What It Takes to Succeed in Flooring Retail
My friend, the famous Lew Smith, said during a phone conversation some years ago, “Warren, you are unconscious, aren’t you?” I took a second to absorb this and realized Lew hit the nail squarely on the head. This was at the time that I was at the apex of my career. Things couldn’t be going better and it made me realize I’ve never planned anything in my life. I just went along with the flow.
Lew was the only one who knew the real Warren Tyler. It started 45 years ago when, just married, I took a job as a carpet cleaner’s helper. The boss’s son Harry also taught me to install. A few months later, a friend who was a partner in a retail flooring store asked me to go to work with him as an installer. When I finished early, I would hang around the store (with patches on my knees) and wait on customers, and I wound up selling more than anyone in the store.
This experience led me to the quick realization that selling is the art of being liked—no more, no less. This served me well for the rest of my life.
A few months later, the friend, Eddie, had a falling-out with his partner and suggested we work together. He would act as my helper for the time being. In the 1960s, there was plenty of work and we expanded by buying some cleaning equipment, renting an old garage and converting it into a dry room for cleaning rugs. Our customers loved us and soon customers were buying carpeting at retail stores and insisting that Eddie and I do the installations.
Of course this led to many people asking us to sell them the flooring, which, of course, resulted in Eddie thinking about opening our own retail store. Nothing about this was planned, just a chain of events that carried us along. The simple fact that people liked us was the driving force.
I found a location and talked to the landlord who happened to be a builder. He required six months security, in addition to the rent, which we couldn’t afford. I found out where he and his subs ate lunch and just happened to show up one day while they were playing liar’s poker around the bar.
After a few months of this, the builder, Gene Guteryl, agreed to let me in the property without coming up with the security deposit. I also added that it may be a few months before we could make the rent, but by the end of the year, I promised he would be paid everything. Gene liked me and agreed. As it worked out, he ended up giving me all his flooring work—probably to assure himself he would get his money.
Following Successful Retailers
Often after my sales seminars, salespeople would come to me and express a desire to open their own business, followed with the question: “But where do you get the money?”
Although I never verbalized it, my thought was that if you have to ask this question, maybe you should keep your job. I never thought of the money, never thought about failing and never thought about what the next step was. I was 23 years old with a new business. I did know that I didn’t want a store like the other retailers in my market. I did think to be successful I should pattern myself after the professionals.
At that time, the professionals were the department stores: Macy’s, B. Altman and Co., and Sears. I observed many things about these retail giants: their stores were always immaculately clean; they showed larger samples and used their own displays. All were open nights until 10 p.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday. They displayed well, but showed many less samples.
In fact, Sears, at the time, was the world’s largest carpet retailer and showed only 28 qualities of carpet. Most of their advertising was concentrated on certain times of the year, times when they knew consumers were buying. I later identified these periods as “Proven Consumer Buying Periods.”
None of my competitors operated in this fashion. They all closed on Sunday, at noon on Saturday, and at 5 or 6 p.m. during the week. It seemed as if they were cluttered with every sample the manufacturers or distributors made available to them. Their stores were a mishmash of different, poorly-designed display racks. It is amazing to me, to this day, that the average unaffiliated flooring retailer operates in exactly the same manner.
I have spent my career trying to change things for retailers. The retail groups have accomplished much toward making their members professional, but more could be done.
I patterned our store and its operations after the professional retailers, eventually leading to six highly successful stores in the New England area. I sold them in 1985, not through any planning or forethought, and the sale led to a career as an author, speaker, consultant and trainer—a career I absolutely love.
I brag to everyone that I have never worked a day in my life because everything I did I loved, from installing carpet to writing my books and articles (like this one) to keynoting huge conventions. Everything I touched led to other unplanned results.
I copied a guarantee from Bigelow and adapted it to my business, which allowed me to make money every time I replaced a customer’s carpet. I copied a unique merchandising system from a furniture store that separated us from competitors and allowed us to get paid upfront for every job. The system also forced upon us a unique way for salespeople and installers to work together as a team, eliminating all conflicts.
Best of all, the system led us to doing installations without ever having to measure while achieving extreme accuracy—all this through an unconscious owner. I wrote an article some time ago, “Good Store, Bad Store” where dozens of retailers wrote to say it changed their lives, so stay tuned when I share more on why next time.