In his book "Why We Buy," Paco Underhill writes: "We use shopping as therapy, reward, bribery, pastime, as an excuse to get out of the house, as a way to troll for potential loved ones, as entertainment, as a form of education or even worship, as a way to kill time."

I think that describes a mall shopper and, to some extent, the type of shopper who might visit your flooring showroom.

So how do you go about attracting the right shopper into your showroom? This is where branding your business becomes vitally important.

When we use the word "brand," we think of some big names like Nike and Disney. In the realm of home products, the Armstrong and Kohler brands frequently come to mind. Each of these companies has spent countless dollars securing their name in your mind. And to some extent, many of them have expanded their brands. But the simple fact remains that when you think of athletic shoes, Mickey Mouse, floor coverings, and plumbing fixtures, these are the names that most often come to mind.

So you're probably saying, "Janet, I don't have THAT large of an advertising budget to promote my business!"

No doubt, you're absolutely correct. Nevertheless, you should have a plan in place to identify your business as THE PLACE to shop. Establishing your business in these terms doesn't come about by chance. You must plan and work to make it happen. Let's take it from the top.

Five value propositions

In most cases, everyone sells based on a combination ofquality, value, service, price,andlocation.Among these attributes, value is the most important. Value can be increased by enhancing the perceived worth of your offerings, lowering the price or doing both.

When you create a marketing message, you should try to communicate to the customer the relative value of your product and how your value stacks up against that of your competition. To do so, you must adopt one of the five value propositions. These can be articulated as follows:

1. We give you more at the same price.
2. We give you the same at a lower price.
3. We give you more at a lower price.
4. We give you a little more at a much lower price.
5. We give you a lot more for about the same price.

A value proposition must be both consistent and credible. The key is to establish worth. Buyers will evaluate the worth of the package you call your product based on the quantity and quality of features and benefits you put into it. The more benefits you put in, the higher the worth. Be sure to offer value to the customer.

Sometimes, people are drawn into a showroom simply to see what's new. The consumer's desire for change is usually greater then the actual need. So offer ideas that plainly state the value your products can add to the customer's home and lifestyle. It's an easy way to get a sale, and that sale may be more than you hoped for.

The word-of-mouth advertising you generate will be good for business too. Between dramatic facelifts, a showroom can take on a new life by changing the accessories. Many business owners tell me that they get a jump in sales just by moving around the accessories in the showroom! New paint, counters or backsplashes can also provide an inexpensive facelift.

Take a look at your products and marketing messages. Do they clearly let customers know which one of the value propositions you're offering? Are you conveying that message consistently and effectively? Are you establishing in buyers' minds the benefits they need to determine worth? If you can communicate your value position effectively, selling value becomes a powerful tool that helps set your store apart from the competition.

Communicating your message

Making shoot-from-the-hip decisions about advertising doesn't work. Neither does throwing together an ad when the sales rep from the paper or radio station walks through the door. You should devise a long-term advertising plan that consistently reminds potential customers about your business. Here are some tips to follow.

1. Target your message. Decide who you want as a customer and what you want to sell them. Decide what aspects about your business you want to highlight. Gather media information from various media sources. Compare the media info and your intended audience characteristics, and decide how best to direct your message. Resist a shotgun approach.

2. Choose your media. Once you've established who you want to sell to, determine the most efficient way to reach them. Consider the following options.

Direct mail. This is among the fastest ways to reach a target audience. If you keep the mailing simple, it can be inexpensive too. Follow up with phone calls or visits.

Yellow Pages. This source can give you easy-to-find specialized listings, but your ad may look a lot like all the other ones.

Newspapers are a great means of reaching a target market, especially when the paper offers package deals or regional advertising. Plan a consistent schedule and extend it as long as possible.

Home sections. When people are thinking about a project, perusing the home section of a newspaper may be their first step in initiating the work. It's highly targeted, and people who are really serious about doing a remodeling project are going to be looking there. The sections typically run a few times a year. They have a long shelf life.

Sunday magazines. Readers of newspapers' Sunday magazines are likely to be in a higher income bracket than home section readers. The Sunday editions usually have a larger circulation, so be prepared for higher advertising costs.

Regional Design/Lifestyle magazines. These publications offer all the glamour of a glossy magazine. They also have a long shelf life.

Cable TV. These days, there's a cable station for everyone. Cable advertising is very inexpensive on a regional buy. If you should decide to go this route, be sure to show your firm's name long enough for viewers to remember it.

Radio. Radio offers a wide variety of niche settings for your message. It's the one media that people can use while they're driving, playing or on the job. Think about what stations your clients may be listening to. Radio's only drawback is that it relies on the audience's listening and memory skills. Because listeners probably won't have a pen handy when they hear your ad, a snappy jingle will help them recall your name.

3. Timing of ads. Spring is the traditional season for building and remodeling, so plan your heaviest advertising at that time. Advertise less frequently during major holidays. Advertising during such periods usually costs more, and it's easy for your message to get lost in all the holiday cheer! Although some critics advise against advertising in the summer when consumers usually go on vacation, advertising at this time may help you to stand out from the competition.

In my next article, I'll discuss the Principles of Visual Merchandising. The points I'll cover should help you design an effective showroom layout and put together striking vignettes.