Get the picture? While challenges will be a reality for the hardwood flooring industry in 2008, we have seen the business rebound many times before. We need to remind consumers that hardwood is a sure way to enhance the value of their home. Pictured is Mannington's hardwood flooring, Acacia.

Well, just as the gunslinger of the Old West would add a “notch” on his gun belt after a shootout with an adversary, you too, we hope, have made it through another year by carving out your own special “niche” in the hardwood flooring industry. Some of us may have been wounded by slumping sales. Others unfortunately have gone to flooring’s “Boot Hill” due to financial woes. Those who honored commitments by making some form of restitution to their vendors, you too will be missed, but never forgotten. When you “start” a business with pride, it is only fitting to “end” your journey the same way. 

Our financial world as we once knew it was literally turned upside down again and again in 2007, particularly in the latter part of the year. The surging price of oil was an everyday occurrence. Financial institutions making sub-prime loans for home purchases felt the sting. Homebuilders began selling stagnant inventory below cost. Existing homes began to descend in value. Equity loans secured against the “original” appraisal price put consumers in a bind. If you needed to sell your home, you may have been obliged to sweeten the deal at the closing to assure of “clearing” the deed.  Investors in the stock market wanted something safe to minimize losses. It seemed the only area of growth was the population of “sharks” preying on nervous investors.        

At least one if not all of these developments hit nearly everyone in some way. Closer to home, these external factors affected your participation and/or continued contribution to the hardwood flooring industry. But 2007 is behind us now. Don’t look back. We can’t change the past, but we can prepare for the future. It may be an “upside down” world, we don’t have to stand on our heads to cope. We don’t want to encourage more struggle by dwelling on the past.

Remember, our hardwood flooring market bounced back from the gloom and doom of the ‘60s when the federal government started to include carpeting for federally back housing loans. In fact, most of our sectors of hardwood flooring saw growth in spite of the jump in oil prices and the sour housing market. Regrouping for the coming year is a good idea. We need to encourage consumers to invest in their homes for the “long haul.” We should be reminding them that the value (and beauty) of their homes is greatly enhanced with the installation of hardwood flooring.

We need to stay focused on strategies for keeping alive the “courtship” between end users and our hardwood flooring industry. With this in mind, “Wood or Wood Knot” offers the following suggestions for our readers. Remember, you are never too old to learn, and never to young to listen.

First and foremost, you “gotta believe”-in yourself, your business and your future. Start from scratch, if necessary, and remove any doubts that you shall succeed. Begin by listening to your peers and subordinates. You already know what you think; what about input from those surrounding you? Take the time to “hear” them. Whether you feel their input is viable or not, let them finish their thoughts without interrupting them. Until now, they probably have played it safe with you. Their “unvarnished” views on marketing just may be what you need now. Utilize the assets at hand. Start with your own personnel.

If you don’t have a follow up program to gauge your performance, start one immediately. Consumers, unfortunately, seldom notify the dealer/contractor to say they are delighted with their recent transaction and installation. It would be nice if they did. It would help build confidence within your operation and let you know your product and service are on target with the consumer’s expectations. Consumers truly appreciate a call or a card seeking their input. You, as the owner, need to keep your finger on the pulse of your business. Make yourself available to your customers. Do you have someone with people skills who is also capable of handling criticism and complaints? Assign them the responsibility for follow up. Share the good news with your personnel. Everyone likes kudos. It also sends customers the message that you want to serve them now and hopefully in the future.

Stay positive! There is a fine line between brow beating your employees and spoon feeding motivational presentations. Acknowledge the wins and try and get a handle on your losses. Failure to recognize accomplishment will only prove that you have tunnel vision with regard to the company’s performance as a whole. Know your employees-their personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses. And keep it upbeat. It takes fewer facial muscles to smile than to frown. You wouldn’t be in the hardwood flooring industry if you didn’t love it, trust me.

Your devotion to quality work and your constant focus on customer satisfaction will set you apart. In the real world, every dealer/contractor can buy, display and sell name brand products. The playing field starts out level. Your quality of installations, service and attitude will ultimately score points with the consumer. This is what triggers word-of-mouth and repeat business. And be realistic about pricing and keep you products affordable. Offer hardwood flooring that you are ready, willing and able to supply and install at a reasonable return on your investment.

“Wood or Wood Knot” knows that attitude is everything. If your focus is “retention” of the status quo, that can bring a marketing condition that best translates into “retreat.” Instead, I say gather up your troops and begin this year by creating a harmonious marketing environment.  Then, and only then, yell, “Charge!”