Supposedly our greatest strength as full service flooring retailers is that unlike the "big boxes," we can sell. The boxes, after all, are really marketing machines able to draw thousands of customers through their doors each day. The busiest specialty stores average only about ten customers a day.

Trade shows like the one pictured here offer specialty retailers an excellent opportunity to do two important things: Learn about the new products that are driving the business and polish their interpersonal skills. Product knowledge and the ability to truly understand a customer's flooring needs can give specialty retailers a big advantage over big box competitors.

If I were to ask most retailers what their closing ratio is, the answer would be four out of five. But this just isn't so. For one thing, it's only the rare retailer who measures this critical performance factor. In my experience, retailers who actually monitor this in a meaningful way are almost always shocked by the results, which is about three out of ten.

What constitutes a "meaningful" method? Any method that relies on salespeople to report information is grossly flawed, not by outright dishonesty. It's that salespeople want to please their boss. Customers' excuses for not really being in the market now are readily accepted and therefore salespeople don't count them. My view and the view of most professional salespeople is that if she comes into your store to use the restroom, we are going to sell her. We used to register every customer for a drawing and unbeknownst to the sales staff, this was our way of getting an accurate customer count as well as a mailing list.

Once you've determined that your sales staff is not as skilled as you may have believed, what do you do about it? The traditional method of training, "Go with old Charlie over there. He's been selling for 20 years!" isn't enough. Twenty multiplied by zero is still zero (Sorry Charlie, but it's true.) Sales expertise is the only advantage we have over the boxes. The best way to ensure this is an effective in-store sales training program. It's up to the owner to find the best program, institute the training and monitor the results. Specialty retailers will receive a greater return on their investment in sales training than on any other retail strategy.

At every sales seminar, whether it's for rookies or experienced salespeople, I ask a few basic questions: "Who is your customer?" "What does she want?" "Why does she buy?" "What is your definition of selling?" Just knowing the answers to these simple questions, an individual can double sales. Sound impossible? Well try this on your next customer. Who is she? If you think that simply means demographics, selling is not for you. She is not just an age, an income or any other statistic. She is a human being and beyond that she is someone loved by many people. Just because you don't know her doesn't mean she is any less precious than your own sister, daughter or mom. She is someone's sister daughter or mom. Treat her as if she were actually your mom.

Think about your next customer and how you might act if she were your mom. Would you sell her that 28 oz. carpet that the manufacturer said would walk out in two weeks or would you sell her something of real quality that would protect her investment? Would you let her know how much you enjoy helping to decorate her home? Would you sell her that blah Midwestern beige that looks old the day it is installed or would you create something for her that will make her friends and neighbors exclaim "Wow!" when she first opens the door to her home?

If you find it impossible to give the same love and respect to strangers that most people only reserve for friends and family, then selling may not be for you. High-impact retailing demands high-impact selling. The greatest selling skill is an attitude. If your salespeople have the self-esteem and discipline to treat every customer as if she were their mom, sales will double.

This is a hard hurdle for salespeople to get over. Times have changed. Customers are smarter and more demanding. No longer is it acceptable to sell home decorating products as if they were plumbing or auto parts. High impact sales demands knowledge of how to put a room together. What does your customer really want? Rich or poor, she wants a beautiful home that reflects her specific tastes and most consumers have little idea of how to do this. This is why so many settle for beige. The only value floor covering has is what it contributes to the beautiful home. Demonstrating or selling such meaningless "things" as warranties, guarantees, "footprint free" or stain-resist only serve to make flooring worth less or "worthless" unless she specifically asks.

Selling is something you do for people, not to them. She tells us she wants a beautiful room, so it's up to us to give it to her. Do all salespeople have to be interior designers? No, but it is imperative to have someone on staff who can paint the picture. Selling is an art. If she wants a warm comfortable atmosphere for her children and friends, it's up to the salesperson to create the vision. Selling is the ability to subordinate your own wants and needs to the wants and needs of others. This is why successful selling is one of the most demanding and difficult professions. We have to be able to handle the most complex organism ever created and in millions of different forms. The best book on selling ever written is Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." The message of this classic is that the world revolves around everyone except us-something totally at odds with the current "me-me" philosophy. Thinking of others is a recipe for lifelong happiness and success, but it requires incredible discipline and high self-esteem.

We continually ask consumers why they buy and their answers are enlightening, but few salespeople, because of lack of education, believe the information or have the tools required to put the answers to use. She tells us she buys at the other store not because of its broader selection or lower price. She buys because she liked the other salesperson better. Back when Sears was the largest carpet retailer in the world, they displayed only 28 qualities. Whenever I ask an audience of salespeople; "How many of you, when finally quoting price, receive this answer from your customer? 'Oh, I thought it would be much more.'" Then I ask "How many of you regularly write orders and the product has yet to be selected?" Fewer than 5 percent (and it's always the same people) raise their hands to either question which means 95 percent of salespeople can't sell. When it comes to home decorating products, the most critical decision is not what to buy but whom to buy from. The greatest sales skill is attitude-about people, products and your ability to do something of value for your customer.