Send them a message. Consumers who need a reason to shop for flooring may be moved by this new ad from Abbey Carpet & Floor stressing the beauty of hardwood flooring. Another method that works for many retailers involves ads tied to a specific in-store event. Either way, it is crucial that you get your message out, particularly when sales are sluggish.

Last time we discussed the differences between manufacturers’ advertising and retail advertising. In a nutshell, manufacturers want to create a desire for their products and retailers want consumers to purchase these products in their particular store.  

In economic downturns, the worst thing a retailer can do is to cut back on advertising. However, during these times where money may be tight, retailers need an immediate return on their investment. No matter what manner of advertising you choose, all advertising should have a theme, an extraordinary reason to buy and a sense of immediacy.

In these times, most people still have discretionary funds, but are more careful about how they spend these funds. If you have been paying attention to business during the good times - creating a fun, friendly atmosphere in your store, following up every delivery and installation, handling every complaint in an efficient timely manner and satisfying every customer - advertising will work.

If this hasn’t been your method during the good times, nothing will work. There are studies out that up to 30% of the consumers in any market area will never visit your store because of something negative they have heard.

Proven Consumer Buying Periods

Two distinct philosophies exist. One says that consistent messages are the way to go. The other says that the big events are far more productive. I opt for option No. 2 for many reasons. In times of economic malaise, you need business now! Steady doesn’t do it. The other reason is that big event gets consumers that may never come into your local store.

Moreover, the motivational factor for salespeople is one that can’t be overlooked. We had salespeople who pocketed $1,000 to $2,000 and up in commissions for the day.

Big sales events work only if you do them right. If it is a “Veterans Day Sale!” whether TV, radio or print, the event has to be the major element of the ad. If it isn’t, the response will be minimal. Saturation is key; up to 10% of your yearly budget should be allocated for these promotions. Immediacy is critical. Use terms like: “Doors open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m.!” “When it’s over, it’s over.” “Bring your room measurements!”

Preparation is key. Salespeople should call your entire customer list and apprise them of the upcoming sale with an offer of something special. Salespeople have to be trained to sell, “first time in!” Isn’t this pushy? If you had read any of my training materials, you would know a “pushy” salesperson is only someone you don’t like. Selling is the art of being liked. If customers like you, there is nothing you can do that can be conceived as pushy.

The other critical aspect is salespeople have to be trained to work with more than one set of customers at a time. Watching expert salespeople handle four or five customers with ease is like watching a symphony. The big problem in this industry is that the average salesperson is equipped with only about 10% of the knowledge they need to perform.

Again this is just skimming the surface of the “big event.” How do I know about these events? All one has to do is follow when the department stores and “boxes” promote and apply it to the timing in our industry. Obviously, December is not the time for us to promote. Other non-buying periods that you should never advertise include the Christian and Jewish holidays and back to school days prior to Labor Day.

The No. 1 day in flooring retail is Veterans Day if you follow the rules. No. 2 is Presidents Day and these should be one-day events. 5 percent of annual sales should be the goal. You probably won’t attain these numbers the first year, but each year becomes more productive as you and your people become more expert at these events. In the last couple of decades, New Year’s Day is a big event and a proven consumer-buying period. Memorial Day weekend, July Fourth, the days after Labor Day, Columbus Day, and the week-end after Thanksgiving are some other proven consumer buying periods.

Many stores create their own big events. A $2,000,000 store in Maine produced $250,000 over Memorial Day Weekend with a tent sale using distributor goods on consignment. One entrepreneur rented a major sports arena and did a million dollars. A store in Milwaukee garnered over $200,000 in one day with a well-planned private sale. As retailers, you should have the creativity, vision and courage to create you own major event. A storewide sale needs to acknowledge the bad times as the exact reason why consumers should buy now at fire sale pricing.

Price Advertising

Certainly the most common form of advertising and the easiest to obtain immediate results is price advertising. High end or low end, the consumer selects her target store because of perceived value. If your people can sell and have the ability to put a room together, price goes out the window once she is in the store. Color and style is what sells floor covering.

One way to portray perceived value is to have a loss leader. The now extinct national flooring chains (Allen Carpet, New York Carpet World) were wonderful at doing this.

Years ago when the Stainmaster ads first hit, the giant floor covering stores used to advertise Stainmaster carpet for $8.99 with pad and installation. Smaller retailers used to wonder how they could do this. They didn’t. The buying psychology was the same. All these stores would sell you the loss leader, but consumers rarely wanted it. They were willing to take a few hits to do a lot of business.

Many retailers believe it beneath them to run price ads. Well, Mercedes Benz, Cartier, Gucci and Hermes run price ads, as do Nordstrom’s and Neiman-Marcus.

Which Media?

The answer is to do what you’re good at. Barry and Elliot Tateleman used their wonderful personalities to take over their dad’s small furniture store in Watertown, Mass. and turn it into a $300,000,000 operation. Big Bob’s became an icon in Kansas City through creatively wacky TV advertising and his equally wacky character.

Every retailer should keep a running ad book which lists exactly what you advertised and where, the results and any other pertinent information such as keeping scripts, CDs and DVDs and pasting the print ads. I have found using Yellow Pages for a retail flooring store is a waste and according to Al Bates, you should take the money and use it to run effective media advertising. A bold listing is all you need in the directories. Your return from the media should be in the neighborhood or 4 to 6 times more business than directory advertising.