: Best practices

May 23/30, 2016; Volume 30, Number 24

This special FCNews Retail Education series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help specialty retailers build their business through proven merchandising and marketing strategies as well as general best practices. Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.11.49 PM

Pam Kulick, owner of JK Carpets, Locust Grove, Va., had these words of wisdom for floor covering dealers looking to attract new customers while retaining existing clients: “Build your business on integrity, honesty and superior customer service. Always be sure to follow through on promises. And learn how to say ‘no’ to jobs that you’re not comfortable with or if you’re not confident you’ll completely fulfill the clients’ needs.”

Sam Chesher, president of Carpet Wise Flooring America, Longmont, Colo., recommends dealers focus on the service component. “You have to out-service everybody and differentiate yourself by being heads and shoulders above your competition. It is not the product; it is how you service it.”

For Paul Johnson, Carpet One, Tulsa, Okla., training is the key to success. “I often hear retailers bemoaning the fact they have to spend so much time training their employees. ‘What happens if I train them and then they leave?’ they say. “I tell them, ‘What happens if you don’t train them and they stay?’ The importance of having a well-trained staff cannot be overstated.”

These are just a handful of examples successful retailers cite when speaking on the subject of “best practices.” While the scenarios provided address different subjects—integrity, service, ongoing installation and sales training—theScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.11.56 PM common denominator is the focus on building relationships with both the customer and employees while always aiming to maintain a high standard of doing business.

“Statistics show that approximately 85% to 90% of a flooring dealer’s business is going to come from referrals,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, a retail industry expert for 20 years and a regular columnist for FCNews (see pages 6 and 30 in this issue for more insight). “This has become even more critical because of social media, research shows approximately 70% of consumers won’t buy anything until they consult one of their Facebook friends.”

While retailers have the best intentions in mind, many fall short when it comes to after-sale marketing, Calandrino notes. “If you sold a customer and you don’t stay in touch with them you are discounting all of the hard work you put in to bring that customer in the first place,” she explained. “Most people just send out a thank-you card, thinking that it means a lot to the customer. While they need to send out a card—it’s just common courtesy—some dealers don’t call the customer periodically to follow-up and see if they need flooring for other projects. Dealers need to realize how much repeat business might come from that one customer.”

In many cases, it’s not that retailers don’t realize the important role after-sale marketing plays. Rather, Calandrino says, many store owners and managers just don’t have the time. “They’re too busy focusing on things that don’t matter—like chasing the installer all day to find out why he forgot the right cove base for the job, or something like that. If you are oriented that way, and you have bad systems, you’re always trying to pick up after somebody. Things that are really important and require some thought get tossed by the wayside.”

Calandrino offers this advice for retailers looking to develop a more effective way to generate repeat business using e-mail marketing: “Sending out an e-mail is not e-mail marketing—that’s just trying to get a message out. What’s required is an e-mail marketing campaign—or an after-sale marketing campaign—a well-thought out directive that has trackable hyperlinks. For example, if you want to drive someone to your Facebook page to take advantage of a promotion or an offer, you must have a mechanism in place that provides some statistics, such as open rates or click-throughs.”

For those businesses that might be short-staffed or otherwise too preoccupied to develop such an e-mail marketing initiative, Calandrino offers this suggestion: “If you’re not good at doing these kinds of things, then you need to hire somebody who is.”

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Retail Education: Negatives make positives

By Kelly Kramer

July 22/29; Volume 27/Number 7

Kramer, Kelly Color 05So often in sales we tend to leap headfirst into selling. We greet our new customers and move straight to selling a product we like or the company has asked us to push.  This technique makes us just like every other salesperson out there and lets our potential buyer know we have no concern for their given situations.

It’s like the car dealership that offers everything from sub-compact to high-end luxury cars. The salesperson takes you to the high-end car before he even knows what you are looking for. Sure, pushy and ignorant sales will work a small percentage of the time, but why be like the rest? Why not double or triple that closing average by actually investigating the buyer’s wants and needs and proving you understand which direction to take that is in her best interest? Continue reading Retail Education: Negatives make positives

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Relax, do the footwork

Kramer, Kelly Color 05Volume 26/number 28 June 10/17, 2013

by Kelly Kramer

For many of us old timers in retail flooring sales, we understand there seems to be no rhyme or reason for sales being up or down. The only times I’m pretty sure will be slow are the last two weeks of August and three weeks after Christmas. Then the traditional spikes in business are before any holiday and when folks figure out they are getting money back from taxes.

Periods between those “up” times can be like a roller coaster. For those of us with a tremendous referral, those unstable phases are generally much more common. But recently I find myself scratching my head when I hit those patches when the sales stop for two weeks and it seems most buyers are indecisive or simply can’t buy for some time.  Continue reading Relax, do the footwork

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retail education: My Schlüter experience

Kramer, Kelly Color 05by Kelly Kramer

Well it’s been about 27 years since I took my first job as a retail flooring salesperson. During my initial 17 years I didn’t work or manage a store that sold tile or stone. So when I wrote my first product knowledge book, “Selling Clean,” I had to do very extensive research to write the chapter on those products.

It was about that time I started to sell some tile at a store I was managing in my current town of Loveland, Colo. Since then, I’ve vastly increased my tile sales to the point I’m considered a very strong tile designer and my store is one of the largest tile showrooms in northern Colorado. Continue reading retail education: My Schlüter experience

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Retail education: Quality takes time

By Kelly Kramer

Volume 26/Number 26; May 13/20, 2013

Often in an effort to generate dollars immediately, we forget that selling bottom line and cutting corners to win a bid are harmful to our future.

Having gone through the last five years of a downturn economy put many of you in survival mode. That often means lowering margins and believing you had to lower the quality of your work to match that lower margin. Meanwhile those of us who had a 10 to 40-plus year track record of great quality installations, great service and fair prices simply continued our quality practices. Continue reading Retail education: Quality takes time

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Retail Education: The phenomenon

Volume 26/Number 25; April 29/May 6, 2013

By Kelly Kramer

Earlier this year I encountered a situation that you, as a retailer, may have already had happen to you. Or maybe it will never happen.

A customer called me to complain that the carpet we installed nine months ago in her home was getting large spots on it. Only twice before in my career—which has spanned over 25 years—had I seen this. My first thought was pooling, and as it turned out I was correct. Continue reading Retail Education: The phenomenon