Retailers Find Opportunities for Success in a Variety of Places
Now a retailer needs to actively seek out new opportunities in order to grow or re-capture lost business that occurred when the housing and financial sectors crashed.here was a time when just hanging an “open” sign on your store meant you would be successful. Thanks in part to the recession, as well as whole slew of things—from changing demographics to technological advances to increased competition from areas never seen before—those days are long gone.
But where are those opportunities and how does one go about getting them are the big questions. The fact is, it depends on where your store is located and where you want to look.
As the following list of retailers surveyed by Floor Trends shows, opportunities abound—even in the most depressed markets—it’s just a matter of finding them and then going after them.
Parent company CAP Carpet already had just about every type of store one could want—from a cash-and-carry to the full-service type and even a just-for-the-trade outlet. The problem that Aaron Pirner, owner, saw was in how people were spending their money in that they would visit the company’s different locations for different things. That was perfectly fine in one aspect, as “we were more of an assortment of value to the customer.”
The problem is, today’s customer doesn’t really have the time or desire to run around town shopping store-to-store. Hence The Floor Project. Currently operating in two cities, the store is the result of intense consumer research by CAP to not only better understand the customer but also to properly train the people in the store to help the customer.
And the results are proving to be favorable. “Our average ticket item is larger than it used to be,” he said. “It all goes back to our core value system, CARE (Customers Are Respected Everyday),” which is also used in how employees are hired. “We hire for attitude and train for skill, but have to start with the attitude first.”
The aspect of the store working is also true when it comes to hiring, Pirner explained. “There was this designer graduate who was looking for a job and saw our store and it intrigued her so she came in. After looking around, she went home, got her resume and came back saying this is where she would like to work. She saw we would give her the opportunity to work hands-on with the customer and she liked that.”
As The Floor Project continues to develop, Pirner said he is realizing the “void it filled in the marketplace.” As such, some of the things learned here will be applied to CAP’s other stores “where we think it adds value to the customer.”
He concluded, “We are in the business of creating beautiful homes, so that is why we just want to be the best at what we do.”
Rick Stoeckel “looked at my competition and made lists of what they did not offer that we could.” That is when he decided to offer complete one-stop bath remodel. It’s the best thing I ever did. There are so many 1970s era styles out there and we are doing a ton of remodeling.”
Another example is with window treatments. “When we go to their house to measure for flooring, we’ll also do the windows just to have on hand,” he explained. “People forget about it but it saves us time from running back and forth. That’s probably why four of the last five years we’ve been Floor To Ceiling’s biggest seller of window treatments.”
Another area that has proved successful for Stoeckel is in closet systems. “We do a lot of these. We’re a stocking dealer on a fantastic system, and we have displays in the store.” He added many times a contractor will have a person come to in to learn about the system and “we’ll show them how to do it and then they come back and buy one for their own house. That’s why we have to keep so much in stock as people want it now.”
One other area Stoeckel sees as a constant opportunity is by finding ways to “make my employees successful. My goal is for every one of my people to be successful. What can I do to help them make more money? The more successful my employee are, the more successful I’ll be so it’s in my best interest to make sure they are kept updated on the latest product knowledge and have the best displays from which to work. We also do unique partnerships our competitors aren’t. And, I make sure to have close relationships with all my vendors, so if there is a problem I know they will work with us.”
Dave Munson long ago realized the best strategy for his business was to be not just a full-line retailer but one that targets the various customer bases—from specialty retail to builder to commercial.
But regardless of the avenue, opportunities happen because of relationships built and the value he can bring to the table.
For example, “We have done apartment floor covering replacement business for a long time and since we have a strong relationship with those customers we have started to work with them on replacing the kitchen cabinets in units when they need to be updated too. Again, just adding to our value to them as a supplier.”
Many times, he noted, “our customers need help with parts of their project that we do not sell but we are able to help facilitate or recommend on. For example we don’t sell paint but we often help our customers select paint colors from swatches we keep in the store and we help coordinate appliance specifications with local appliance dealers so they work well with our kitchen designs. It’s all about helping our customers complete their project successfully.”
As a number of retailers will say sometimes growing your business is not simply about adding customers but about understanding “all” of the needs of your current customers, and Munson is no different.
“We have a close relationship with an appliance dealer,” he explained. “Seven years ago we built a new 20,000-sq.-ft. building together to house both of our businesses. An opening between the stores allows customers to walk back and forth and see what both stores have to offer. One of the fun things we did when we built the stores was to put in a large working kitchen where the appliance dealer will hold cooking classes. This showcases our products and theirs.”
When the new home economy tanked six years ago, Darren McKean noted a large homebuilder in his area went out of business. It was then “we decided we needed to develop our remodel business.”
That’s where Floor To Ceiling enters for the 51-year-old retail operation. “It really helped us out,” he said, “by introducing us to pre-finished cabinets, plumbing fixtures, bath accessories etc. This really got us to start thinking outside the box.”
Back up just a little bit more—about 10 to 12 years ago— McKean explained, and “we opened up our granite fabrication shop. We began to fabricate granite, quartz and solid surface countertops. Back then, when we sold a granite countertop, the customer had to bring us a new sink or we would re-use their existing sink.
“Things have really changed,” he continued. “Today, when a client comes into our showroom, we can help them re-do their entire bath or kitchen—from floor to garbage disposal. We also have assembled a group of professionals that can do all of the demo and installations.”
It is McKean’s belief there are all kinds of people out there who want to remodel their home, but, just can’t find the time,” and that’s where he sees the opportunity to flourish. “If we can show them the products and services we provide, they can go ahead with their hectic schedules and leave the remodeling to us.”
Mike Montgomery said his company is “very good at retirement homes; there is never a slow time with these. Got into this business from Day 1, as I was involved in that area so already knew what they needed and how they operated so I’ve been able to deliver exactly that.
“It’s not so much about the money when it comes to these places,” he explained, “it’s about the service and coming through when needed. Then they recommend us or will use us over and over. When people leave one place and go someplace else they will still call us. We even got some low-income government work, as we got three accounts this way.”
Three years ago Montgomery’s started its own cleaning division, and “we’re the only store in the area that does it. It’s been a huge selling point. We were recommending someone three or four times a week but got nothing in return from him, such as coming back to us saying the person really needs new carpet. We also do sand and finishing, clean rugs—we’ll pick them up and deliver them back—and tile cleaning.”
Now, if something cannot be cleaned properly, “we’ll let the customer know of the problems and we’ll also give them the estimate to clean as well as to replace the flooring,” he said. “So sometimes after we clean it we still end up replacing it but the customer doesn’t feel bad because she knew this upfront; there are no surprises.”
To make it even easier for customers when it comes to maintenance, Montgomery not only offers a yearly contract, “We will call them to say the year is coming up and get it scheduled. This way they do not have to initiate the call, because most of the time they would forget. It all goes back to taking the headaches away from her and not disrupting their day.”
When it comes to finding opportunities Carlton Billingsley noted “they are out there, it is just a question of how hard you want to get them?” And for Floors and More, they want to get them.
Commercial is a strong part of the success the company has experienced and it is still a favorable market. Interestingly, there is one area of growth in Arkansas that most other states do not have—schools. While much of the nation has slowed in this area due to states being strapped for cash, in the state capital of Little Rock, for example, a $265 million capital improvement has been announced for the schools. “So we are out there and reminding our contacts that we are here to help them,” he said.
In fact, Billingsley said, “We have someone who calls on schools and the whole educational process for that mater.” And, the company’s affiliation with Starnet has also helped especially when it comes to picking up knowledge and tips from other members who have had prior success. For example, having that specialized person on board who deals just with the schools.
“Our success didn’t happen overnight,” he explained “and you have to be willing to invest in the person as the business won’t come right away since you first need to cultivate relationships before the business opportunity comes along. The fast-food mentality doesn’t work in these areas; you need to give it time.”
Even on the residential side, Billingsley is finding opportunities thanks to being in the right location as “we’re in the fastest growing city in the state and the third fastest growing county. So we’re seeing a great opportunity in the amount of homes being sold.”
As such, the company is being proactive by working with real estate people and others in the industry to get closer to the consumer. “This way when they are ready, we’ll be there for them.” And back to the customer service side, when she sees an installer who has been “with us for 25 years and shows up looking professional it makes her feel not only comfortable but it gives her the confidence she made the right decision for the amount of money she spent because floor covering is still a high ticket item.”
When your store is next door to the town that at one point had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, Tiffany Gomes knew it was time to seek new opportunities otherwise she would have gone the way of many of the other businesses in her town.
So she turned her attention to the affluent community, which, despite the recession still existed in every city and region of the country. “We don’t advertise price or even run traditional floor covering type ads,” she explained. “Instead, we are on the back page of high-end magazines, at the symphony or we’ll show before and after photos on billboards and also rely on customer testimonials, which go a long way.”
Gomes said because housing prices dropped so much, people have opted to fix up their home instead of selling it. And because she is seeking a higher-end type of clientele, the company’s 6,500-sq.-ft. showroom is “more than just a pretty face. There’s nothing on our windows,as we want to convey a certain type of environment. We also have fresh baked cookies everyday; we offer coffee and water. It is also about educating them. We’ll spell everything out and even hand out references for them to check.”
She also realizes the importance of being active in the community to help attract business and also be a “good neighbor. We had a fundraiser for a local women’s center, and I’m on the board of the local chamber.”
This November will mark Gomes’ 7th anniversary since starting her own business, though she has been in the industry since 1989. And, after all these years of advertising and literally spending upwards of $100,000 a year, she can finally “back off. I know the advertising helped, but now people are coming in on referrals.”
In searching out opportunities for his family business, Sean Bradley sees “some upcoming cooperation with associated local businesses as a trend in our marketing. We have several local partnerships that create great ‘buy local’ interactions.”
For example, he said, “There is a kitchen accessory store in town that specializes in small appliances, gourmet spices and seasonings, and handy gadgets. This is a perfect place to forge a cooperative partnership. We can advertise together, I can purchase gift certificates, and we can have joint hands-on events.”
Bradley also works with a “very well respected eatery in town. Both of these businesses would steer their clients to me as well. Duluth is also fortunate to have fabricators of very cool cutting boards—that is a no brainer”
In searching for growth opportunities, he suggests a retailer “Think about other businesses that you would mention in the same sentence as yours: ‘My favorite places to shop? I love ‘ABC’ company and ‘XYZ.’”
Also and very topical is the aging community, Bradley said. “Most folks want to live out their golden years at home as long as they can. So, how can we help? Learn more about your products and how they can help. Can you design the perfect tile shower for someone with difficulty? Can you make sure the flooring is the best choice for mobility? Can you make them feel comfortable? Safe? Most clients aren’t interested in a massive undertaking. The ability to improve upon existing is usually the ticket. Showers with low or no thresholds, for example. Grab bars that don’t feel like hospital rails. Toilet seats with wash functions. None of these things are far from the work we already do.
“Fashion is still important,” he concluded, “and even the oldest clients can have great taste. Most will appreciate the fact you are maintaining the beauty of the home for future resale as well. That’s very important.”
Ralph Fiore said he sees Main Street business picking up “so we’re bringing on someone who will be dedicated to this area of the business—working with contractors and the local business owners. We’ve never been the big guy chasing the big projects but with Main Street it’s different.”
This person, he added, will also be trained to help in other areas as “we believe in cross-training and making sure everyone can help one another. I’m a basketball coach and I tell my kids all the time there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and I take that principle to my business. If you stick to the fundamentals you will win because there is nothing better than when everyone is helping each other.”
Fiore also sees the shift in product types being sold as well as in the demographics of his area, all of which have changed thanks to the recession. “In all my years in the industry—35—I felt as if I had a crystal ball, but things are so out of whack that is no longer the case. Technology is changing rapidly and we need to keep up with that, especially social media if we are to capture the next generation of buyers.”