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Brush up business management skills with corporate leaders

Dalton, Ga.—Whether it’s financial management, marketing, customer service, negotiating skills or pointers on how to be a better leader, WFCA University’s business management curriculum can help keep you and your staff at the top of your game. 

WFCA University offers immersive programs covering all aspects of business management. In total, there are 25 online training modules focused on everything from business financials to merchandising to process involvement. The coursework is the product of business leaders from across the country, each of whom brings extensive experience and a proven track record to the table.

“WFCA University is tailored to deliver just the right level of training for every stage of an individual’s career, whether just starting out or a highly seasoned business owner,” said Freida Staten, vice president, marketing and communications, WFCA. “The business management component covers all of the bases—budgets, delegation, motivation, communication, management and more. All modules are live action and engaging and provide testing and certification 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

For more information on WFCA University, custom training or to access online training, visit: wfca.org. You can also contact Tom Jennings, vice president, professional development, WFCA, at 785-423-1212 or tjennings@wfca.org.

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Lessons learned: You can have it all

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

By Tom Jennings

 

During a business trip to Dallas not long ago, I found myself staying in a large, iconic downtown hotel. Throughout my stay, I kept asking myself how my reservation had been accepted as it seemed as if the hotel’s entire population consisted of Mary Kay Cosmetics representatives. My visit proved to be an eye-opening experience.

If enthusiasm is contagious, everyone in this property was quite exposed. Everywhere you looked you saw hugging, cheering and successes being celebrated. The ladies were all dressed in their finest and their faces were aglow. When I contrasted this with how the average flooring salesperson looks and behaves when they drag into work each morning, I could only say wow! I didn’t know what was in the Kool Aid that they were drinking, but I sure wanted to find out.

Being a typical male, I had certainly heard of the late Mary Kay Ash, but I didn’t possess any real knowledge of what she was all about. I decided to do some research by reading her book “You Can Have it All.” My goal was to see what common traits could be woven into the floor covering business.

Following are three key reminders and take-aways from a marketing master:

Give praise. Ms. Ash, founder of Mary Kay, Inc., said, “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two thick layers of praise.” First, remember we all had a first day on the job—just as we had a first baseball game or piano lesson when we were young. Many of us had a teacher, or a coach, who believed in us and encouraged us to practice and improve. They celebrated our doing something “approximately correct” while learning. If you didn’t have this positive influence, you probably soon lost interest and gave up.

The same is true when building sales knowledge and ability. The successful sales trainees have a mentor who monitors their progress, offers encouragement and celebrates their victories as their careers grow. As Ms. Ash wisely said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging around their neck that reads: ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this message when working with people.”

Appearance is everything. Mary Kay knew that in the cosmetics industry, appearance trumps all. She extolled the value of being a lady and encouraged her beauty consultants to always be prompt and to only speak positively. And they should always have their “faces” on. “Nothing happens until somebody sells something,” she said, adding, “Who’s going to buy makeup from a slob?” I can’t imagine why buying a fashionable floor for your home could be viewed any differently. Your presentation cannot be convincing if you appear as if you are anything less than fully prepared to help your customer achieve her desired results.

Reward success. The enduring philosophy of Mary Kay, Inc., is rewards and recognition will motivate sales. With mink coats, diamonds and, of course, the famous pink Cadillacs, Mary Kay motivated her team and thanked them for their accomplishments. “We treat our people like royalty. If you honor and serve the people who work for you, they will honor and serve you,” she said. It was, and still is, a winning combination of incentives and inspiration that awakened hopes and dreams.

The foundation of Mary Kay, Inc.’s achievements has long been turning normal, everyday people into sales stars by enabling them to believe they have no limits to being successful and to understand that with both great products and a great attitude, all things are possible. A lot of managers in our business would be wise to follow suit.

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: Start at the bottom

April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23

By Tom Jennings

One of the best guides to personal selling success of our time is the late Zig Ziglar’s book “See You at the Top.” I am sure that many of you have read this classic at least once. While its pages have begun to yellow a bit, it remains a must-read for anyone desiring to move from salesperson to sales professional. There can be no argument that when the topic is personal success, we should always keep our eyes cast upward.

Where the measure of a business is concerned, however, I believe that to be ultimately successful, one must always be looking downward to the lowest rung on the corporate ladder. This is particularly true of a service-related business such as ours. I am constantly preaching the gospel that before you can be a good customer-service provider, you must first be an aware customer-service receiver. As you spend your paycheck, pay attention to who your main point of customer contact is and how he or she makes you feel.

Whether you are making a purchase, large or small, it is seldom an executive that leaves a lasting impression. The person most responsible for your attitude regarding your purchase will likely be someone on the bottom end of the salary, training and respect scale.

Great advertising, locations and even pricing aren’t usually the final determinant. It ultimately matters not how fresh the food at a market is if it is not presented well and the checkout staff is indifferent. You can brag all you want about the engineering of my car—but it all cancels out if it is returned from service dirtier than when it arrived. I am not impressed when a computer-generated voice informs me that to improve customer service, my call “may be monitored.” Here’s a novel thought—why not screen and train operators before you let them answer the phones?

When you look closely, you will find that in nearly every instance, your most lasting feelings regarding your purchase will come from those least trained in building customer relationships. In the flooring business, these persons are likely to be the estimator and the installer.

When discussing an estimator’s abilities, results are almost always determined by the accuracy of a job-site assessment. When discussing an installer’s abilities, focus is nearly always placed on his hand skills. While accuracy and hand skills are necessary, ask yourself when was the last time you invested in building his people skills. If the answer is “I don’t know” or “we’ve never done that”—let the red flags go up and the alarm sound. Can you realistically expect them to perform in a manner in which they have not been taught? If you are not making a consistent training investment in all areas of your staff, can you logically expect a positive return? The realistic answer is no.

You may not be paying close attention, but you can be sure your customer is. Always remember the saying, “Good enough seldom is.” This is an area of great opportunity to differentiate your firm from the majority of the flooring retail industry.

Any fool can get lucky on a one-time customer order. It takes a team of professionals to keep the reorders coming in. The best way to build your businesses’ long-term reputation is to start at the back end of the customer’s experience and work forward. Focus on what the customer sees. When you consistently do the seemingly small things well, large rewards can be yours.

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: A few minutes makes a big difference

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Tom Jennings

 

When asked to compare the difference in performance characteristics between a top producing sales professional and an average performer, I always respond that a common trait professionals exhibit is they are willing to invest an extra few minutes per day toward their goal of being successful. By this I mean the minutes they are willing to prepare prior to their sales shift beginning.

Ask yourself if the following scenario sounds vaguely familiar: one minute before he has to be at work, the low-performing salesperson comes gliding through the front door with his breakfast in one hand and his cell phone in the other. He appears as if he has been out of bed for about 10 minutes. His hair is still damp, his tie is draped over his shoulder and his shirt tail is untucked. His rationale is he doesn’t need to be dressed up yet. He’ll have time to finish getting ready when he gets to work. He proceeds to drape his coat on the back of his chair, drop his car keys on the desktop and announces, “I’m here.”

While this may seem exaggerated to some, I have witnessed similar behavior far too many times. The sad reality is those who are only willing to give such marginal efforts are too often allowed to get by with such non-professional performance. Even if he is not concerned about his income-retarding behavior, his manager should be.

Recently, a dealer asked me for suggestions regarding a salesman who was habitually late nearly every morning. When I inquired how long he had been employed, I was told 18 years. I laughed and said not to worry about changing this guy’s behavior as his ship had sailed a long time ago. If he wasn’t fired with enthusiasm by now, then perhaps the time had come for him to be fired with enthusiasm. Remember, as a manager, you will always get the behavior you are willing to accept.

Can you imagine a pro golfer stepping to the first tee with no warm-up session on the driving range? How about the bus unloading a football team in uniform at kickoff time? No mental warm-ups. No physical warm-ups. Just toss the coin and kick off. Never going to happen.

You can’t imagine a great singer not going through the scales before a concert. A talented musician would not perform without ensuring their instrument was in tune. Why should striving to be any less professional in our chosen field be considered acceptable behavior?

Sales personnel and managers alike should spend a few minutes each morning walking your showroom to make sure that everything is in order. Are there new items displayed? If so, do you fully understand them? Are all prices clearly marked? Are all of the lights on and in working order? Is the background music playing at a pleasant volume? Are the design tables clean and ready for the first customer in the door? Are your demonstration supplies restocked and freshened? While these may seem like small details, professionals realize they are not. Any unnecessary time spent fumbling and stumbling in a customer’s presence reduces her perception of your professionalism and causes concern. As the customer’s perception of your abilities declines, so does your chance of making this sale. Why take this chance?

If you want to be successful at sales, the first person you need to sell is yourself. Create a mindset and working atmosphere that is conducive to your success. Invest a few minutes each day being prepared to succeed. Your customers—and your wallet—will be rewarded.

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: A business’ most renewable resource

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Tom Jennings

 

Today’s consumer is undoubtedly aware of the multitude of sustainable products available in virtually every product category. From cars to carpet, many of these new products are truly revolutionary. While it’s nearly impossible to have not heard about the upcoming car models, is the flooring industry getting its fair share of the attention? If not, then why not?

Recently I decided to spend a couple of weeks paying particular attention to all of the information I came across pertaining to renewably resourced products in general. My goal was to attempt to see what was new in the “green” world through our customers’ eyes. My observations were gleaned from both local and national sources. Simultaneously, I also paid special attention to all advertising that pertained to the retail flooring business. I would love to report my findings regarding flooring promotion to be new and refreshing, as exciting of many of the new more earth-friendly products our industry has to offer. Unfortunately, what I discovered could best be described as this week’s version of the same old song.

Here’s an example: While reading an article in a national magazine regarding the automakers’ progress on electric cars, a commercial came on the television for a flooring store promoting “the greatest sale in our history!” The only thing memorable to me was the tag line, “It all ends Saturday night!” I was left wondering if he meant the sale, the business or the world as we know it. Have you noticed that when advertising the new hybrid and electric cars the automakers don’t find it necessary to talk rapidly or scream? They emphasize the value, newness and uniqueness of their products. Price is rarely mentioned, but improved mileage and lower cost of operation is always promoted. They understand how to sell the difference between initial cost and long-term value. The flooring industry has its equivalents of the hybrid car, but do your customers know they exist?

As the sage philosopher Pogo famously stated, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.” It is no small wonder that our industry has a creditability problem. It seems as though we are always screaming at the customer. Must our industry always sink to the lowest common denominator, i.e., an unbelievable price? Are there not other options for a customer to consider? There is obviously a continually building interest within the marketplace for products with a more eco-friendly story. Our industry’s manufacturing and design communities are offering truly exciting and revolutionary products to sell. It is the retailers’ job to be the bridge between manufacturers and consumers.

Savvy dealers seeking to separate themselves from the pack are actively pursuing the goal of being the first choice in the flooring market for the smart shopper who has done her homework. It is important to remember there is a difference between a “value-driven” customer and a “values-driven” customer. If your company is walking the walk, then by all means convey that information to the customer. Remind them of steps our industry is taking to be a better steward of our resources. Incorporating compelling displays that convey this message will differentiate your store from all others. The result will be a company that more customers feel they can trust.

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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Lessons learned: Taking a page from the restaurant industry

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16

By Tom Jennings

 

No flooring store seems to be making easy money today. Competition is fierce and margins are squeezed. As with every budget in the business world, the need to watch expenses is very real. I get it. It’s just that there are some areas of your business which may be poor places to attempt to save money. In fact, in order to actually grow your clientele you may want to consider just the opposite.

What I don’t get is why most flooring retailers I encounter seem to think sales and installation training can often be identified as an area of cost containment or reduction, when service is the only element of a sale that really differentiates us from our competition.

To illustrate, allow me to make a comparison to the restaurant business, as I feel the flooring business has much in common with full-service dining. In the food trade, every morning a food supplier makes the rounds to the various restaurants in a trade area. Whether it’s a carton of eggs or a sack of flour, essentially the same ingredients are available to all establishments.

What we all realize is while the deliveries into the kitchen are very similar, the deliveries from the kitchen to the customer’s table vary greatly. The ultimate success of the restaurant relies heavily on both the chef’s abilities and the recipes used. A great chef using inspired recipes will create a wait for a table at which to be seated. However, a mediocre cook using bland recipes will eventually create a “for rent” sign in the front window. Similar ingredients can produce very different results.

For example, let’s say an entrée cost $15. Ask yourself, if a restaurant added $1 to the price of every item on its menu, then consistently delivered a great meal using more skilled cooks, what do you think the net results in their amount of business would be?

Now, ask the same question, but reduce the prices by $1 and use a less skilled kitchen staff. Do you really think they would prosper by being a little cheaper at the expense of delivering a better meal? I sure don’t. Isn’t this scenario in many ways very similar to our own? Our trucks carry names such as Shaw and Mohawk on their sides. They essentially deliver the same ingredients to the dock of all flooring stores. It is only the efforts of those who can craft a beautiful bathroom from boxes of tile, for example, that differentiate a great place from which to buy flooring from a mediocre one, thereby reducing the emphasis on price alone.

At the restaurant, you judge the meal presented on the plate, not the ingredients themselves. Just as not everyone wishes to eat from the dollar menu; neither do all flooring customers want an installation bargain. The $1 illustration above represents a 6% price difference. Have you ever gladly paid 6% more for something that you really wanted? We all have. What would a 6% change in revenue do for your business?

My experience tells me customers will gladly pay a bit more to have a superior experience. This is nothing new. Nearly a century ago, Will Rogers said, “It’s not what you pay a man, but what he costs you that counts.” It’s still great wisdom today. Don’t let lower initial costs for more questionable workmanship mislead you. Their real cost may prove to be quite high.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.

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WFCA develops new business resource

WFCA logoDalton––World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) is launching “Tom’s Tips,” the newest business resource to be made available to members free-of-charge on the association’s website, according to Freida Staten, vice president of marketing and communications.

Tom’s Tips consists of a weekly video lesson offering professional instruction on current issues faced by retailers throughout the country. Though topical to retailers across all categories, Tom’s Tips presents inside knowledge addressing the specific concerns and needs of flooring retailers. The weekly videos feature WFCA’s own Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development. Jennings brings nearly 50 years of professional experience as a career flooring retailer and professional industry instructor.

The series is focused primarily on maximizing customer service and getting the best out of your team. Topics currently available for viewing include: Payment Options; Trust but Verify; Making a Quick Connection; One Unintended Remark; First Impressions Count; Being Distinctly Different; Shut Up and Listen; and We All Like Nice Things.

To access Tom’s Tips visit wfca.org/toms-tips.

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Al's Column: How to be a true sales professional

October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Tom Jennings

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMWhen training our sales staffs’ desirable behavior, we seem to place virtually all of our emphasis on the proper ways to conduct ourselves while in our showrooms. This is both understandable and necessary since this is typically where most first impressions are formed. However, it seems the majority of managers spend little time coaching winning behavior at the place where a number of sales are consummated—the customer’s home. While some may perceive that selling in-home is the same as in our stores, this is not the case.

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings

I have found most of the rules change when we become the guests and the customers have “home court advantage.” Well-trained salespersons realize the need to focus on everything from initially approaching a customer’s door to making an impressive exit. A customer will respond very differently sitting at her dining room table than she will sitting at the design table in your store.

A common trait that all successful in-home salespeople have is preparedness. Before approaching the customer’s door, they always make sure to give themselves every opportunity to succeed. Prepared in-home salespeople:

  • Check their grooming and freshen their breath
  • Dress respectfully and professionally
  • Turn off their phones to focus solely on the task at hand
  • Carry sufficient samples in their vehicle to make a quality presentation
  • Arrive with the correct tools to gather information
  • Always have an ample supply of sales agreements, collateral materials, etc.
  • Carry a pair of overshoes to slip off at a customer’s door in the event of inclement weather.

They do so knowing they cannot just go to their desks to retrieve simple items like they can do in the store.

Most importantly, successful in-home salespeople examine their attitude. Remember that your customer doesn’t care about your day—she’s just concerned with the next few minutes. They recognize that she’s paying their wages today. They focus on her, not the samples.

While these are small details, they are hardly insignificant. Pros know that any small detail that slows down the flow of the sales process will always work against them. Remember, one of the measurements the customer is judging you by is how important you are making her feel. Being properly prepared shows her this appointment is important to you and conveys a feeling of respect.

It is important to remember that you are in the customer’s home to not only examine the conditions in which the flooring will be installed, but more importantly to learn about who will be using these products. Take the time to make an emotional connection and ask about the customer’s children, animals, etc.

While this may take some time, I feel that there is no better use of the first few minutes in a customer’s home. Always remember that we buy with emotion first—then we justify with logic.

Remember there is only one opinion that matters here and it’s not yours. Only when you take the time to learn these emotional hot buttons can you sell the customer what she really wants as opposed to just what she needs. And let’s be honest, we will all pay more for things that we really want.

Virtually every installed flooring sale requires an in-home visit of some nature. To be a true sales professional learn to be a great guest.

 

Tom Jennings is the vice president of professional development, WFCA, and speaker at The International Surface Event in Las Vegas. His two sessions; Selling the Value of Quality Installation and The Customer’s Home, Your Other Showroom will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 9–10:30 a.m. and Thursday, Jan. 19, at 8-9:30 a.m., respectively. For more information on registering for the show, visit www.tisewest.com to view a full list of the education programs.

 

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Judges named for HPS Schönox Worst Subfloor Contest

HPS subfloor contestFlorence, Ala.—A three-judge panel of independent flooring industry experts has been chosen to oversee the second annual Worst Subfloor Contest sponsored by HPS Schönox.

Tom Jennings, vice president of member services, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA); Dean Thompson, president and CEO, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI); and Robert Varden, executive director, Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI) will judge contest entries.

“I’ve worked in the flooring industry all of my life, having been quite literally born into it with my family’s retail business so doing things right and seeing the industry perform at its highest level is important to me,” Jennings said. “The Worst Subfloor Contest is a great platform for the industry to demonstrate its expertise.”

“Much of my work today is concerned with representing and supporting the flooring industry helping to develop guidelines to ensure quality and sustainability with flooring products and their installation,” Thompson said. “I was eager to assist with the Schönox contest not wanting to miss a chance to support the industry and efforts to continuously improve what is done in the field every day.”

“In my 30 years of flooring experience as an installer, educator, consultant, and technical advisor, I have seen so many tough subfloor conditions and the pressing need for expertise in addressing these situations,” Varden said.

The contest is open to flooring companies to show the tough subfloor conditions they tackled and how they renovated them using Schönox products. The contest runs through Dec. 11, with winners to be announced at The International Surface Event (Surfaces) in Las Vegas. Entries can be submitted at hpsubfloors.com/worstsubfloor. First, second and third place winners are chosen on the severity of the original subfloor’s condition, the skill and attention to detail taken in executing the project, and the quality of the finished subfloor.

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CFI honors Jennings with Davis award

DSCF2802New Orleans—The International Floor Covering Installers Association (CFI) recently honored Tom Jennings, vice president, member services, World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), with the D. Christopher Davis the during the organization’s 21st convention here.

As he accepted the plaque—named after the late WFCA CEO Christopher Davis and given for recognition and dedication to quality flooring installation—Jennings, a former retailer in the Midwest and long time supporter of the CFI, told its members, “What you do absolutely matters. I always say, ‘Let’s not talk about the bad installers, let’s showcase the impact of good installers.’

Jennings added, “You can find anybody to put flooring down, the issue is how to put it down correctly. And because not all installation training is the same, that’s why we support CFI.”

Jennings was cited earlier this year by Floor Covering News as one of the 10 people making a difference in the flooring industry.