The Internet is coming. That particular call to arms is as bad as “the sky is falling.” While you definitely need a presence on the World Wide Web stage today, it is not the only way to get customers in the door. In fact, Invista’s Pami Bhullar, director of retail development, North America, points to the company’s private sales program as proof that tried and true methods can sometimes be the best way to make an honest buck these days.
“Especially in today’s social media clutter, when you get a private, signed invitation [by regular mail], it makes you feel very special,” Bhullar said. “When people see something on social media, they can’t always go back and find the deal online. The actual written invitation is better for referring back and has a longer shelf life.”
At Wichita, Kan.-based Star Flooring & Decorating’s, Kansas Flooring Division, Ryan Walker, senior vice president, has used the program to write more than $1 million of business at a single retail event. You read that right: more than $1 million in one day. Annual sales at the store are in the range of $25 million; but about $5.6 million is from the residential segment, making the private sale worth about 20% of the company’s consumer business.
So, what are the key factors to making a private sale work for you, according to Bhullar and Walker?
1: Trust in the Process
Bhullar confides some key elements to how his company’s proprietary private sales work with one of the best consumer-recognized names in the industry, Stainmaster.
“The owner has to be involved from beginning to end,” he said. “At least six to eight weeks in advance of the sale to find the right customers by ZIP code.”
That done, mailers are sent directly to the lady of the house. “Not to Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so, or to Preferred Customer or anything like that,” he said strongly. “It goes directly to Mrs. Smith. That alone improves sales by 25- to 30-percent.”
In advance of the sale day, invited customers are given the opportunity to have their projects premeasured for free. The offer simplifies and speeds up the process by letting her budget how much she really needs before coming to the store.
Bhullar notes that when the salesperson goes to measure, it is an opportunity to help her plan for future projects and suggest measuring any other spaces she may be considering.
“Whether I’m measuring one room or five isn’t much difference in time,” Bhullar explained. “The same goes for installation. It doesn’t cost that much more to install another project at the same time.”
At this point, when she comes to the event, she is pre-sold and all that is left is to select her product with the salesperson. Where the average ticket without the sale might be between $1,500 and $1,700, the prequalified sales average over $3,500 even with the discounting. The private sales are further supported with videos, training and checklists at various stages of the program to ensure the whole team is ready when the day comes.
2: Be Disciplined in Your Execution
The hardest part of following someone else’s plan is the need to personalize it in some way.
“A lot of people start re-inventing the wheel,” Bhullar laughed. “Failures and successes are directly linked to whether people take out or bring in things on the checklist. If you do 80 percent of the process, you are not going to get 80 percent of the results.”
“We’ve fallen into the trap of saying our market is different,” reinforced Walker. “You can tell yourself that as much as you want. The reality is that if you check off the list, the sale is going to be successful.”
Still, Bhullar notes, with thousands of private sales under his belt, there is a little room to build the list to suit.
“We provide alternatives if you don’t want to follow it exactly,” he said. “But don’t cut out steps. Following the process and checklists gives astonishing results.”
Two further aspects of discipline are important. First, do not ruin the cache of the private sale for customers by offering the same prices after the event.
“At the end of the day, prices come down and no one gets them after,” Bhullar said. “[Participating] mills know they are giving prices for only one day and customers know the sale is only for one day.”
Strictly adhering to the sale day adds to its credibility when you hold your next private event. That segues nicely to one of the most important disciplines: limit the number of private sales in a year. Do one every week, or even every month, and the prices lose their value and ability to draw customers. Hold a private sale once or twice a year and even the mills are looking forward to it.
3: Put in the Hard Work
For Stainmaster private sales, Bhullar says Invista helps with much of the process, but it is up to the individual retailers to do a lot of the leg work as well.
“Stainmaster’s brand sponsored private sales give retailers total independence,” Bhullar pointed out. “Because every mill has a Stainmaster offering, [retailers] can work with the vendors they want.”
Everything from identifying the ZIP codes, to getting everyone on the team involved enthusiastically is the individual store’s responsibility. Additionally, while Invista helps with the design and printing of the invitations, the Invista-negotiated cost of the mailing is borne by the retailer.
“We also help by letting vendors know [so-and-so retailer] is doing a private sale,” he said. “We help retailers by teaching them how to go to the mill and get pricing and how to work with them.”
“It’s a team effort [getting mills to sign on],” Walker added. “But because of our history doing these at least annually vendors actually come to ask us when the next sale is going to be. The mills don’t only help on the price side. They send local reps into the store as well. It’s almost another sales person on the floor. That’s very beneficial.”
“It’s a good partnership,” Bhullar said. “If a retailer works with them, the mills are wanting to do it. It’s only one day, so what can really go wrong?”
Bhullar and Walker both note that although the Stainmaster private sale is focused on that brand of products, vendors of other floors have also been able to take advantage of the sale to provide customers any flooring they might need at the special value.
“We offer discounts on all our product lines,” Walker noted. “Wood, carpet, LVT, etc., I can’t think of a product line that wasn’t represented by at least one manufacturer.”
“This is truly a win-win for all,” Bhullar said. “It’s good for the retailer and associate who can write that kind of business in a short time without sacrificing margins because mills work with them. It’s good for the mill because it can turn a lot of product in a single day. And it’s good for the customer because of the best value available.”
4: Don’t Forget the Theater
Everything on the back end prepped and ready, Bhullar reminds retailers that the devil is in the details. The private sale truly needs to be an event. The showroom needs to be clean, signs and banners in place, outside landscaping groomed, etc.
“The store should look like an event is going on—not just another sales day,” he said. “Even putting up balloons, make sure the size is right, how big the ribbon should be, at 3 p.m. if balloons are falling down, trim them and put up new balloons. If you don’t do that you will look tired and sold out.”
Another element of the show is to make sure everyone is professionally dressed as an event of this magnitude warrants proper business attire. Also, make sure you have the staff on hand to write the business.
Walker’s store pulled in people from Star’s contract and commercial sales segment to support his sales team of seven people and make sure customers would be helped as quickly as possible. Even then, with more than 200 sales for the day, they were five or six deep waiting to process transactions.
“Strictly based on the number of pre-estimates, we thought we would write close to $750,000 in sales [that day],” he said. “Getting to $1 million was a surprise, but a very good one.”
Closing the Deal
Now, the skeptic in some of us might ask how much of that $1 million in write-ups turned into actual sales. Thanks to the program, Bhullar and Walker say they were able to keep all of it.
“It is all about setting expectations at the time of the sale,” Walker explained. His team let clients know up front when to expect deliveries and installation. Seeing the volume in-store helped.
“I tip my hat to customers as they were all very understanding and felt it makes sense,” he continued. “It was a combination of us setting the expectation and their reasonableness.”
Bhullar says the follow-through is also important. One of the checklist items is to call all the closed sales the next day to make sure you don’t have any cancellations.
“They call every customer with very specific language,” he explained: “‘Thank you for your business and we just want you to know we are placing the order and will be reaching out throughout the process.’ That way, every customer knows you are on top of their order. It is a process, and process is the king.”
While Invista’s private sales program is proprietary to Stainmaster brand-aligned stores, dealers with strong vendor partnerships may be able to work with those mills on their own brand-exclusive sales if they have a program in place. To get there, it all starts with a call to your local vendor representative, be it for a Stainmaster private sale or any manufacturer’s private brand marketing initiative.