The Journal of a Start-Up Flooring Retailer: Five Key Areas for Growing Your Business
Ted Turner offered his personal philosophy to those in business as a simple approach to success: "Early to bed, early to rise, work hard and ADVERTISE." Marketing and advertising will be the driving force to your success during the infancy of your business and will be key to the proliferation of the business after it is established. The need to market and advertise is paramount with a start-up retailer and, more often than not, should be done when your money is the tightest -- in the beginning.
Marketing and advertising can be simplistic and inexpensive, but you must try everything. And most important, as you try new marketing or advertising approaches, learn to measure and benchmark your successes.
In my own case, 80 percent of our business currently is generated by word of mouth or referrals. Referrals, in my opinion, are the most lucrative leads you can get. Referrals are the by-product of lots of happy customers, so first you have to advertise to get leads to call or visit your store.
My attempt to get leads has taken the path of several different formats of marketing and advertising that stem from success, trial and error, and common sense. Think of marketing and advertising as a portfolio of investments that should be diversified -- structure in terms of risk and learn to invest heavily in the tried and true, but venture the risk for big returns.
Yellow Pages advertising is a no-brainer -- buy as much as you can afford, keep it simple and start immediately. Most Yellow Pages advertising in my area is driven by the size of the ad, the tenure of the advertiser and the categories under which you advertise. Our Yellow Pages advertising is modest ($55 per month), yet it generates a substantial share of business -- at least 4 percent.
I have learned that I am not important to my Yellow Pages salesperson and missed the deadline each year for a bigger ad. You must take the initiative to know your deadlines, create your general ad and call well before the deadline to negotiate price and location of your ad each year. Make Yellow Pages advertising a priority! It's low risk, tried and true, and constant.
Advertising in the local community newspapers on a consistent, regular schedule will not only get you leads, but also will help you begin to brand your company. Because branding and recognition are so critical to long-term advertising, an investment in logo design is money well spent. When I advertise in the local papers, my ad is a shell ad that can be easily changed from week to week, essentially delivering to customers a message that engrains flooring in their minds every time they see it while simultaneously marketing our store's brand.
Support your advertising with yard signs, vehicle signs, shirts emblazoned with your logo, business cards, etc. Fortifying the brand with these marketing techniques always makes your company appear much larger than it really is and stimulates your brand recognition so that consumers remember who you are when they are interested in a new flooring purchase.
Recently, I tried a promotion for wood flooring with a 2-inch-long sample of the wood enclosed in a plastic door hanger bag with a flyer explaining the details of the promotion. I tossed 2,000 in the dead of winter in several affluent neighborhoods and didn't get a response. My partner on the other hand, delivered less than 200 in his neighborhood during the first warm weekend in May. We have had six leads from his efforts.
My point is that common sense is a critical ingredient in the success of marketing and advertising. Historically, January through March is a slow time in the flooring business. Stagger your advertising so that it is heaviest as you move towards the buying season.
Advertising and marketing never hurts. Some ads are better than others, sometimes timing is important, but advertising will always build the brand, even if you don't realize an immediate sale from your efforts.
Just as important as the ads you run and your marketing is the follow up you do with the customers. Follow up can be as simple as a courtesy call the day before the installation confirming dates and times. Lack of follow up can be crippling after the sale and installation are complete.
Believe it or not, consumers don't complain enough. If they are unhappy, YOU WANT TO KNOW! Make it your business to find out about any latent issues that may drive a customer away or, even worse, prompt her to talk negatively about your company, its work or service.
Upon completion of a project, we deliver a complimentary maintenance kit with a demonstration on its use, review every aspect of the project, check for 100 percent satisfaction, and then we collect. After receiving payment, we again follow up with a thank-you letter and a survey that explains the importance of being extremely satisfied with every aspect of the purchase process.
We have broken the survey into five simple categories, which includes satisfaction with the new floor, service levels, staff, workmanship, and overall shopping experience. If we don't get a response within five business days, we follow up with a phone call. Our system requires that we call twice. We have determined that if we call more than that, we are becoming a nuisance.
The return rate on our surveys is an astounding 85 percent. And yes, often we uncover a dissatisfied consumer who probably never would have told us about her dissatisfaction. Regardless of the reason for follow up, be diligent and consistent about it and always deliver what has been promised after that follow up call or visit. The returns are huge.
Location, location, location! You heard it since you were old enough to understand the value and meaning. As my partner John Hathaway would say, "You don't get the low-lying fruit unless you are on Main Street."
The gist of John's comment simply means you will have walk-in traffic and the law of averages says you will get a percentage of that business. If your business is like ours, you have to drive sales using other modes.
We are located in an industrial park -- probably the worst location for a retailer. Anyone who does business with us has to seek us out. Our location was a consequence of our consulting business -- we already had the space so we decided simply to make it work. We know the difficulty of selling floors in a poor location. It is HARD!
Recently, however, we opened a new location on Main Street and the resulting ease of sales is astounding. Seeking a good location must be driven by the type of customer you are pursuing, demographics for the area and ratio of rent vs. return. Remember -- location, location, location!
The power of price has never been more important to the consumer. This era lends itself to the perpetual shopper who, with a few strokes on a computer keyboard, can challenge any brick-and-mortar retailer with pricing that can't be touched.
It has taken me a long time to accept the power of price, due to my stubbornness. But I have learned ways to spar on price and leverage value. Seldom does value win with new customers, and to develop a critical mass of happy customers you have to wage a war.
You will find yourself working for much less than you expected with a new customer, but will find that your margins can increase as you begin to work with referrals from a satisfied new customer. Think of new customers as a marketing and advertising expense -- especially when you are toe to toe with a competitor.
After the sale, you can leverage the power of price when shopping with your vendors. Negotiate your price, terms, rebates, samples, etc. If you don't ask the question, you can't get the answer. Negotiation will be much easier when you have concise product line that enables you to become important to all your vendors. Vendors prefer repeat customers as well because they are easier and more profitable to work with.
Price is usually the reason a consumer calls or visits your store. Use price cautiously as a tool for sales, develop your technique for upgrades and seize opportunities for extra work or products. Embrace the power of price and you will be successful.
Growing your retail flooring business can be complex, tiring and frustrating when you lack focus. You must have a plan for the business, which should include controlled manageable growth that does not compromise service levels. Marketing, advertising, follow-up, location and pricing are basic components required to grow any business. Make sure these are part of your recipe for success. My next article will conclude my Journal of a Start-Up Retailer series with maintenance of the business and planning for the future.