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My take: Ten retailer resolutions for 2018

January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15

By Steven Feldman

 

Let me first begin this first column of 2018 by wishing our readers a Happy New Year from all of us at Floor Covering News. Here’s hoping 2018 brings you everything you wish for yourselves both professionally and personally.

As I’ve done the past few years, I thought it would be appropriate to use this first column of 2018 to reprint a portion of something that lands in my email every year from Pami Bhullar, retail trainer extraordinaire from Invista. Bhullar continues his tradition of creating his New Year’s resolutions for flooring professionals. He believes if retailers can implement at least three of the following 10 objectives, they will see improved results—especially considering most predict 2018 to be a year of real growth.

The foundation of this year’s resolutions is the belief that upselling is out; rightselling is in. Therefore, the success of retail sales professionals may depend on the ability to partner with and interview customers to deliver products and services that meet their needs, wants and values. Key point: Price is always negotiable but value isn’t. Customers remember the bitterness of poor quality long after they forget the sweetness of low price.

So without further ado…

  1. Strive for excellence: “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit.” —Aristotle. The question is how do we excel and become excellent? Repeat what you do well, improve it every day and you will excel. Have a knack for improving things every day.
  2. C.A.R.E. for your customers: C.A.R.E stands for consistency, assurance, responsiveness and empathy. Consistently do an excellent job no matter if it is large or small. Assurance is knowing what to do and having the tools to do your job. It is telling your story. Responsiveness is proactively finding your customers’ needs, wants and values and delivering them with the utmost care. Empathy (not to be confused with sympathy) is feeling the way they feel, understanding their perspective, etc.
  3. Explain the process: Remember, customers buy carpet one, two or no more than three times in their lifetime on average. Explaining the process of how to buy flooring empowers the customer to make the right decision. For example: “Mrs. Jones, buying carpet is very simple at our store. First, we will find the right carpet for you, then we will find your preferred color and then we will select the right cushion to set up a measure.”
  4. A.C.T.: Action Changes Things. Do something special for your customers, something unexpected. Wow them with kindness and go the extra mile. ACT on what you learned.
  5. Fiber matters: Learn the differences, benefits and usages of six fibers that are commonly used in residential flooring (nylon 6, nylon 6,6, polyester, triexta, olefin and wool). Present the benefits—not the features or warranties—as customers are coming to buy the benefits. Explain the cost and advantages with simple everyday analogies. Example: Use of nylon 6,6 in high-performance materials such as parachutes, air bags, etc.
  6. Develop perfect communication: Perfect communication is where precise and clear communications intersect. When your customers understand you, they may not like it but it might be easier to accept it.
  7. Set specific goals: Goals are like the directions to your destination. The clearer the direction, the more enjoyable the journey. Set a goal of a minimum 8% to 10% growth in sales and two to three points in margin. Put it in writing, put it in front of you and focus on achieving it.
  8. Health and well-being: This is not a passing trend. As consumers become more educated, they are looking for solutions. Understand and promote the benefits of specific carpets that have technology that promotes health and wellness.
  9. Price vs. cost: Understand the relationship of price to cost. Price is what we pay and cost is the impact over the long run. Many branded products may have a slightly higher price on day one but long-term cost is less. Price is a feature; long-term cost is a value/benefit.
  10. Product knowledge (PK) vs. sales training or knowledge: Product knowledge is important, but with the Internet your customers find out many of the product attributes online. Sales training is how to use the product knowledge to match the products with customers’ needs, wants and values. Enhance your knowledge on selling tools and techniques.
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My take: Another visit from St. Nicholas

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

By Steven Feldman

 

Back by popular demand, round 2 …

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
We were praising our advertisers – not FloorFolio or Kraus.
Almost all our accounts had stepped up their game;
Those who did not we will not mention by name.

For most in our industry 2017 was strong;
Those who struggled may have done something wrong.
So many manufacturers kept selling more,
Especially those who market rigid core.

Tucker, Baillie and Ryan all snug in their beds,
While visions of Christmas bonuses danced in their heads.
Nadia Ramlakhan in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Dustin Aaronson quite busy with boxes and bubble wrap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
Was expecting a jolly old man carrying loads of toys.
But away to the window I ran real quick,
To see many from our industry, like Tarkett’s Jeff Fenwick.

Through the darkness I could see someone approach;
When he got real close I knew it was Piet Dossche.
Enjoying his millions which came in scores,
All from the sale of USFloors.

He was with three men, all dressed to the nines
Happy to own all the COREtec lines.
Of course it was Vance Bell and retiring Randy Merritt,
And good ol’ Tim Baucom, Merritt’s presidency to inherit.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

With the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Came the man to my door not just to say hello.
He wanted to know who was naughty and nice;
Why was I the one whom he was seeking advice?

“You’re the publisher of the industry’s top magazine;
You know all that’s happening on the flooring scene.”
I said in my position I’m not one to judge
Nor do I know who exactly to begrudge.

Instead, I said, I’ll recap the year in flooring,
A year in which WPC went soaring.
So as to 2017 we bid adieu,
What follows here is the year in review.

We started with Surfaces, still in its own league,
Thanks to people like Gilmore, Swayze and Teague.
Mandalay Bay is where the show now stands;
I hope someday it returns to the Sands.

Mannington came to Vegas with plenty of sizzle,
Much to the delight of Campbell and Grizzle.
On the show floor they received great placement,
The highlight of which was Jay’s Bargain Basement.

Mohawk showed dealers how they could make some dinero
With Unified Soft Flooring, which goes by Air.o.
With features and benefits that can alter the landscape,
A real game changer, according to Tom Lape.

Whether we’re talking LVT, WPC or rigid core,
Those in that game continued to sell more.
Everyone seems to be getting in the mix
With products like Sono, CoreLoc and Acrylx.

Armstrong bought Mannington’s vinyl composition tile,
Its leadership position now extends to a mile.
Residentially the focus was on innovation again
With technology they are calling Diamond 10.

In the fall the NFA took issue with two firms
That actually attempted to do away with terms.
These top dealers wield a powerful stick;
Guys like Roberts, Koufidakis, Longwill and Flick.

Harvey and Irma hit Houston and Florida pretty hard;
Hurricanes that were felt in many retailers’ backyard.
But the industry came together, as you knew it would;
In desperate times we all do good.

After year-long rumors Beaulieu finally shut its doors;
It assets absorbed by Engineered Floors.
Bob Shaw stands tall in all his glory;
What he’s done in seven years is an amazing story.

We said good-bye to the man from Abbey,
Sometimes nice and sometimes crabby.
I liked the guy when he wasn’t a grump
Or when his ego wasn’t the size of President Trump.

Anderson-Tuftex became a high-end brand;
Carrie Edwards Isaac, Katie Ford have big things planned.
The Anderson products are the best in forever,
Or at least since Shaw undertook this endeavor.

We saw a deal between Belknap and Haines;
This alliance should produce its share of gains.
What happens going forward is anyone’s guess;
It’s not something you can expect Ray Mancini to address.

St. Nick then thanked me and said with a smile,
“This is all a lot to compile.
So what is that you want in 2018?
Don’t you think it’s time you found your queen?”

I said I’ve kinda given up on finding the next Mrs. Steve
What they say is true about the tangled webs we all weave.
But there is one thing to which I constantly aspire
And I will explain that to you since you just did inquire.

You see, for all our readers I wish continued health,
And anything we can do to improve their wealth.
Whether it’s a manufacturer or those with stores,
All we want to do is help them sell more floors.

This is what separates us from all the rest;
We wake up every day striving to be the best.
You know we couldn’t do this without your support
I hope and pray we never fall short.

And with that St. Nick sprang to his sleigh,
And away he flew to be on his way.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year – 2018 will be bright.

Happy holidays to everyone, thanks for reading all year and our heartfelt appreciation for all your support.

 

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My take: What does tax reform mean for small business?

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

By Steven Feldman

 

Tax reform. You’ve been hearing about it since pre-election 2016. Now it is virtually assured as it moves from rhetoric to reality. I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of it, especially considering a final bill has not yet landed on the President’s desk. But as the publisher of the industry’s leading trade magazine, I felt it was our duty to outline what it might mean for you, our readers, many of whom are small business owners.

This isn’t about the “1%-ers” and middle class. The sole purpose of this editorial is to explain, as I understand it, what this means for the small business owner. The House and Senate still need to reconcile some details, and Congress is scheduled to adjourn for its Christmas break Dec. 15. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will keep the House in session beyond that date if necessary to get tax reform passed.

First, the Senate bill allows owners of so-called “pass-through” businesses (profits are passed through to the owners, shareholders and partners) to deduct 23% of their earnings, and then pay at their personal income tax rate on the remainder. According to the Tax Foundation, 90% of small businesses are set up as pass-through entities, not corporations. You will also still be able to take advantage of deductions for capital expenditures and tax credits for research, development and hiring.

The 23% deduction would be prohibited for anyone in a service business—except those with taxable incomes under $500,000 if married ($250,000 if single).

There are mechanisms in place to prevent abuse of the pass-through tax break. For example, if the owner or partner in a pass-through also draws a salary from the business, that money would be subject to ordinary income tax rates. But to prevent people from reclassifying their wage income as business profits to get the benefit of the pass-through deduction, the Senate bill would automatically limit the deduction to half of the W-2 wages of the pass-through entity or its share to the individual taxpayer. The W-2 rule would not apply, however, if the filer’s taxable income is under $500,000 if married ($250,000 if single).

What about corporate tax rates? Like the House bill, the Senate bill cuts the current 35% rate to 20%, but the Senate bill calls for a one-year delay in dropping the rate. Whether this happens immediately or one year down the road is to be determined. The delay would reduce the cost of the measure in the first 10 years.

Now, as a small business owner, you might not appreciate the fact that big corporations are getting a bigger tax break. In addition, the House is giving those companies hoarding their billions overseas a chance to bring that money back to the U.S. at a 12% taxation rate. That’s great for big companies, yes, but it’s also good for small businesses.

Why? Because small businesses need big businesses for their growth and income. Big companies hire small businesses to do all sorts of things. Big companies also employ people who—when times are good and their salaries are increasing—go home and buy pizzas, hire landscapers, shop for clothes and shower the small businesses—like yours—in their community with the fruits of their disposable corporate incomes.

When tax rates go down, big companies have more options with their money. They can hire people. Will they? Some will and some won’t. But even if they just bank their tax savings, those funds will get deposited with financial institutions who then finance loans and services back to individuals and small businesses. That’s how small businesses benefit from the tax breaks given to large corporations.

One final thought: Before you think now is the time to go out and buy yourself that fiery red Ferrari as a Christmas present, put the brakes on. Any changes will not have any impact on your taxes for 2017, which are due to the IRS by April 17, 2018. Your only gift right now is you get an extra 48 hours to file because the traditional April 15 due date falls on a Sunday.

 

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My take: There’s a lot to be thankful for

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

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMThe holiday season is now in full swing, and hopefully all our readers had a joyous Thanksgiving and kept the weight gain in check. You know, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything for which we are thankful, something we should be doing regularly, not solely on the fourth Thursday of November.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share some of the things for which I am most thankful—along with some of the things I am not.

First and foremost, I am thankful for my life and the people in it. It may not be exactly how I drew it up on the blackboard 30-plus years ago, but it’s hard to imagine being more fortunate. I remind myself of that every day.

I am thankful for the flooring industry and the people who comprise it. Its health supports all of us here at Floor Covering News, and I am lucky to have more friends inside this industry than outside.

I am thankful for Randy Merritt’s 40-plus years of service to this industry. While I have only been around for 23 of them, I can say few people have walked this path and garnered more respect than Randy.

I am thankful for all our advertisers, large and small, for without them there would be no FCNews.

I am thankful for all the members of the NAFCD. Aside from being great people, distributors work on the tightest of margins, yet the most successful continue to find ways to grow and innovate.

I am not thankful for the management of NAFCD, who failed to secure a large enough room block for its recent convention for all the attendees, including the press, who always have rooms set aside for them. First time in 23 years we were shut out of the site hotel for any event. Even the satellite hotels were sold out, and we found ourselves 20 minutes away amongst homeless people. Sorry, NAFCD; I must call it as I see it.

I am thankful for my business partner, Dustin Aaronson, and my team here at FCNews. Not many people in this world can count their business partner among their closest friends, and I challenge anyone to find a better, more experienced group of people at any trade publication.

I am not thankful for the latest wave of technology at America’s airports: ordering food from iPads vs. humans. This takes customer service and customization completely out of the equation. Just try to have cheese mixed in your scrambled eggs. Not even a degree from MIT will solve that.

I am thankful for Piet Dossche pioneering the WPC and rigid core craze. It has breathed new life into what was a rather stagnant industry and has given retailers a new profit center.

I am not thankful for delayed tax cuts. The clock is ticking on 2017. Tick, tick…

I am thankful for all the people who make Surfaces the premier trade show in the industry. Their hard work often goes unnoticed.

I am not thankful for Eye Candy, the bar in the middle of Mandalay Bay, where much of the industry congregates when we all should be in our beds. My liver does not appreciate.

I am thankful for all the people who would rather wait in the drive-thru line for 15 minutes at Dunkin Donuts rather than get their butts out of the car and walk in. This virtually assures me a straight shot to the counter and no waiting for my coffee.

I am not thankful for people like Harvey Weinstein and the like, who feel they are above reproach. It’s a different world today; get used to it.

I am thankful for the bevy of online dating sites. Without them, my future sit-com will never hit the airwaves and you won’t see me accepting my Emmy. You think “Seinfeld” was funny?

Enjoy the holiday season.

 

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My take: Catching up with an old friend

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

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMFor 14 years Bruce Zwicker led Haines, formerly known as J.J. Haines, the industry’s largest distributor. Under his watch the wholesaler experienced unprecedented growth, both organic and through four acquisitions.

I recently caught up with him, six months removed from his retirement from the company. He’s been enjoying life—traveling, family, the normal stuff—while looking for the next challenge. We talked about the past, present and future, how the only constant is change and much more of that is forthcoming.

Zwicker reflected on the past decade and a half with pride. He is most proud of the growth and diversification of Haines. He believes he left the company stronger than when he found it. And he is proud of the relationships he forged.

We talked about the acquisitions, namely Allied, Design Flooring, Wheeler and CMH. He recalls CMH being the most complex because of its sheer size, but Wheeler was difficult because the timing was less than impeccable—bought at the start of the downturn.

Regrets? He’s had a few, but then again too few to mention. He wishes he moved faster on a few key decisions, specifically the implementation of technology in sales, marketing and logistics. “Haines was good at it, but I think we could have leveraged it more if I could have gone faster.”

What’s different today than 14 years ago? A smaller industry with bigger players. He cited distributors that are no longer in business, manufacturers that have been acquired, and the erosion of the independent floor covering dealer base. The recession has made this industry smaller, both in terms of numbers and demand for its products.

Zwicker fears the continued erosion of the independent specialty retailer. Here’s why. “You look at the big mega retailers that are public companies. If you boil them all together, they are growing on average at a rate of 5%-6%. The residential retail remodel segment is growing 3% on average. So it stands to reason that if the non-independent dealers—big boxes, online, etc.—are growing 6%, then the average independent floor covering dealer is declining mid-single digits. And if some are growing greater than the market, there are a slew of independent dealers declining at double-digit amounts. So that erosion is accelerating.”

His solution? He believes dealers and distributors must diversify and sell products other than flooring. He sees the big boxes having success selling multiple products such as paint, cabinets, countertops, acoustical tiles, etc. And the typical floor covering dealer and distributor tend to sell only flooring. He sees this as a missed opportunity.

With the erosion of the independent floor covering retailer, Zwicker sees consolidation at the distributor level because distributors are battling for a smaller piece of the pie. If there are fewer retailers there will be fewer distributors. That means the remaining distributors will have to carry more brands because there will be fewer distributors for the manufacturer to go through. That’s how he sees the stronger distributors growing, and eventually they’ll have to sell products other than flooring. They’ll need to have low cost, and scale is what gets low cost.

Zwicker also sees a declining independent specialty retail channel as the result of generational change. As retailers age, often the next generation is not ready to step up, or the business is not successful to the point where that next generation does not want to take over something that may not be there.

Eventually we got on the subject of Armstrong, as Haines has long been Circle A’s largest distributor. He thinks the world of CEO Don Maier and believes he is doing “all the right stuff.” Like everyone, he saw top-line sales drop in the second quarter, due in part to the loss of some Home Depot business to Mohawk and walking away from some business that is not overly profitable. He predicts Armstrong gets bigger or smaller but probably won’t stay the same. “They have some legacy stuff. Engineered wood doesn’t make a lot of money. You have two behemoths in Shaw and Mohawk that weren’t this big 15 years ago. And you have importers that won’t go away. That’s another thing that has changed—all the SKUs that have been created on the import side.”

Zwicker predicts a consolidation of sheet vinyl plants in the next year as the category continues to lose share to LVT. He expects to see more LVT capacity, but does not see the category being commoditized because it is not a DIY product like laminate and is a five-tool player (residential, commercial, Main Street, property management and builder) while laminate is primarily residential and DIY.

As for Zwicker himself, he is ready to get back into action, within the flooring industry or not. In a perfect world he will be a CEO of a mid-size to large company, privately held, for three to five years, while sitting on some boards, formal or advisory, beyond the three to five years. He is looking to help a company, make a difference, travel and gain intellectual stimulation. “I have a brain and energy to burn.”

 

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My Take: Installation—It’s time for the call to action

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

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMWe forever talk about the shortage of installers, to the point of often dubbing this the “installation crisis,” but how many of us are doing anything about it? I mean, many retailers throughout the country are finding innovative ways to recruit, train and retain mechanics, but unless you’ve spent the last decade burying your head in the sand like an ostrich, you would agree this situation will only get worse. At the recent National Floorcovering Association (NFA) meeting in Newport, R.I., someone told me the average age of a floor covering installer is 57. If that is true, the situation is more pressing than we think.

Talking to Dean Thompson, president of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, a few days ago at the group’s fall meeting, he feels there is an immediate need for extensive research to be undertaken so we can all gain an accurate handle on the landscape—number of installers out there, average age, attrition rate, number of new people breaking into the field, etc., layered on top of industry growth forecasts. Once the picture is framed, it might be easier for the industry to come together to develop a plan.

The discussion has always centered around where the responsibility falls. Sure, the installer works for the retailer, or the independent installer is commissioned by the retailer. But a dearth of qualified installers impacts everyone across the chain, including the manufacturers. Without qualified mechanics their products cannot be installed properly.

Stay tuned for more on this in upcoming issues of FCNews. But for now, let’s talk about what some retailers are doing. For instance, Deb DeGraaf, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., is looking to develop an internship program for installers. She is attempting to get with the local high schools and recruit new installers because of the need to develop a program to get people interested. Many high school seniors don’t want to go to college and sit at a desk. They want to learn a trade. And we need people to learn our trade.

That’s just one part. There are also veterans in her area who have the GI bill to use, but those funds currently can’t be used for training for anything in our industry. So DeGraaf wants to bring some attention to that and figure out how they can allocate those funds toward our industry. She feels if a program can be developed where young vets who come back from serving our country can be recruited, placed in the field with one of their seasoned installers and get them into a training program, maybe through WFCA or CFI, it would be a good start.

Others are also being proactive. Jim Walters, Macco’s Floor Covering Center, told me the company has had some success in attracting young people into the trade, but it’s been more on the hard surface side. Carpet is still a challenge, he said, because he believes hard surface is better perceived as a trade. Like DeGraaf, the retailer is reaching out to the high schools, but Walters is finding more success in the rural communities as opposed to the cities. He has no idea why. He said it seems like the young people in the rural communities have a great work ethic, surmising that perhaps growing up on a farm, they may have had more experience working with their hands. Whatever the case, he said the wage scale has gone up to the point where it’s a good career for that person who has that skill set to work with their hands.

This is an issue that will not simply go away. It’s time for us all to step up.

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My take: Who says there’s no news in flooring?

October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMIt’s a pretty rare occurrence these days when a big story breaks in the flooring industry. It’s not like 20 years ago when every five minutes Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu and/or Armstrong were making significant acquisitions.

So with that, consider this issue of FCNews somewhat of a throwback. In most weeks, the presentation of our Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award would be in the lead spot. But in this case, Pierre Thabet, CEO of Boa Franc, a most deserving winner, had to step aside. In just about any other issue, the fact that Empire suddenly shuttered every one of its brick and mortar stores would merit top billing. But those two stories were usurped by Engineered Floors’ intent to purchase Beaulieu America and all its assets.

A little perspective on all three. First, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Thabet joins an illustrious group that includes Sandy Mishkin of CCA Global; Don Miller of Roppe; Ralph Boe, Jeff Lorberbaum and Don Finkell. Thabet has built a company with quality as its hallmark, not to mention high style and design. The Mirage brand is synonymous with quality, and a tour of the Boa Franc facility illustrates why. Thabet has also probably done as much for the city of St. Georges, Quebec, as anyone. He checks all the boxes when it comes to this award.

Now Empire. If you’re a flooring retailer, give yourself a pat on the back, have a drink. While Empire closed only two locations on Long Island, one in Virginia and a couple of store-within-a-store prototypes in JC Penney, it proved a salient point—just because a mammoth company tries to encroach upon your turf, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful. Empire learned what all of you did from day one—it ain’t easy. It validates what you do day in and day out. I am not privy to any of the discussions that were held in the boardroom, but it stands to reason that a lack of success fueled the decision to lock the doors. Word on the street is the stores just did not meet expectations. Bottom line: No one knows the retail business as well as you. And having that local presence still means a lot.

Now Beaulieu. Where do I begin? There’s not enough space here for every one of my thoughts, and I may devote a column to this down the road. In short: It’s a bit ironic that Engineered Floors is the intended buyer given the birth of that company greatly contributed to the downward spiral as another serious competitor in a mature industry.

Next, Carl Bouckaert, a true gentleman, a favorite of retailers, a man who built the company into the only privately held billion-dollar mill. Once he reached the peak of the mountain, he had to deal with negative forces: a faltering economy as well as challenges that result from co-owning a family business when the family itself is going through its own trials and tribulations. No need to elaborate.

This was not the first time the company had its back against the wall. The most recent time was in the early 2000s, and Bouckaert hired the aforementioned Ralph Boe, who turned the company around, in part by rationalizing SKUs and hiring strong sales and marketing leaders. But “family dynamics” led to Boe’s departure and the appointment of Karl Vercruyssen, Boe’s polar opposite. It wasn’t long before Vercruyssen was also an ex-CEO. And by then the debt had grown to a point where people were outwardly questioning the company’s life span.

What happens next? Only time will tell. Beaulieu has good products. The commercial division was once well into the nine figures. Now a man named Mr. Shaw gets to fix things. Rumor has it the Coronet name will be resurrected. Who knows?

Just another issue of FCNews.

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My take: My updated list of ‘most annoying’ travelers

September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMThere are times when we all get writer’s block. This is one of those times. Maybe the ADHD is setting in. More probable is that my difficulty in focusing is due to a couple of hurricanes that ravaged parts of two of our most populous states, followed by the 16-year anniversary of 9/11. So I apologize if my head is not in the game this week.

Rather than dwell on tragedy, let’s switch gears and try to find some levity in this difficult month. And that levity comes in the form of one of my favorite topics—air travel. If you recall, two years ago I wrote a column about 10 of the most annoying people you encounter when you fly. They included: those who can’t master the art of going through security; those who congregate at the gate five zones ahead of their assigned group; those who make five trips to the restroom on a two-hour flight; those who snore, are gaseous or bring the most pungent food on planes; and those who try to fit small pianos in the overhead space, to name a few.

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of meeting a flight attendant named “Crystal” (name changed to protect the innocent). We learned that we shared a disdain for selfish or self-absorbed passengers. I then forwarded her the column I referenced above. She loved it so much she asked if she sent me some of her favorites would I write part 2. So, without further adieu, here is the follow-up to “The most wanted people—or at least they should be,” with input from the coolest flight attendant ever.

  1. Impediments to on-time departures. “I can’t stand when passengers come on the plane and put their bags up only to stand there and take everything out while holding up the boarding process. You know what you need to travel; don’t hold my line up.”
  2. Open seating? “Sometimes seat assignments preclude people from sitting with their travel companions. They often assume other passengers will switch seats with them so they can sit with their loved ones. They sit in whatever seat they want and tell the passenger whose seat they are occupying to go sit somewhere else. They’re putting people on the spot. Most passengers pick their seats for a reason.”
  3. In the zone—their own. “I despise people who keep their headphones in during service and then ask me to repeat, ‘peanuts, pretzels, cookies or granola bar’ seven times.”
  4. Loud talkers. “I’m all for conversation but the person in 11F is not interested in what 6D is telling 7C. Keep it down. Can you imagine if these people were allowed to talk on the phone during the flight?”

And now me…

  1. Anglers. Don’t you love it when you are waiting in the gate area for a few minutes to board, they call your zone, you get in line and then people suddenly appear out of nowhere and “angle in.” It’s like, “You can wait on line; I’ll just merge in.”
  2. Middle seat hogs. One of the greatest gifts you can receive in air travel is when you are seated on the aisle or window and the middle seat is vacant. However, some people try to claim this space as more convenient storage than the area beneath the seat in front of them.
  3. Stuck in time. Remember Pan Am? TWA? They are long gone. So are choices of free meals in coach. In fact, there are no free meals on 99% of flights. You have to love those people who ask the attendant for their choice of free meals in coach.
  4. Rushers. There is a protocol for exiting an airplane. Surprisingly—or maybe not so—not everyone knows it. You allow the people seated in front of you to exit their rows before you proceed. How do you like the person in 36D who jumps out of his seat like a jackrabbit when the bell sounds, trying to get as far front as possible until someone enters the aisle and blocks his path?
  5. Clappers. Why do people applaud the fact we landed safely? That is one of the few responsibilities that remain for the airlines. Do you applaud the mailman when he delivers your bills? On second thought, maybe applause is in order. Because landing signals my cue to escape.
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My take: Make no mistake—The future of retail is here

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Steven Feldman

 

What does Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods mean to you? Probably nothing. Possibly everything.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMAt the very least, if you are a Whole Foods shopper, you are going to see lower prices. Gone are the days of referring to Whole Foods as “Whole Paycheck.” It happened immediately after the $13.7 billion deal closed Aug. 28. Shoppers realized an instantaneous markdown in prices on a number of items, including salmon, avocados, baby kale and almond butter. Other foods that will be cheaper after Labor Day include bananas, eggs, ground beef, rotisserie chicken, butter and apples.

But this is about more than cookies and cream. It’s really about retail, specifically, the changing face of retail. And rest assured, this is about much more than online shopping. Sure, Amazon Prime members are certain to see special discounts and in-store mark-downs. People who live nowhere near a Whole Foods store will now have access to delivery—provided they become Amazon Prime members, boosting revenue for the company.

Truth be told, Amazon has had its eye beyond the online experience for some time. It had been dabbling with traditional brick-and-mortar activities for a few years already—from owning a few physical stores to running experiments like Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go. When the news of the Whole Foods purchase broke a few months ago, some experts saw it as a sign the company had finally caved and made a large investment into physical stores in order to grow. What many didn’t see, however, is the fact this acquisition is in complete alignment with Amazon’s view of the world of retail.

So the 2,000-pound gorilla in the room is the question, what happens if Amazon were to buy a national chain that just happens to sell flooring? What happens if one day you wake up and find Amazon to be your competitor? Don’t think it couldn’t happen? Ask the grocery chains who had previously viewed Whole Foods simply as an expensive alternative with prices about 15% higher.

Let’s take it one step further. What if Amazon then purchased a flooring manufacturer to supply those stores so they control the entire chain? That hardwood or ceramic tile floor would conceivably become more affordable to the masses, just like the organic beef and chicken will now become at Whole Foods.

It begs the question: What would you do?

Make no mistake: Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods marks the beginning of the end of retail as we’ve known it. Or maybe the beginning of the retail industry as it should be. How does this relate to the disruptions that will inevitably come to the flooring industry?

Retail is a ruthless business. It has incredible uncertainty and risk built in. Groceries can go bad in unpredictable ways. The sale of flooring can be affected by unexpected fashion trends, political uncertainty and economic turmoil. To succeed, retailers have to compete on many fronts: they have to invest in the right location; they need to carry the right inventory at the right time; they have to operate with exceptional excellence and provide supreme convenience, often at razor-thin margins.

Technology is going to play a major role going forward in ways none of us have yet to realize. Historically, the flooring industry took a while to adopt technology to disrupt itself. It wasn’t until the 1970s when point-of-sale systems were introduced to replace the very limited electronic cash registers, so retailers could start tracking transactions and tie them to orders and buyers in order to start managing inventory with more certainty. This technology did not reach our industry for decades after that. In contrast, Amazon has approached the problem of retail in a more scientific way since day 1.

Amazon will not be the only company to innovate in this space. The Economist recently unveiled stories of French retailers that had been using software for eight months to mine shoppers’ movements and facial expressions in real time. When surprise, dissatisfaction, confusion or hesitation was detected, clerks were dispatched to help. Sales rose by 10%.

Bottom line: The future of retail is here. Keep your eyes open. Wide open.

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My Take: Ten ways to maximize your store as your brand

August 14/21: Volume 32, Issue 5

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMAs you thumb through this edition, our annual Power of Brands, issue, you will find verbiage submitted by some of the industry’s leading manufacturers on what they believe separates their brand from the pack. That is expressly directed at you, the retailer. But I will pose this question: How do you differentiate your brand to consumers? After all, your store is your brand. If you can’t tell me how your store is different than the one down the block, then you probably aren’t. (Don’t tell me you have better salespeople. They didn’t graduate from MIT and you didn’t hire Ford models.)

Remember, your store is your brand. Most consumers have awareness of only a handful of flooring brands, if that many. So much of their decision as to where to shop and hopefully purchase has to do with your store and brand. With that said, I recently came across an article that delved into the rules retailers should follow for creating a strong brand in their marketplace.

  1. Your brand must communicate your store’s image. Retail brands should serve as reinstatement of your store’s identification. It’s important to note that true brands build customer loyalty, even through economic downturns and recoveries. The quality of the merchandise should be communicated effectively. For instance, you can instantly tell the difference between Target and Saks Fifth Avenue every step of the way, from the exterior to the signage and throughout the interior.
  2. Top management must be committed to supporting the brand’s strategy. Private-label branding should not be a function of individual buyers within a category that are autonomous from each other. Top management needs to synergistically work with a skilled marketing team. Your store brand must be broader than any individual item in the store or single category. XYZ Flooring must encompass carpet, wood, tile, LVT, etc., and be overarching.
  3. Create your store brand cohesively. It’s not usually a good practice to imitate other brands, at least not if your purpose is to build store brand or company name equity. You don’t want consumers to think of you as “like Target” or “like Nordstrom” or like anything else for that matter.
  4. Define your store’s point of differentiation. Retailers need to know and understand their target consumer, and the store brand should reflect the store-branding philosophy and image of the store.
  5. Be unique to generate curiosity. Invest in innovation to maintain the leading edge and reinforce brand equity. Refrain from “look-alike” marketing. Doing so will only breed confusion. You must build consumer confidence that your store is better.
  6. Design and implement attractive store merchandising. Always be aware of the quality perception compared to your competition. Analyze how best to present the products to the consumer and avoid the rubber-stamp approach. You will also want an overall, consistent look that consolidates store brand imaging. (The buying groups do this effectively.) The consumer visualizes a product through merchandising. Then she forms an opinion about value and performance.
  7. Position your store brand effectively in each product category. Retain your stylistic relationship to the overall private brand program.
  8. Your brand must reflect the price, quality and value strategy of your store. In other words, market from the position you’re in. There is such a thing as “over doing” it, and it will hurt your credibility with the consumer.
  9. Renew excitement with each new product you carry. New products deserve attention and fanfare. Retailers own their showroom and the ability to create and stimulate interest. Use advertising, promotions and point-of-purchase displays to create the right attention.
  10. Monitor your brands constantly. Make sure each brand you carry reflects your own brand identity. Analyze consumer shopping habits and performance. Never become complacent. Make modifications if necessary.