When sales start to slow the challenge is to entice people into your showroom and let them see some of the wonderful products you have to offer. Even if they don't make a purchase right away, they will remember you when they are ready to buy.

These are strange and trying times for America. Uncertainty and lack of consumer confidence have resulted in many floor covering retailers experiencing sales results that are consistent with a recession instead of the thriving economy that we actually have. Although construction is down in many areas, remodeling activity is steady and many businesses report they are sitting on cash they don’t know what to do with. Upper income people are making more money than in any time in history and would love to spend it, but grim news is making them gun-shy. I am in touch with retailers around the nation and a lot of what they report is unsettling. Even some of the largest flooring retailers are reporting dismal sales-and not just in rustbelt states like Michigan and Ohio.

So what’s a retailer to do? If consumers are reluctant to spend then we should taking steps to counteract the situation. And this doesn’t mean doing what too many retailers do in bad times. They tighten their belt and look to trim expenses like marketing. Here then are five things you can do right now to help shake off the doldrums:

Advertise!These are the exact times you need to advertise. Your competition is probably cutting back and that leaves you standing alone to reap the benefits. But be strategic. Embrace a plan that is creative and aggressive-and highly targeted. In tough times those at the lower end of the economic scale get hit hardest. But rich people always have money-they are more careful with it when they sense the economy is sputtering. So why not focus on them by advertising the top shelf merchandise, priced aggressively? Don’t be afraid to use loss leaders. Low volume stores don’t use this effective technique. High volume stores do. Is there a lesson here?

Follow the lead of the big players in your market. They use “One Day Only,” “Sale!” “Never Again,” “New!” “Introducing” and “Free.”  If you think you are too good to use words and phrases like this, then maybe you are too good to make money.

Pitch FinancingEven if consumers feel the country is in a bad way, they know just as well that we always work our way out of it. There is always a sunny day ahead, so promote credit. The need or desire for new flooring doesn’t disappear with the economy. Even if they are leery about spending now, an offer of no interest, no payment for an extended period will make most people feel secure enough to move them off the fence. Right now, put up a large sign saying “No Payment, No Interest until May 2008!” and advertise it. Make sure every salesperson lets all customers-whether walk-ins or Yellow Page walkers-know immediately about the credit deal you are offering. Remind them that this is an investment that will increase the retail value of their house.

Call to say ‘Hi’Have every salesperson do what they should have been doing all along-call their customers. Salespeople should be in touch with their customers on a regular basis anyway, not just sitting around. Most of you have thousands of past customers. Call them now with a special offer for them only, whether a special discount, special merchandise or a great credit offer. Last month’s column was a  “how-to” with specific instructions about running a private sale promotion that involves customer lists. Now is the time to take action.

Go CommercialA few years back, Milliken did a survey that looked at Main Street Commercial business. In it, they studied a town of 35,000 people and broke down the number of stores, schools, medical facilities, manufacturers, banks, offices and other commercial facilities. They calculated that these areas collectively represented an astounding figure of 225,000 sq. yds. of  non-bid flooring sold every year. This is enough to keep a large store busy for eternity. About 5 percent of the commercial jobs are put out for bid and 95 percent of  those selling flooring chase after them. Conversely, 95 percent of commercial work is there for the taking-if you know where to look. What makes more sense?

When times are slow, salespeople should be out on the road looking for new construction, calling businesses they do business with, doing mailings, calling builders and re-modelers, checking building permits and calling businesses listed in the Yellow Pages about their flooring needs.

Ask for the orderIt sounds simple, but remember, selling is the act of persuasion. Close the sale during the customer’s first time in, whether by telephone or walk-in. Never let someone walk away telling you, “I’ll have to think about it” or “I have to ask my husband.”  All you need is a 15 second never-fail method that nails the sale right now. She doesn’t want to shop around. She is too busy. She wants to buy so desperately that she is breathing hard. She is looking for a professional who can make her feel comfortable enough to help her make a buying decision now. Never accept the amateur excuse that asking for the order and selling first-time in is being “pushy.” This is just a rationalization for not having selling skills. If you don’t know this wonderful never-fail method, contact me and I’ll send you some pocket reminders free.

While these five steps can help you navigate through today’s challenging environment, that shouldn’t be the sole reason to hone your skills. Retailers and salespeople should be on a constant search for the knowledge needed to make themselves experts at what they do. The stop gap methods I have mentioned should be what you are doing all the time. Hard times can be a great motivator for you to become a great salesperson or retailer. And, remember, when things get better, you’ll still be a great salesperson or retailer.