Retailers who understand the role of fashion in flooring are often able to reach the customer on a level that transcends price sensitivity. Saving money is always nice, but remember, their No. 1 priority is creating a beautiful home. Here, shoppers in an Abbey Carpet showroom are invited to sit and discuss their tastes and preferences.

One frustration in my career is trying to motivate floor covering retailers to take proven retail strategies and incorporate them into their methods of operation. Change is difficult for most of us. It takes courage to change, especially since many of our businesses have spanned generations. But there are changes all of us can make that will deliver high returns. I'd say about 95 percent of retailers fail to advertise at the right times, don't understand the elements of advertising that make it effective, don't keep retail hours, refuse to take the time to train their people or even possess the basic tools critical to running a successful retail business.

This is why the average retail flooring business generates little more than a $1 million in annual sales and returns less than 3 percent net profit. At the same time, there are those stores that report sales in excess of $10 million and return over 10 percent to their successful owners. It isn't that difficult. I have learned from the experiences of successful store owners in and out of the industry. Just doing a few things right can reward owners with increases in the multiples. The information is readily available. All you have to do is use it. Business is the same as politics: Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its failures. Most retailers repeat the failures of previous generations. They are just hanging on, but that kind of existence can't be much fun.

The toughest issue: Consumer price resistance. This has to be the biggest complaint from retailers (and wholesalers) across the nation, but one of the easiest problems to overcome. Before getting into the best ways to conquer price resistance, a little analysis is in order. Why do consumers object to your pricing? To understand, retailers and salespeople need to research our industry-and understand the mindset of the consumer. Why does she buy? What does she want? What is the value of our products? If I were to ask a room full of 100 retailers, maybe one or two could answer these questions.

Marketing research provides some fascinating answers. Consumer surveys and focus groups consistently tell us that customers don't buy from your competition because of lower prices or better selection. They buy because they like the other salesperson better! One way to solve the pricing problem is to train your salespeople. The important part of sales education is not related to techniques such as qualifying or closing. And it is not simply the ability to articulate features, advantages and benefits. Selling is the art of being liked. She tells us over and over that she doesn't want to shop price. But if she doesn't find a salesperson she likes or someone who can put a room together or both, the only issue she is left with is price. Want proof? Look at the stores and individuals producing the highest sales volume. Almost always they also sell at the highest price. The people at the bottom give it away. Under-performing salespeople tend to blame price instead of taking responsibility and admitting failure is due to their lack of skills. The late Stanley Marcus writes in his book,Selling the Best!"The higher the price and more limited the selection, the higher the sales. The lower the price and broader the selection; the lower the sales!" Read this one again. It's not how much you display, rather how well.

Consumers also tell us they don't want to see samples. She wants to see our products displayed as they are to be used in her home. This is accomplished with vignettes that show flooring coordinated with fabric, wall treatments and accessories. Even the merchandising groups haven't caught on to this, which brings us to the most effective way to overcome price objections-fashion. Here's what we know, but few in the industry pay attention to; rich or poor she is coming to us because she wants a beautiful home. The only value our products have is what they can contribute to the beautiful home. Make no mistake, she selects your store because of perceived value (which is the perception many have of the big boxes), but she also comes into your store envisioning the beautifully decorated home that she saw on page 84 of "Elle Decor." If you lack the decorating skills to make her dreams come true, the only thing "she" (remember more than 90 percent of our customers are women) can do is to shop around and compromise. The result; broken dreams, a broken heart and another consumer disappointed with our industry because she ended up with a bland "footprint free" Midwestern beige carpet.

Men in our industry, generally do not share this "beautiful home" mindset. Most of us overlook the value on home interiors. In fact, if we didn't have a woman in our lives, no matter how much money we made we would live in a hovel. Luckily for us, women have moved into retail in droves and the importance of selling fashion is more readily accepted. Flooring is an interior design product. Those who lack -or refuse to learn-decorating skills will lose ground steadily in the marketplace. If your store isn't showing growth, this may be a factor. And there really is no excuse. The information is widely available. Of course, one article isn't going to cover floor fashion merchandising or home decorating skills. It's up to you to find and provide this critical information. When you do you will have elevated your operation. Here is what selling fashion will do for you:
  • It positions your store as a decorating source. People shop with blinders on and won't notice other home interior products you carry, but if you have created a beautiful room for a customer once before, she will check with you before making the next purchase.
  • It discourages comparison shopping. She can't shop the competition because they don't have what you sell: A floor you created for that customer. In our business we rarely sold a plain floor, mixing surfaces, patterns and shapes.
  • It will literally solve your installation problems. Working with beautiful floors and learning custom work, installers become "artisans" not workmen. The extra money earned for custom work also helps. I've said for many years; "We don't have an installation problem in this industry, we have a motivation problem."
  • It eliminates price as an issue. Yes, as I mentioned, she picks a store because of its "perceived" (key word) price/value. But if your people can create the home of her dreams, price goes out the window.
  • It drastically increases referrals. Every time you sell plain vanilla flooring, you lose money. When new flooring is first installed, most customers can't wait for their friends to see it. Imagine her disappointment when nobody recognizes the flooring as new. The only reason someone would ask where she bought it is so they can avoid making the same mistake. We tried never to sell a floor without a "Wow!" factor, so when her friends came over, they would exclaim, "Wow!"
  • It will give your store a USP. My friend, Al Bates of The Profit Planning Group, points out that in order to be successful, your store must have a USP or a "unique selling proposition." This is something your store can offer that is unavailable at no other store in your market. Even today, selling fashion still qualifies in most areas as a USP.

And most of all there is this: In addition to the satisfaction that comes from knowing you are beautifying the homes of your customers and achieving true customer satisfaction, selling fashion means higher sales volume and higher profits for the store as well as higher commissions for the salespeople. There is nothing unfashionable about that.