Years ago, I published a column that received more attention from retailers than any I have ever written. Over 95% of the retailers who contacted me saw themselves as the “bad store,” so it’s probably time to do this again in lieu of the fact the number of independent flooring dealers has been cut by two-thirds in the ensuing years. The small amount of negative feedback I received was related to the use of the word “bad” to describe stores that didn’t operate in the fashion I described. I stand by the use of the word.

Let’s begin with store hours. In many of my sessions I asked the question, “How many of you open on Saturdays?” Most hands went up. The follow-up to this question was, “How many of you close at noon on Saturdays?” More than half the hands went up. My retort was if you close at noon you aren’t open on Saturdays. If retailers kept a sales patterning book that all professional retailers keep, but incredibly no flooring retailers do, you would know this.

A sales patterning book is simply a record of what time people come in and buy and the amount of money collected, compiled by the hour, day, week, month and year. It tells you what is selling, colors and styles, when people buy and the effectiveness of your promotional efforts. The sales patterning book told me that sales on Saturday started at 2:07 pm, Saturday was my busiest day and sales on weekdays started at 7:11 pm. Bad stores don’t open at night; the owners whine that no one else is open, so why bother?

Sales patterning also tells you how to staff a sales floor. If you have five salespeople, schedule one or two on Tuesday and Wednesday and more on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Saturday might require three salespeople in the morning and all five in the afternoon. If you open on Sunday, it’s the third-best day. The dumbest thing any retailer can do is schedule everyone from 9-5!

Parking lots in good stores are clean, well lit and save the best spaces for customers. Pathetically bad stores have a reserved space for the owner by the entrance. Good stores have professionally designed store windows giving a hint of the delights within. Bad stores display the backs of ugly manufacturers’ racks. How are you doing so far?

Good stores place their best selling or sale items 20 feet in to the right as customers enter. A sales area is to the left where customers can be greeted with a hearty welcome, never with “May I help you?” or some other inane greeting. Customers need to be greeted right away. Bad stores tell us they like to have customers get to feel comfortable before they approach them. Do you let visitors to your home walk around for 10 minutes before you say hello?

Which bring us to sales education. Good stores have continuous effective sales education. Bad stores never do, other than sending new sales people with ol’ Charlie. “He’s been selling for 20 years,” you say. (20 times 0 is still 0).

I was once called by the head of a major manufacturers’ sales college who asked me to teach a class at a new super Home Depot in New Jersey. When the session ended, the employees came up to me and asked, “Why has no one taught us this before?” Effective is the key word. Free sales training is just one of the “bennies” the “boxes” receive that are unavailable to the rest of us. Just because a manufacturer has won awards from organizations who don’t understand proper sales education doesn’t mean they are effective.

Bad stores use as many manufacturer display racks as they can fit in the store. Good stores make their own custom displays. They arrange their products in separate departments and make their own vignettes. They use larger samples—we used 27”x54” sizes. Customers want to see product as it will look installed in the home.

When Sears was the largest carpet retailer, they only showed 28 qualities. Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus) once wrote: “The more you display, and the lower the price, the lower the sales.” On the other hand, “The less you display and the higher the price, the higher the sales.” My competition used to believe that I gave away my flooring attempting to explain away their poor performance. I was actually the highest priced store by far in my marketing areas. Bad stores always need excuses.

Good stores keep their stores immaculately clean. Bad stores are messy because owners “want to look busy.” Bad stores look sloppy, and who wants that in their home? Bad stores use manufacturers’ labels. Good stores use private labels and price every product. Bad stores say they want customers to ask, which means they have no communication skills. Lack of pricing says to customers the store will charge whatever the traffic will bear.

Some retailers suggest lending samples to customers. I say it’s like showing your cards while playing poker. If you gave a sample to your sister and she brought it to my store (because we would ask), I would compliment her choice and then show her something that would do what she wanted so much better and she would wonder why you showed her an inferior look in the first place.

Many retailers tell me it’s difficult not to give out samples when all the other (bad) stores give out their samples. We would say that the samples going out of other stores are the most popular samples. If we lent all of our most popular samples we wouldn’t have a sample to show the other customers. We can either order them a sample, follow the customer home with a sample, or bring it to the house at a time convenient—even if it is before or after hours.

I have witnessed many small retailers go out of business because of receivables. Good stores either open credit accounts or collect up front. Bad stores let customers pay later and later, and that payment never comes. We received payment in full before the merchandise left the store or usually at the point of sale including from builders. How do you do this? Ask! I had zero accounts receivable in all six stores for the last 15 years. Stay tuned for more.