Tom Jennings is a guy who was born into the retail floor covering business. He remembers playing on rolls of carpet and pad as a kid, and when he came of age, he eventually took over operations at Bud Jennings Carpet One of Lawrence, Kansas. After years of running the business, Jennings, upon his retirement, shared his years of expertise as an educator at CCA Global and the World Floor Covering Association. 

We sat down with Jennings to discuss improving service in the installation segment because it appears to be an essential element for the survival of most independent retailers. You can listen to the conversation in its entirety here

TF: Good service is the goal of just about every retailer. Installation defines a retailer’s level of service. If problems arise during installation, the entire project is likely to be looked at negatively. What can a retailer do to pull off a relatively trouble-free installation? Is it possible?

Jennings: It is certainly possible. There are variables just like all things in life, but I have been saying for years, and it’s not original, “Inspect what you expect.” If we are going to expect our people to perform in good fashion, we’re going to have to give them the tools as well as the training. If they know how to respond, there will be no surprises. If you don’t prepare, you really shouldn’t expect much. But in more specifics, you have to control the recipe. When we talk about product, we talk about a roll of carpet, a box of wood or a box of tile. It is like talking about a piece of steak or a pound of hamburger. It is nothing but an ingredient. It may be the main ingredient in a dish, but it’s still an ingredient. A box of tile is not a shower stall, a roll of carpet is not a beautiful family room floor. We need to always take control of the recipe, and the main ingredient is not the only ingredient—there are other products involved. Good cooks use good ingredients. They call them spices and seasonings. We use mastics, sealers and various things which certainly affect installation. Cooks work from a recipe; they don’t add a little of this, a little of that. A shower stall, for example, has a recipe, just like a casserole does.  

TF: How should salespeople prepare customers for the installation process?  

Jennings: Many times, the salesperson—who remains in the showroom, never seeing the customer’s home—is not the right one to serve this function. Many times this would fall to the estimator who visits the home, does the measure and site assessment. Often it is the salesperson, but many stores use third-party or employee estimators who would probably be in the best position to give an accurate assessment as to what can be expected. Stephen Covey had a very famous saying: “Begin with the end in mind,” and I think that’s how we should sell installation. There are ways to influence the customer’s attitude such as saying, “Just imagine how beautiful this new floor is going to be." 

As a rule, I would not talk too much about the process any more than the customer cares to know. I have always thought that the best salespeople sell with the least amount of information necessarynot possible, but necessary. Some customers really don’t care; it is just not their focus at all. Others want to know every little detail, and a good salesperson knows how to address both. I would often tell them this is a construction process. We will be as careful as we can, but please understand it’s a bit of a construction process.  

TF: Should something be said at the time of the sale about how long installation will take?  

Jennings: This is a question that should be addressed during the sales process. I have a list of 15 to 20 potential questions, which I call "Tell Me Abouts." For example, one of the things that I want to know is if there are any timeframes or special events that I should be mindful of so as to begin at the end and work backwards.  

TF: It would seem like the salesperson would be better off knowing the basics about installation. 

Jennings: Absolutely. I taught a class for several years called Installation for Salespeople. I really wasn’t trying to make installers out of them, but I need to know what the processes are in order to sell it properly.