While attending the Alliance Flooring (CarpetsPlus Colortile and Carpetland, USA.) convention in Atlanta in February, I sat in on a general session built around the theme “Best Practices.” Usually these discussions feature someone telling us  “I chop up my used pad and sell it” to “I use trailers outside an installation so we can load up at night and my advertising goes on the sides.” All good ideas and rewarding for the retailer, but this was one presentation that had me glued to every word.

As a retailer I have liked “the big promotion.” I preached for years about promoting during proven consumer buying periods. Some of these one-day events produced $100,000 in cash sales at a modest location. I talk about these events in my book, Warren Tyler on Retail, but what I don’t emphasize enough is the intense planning and preparation that goes into these promotions. That is really what makes or breaks them.

We heard some great presentations in Atlanta. Alliance Flooring Dealer Dick Hilman from the Detroit area, for example, told us he battles the tough economic conditions in his area by embracing product diversity. He actually became a distributor for hard-to-obtain items and even added closet organizers and decking to the mix. Jerry Butler, one of the original CarpetsPlus dealers, gave a professional presentation on growing your business. Then up stepped Wendy Werner of Carpet Town in West Allis, Wis., who provided the lowdown on how to run a promotion. Planning and the execution, she said, will make the difference between a whopper of a sale and a mediocre one.

Wendy, one of the sharpest retailers I’ve yet to meet, delivered a presentation concerning private sales. She runs these invitation-only events twice a year and has had wonderful results. She told us how to use your mailing lists and selected zip codes to send invitations containing a great “hook,” something unique making recipients feel special enough to lure them to the store, reinforced with the immediacy of a one-day sale.

To run an incredibly successful sale, it takes even more. Wendy described a private sale as a process. It is a plan that, if you follow it carefully, will lead to a successful promotion. There is nothing magical to it, but the results can be nothing short of magical. Each of her private sales averages $183,000 on 95 written orders for an average of $2,118 each at a 38% gross margin-all in one day! Her last sale brought in more than $200,000.

Preparation and Invitations

Having that kind of day takes planning. Wendy starts by sorting through her computer’s lists as much as six to 12 months prior to the planned sale. She looks for good candidates to invite, and three months prior to the sale, the staff is notified of the actual date. They also keep their own customer files and send personal invitations. Wendy uses Mail America to send all other invitations. She stressed that she sends invitations, not letters and certainly not junk mail. The invitations are carefully checked and proofread three weeks in advance to assure that every element is correct. They are then scheduled for delivery 10 days prior to the event. 

Zip codes are selected with an eye toward upscale neighborhoods. In Carpet Town’s case, they choose areas with an average income of over $50,000 or a household income that tops $75,000. They then choose zip codes that equal 20,000 to 26,000 mailings. In every subsequent event they add a couple of new zip codes.

Four weeks prior to a sale, suppliers are contacted for special terms and pricing just for this event. This is a relatively simple, yet critical step that lets you maintain gross margin. The reps are also invited to visit the store and participate on the day of sale. The sale merchandise is selected and the precise verbiage is chosen for use on the invitation. Included are loss leaders offered for as much as 40% off.  There is also a nod to financing: 12 months same as cash is an important draw as is the offer of a free pre-measure (value $35). Every sales associate focuses on these pre-measures and makes certain to set up appointments, first for a free pre-measure and then to set a time on the day of the sale. The salesperson explains to the customer that the store will be crowded on sales day and appointments will move them to the head of the line. Again, the customer is made to feel special.

One hook that I always love to see on any mailer (and not surprisingly Wendy includes it) is a $50 discount coupon. Of course other pertinent information is spelled out, such as store hours, location and options for payment.

Salespeople Heads-Up

The limitations of a sales staff is something that forever stymies average retailers from reaching their potential. There are some areas where your salespeople should be kept out of the loop and others where they should participate only if they need specific knowledge and instruction. Wendy takes all the critical steps. She prepares special sales stickers, and other POP materials. She even has specific measure sheets created just for the sale. Salespeople are all taught the importance of telephone etiquette. In fact, in my own stores, unless people were specifically trained, they didn’t answer the telephone. A phone call is as valuable as a walk-in.

Carpet Town people enthusiastically (and genuinely) thank customers for calling. They then explain that the pre-measure offer and the discount represent an $85 value-in addition to the twice-a-year sale. They are also urged to remind customers that the store will be busy and encourage customers to pre-select several items to save time. The message: Make no mistake, this is a special day and time will be critical. It all adds to the immediacy of the sale. They make appointments 35 to 45 minutes apart and call them two days prior to the sale to remind them-just like a doctor.

Immediate Preparation

Wendy has learned the value of spending money to promote her ONE-DAY SALE and she has the guts to do it.  Now, here’s where it’s a good idea to keep salespeople out of the loop. Price lists are not released until the store closes the night before the sale. Wendy is smart enough to know that if salespeople know the sale prices and merchandise prior to the sale, it may affect the way they sell in the days leading up the sale. A “walk-in” customer unaware of the sale may be urged to wait. In some ways, it is similar to telling salespeople your actual costs. It undermines them psychologically because it’s always easier to give the discount than to use selling skills.

On the big day, special price tags are unveiled. The loss leaders are merchandised subtly. All other carpet is marked at 7% to 9% off while all hard surface flooring is 10% off. Area rugs are discounted even more:  20%-25% because of their higher mark. These percentages are not advertised beforehand. They are displayed prominently inside the store.

On the morning of the sale, a staff assembles for a meeting and the exact terms are spelled out. Everyone gets a written handout and the salespeople are taught how to greet customers who wander in without an invitation. Of course they are not turned away; they are asked to sign in at the front desk as the details of the promotion are explained. (You have now entered yet another name in your customer data bank). Then Wendy offers a motivational session, what she calls a “Rah! Rah!” meeting. The salespeople are encouraged to be enthusiastic, positive, energetic, and to have fun, fun, fun! This is a special day!

The atmosphere is charged with attitude; everybody is upbeat. There are balloons, refreshments and drinks including breakfast foods, cookies, coffee, cheese and crackers, sausage, soda, water, coffee, candy and in Wisconsin, Kringle is a must. As a matter of fact, this is not a bad way to run your store every day.

Rewards and Incentives

And it doesn’t stop there. Wendy offers individual awards and team awards for the day. Depending upon the number of appointments they make, a fairly accurate projection of the sales volume for the day can be made. Goals are set based on the estimate and Wendy tempts them with a cash pot of maybe $1,500, and if they hit their goals, salespeople go home with 5% of the pot for highest volume, most number of tickets written, cushion upgrades and appointments.

From my experience the real go-getters will earn over $2,000 in commissions for the day and that does not include awards and bonuses. This is a huge motivator. It gets them charged up for the next promotion. Customers are treated with gift bags and surprise gifts. So, even those that do not buy something that day walk away truly impressed.

At the end of the day, when the last customer leaves, the head bookkeeper announces the results. Champagne corks fly, and the celebration begins. Wendy even composes and sings a songalong with a dance in honor of the salespeople.

If you think that any of these elements are not critical to the promotion, this may be why you’ve never had results like this. Well done, Wendy!