Bill Dearing (standing), moderator of the NALFA panel, fields a question from the audience.

The ceramic tile and laminate floor product categories stepped into the spotlight during the Surfaces 2001 Conference Program’s Thursday morning seminar presentations.

Seminar leader Patti Fasan of Tile of Spain provided an overview of effective tile retailing strategies with Your New Profit Center: Selling Ceramic Tile. The program discussed how, by increasing their commitment to the ceramic product segment, specialty floor covering retailers can develop a new and expanding profit center for their businesses, and simultaneously enhance the overall showroom experience.

Fasan addressed the fundamentals of ceramic tile displays, techniques for training showroom and sales staff, and various means of retaining and expanding the client base. On the latter point, Fasan suggested that salespeople ask for referrals at the time they process the consumer’s invoice -- the point at which they are most enthused about their tile purchase.

“Always ask for what you want while the tears of gratitude are still wet on their cheeks,” she deadpanned.

Fasan also outlined her “Time-Triggered Contact Schedule” for promoting repeat sales and soliciting new clients. The first phase would involve promoting your company, through signage at the jobsite and distribution of promotional flyers to neighbors, at the time of the installation. A week later, she advised, retailers should send the client a thank-you note.

Three months later, the retailer should send the client a satisfaction survey and offer to fix any defects that have arisen since the installation was completed. At the six-month mark, a “VIP referral” should be sent along with a discount coupon the customer can pass on to a friend who might be considering a new flooring installation.

At nine months, she continued, another “We haven’t seen you lately” mailing should be sent to the customer along with mentions of new staff members and product offerings. Finally, at 11 months, the retailer should send out a warranty reminder along with an inquiry regarding any additional flooring installations the customer may be considering.

Every successful retailer follows this or a similar strategy, Fasan said, “because it absolutely works!” The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) presented The Past, Present, and Future of Laminates, a look at the state of the laminate flooring market, the emergence of laminates as a growing segment of the floor covering industry, and examined the possible obstacles and growth objectives for the product segment in the coming years. Pergo's Lars von Kantzow and E.C. "Bill" Dearing, Mannington's John Himes, Robert Agate of Congoleum, Cam Gentile of Uniboard, and Wilsonart's Curt Haffner led the audience through the laminate world.

Kay Pegram presented The Changing Retail Environment: Marketing in a New Millennium to audience members. Pegram examined the recent changes in the retail environment, and discussed how those changes can affect the how and where a business finds new customers, as well as influence the introduction and promotion of new product lines. The seminar also reviewed changing social trends and shopping patterns throughout North America.

George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants, educated the crowd with Finding, Hiring, and Keeping the Best Retail Employees, a practical, how-to seminar that showed attendees how to look for, identify and hire the best employees available in today's job market. Whalin’s program ranged from analyzing resumes to retaining the best of the best.

-- NFT staff compiled this report.