Welcome to 2008.  It’s a New Year and that means a new start and a new horizon for your business.  This is a good time to let go of “tried (or is it tired?) and true” methods of doing business and embrace some fresh, creative concepts.  In this business, that can be a big challenge. If floor covering retailer was included as an entry in a thesaurus, suggested synonyms might include “creature of habit.” That’s not an insult-honest. It’s simply our human nature at work, coupled with the keep-things-as-they-are mindset that is a fixture of our industry. 

So let’s be truthful. If those “tried and true” methods worked for you in 2007, you probably don’t need this column. But if you are ready to acknowledge that you could use a hand spicing up your sales and marketing strategies, then read on. I’ve interviewed a number of key retailers across the country, and now present you with some of their best ideas…

BECOME A CHAMELEON…In other words: mix things up. If you have a high-end, classic floorcovering gallery, it’s obvious you are appealing to an upscale clientele. But how about this: One weekend a month you host a “come as you are” party and play the role of discount dealer. For instance, offer deep discounts on carpet roll balances or in-stock floor coverings. Feature a sale on beautiful area rugs. Team up with one of your key vendors to put their products on “deep discount” sale-but only for a limited time. Make it fun and a little out of character from what you normally do. Advertise to your own client base, but try and target younger family members and friends who are looking for a now or never “deal.”

RESURRECT THE PRIVATE SALE EVENT…Over my 18 years in this business this is one of the most effective tools I’ve seen retailers employ. For just one day (with extended hours), customers come in “by invitation only” and enjoy incredible savings. Once again, most manufacturers will get on board with remarkable cost cuts that you can pass along to your customers. You can also tie this event into any outstanding financing packages you might be able to negotiate with your credit lender.

EXPAND YOUR OPERATION…One of the most ingenious strategies I’ve seen involved two large retail stores battling for customers. One was actually a warehouse, roll stocking dealer, and the other, just a quarter mile away, was a higher-end gallery style store. In essence they weren’t really competing for the same customers, but when the gallery store decided to sell out, the owner of the warehouse store quietly bought the operation and kept it going as a higher-end venue. Now, who in the world would want two stores practically next door to each other?  First of all-the acquisition helped discourage competitors eyeing the neighborhood.  Second, the owner now had opposite ends of the flooring market covered: Discount and custom. The public had no idea the stores had common ownership so local consumers felt comfortable that they had done their due diligence by “shopping” at least two stores before they made a buying decision. This put the retailer in a win/win situation. Management also had the added benefit of talking to customers about their experience at the “competitor’s” store up the street. How’s that for ingenious?

SHARE YOUR SPACE…Perhaps you have a lot of square footage in your store and the overhead is a huge burden on your bottom line. Take heart. You may not have to move if your creativity shifts into high gear. Since you don’t need all that space, consider subletting to a secondary business that’s complementary to yours. You can share the cost of the space and draw a new base of potential customers. I recently witnessed a well established retailer reduce his excessive square footage by 30% after leasing part of the showroom to a popular fabric store.  The fabric store already had a strong and loyal customer base. Now, those people will be exposed to the beautiful floor coverings this retailer has to offer. His rent, utilities, insurance costs, and possibly even his advertising budgets have all been reduced. There is also more foot traffic being drawn into the store. The creative part involves whom you team up with. Typically, any retailer offering non-competitive home interior products is a good choice. City permits might require you to modify the exterior of the building to have more than one entry, but that’s a small price to pay for the mega results you stand to gain.

JOIN WITH LOCAL BUSINESS LEADERS…Usually the chamber of commerce or Rotary Club is a good start. Now, before you point out that this is a departure from previous marketing ideas, believe me there is a lot of merit in this.  I have witnessed new retailers kick their business into high gear by investing time and energy into local groups. When you hobnob with business leaders, the upside goes beyond camaraderie. Those florists, bankers and dry cleaners who also belong to the local business community are a great source for Main Street commercial work-especially if you are the only flooring retailer astute enough to participate. 

IN-STORE COLOR AND DESIGN CLASSES…I have been invited to give these presentations around the country, for groups of anywhere from 20 to 200 people.  The demand for credible design information is off the charts and color presentations are a huge draw. I’ve been the guest speaker for private evening events at retail stores. They are easy to do (don’t forget the wine and cheese, or tea and cookies), and they bring in design-minded clients. Customers planning a re-design are eager to know what’s happening in the world of design and color.  When you offer expertise and allow guests plenty of time to browse your store, you’ve got a winning combination. To find your own expert, contact your local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, or visit colormarketing.org.  There usually is a speaking fee involved, but the return on investment can be huge.

Hopefully these ideas will get your creative juices flowing. I can assure you the retailers who shared these with me are true entrepreneurs. They are always on the lookout for an idea no one else has tried. A little ingenuity and a modest investment in your own business can reap huge rewards. Start by picking just one great idea, whether it’s something you read here, or your own brainstorm. Take that first bold step toward reinventing yourself-and then please share your success story with me (fair is fair-they shared with you). Come this time next year, we might just be writing about YOU. In the meantime have a happy-and creative-New Year.