Something I rarely write about is retail advertising. Not that it’s a subject I am unfamiliar with, but there have been other priorities. In addition to this, the subject is controversial simply because there are so many opinions on the subject and more importantly, it is an area where fiber producers, marketing people and manufacturers insert themselves. While these people and their organizations are indispensable to all of us, their agendas are at odds with that of most retailers.  

First we need to understand that marketing is distinct from sales. Marketing has a place in retail advertising, but only in an advisory capacity. Marketing is desk work. Selling is field work. Marketing addresses groups of consumers. Selling is more difficult; you are dealing one-on-one with individual consumers, each unique in his or her manner. A manufacturer’s marketing effort is aimed at creating desire for a product among targeted groups.  Retailers, meanwhile, are concerned with directing individual consumers to purchase products from an individual store. If you think about these two agendas, it becomes apparent that sales and marketing can be competing activities. Moreover, both require unique skill sets.

The problem arises when marketing types bring their “create-a-desire for-the-product-agenda” into retail advertising. We desperately need the input of marketing people to help create effective retail ads, but it should be strictly in an advisory capacity. Unless they are retail advertising experts, they shouldn’t be creating advertising for retail stores.

Effective manufacturing advertising programs such as, “Carpet From the Looms of Mohawk,” “Home Means More With Bigelow on the Floor” and the ingenious “Stainmaster” promotion have been legendary, but any retailer running offshoots of the ads produced by their suppliers would most likely be disappointed by the response.

Because these professionally produced ads from manufacturers and suppliers look so good and are free, retailers run them. Sometimes it’s possible to make a few changes that would make these ads productive for the retailers, but the altered ads may not qualify for maximum (or any) co-op advertising funds. Retail ads need to be designed for one specific purpose: bring consumers who are ready-to-buy to a specific store.

A great retail ad will have people lined-up at the door, in some cases hours before you even open. I must admit, I have been totally unsuccessful trying to explain the difference to manufacturers but it really is two different worlds.

There have been some great retail advertising campaigns in this industry.  Einstein-Moomjy’s “A Good Carpet for Bad Dogs!”  featured a sad-eyed Bassett Hound and Teddy Einstein saying in a cartoon balloon “I can’t sell this beautiful Saxony plush for $8.99!” while his partner Walter Moomjy stands back to back with a balloon over his head saying, “I can!” Jordan’s Furniture had a great radio ad that taunted their much larger   competition: “Not to be confused with Jordan Marsh!” said the ad directing consumers to buy from their particular store.

Another difficulty is that the advertising industry abrogates responsibility for sales. Whenever I asked the question about responsibility for sales at advertising sessions, the room fell silent. The ad people would finally say they were more concerned with “image,” “positioning” or the “desire thing.”  That’s terrific if you’re advertising Guess, Coach or Canali in fashion magazines, but it doesn’t work for our retailers.

The great divide results from the elite mindset of the advertising industry.  The top people concentrate on suppliers, while “retail” is treated as the poor sister, not really worthy of their best efforts. The greatest of the great advertising geniuses, David Ogilvy, understood the correlation between advertising and sales. I have often referred to him and his incredible book Ogilvy on Advertising, (a must read, by the way) as I set out to prove to ad agency people that, yes, they are indeed responsible for sales.

A Unique Selling Proposition

David Elychar’s success with Big Bob’s Flooring Outlets is a direct result of his unique TV advertising. His premise was that there are more K-Mart shoppers than Neiman-Marcus shoppers. The characters he created kicked off his nationwide franchising operation. David took on the persona of several characters in these ads which created intense interest while rarely, if ever, mentioning price. Seeing is believing; when walking with him in Kansas City years ago, people continually approached David to ask for his autograph.

Einstein-Moomjy’s reputation was such that during busy times before the holidays, they would have to hire outside trucks to keep up with deliveries. There are stories of E-M customers who actually refused to accept deliveries because the truck wasn’t marked with the distinctive E-M logo. Customers wanted their neighbors to know just where they had purchased their new flooring.

Your ad should focus on your unique selling proposition (USP). This is something you have that separates you from every other store. A USP is sometimes difficult to find and it can be anything. Many athletes invest in restaurants and auto dealerships-their celebrity being the USP. A product or service can be a USP.  Right now, for example, fiberglass backed vinyl can be a USP because every other store is stuck with the old fiber backed vinyl.

Granted, a specific type of vinyl is not an ideal USP.  It would be better if you could promote the services of the trained decorators you have on staff. Few stores offer such a service, so this would qualify. Retail is giving consumers a compelling reason to flock to your store and no one else’s. Advertising produced by suppliers doesn’t accomplish this.

Under distressing economic conditions, retailers can not afford ineffective advertising. Today, there must be an immediate return on advertising. No one can afford useless headlines such as “Spring Fling,” “Color Your World,” “The Colors of Spring,” “Long Hot Summer Sale Days!” or “Autumn Jamboree!” These are marketing headlines masquerading as retail advertising.

Professional retailers know the “Proven Consumer Buying Periods” and they build promotions around these periods. The headline should identify the event: “Veteran’s Day Sale!” It must be dominant in the media, have a descriptive sub-headline explaining the reason for the sale and stress immediacy. “One Day Only!” is far more effective than “One Week,” which is weak. Some words are still magic; “New!” “Introductory,” “Sale!” “Free!” “Revolutionary!” “Breakthrough!”  Too good to use these words? You have to maintain your image? Remember, you can’t take image to the bank.

The secret to successful retail advertising is the ability to bring consumers to your store; be it a celebrity, a character (local celebrity) like Big Bob, a USP or an overwhelming promotion planned around the 8-10 proven consumer buying periods.

A word of advice: most advertising agencies are unfamiliar with the art of retail advertising. Media people, especially in print, have little idea of the intricacies of retail advertising, so be careful. Unless you are lucky enough to find a talented retail agency, your best bet is to do the research and guide a local agency through the steps. Most importantly, now is not the time to save money by not promoting.

One last note: retailers are periodically surveyed about the reasons consumers buy flooring and, more importantly, the chasm the often divides suppliers and retailers. The results, predictably, are always the same. Given the choices, consumers overwhelmingly rank the reasons for selecting the floor covering they did as: color, style, quality, store reputation and price.

Interpreting these results naively brings manufacturers, suppliers and, on occasion, even the trade press, to offer this seemingly logical bit of advice: If these are the reasons consumers say they buy, why not advertise color and style?

Knowledgeable retailers would immediately answer, “Because that is not what brings people to the store. Consumers select the store based on perceived value, not color and style. It’s only after she finally steps through the door that these factors become valid-duh!”