Ask most retailers “What is your closing percentage?” and they’ll probably tell you “Four out of five!” Sounds great. But based on observation, experience and actual head counts, I have found that even for good retailers, it is actually closer to one out of every five prospects. This means that if the average sale is $1,200 and you do about $1 million in sales each year that works out to about $3,333 a day. But your actual sales opportunities add up to almost $50,000 a day. Think about that:  Nearly $47,000 a day is walking out of your store and you might as well be holding the door open for it to leave. This translates into 15 people per day coming into your store. That’s 1.5 customers per hour in a 10-hour day-not even a busy day.

Yes, you say, but what about all the shoppers who promise “I’ll be back”? My take on “be-backs” is that many of you are fairly skilled at luring shoppers back and that does help your totals some, but not as much as you may think. Let’s be optimistic and say the “be-backs” double your closing ratio. Using the $3,333 average daily sales figure that still means $22,000 in lost sales opportunities-every day.

Even so, I don’t understand “be-backs.” There are customers who return four and five times to your store before you actually make the sale. My thought is why would you go through the selling process with the same customer four or five times? Why not make the customer feel comfortable enough about you, the store and the merchandise to make a confident decision first time in? This frees up your salespeople to sell new customers instead of the same one over and over. Also, a “be-back” is likely to check out your competition. If your “be-back” happens to wander into my store, we are going to sell her even if she is your sister. 

I realize every storeowner or salesperson, save the rare realist, will refute my one-out-of-five ratio. But that doesn’t mean I’m not right. I have set up systems in stores across the nation that let owners actually count opportunities. To their shock and chagrin, these figures are borne out. The real eye-opener is the Big Boxes. They draw thousands of customers every day; and every day, every location loses many thousands of dollars in flooring sales. Why? The Big Box brain trust has no faith in the people working at the store level. They realize these people typically have no selling skills. And if they have the skills, they almost always lack the product knowledge needed to make them work. But that’s their problem. Their failure, of course, is opportunity gained for floor covering specialty stores.

The Basics

Even in the best market conditions you should be equipping your people with top-notch selling skills. When conditions get a little bumpy those skills become an absolute necessity. So if you have not done so, you need to take action immediately. A sales education program can take months, but improvement can happen almost overnight.

The most fundamental basic is this: Get close to your customer by using simple human interaction. Most consumers are remarkably predictable. When they enter a store (especially when business is slower than usual) it is understandable that they may feel self-conscious, even defensive. Until a customer feels comfortable, it’s difficult to talk to them, let alone sell to them. When greeted, most customers will avert their eyes and offer a meek “Just looking” or “I want to see what you have.” These responses mean just one thing: “Leave me the heck alone.”

But realistically we know no one comes into a flooring store just to have a look around. They already know what you have-flooring! Customers come to stores to buy.  It’s imperative that you teach your salespeople not to talk them out of it. The worse thing you can do is to leave customers alone. Purchasing installed products requires expert assistance.

The first thing to do is find a way to instantly make customers feel at ease. When Eric Hooker, Big Bob’s buyer, was helping my wife set up her store, he greeted every person who ventured in with a great big Northwest Georgia, “Welcome to Big Bob’s!” When I saw this, I noticed that everyone greeted this way instantly smiled. Eric’s welcome was infectious for the staff too. Soon, everyone was joining in with a chorus of “Welcome to Big Bob’s!” Customer’s smiles morphed into laughter and instantly made the customer feel part of the process. It also lightened up the mood.

Thereafter, when customers were “just looking,” it was easy to say, “Well, let’s pretend that you were looking for something in particular, what might that be?” Customers, now feeling at ease, would often describe what they were looking for in intricate detail. This ability to make people feel comfortable is the most important process in the sales process. And that alone can separate you from the competition. All it requires is self-confidence and a genuine concern for other people. Think about it. When was the last time you entered a store and felt a connection to the store personnel?

Men who shop alone will have the same defenses as women, “I’m just looking around.” Even if they refuse to admit it, most men have no authority to buy flooring for the home. This is why some knowing storeowners post a sign that reads, “Husbands are not permitted to order flooring without a note from their wife!” Usually a woman shopping for flooring has discussed it thoroughly with her husband. Ultimately he realizes that either she buys the flooring she wants or his life will change drastically (if you know what I mean). He now wants to get it over with as cheaply as possible. When he comes in alone, it is usually to ascertain that this is the place where his wife will get the best deal. If you are able to convince him of this, she will come into your store.

It’s easy to get close to men by saying something like this, “What red-blooded male wants to spend his day ‘just looking’ in a flooring store?” If you can do this with the caring and levity required, he will laugh. Laughing customers are sold customers. He will tell his wife that yours is the store to buy from.

Conversely, women coming into a floor covering store come ready to buy. Your salespeople must be able to connect with them. Customers trust people they like and buy from those they trust. This is the heart of selling, pure and simple. Salespeople who offer the excuse that a customer is “just looking” shouldn’t be allowed on the sales floor. Your people have to know how the process works or they will continue to add to lost opportunities.

The Code

Customers speak in code and salespeople who lack the basic people skills to understand the code will take what they say literally. “I’m just looking,” “I can only spend $1,000,” “I have to ask my husband,” “I don’t need it now,” “I don’t know what room I’m looking for,” “I’m only shopping,” “ I’m going to move in a year,” “My builder’s allowance is $20 per yard,” “I want to think about it,” are just some examples of a code all shoppers use. It should be easily interpreted by the skilled salesperson. Failure to understand the code means more lost opportunities.

Over the years many sales training programs have proven to be just plain worthless. The biggest joke was the Xerox FAB program beloved by suppliers and loathed by retailers. Suppliers have always been enthralled by programs that dwell on personality types. I cringe when I witness the process. After sitting through one of these sessions I’ve heard exasperated retailers exclaim, “Great, now I have to train my people to be psychologists!” Selling is so much simpler. It’s a process whereby caring people connect with fellow human beings in order to be able to give them what they want no matter the personality, culture or demographic. She wants to buy. Your salespeople want to sell! How is it possible to miss?

Selling is fun, but the business is dead serious. Customers come to your store wanting flooring so intensely they are breathing hard. They want to deal with someone who cares and they want to buy today. They don’t have the time to come back three or four times. They want a beautiful home and they want to be asked to buy. If your people refuse to believe this, opportunities will continue to exit the store. The focus on people rather than techniques (or so-called “skills”) can be inculcated into your store culture immediately. The idea is customers should be welcomed as if they were joining a club. This attitude will work wonders.

Finally, your store must have something that no other store in your market has. It’s what separates you from your competition. Maybe it’s attitude or maybe it’s that you have a decorator on staff. After all, the only reason to purchase flooring is to create a beautiful home that reflects the owner’s individual tastes and passions. Every other store that lacks interior design expertise sells beige which explains why 95% of American home interiors are dog-ugly. You might have lifetime installation guarantees. I never charged for an installation adjustment when I was in retail and advertised the fact. You may have a local celebrity on staff or have done a significant installation. Some of my clients have done statehouses, the governor’s mansion - even The White House. Let people know about it.

Beyond this, give your customers a good reason to make a decision today. Your salespeople must not be afraid to ask for the order. When you are expert at what you do, your whole day is enjoyable. Lighten up, enjoy people and help them get what they want. These are the basics.