Do you believe that the dip in demand for flooring is merely a function of a sputtering economy? Are you among those who are convinced that everything will be fine once the lousy housing market rebounds? If so, you are missing the big picture. Having had the opportunity to attend a number of industry get-togethers, conferences and socials events in recent months, I feel I can sum up the mindset that will serve you well in these times of challenge. Again and again the buzz I’m hearing is that today’s retailer needs a strategy that is best captured by three words: Smart, tough and aggressive. (Patient, you’ll notice, is not among them.)

In various forms it is the strategy advanced each month by NFT’s retail experts, Warren Tyler and Sam Allman. In fact, in this issue both columnists urge dealers to explore avenues they may have neglected. For his part, Warren discusses retail groups and makes a case that’s hard to refute. If you position your business as a valuable resource that helps people achieve the home of their dreams, aligning yourself with the right group can only enhance that position. Warren, one of the most upbeat people I have ever met, once again reminds us that it’s all about attitude.    

Sam, also always highly affable, offers an eye-opening way to gauge the performance of your sales staff. He encourages you to look beyond the number of sales finalized and calculate such oft-neglected areas as customer referrals, conversion rates and sales of ancillary products. How about scheduling regular meetings with your staff to access progress in each of the eight areas on Sam’s list? The process is not designed to browbeat or intimidate your sales people. On the contrary, it’s an exercise that encourages them to look elsewhere to find the sales they have been missing in recent months. Do it with fairness and empathy and they will thank you.    

What I keep hearing from our columnists and other industry experts is that a smart, tough and aggressive mindset will let you control your destiny instead of waiting for blue skies. Let’s look at how these attributes can apply:

Smart.The Chinese proverb says it best: “If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” That means being smart enough to know if you’re on the right path-and if you are not, at least change lanes. This is why benchmarking has suddenly become a huge industry buzzword. It lets you compare your balance sheet with that of a comparable operation. The World Floor Covering Association, among others, is preparing such a report. The WFCA assures confidentiality and will provide those who participate with the complete findings for no charge.

Tough.You don’t find many prima donnas in flooring. Many in our business have logged decades of backbreaking work. Even the people at the top have their sleeves rolled up each day. But the toughness needed now is the backbone to make difficult decisions. You may have to stay open later and increase your ad budget even though cash flow is off. You’ll probably need to make some difficult personnel decisions and maybe do some things your father never did when he ran the store (a computer class maybe?). If it sounds like too much effort, than just think of that other old saying about what tough people do when the going gets tough.

Aggressive.  Is anyone from your organization going to the NeoCon show in Chicago this month? This, after all, is the premier show for commercial flooring. If you are going after more Main Street business shouldn’t you be there? If there is a For Rent sign in a storefront near you; have you called the number and asked if the space is in need of new flooring? Do you have your people looking through the files and inviting back customers from a few years ago? Do you bring a stack of business cards to the local Chamber of Commerce meeting? (Please don’t tell me you’re not a member.)

It is all about developing a mindset that let’s you proceed even if others around you struggle. This is what I have learned from attending meetings with the heavy hitters in our business. Over and over I hear the pitch, and it boils down to three words that should characterize your operation these days: Smart, tough and aggressive.