Consumers shopping for new flooring are typically busy moms who look to you for advice on what will work best in their homes. Understanding their needs and adding a personal touch can be the difference between "Sale" and "No Sale."

If you are like many specialty flooring retailers, you have watched with great concern the opening of new "big-box" stores in your market area. No doubt you can't help but wonder what impact they will have on your flooring sales-and your long-term viability. The big guys, after all, can usually buy cheaper and sell lower than you can. How do you survive in the midst of such competition?

Finding the right flooring solution can also include accessories, such as the Artistic Finishes molding that complements the residential flooring seen here.
You're certainly not alone in wondering whether you can succeed competing against national big-boxes that focus mostly on price. But there is good news! With the right approach, it has been demonstrated over and over again that you can not only compete, but you can actually thrive against these giant retailers. Doing so does require a shift in selling philosophy for many retailers. In short, retail experts agree that this will require the adoption of a more people-oriented approach to selling.

In a highly competitive environment, your store's success depends on your sales staff's ability to expertly pinpoint a consumer's specific situation and present specific solutions that appeal to her unique tastes and needs. In contrast, the sales staff at the big-box stores has neither the expertise nor the time to give customers this level of one-on-one attention they want when making this important purchase. Your store's ability to address this fundamental need is the key to tipping the odds in your favor.

Chances are, the flooring lines you offer are similar to those found at other retailers in your area. Most stores carry solid, engineered and laminate floors, and offer a fairly broad selection of species, colors, patterns and finishes. All things being equal, a level playing field leaves price as the only factor that gives the box stores an edge. Separating your store from the pack means focusing on the people doing the shopping, as opposed to simply pitching products. This shift in selling philosophy is the underlying principle of "high-impact selling."

If you assume that every customer who walks into your store has shopped in at least one other retailer before coming to you, ask yourself why they should buy their flooring here, and not from the other guy down the street? The answer is tied to the personal touch you offer. In most cases, the shopper is a busy mom who has a deep emotional connection to her home. She wants you to tie her specific needs to an appropriate flooring product. Instead of pitching, you (or your sales staff) should inquire about her choice of home décor, the size of her family, her color preferences and so on. Most important, you determine why she is in the market for new flooring. Is it a home improvement project, a replacement, or some other need? She may not know specifics about various floor types-but you can win her confidence by asking and listening.

Only after better understanding her needs can the salesperson suggest creative, attractive flooring solutions that complement her home and reflect her particular desired taste.

So what are the buyer's prime motivators? Let's look at the fast growing hardwood category, for example. There are many reasons why buyers are increasingly looking to add hardwood flooring to their homes. A survey sponsored by the National Wood Flooring Association found that real estate agents agree by a three-to-one-margin that homes with wood floors sell faster than those that are fully carpeted. In addition, 58 percent of these agents said that homes with wood floors consistently bring a higher price. These are strong factors that help explain why more and more buyers are considering hardwood flooring. Still, good salespeople know that resale value is usually not the most pressing issue for people in the market for new flooring. The appeal of hardwood goes beyond that.

When properly selected and installed, hardwood floors add a level of warmth, character and rich natural beauty that cannot be duplicated by any other flooring surface. Successful salespeople know this. After learning about the customer's needs and desires they may begin discussing hardwood options. If they have earned the consumer's confidence by demonstrating sensitivity to her individual tastes and needs, someone who was leaning toward a more budget-minded flooring option may ultimately opt for a wood floor. Make no mistake: the wood flooring business is a fashion business.

This concept was reinforced in a recent discussion with Mark Bayuk, sales manager at Golden State Flooring in San Francisco. "All of our retailers have an excellent selection of top quality flooring products to choose from, with dozens of wood species, a variety of unique finishes, and literally hundreds of colors. We also provide them with a full assortment of color-coordinated moldings and vent covers to complement each floor. Yet, we see one store do much better than another with virtually the same product. The difference can only be explained by the performance of their salespeople," he said. "The real challenge," he added, "is teaching retail salespeople to identify customer needs and tastes before presenting product. The next step is to address those needs with a comprehensive, attractive flooring solution tailored to that individual customer."

Once the customer's needs are clearly understood, effective salespeople can confidently suggest flooring styles, species, colors and finishes that will help create the aesthetic look and feel she wants. This is where product selection and merchandising pay dividends. You want to show her an exciting selection of products, merchandised to portray the way they will look in her home. Merely showing floor samples or a molding chain set falls far short of the mark. Create in-store displays that beautifully demonstrate the floor, moldings and vent covers, working together to complete the desired look.

When you embrace high-impact selling, the objective is to earn the business by providing your customer with something no one else can offer. You have gained their trust, you understand their tastes and you know how to address their needs. This becomes your "unique selling proposition." It is not just the fuel that drives customers into your store-it is the force that closes the sale. And remember: earning buyer trust early in the sales process will minimize price and comparison shopping, increase referrals and generate higher sales and profitability. Earn their confidence, understand their needs and you will unleash your store's potential.