A few words about samples loaned out to customers: There is a lot of disagreement as to whether sending samples home with the customer is in the retailer’s best interest. Many of the pundits of our industry discourage such a practice, as they are afraid customers will drag these samples into other retailers, shop by phone, or search the internet hoping to secure a better price. It helps that the retailers these days generally have the option to private label (private branding) and most do, even if it is entirely the choice of the vendors. For suppliers, private labeling is a simple matter of logistics; mills want to create exclusive products in more showrooms while maintaining a realistic inventory.

Proponents of check-out samples maintain that when a customer is buying or looking at new flooring, taking samples home is crucial to good service. Even with the best in-store design efforts, the customer may need to see several different samples in the home as each sample is likely to look different in different parts of the house, and lighting can have quite an impact. Sometimes it’s a trial-and-error process for your customer. If you want to aggravate the bejeezus out of a customer, explain to her she cannot take a sample home to match with her personal decor when she is about to spend thousands of dollars in your store. The “director” personality may find this especially discontenting.

Most customers of retail flooring stores are do-it-yourself designers. They avoid the cost of contract design services. This busy consumer wants questions of color and style answered as quickly as possible. So it’s not always as simple as bringing the sample out to the house when you measure (assuming you measure yourself and do not use an independent measuring service).

I scarcely believe that an experienced flooring salesperson has never checked out a sample. Nor do I believe that same person can honestly say they never will again, especially when the customer is threatening to go elsewhere if you cannot trust her with a sample to take home overnight. Keep in mind – whether or not the customer actually takes a sample home – with the simple notation of the mill, style and color, the customer has most of the ammunition available to shop by phone or internet or in person.

Quality flooring today is usually a major purchase. Regardless of the personal service and value you offer, certain consumers are going to try to shop their flooring purchase. This is a formidable challenge to the retailers who have significant overheads and have spent considerable time and effort with that customer.

Consequently, if samples are going to be loaned out to well-qualified customers, it must be done correctly. When you check samples out, tactfully try to set up a measure at the same time, as it verifies commitment to your store. Of course, it is essential to get the sample back quickly. Start by requesting the return in just an hour or two. With few exceptions, have samples returned the next day. This makes it more difficult for your customer to find time to drag the sample into other retailer’s showrooms for alternative pricing. Simply explain how it is important to get samples back in a very timely way, as these are your tools of the trade. Otherwise, those samples will not be available for the next customer who comes in with similar design needs. Of course, samples not returned tend to be your best samples and colors. So, it is essential that you get them back in a timely way.

Whether you do or do not loan samples is a personal choice. Whatever you decide, it is important to consider that when you are developing a relationship, it is counterproductive to not trust your customer with the loan of a sample. Building trust to be meaningful is a two-way street. If you do not trust them with a sample, they may not trust you with a sale.