The average retailer in our business doesn't set budgets, plan yearly advertising, forecast sales or even keep a detailed history of business performance. Such basic retail tools as sales patterning and ad books are all but nonexistent. Contrast this seat-of-the-pants approach with the mantra repeated at the Big Bob's Flooring Outlets annual meetings: "If it can't be measured, it can't be managed." Sounds simple but it is why these guys make money.

Still when you look at advertising expenditures, how can you measure investment against return or know how much to spend? Ad people are fond of saying that half of all money spend on advertising is wasted, but nobody knows which half. That may be so, but in flooring there is probably more money wasted on useless advertising than on any area of expenses. That's unfortunate since it is also one of the most easily controlled expenses. So what's the secret? First, you need a plan. In case you don't keep a history of "written" sales, let me give you a general idea of when flooring sales tend to perk up.

For instance, it seems that female consumers-the bread and butter of our industry-are genetically predisposed to know there's going to be a sale on Veteran's Day. Retailers who are not quite as savvy and fail to make the connection in their advertising are missing a chance to fatten their annual sales by 10 to 20 percent. Buying habits do change. There was a time when retail stores were closed on New Year's Day. It took some savvy retailer to figure out that many women grew restless while their husbands spend the day watching college football and swilling brew. She was left feeling ignored and alone to watch a movie in the bedroom. It was only natural to believe she would welcome a way to get out of the house. TV ads touting New Year's Day sales began appearing. Not surprisingly they appealed to women. Now, shopping centers are crammed full and Jan.1 has become the third biggest sales day of the year. Yes, spending money on new flooring is a perfect antidote for a long day of football.

The Proven Consumer Buying Periods

Generally November is the best month for flooring sales followed closely by February and then September. The rest in approximate order are October, May, January, June, March, July, August, April (for some obscure reason the manufacturer's favorite ) and lastly, the accountant's best month, December.

Go back through your records (if you have any) and make a chart. Break down sales per week. Then, figure out how much was spent on advertising in each corresponding month or week of that year. Advertising expenses should line up with sales volume so the two lines on your graph are virtually parallel as they peak and dip. This never happens unless you know the formula for timing your ads.

To correct this misallocation of advertising funds, take my month by month breakdown of sales and compare it to your store's performance. Than, try to forecast your sales each week for next year emphasizing the major proven consumer buying periods. For most areas or the country, the big days for flooring are: Veteran's Day, President's Day, New Year's Day, the dayafterThanksgiving, Columbus Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day. Remember to add any other sales periods that were successful for you. From this information, successful promotions can be created. I used to think everyone was barbequing on the Fourth of July, but I was wrong. It turns out they were all at my wife's store. Against my advice she created a promotion and turned Independence Day into the best day of the year for her. Remember, retailing is an art, not a science and creativity pays big dividends. Another tidbit: adhering to political correctness is guaranteed to decapitate any promotion.

Once a graph forecasting your weekly sales is completed, allocate your advertising funds for the year based on projected sales. You will now be advertising when people are buying and not wasting these precious funds. Chart your advertising expenditures and they should correspond with sales. At the end of the year, chart your "actuals" to see how well you did.

A few pointers: Don't let the people involved in media sales create your ad. Use an advertising agency. All ads should have a catchy headline and an arresting subhead. Give a reason for the sale. There must be immediacy, strict time limits and a call to action. The two biggest sales periods are one day only. You need guts to do this, but it will pay off handsomely. "Free," "New," "Introducing" are still magic words. No amount of advertising will sell unwanted merchandise. Don't be afraid to use loss leaders to get people in the store. Post your ads online. Use selling copy. All photos or graphics should be on the left or above the copy. Use the media that makes you feel most comfortable and divert your Yellow Page money to that media. The greatest book on advertising isOgilvy on Advertising, (Vintage Press) written by the legendary ad man David Ogilvy. Run to your bookstore or go online and order it now.

If done properly, a Grand Opening Sale can be spectacular and maybe pay for a new store in full. I have opened more than a dozen stores where this has been a reality. This is a book in itself. But also, remember there are times when no one is buying flooring. The week(s) before school starts, two to three weeks before Christmas and the periods just before Christian and Jewish holidays in the spring are three examples. To advertise every week is foolish. Save your money. For your biggest sales events plan to spend at least 50 percent more than the anticipated sales increase. (If you're expecting a 20 percent bump in sales, for example, increase ad spending by at least 30 percent.)

Most importantly, use price in your ads. Suppliers and others in the trade may counsel retailers to stress color and style in their ads. Often, they point to consumer surveys that say buying decisions are primarily based on color first, then style, quality, store reputation and, lastly, price. Based on this information, they illogically assume that retailers should advertise color and style. In reality, following this advice brings no one to your store.

You needn't have a Ph.D. to figure out why. Consumers select their target store because of perceived value-not the color or styles of the products. You advertise to bring her to your store. Manufacturers' advertise to create desire fortheirproducts. When she's actually in your store, she may select flooring because of its color and style. If your salespeople are pros who truly know how to sell, price goes out the window. This is why you'll see a 32" color TV advertised for $299 at a big electronics stores. Consumers really want Plasma, LCD or HDTV. They figure any store that can sell a 32" TV for $299 can surely give them the $4,000 Plasma for $2,999. Accelerating the rush to mediocrity are those retailers who proclaim that they have an image to maintain. Well, you can't take image to the bank. They only accept cash. Mercedes advertises price, Chanel advertises price as do Cartier and Louis Vuitton. Do you think you are above that?

Another benefit of planning your advertising well in advance is that suppliers will look more kindly upon you if you go to market with something in hand. For instance, on one occasion we produced a 12 page ad circular and sold it to suppliers for $2,500 a page. Anticipating a big Anso IV introduction, we produced the ads before market and were rewarded with $25,000. As a small store 30 years ago, we had a hard time spending the cash.

This may be skimming over a lot of complicated material, but you can always fill in the blanks later. Like many other retail matters we cover, the most important thing is developing a perspective on what it takes to make your business more successful than it is. You also need to recognize the area where you are lacking. So, pre-plan your ad schedule, use ad professionals, forecast sales, allocate advertising funds accordingly and don't waste your money in non-productive periods.