While visiting the recent CCA Global Convention, I had the opportunity to speak with dozens of flooring retailers. The economy is on everyone’s mind and who can blame them? Remarkably, with all of the concern about the economy, it’s amazing how many retailers had their businesses actually go up in 2008.
One of the retailers I spoke to was Aaron Pirner from Kansas, whose dad Lavon was an original member of the Carpet Co-op of America (known today as CCA Global Partners, which includes Carpet One and Flooring America). Aaron always has a smile, and no wonder: His stores were up more than 30 percent last year. It also seems that Aaron never found a retail group he didn’t like. He owns several stores aligned with different groups from Big Bob’s to Carpet One.
That is what some retailers do to prosper in the midst of what most of us consider horrific conditions: They operate their business as if nothing is wrong. They continue to do the same things, only with more zest and gusto. They press on regardless, while ignoring the negative. Creativity brings business to areas it was never in before. The power of positive thinking appears to carry them forward. Innovation also plays a huge part in their success. Many products fit right into an economy where even consumers with money are becoming thriftier.
Successful retailers study the market to spot trends. A few years ago, I was in Dalton and ran across IVC, a new company manufacturing fiberglass-backed vinyl. This product was tough, extraordinarily supple, could be installed over any structural sound, fairly smooth floor, and installed without adhesive. The product lends itself well to the D.I.Y. market.
Jeff Cowan, a director of CCA Global, extolled the features of this great new product. Jeff has been selling it for over a year with no complaints. The IVC designs are so realistic that one has to touch the floor and even then most people have no idea it’s vinyl, he said.
The benefits for today’s consumer include not needing to spend hundreds of extra dollars on luan. If professional installation is desired, the cost is often up to one-third lower than installing sheet vinyl. And, if consumers really want to save money, they can easily install the product themselves. My 14-year-old son completed a room in a half hour.
Another product that can be similarly marketed for the professional and D.I.Y. market is “click” wood. This product, now produced by several manufacturers, installs exactly like a laminate floor. Again the install is one-half to one-third as expensive as traditional solid or engineered wood, and consumers can do it themselves. So the same groups of customers who might gravitate toward IVC vinyl can enjoy the same benefits with this easy-to-install wood flooring.
When I was in retail, typical installation costs were 10 to 20 percent of the cost of the flooring. Today, install costs range from 50 percent or more above the cost of material. What could be more appealing to consumers today than half-price flooring without sacrificing quality? There is no need to pity the installer because they can install these new products quickly, allowing them to take more work and do it more easily.)
Now is the time to think creatively. How do you reach consumers with the good news of these innovative products? Think about how welcome these products will be to remodelers, property managers or house “flippers” who find it impossible to flip and are now renting their properties. Like all businesspeople, custom builders and contractors are looking for ways to save money and this can be part of a big solution.
Get creative with your advertising, letting customers know that now is the exact time to buy flooring. Prices will never be lower. In spite of all the bad news, over 90 percent of all Americans are working and have money. Think of the ways to support your business: Do-it-yourself clinics, linking up with charity drives with your store as the focal point (such as “Toys for Tots” or a “Builders Fair”). Don’t forget window signage large enough to be seen from the street and the most effective advertising: Mailers to your previous customers. Whining and crying is negative. Creativity, innovation and a positive attitude will carry you a long way.