It has often been said that nowadays in order for a flooring store to be successful it needs to do more than just sell floors. Rather, it needs to become a one-stop shop and separate yourself from the competition.
But what exactly does that mean? The answer may surprise you as the concept has a different meaning depending on the dealer. For some it could be branching into new product categories, for others it is the aspect of providing service that goes above and beyond customer expectations, and for others it could mean becoming more immersed in the community by using their stores as gathering places for events that may or may not have anything to do with sales but generate a goodwill attitude among the residents.
With so many diverse means of what it means to be a one-stop shop, Floor Trends surveyed a variety of retailers to get their take on what the concept means to them. The following is what some of them had to say:
While service is of the “upmost importance” to Rick Stoeckel and his staff, he believes in the concept of “carrying anything I want.”
And he does, from shower doors, “we see a ton of them when doing a bath remodel as it makes perfect sense,” to a few niche sundry items, such as moose heads made from grapeines, “as we’re in a very woodsy area but also the people are eco minded so this fits perfectly. We even supply fabrics for reupholstering furniture.”
Stoeckel opened his Floor To Ceiling franchise in 1996 by opening a 10,000-sq.-ft. showroom next to the co-owned lumber yard which has been in business since 1981.
“I always felt we could serve customers better by offering a more diverse product selection and be a one-stop shop so to speak,” he explained. “It started with whirlpools, cabinetry, flooring, lighting and accessories to complement the homes.”
His showroom is also set up to showcase everything the company offers and can do. For example, “We have complete kitchen displays and each has a different floor covering. We also do the same with whirlpools. We have them set up complete with tile around them. Many times a customer wants what she sees, so we are making it easier for her to shop by showing her how certain products go together. Plus the fact we can do it all.”
Because he serves a diverse clientele—from year-round locals to high-income out-of-towners who have homes around the lake, “we also need to offer a diverse blend. That is why we carry carpet that goes from $8 to $100 a yard. It’s all about making sure the clientele sees that you have something for them. Eighty percent of our business is from out-of-towners who have these lake home cabins. It’s three hours from us but people come to us because they know we have what they need.”
Stoeckel also feels by offering such a wide selection of products, it allows his business to stay steady during the ups and downs of the economy. For example, when the economy went down, so did the kitchen business, but the bathroom remodeling made up for the loss. Now with the economy coming back, so is the kitchen business.”
As a third generation installer, he understands the importance of dong the job right the first time, which is why “we are very particular about the people we work with as we—and our clients—expect a certain level of quality. The people we deal with don’t get our jobs without having a good reputation.”
But in the end, it still comes down to making sure the customer is happy. “The hardest thing is getting that repeat business. When we first opened, we spent the first three years advertising hard, now we hardly do any print. We still do radio as a lot of people listen to it up here. But having a good reputation and giving back to the community are what really helps you survive because it gets people coming back in.”
Though flooring is in the name of the business, for Jim and Donna Mudd, “We definitely believe in add-on sales through non-flooring items at our stores.”
Jim explained it rather succinctly: “As the percentage of carpet we sell continues to decline, we have less and less of replacement business that we had before. The hardwood, ceramic tile, etc., will not be replaced anywhere near the seven to nine years we were used to with carpet. Because of that, when we go into the house, we need to find more things to sell them. If we are selling them granite on the floor in the kitchen, or stone for their back splashes, why not sell them the granite countertops?”
When it comes to back splashes, Donna points out, “We have had a huge call for this aspect particularly because customers are coming in to view our countertop offerings. Also because people are staying in their home and remodeling instead of moving to a new home.”
But, she added, back splashes can be time consuming to put together, so we made these up and put a formula together to tell customers how much a particular back splash pattern would be by the lineal foot so we can give them a rough estimate right on the spot. We also have a spreadsheet that can tell them by the lineal foot if they just like one aspect of a particular back splash pattern. It makes everything easier, which is what the consumer wants today.”
This same philosophy works with bathrooms as well. “If we are selling them ceramic/stone for their showers, why not sell them the glass frameless shower door for the shower?” Jim explained. “While we are there, if they need a new vanity with a granite countertop, we can supply that also.”
He added, even if the company knows they are measuring for flooring why not measure the windows as well? “If they are changing colors or anything else, they will probably change their window treatments also. Again, more add on business. Normally, with this much involved, we will send out one of our designers to tie it all together. Customers love it because they only have to go to one place instead of driving all over town. Also, they only have one person to call if there are any issues.”
Dave Munson has owned this operation since 1983 and he believes “strongly that having a diverse product offering is one of the keys to success.”
In fact, he said, “Our business has always been what I would term a ‘full line’ Floor to Ceiling store. By that I mean that we sell not just floor coverings but also window treatments, kitchen and bath cabinetry, counter tops, faucets, sinks and much more. We have this broad spectrum of products because it gives us more opportunities to interact with and help our customers. Much of our business comes from repeat customers and as their needs change—from new floor coverings today, to window treatments or a new kitchen or bath remodel project tomorrow—we are able to build upon the trust we have built with them on their previous purchase. Sometimes this repeat business happens right away and sometimes it comes years down the road but either way it started with them knowing we are much more than just a floor coverings store.”
It goes deeper than that, as Munson has found “these different product categories, although related, sometimes have different cycles. Sometimes floor covering is very hot and other times we seem to be selling more cabinets or window treatments. Having all products helps our business to glide through the slower times better and keeps us busy year round.”
He added having more than just one product category “keeps us out of the arena of just ‘selling a product.’ Our philosophy is we don’t sell products, we provide solutions for projects. Once you move away from selling a product and into the business of providing solutions for projects because you can deliver more than just one part of the project for the customer you develop a relationship with that customer. It is that customer relationship that grows our business with higher volume tickets today and repeat business when they are ready to do another project tomorrow.”
Beyond products, Munson has also “diversified our target customers over the years. Starting out with just retail business and then adding the builder business and finally commercial business. We sell all our products to all our target customers.”
Having the broad range of products and multiple customer markets requires an experienced staff that understands the different needs of each customer and the requirements and uses for each product as well. “This can be a challenge when adding products or reaching out to new target customers,” he explained, which is why “our staff is trained to sell all products but each salesperson tends to have an area of expertise and they will often team up to help customers with projects that require multiple product categories such as building a new home when they need everything that we sell.”
And because the company is a one-stop source for multi-family projects and other types of commercial projects, “we often supply not only the floor coverings for a new apartment project but the cabinets, countertops and window treatments as well,” he noted. “Combining the bid packages gives us a real advantage over our competitors. The general contractors and developers on these projects seem to really like being able to have one supplier that understands the entire interior finish of their project as well.”
Some businesses, such as Carlton Billingsley’s were born diversified. “When we started, interested rates were not favorable to do home building, so when most were just doing carpet and sheet vinyl, we were already had tile down, we did showers and even porches which my grandfather learned after WWII.”
Beyond that, “we sold wall paper, ceiling fans, countertops, drapes, even paint,” he noted. “It was a mode of survival, as we wanted to pay our bills so we needed to do more than just lay carpet and sheet vinyl. We don’t do all that we did back then such as paint, but we were and still are a very diversified operation between residential and commercial.”
Billingsley also pointed out being in a small market area is another reason “as to why we wanted to diversify, especially back in 1979 when there were no boxes or other competitors.”
Regardless of how many products the company sells, he said it still boils down to providing the best customer service possible. “If you can build a relationship with the customer, then when she is buying carpet, she will trust you with the window treatment, which means she stays with us as opposed to going someplace else. We are very cognizant about asking if we can measure their windows and other areas in case there comes a time when they decide to do that work we will have it on file. And, many times, they are not really thinking of doing something until we bring it up and then the sale becomes larger.”
As an example, Billingsley pointed to a recent customer who was doing a resilient job but she also ended up wanting to do carpet in other rooms. “We already had the measurements in hand so she called us to do everything.”
Even on the commercial side, he said the company makes sure to tie in window treatments, particularly blinds. “We were doing a carpet job for six floors of an 18-story building and noticed their blinds were not in good shape. The next thing you know, we’re replacing the blinds on all 18 floors.”
Billingsley said being able to offer these extras is a “nice feeling knowing you can not just help someone but make their life easier. That’s why we ask them what their plans are and what can we do to help make their life easier.”
It is this attention to detail and customer service why the company will often see grandparents who shopped at the store 30 years ago bring in their grandkids who are in the market now. “That’s probably the most rewarding part of the job, knowing you made such a positive impact on someone’s life that they bring in another family member or a friend.”
Despite being part of a national franchise, the Rhodes family is well aware that being a part of the community is just as important as the products and services they sell.
As Keith Rhodes said, “If a person is doing a floor covering project, we are a one-stop shop in terms of what we carry.”
But beyond that, the company relies on its community outreach, which usually involves something going on in the store to get its name out there and keep customers coming in the doors—from pet adoption programs to after hours business socials to hosting the local blood drive truck in the parking lot to even teaming up with local attractions such as the Alabama Zoo to bring in exotic animals, such as a Bengal tiger cub and have zoo staff give educational lectures about the animal. These not only raise awareness for the company, many times they benefit the organization the store is promoting.
“We are very community minded,” Rhodes said. “Sometimes these are programs for the sake of being good neighbors and other times they are part of a promotion that not only benefits the other party, such as the zoo, but are tied into a product we’re promoting.”
For instance, Rhodes’ daughter, Lauren said while the zoo promotion was to help promote the launch of the franchise’s exclusive Tigressa carpet from Shaw it not only saw the local TV station come in, “at one point we had over 200 people in the store. We had people calling their friends and family or putting the word out on places like Yelp.”
Then there are the pet adoption programs with the local animal shelters in which the store offers a 5% discount to people who bring in items the shelters desperately need—from food to other supplies.
“It did help with business,” she said. “We had many people who saw our promotion and our partnership with the local shelters and purchased their flooring from us and thanked us for our community support. We also had people who saw our supply collection drive in their monthly shelter newsletter and either came into our store just to make a donation or sent us an email saying when they needed flooring or area rugs, we would be the place where they shopped because of our affiliation with their beloved shelter.”
In fact the company’s most recent shelter supply drive netted over 500 pounds of dog food and over 100 pounds of cat food, not to mention nearly 170 pounds of cat litter, dozens of rolls of paper towels, laundry detergent, towels, batteries, toys, and so on. “Last year we also raised over $1,200 as part of our ‘Dog Days Sales,’” she said.
But the store’s community involvement goes beyond just animals. For instance, the company raised roughly $10,000 to help St. Baldricks Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to children’s cancer research.
And, of course the after hour socials via the local chambers of commerce bring in people from other businesses to mingle and get to know each other. While the goal is not to necessarily sell during the event, “people do look around and some will come back to make a purchase.”
The company even makes an event out of just a normal sale. For instance its “Woodstock” sale in which everyone in the company dressed in 1960s hippie gear to go along with the rest of the store’s decoration. “We promoted it like you would any normal sale,” Lauren said, “through TV, social media, etc., but we just got a little more groovy with it. It really pepped up the employees as well, as they normally are in uniforms.”
As Lauren noted, “A floor covering store is not a place where people normally go to hang out, so getting them here is half the battle. People don’t realize the price of flooring because they don’t purchase it that often and don’t feel it is in their budget. Or they don’t know we offer financing options to help them.”
That is why it is so important for the company to “have a spot in the community,” she said. “We wouldn’t survive if we didn’t, plus it’s so important to give back whenever possible because it’s the right thing to do.”
Being a diverse store with more to offer than just floor covering “definitely saved us,” said Tiffany Gomes. “We wouldn’t be in business now if we just stayed with flooring.”
You see, Lodi is right next to Stockton, Calif., which at one point had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate. On top of that, “You can’t just compete with flooring as it is such a commodity,” she said, adding since the market collapsed all the major floor covering companies in her area are out of business. “So being diversified certainly helped us as all construction in the area came to a halt.”
So Gomes opted to go the Floor to Ceiling route and start offering “Effortless Home Improvement,” a tagline she created about four years ago. As such, her operations have gone from 85% floor covering to now 80% is in kitchen and bath remodeling.
“We do everything, from the design to the labor and even after purchase service such as maintenance, she said. “We have two designers on staff at all times, plus we have a full production department.”
Customer service also plays a big role in helping the company succeed. “We try to make sure we speak to both the wife and husband about the project—and in ways each will understand and appreciate.” For example, while the designer is working with the wife, a production supervisor will explain the whole installation process to the husband. “This makes them both feel comfortable about what is happening and allows us to have a satisfied client in the end.”
The company’s quality work has also earned it a reputation in that “we have quite a few instances where we help people where others have made mistakes or because they had a terrible experience or the job was stopped halfway through. Basically, we get frustrated people and then we come in and make them feel good by getting the job done right.”
Mike Montgomery said his store “has been on track to be more than just a floor covering store for a number of years now.”
To do this, though, he aligned himself with a licensed remodeler and contractor. “Now we can do everything. We can put together a complete pricing package from a simple flooring only job to a complete house remodel. People are realizing they are no longer going to get a half million for a $250,000 home so they are staying there and remodeling and they understand my company can do all of it for them.”
This also keeps the customer from shopping three to four stores, Montgomery explained, noting the first thing people do is remodel their kitchen or bath, and “because the customer is already in our store and using us, they trust us to use our people. It makes sense to offer it all in one place. This way they are dealing with just one company. And, as a family owned business, if there is a problem they know they can call and will speak with the owner.”
Beyond aligning himself with a licensed remodeler and contractor, Montgomery has formed a number of business networking groups. “There are so many people who are moving to Florida and they don’t know who to trust, so by forming these relationships we can give recommendations to people we know. There are no kickbacks or anything like that, it’s more of a service and a way to build trust with your existing customers.”
For instance, “We have someone who does blinds, and another who does paint, and so on. So between everyone there is someone who can handle every part of the house. For example, we recently had a customer call about a laminate that was buckling. It turned out it was from a pipe leaking. We were able to recommend someone.”
To further get people’s trust, Montgomery said “we have all licenses and permits stored and ready to show our customers so they know the people we are recommending are legitimate and not some fly-by-night operation.”
He added the groups meet once a month and sometime weekly to discuss projects and what’s going on in the community. “The idea is to find ways and areas where we can help each other succeed.”
This concept of forming his own business network groups has been going on for roughly five years but “it’s been in the last year that we really got it dialed in and now it is working ridiculously well.”
For owner Ralph Fiore it is all about the “personal touch” something he has always relied upon for success but now, more than ever, he feels it is what will separate him from his competitors—along with the concept of buying local.
“As the industry grows, I think the aspect of the personal touch will be big again as it is something many lost or never had. Also, with the younger generation, the millennials, who are our future customers, I feel deep down they understand more of the concept that buying local products and from your local downtown store is important.”
Fiore is actually on a mission to “clean up the industry and get the used car salesman mentality out of the consumer’s mind. We want to dress up her home and make her feel proud, meanwhile you have the boxes, the mass merchants and the toll-free 800 companies diluting this image with a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”
Though he is an industry veteran of 35 years, he has been at the same location for the last 18 and during this time “I can think of only a handful of claims. In fact I would say it is less than one half of 1%.” The reason? “We do it the old-fashioned way. We not only pre-cut everything, we inspect it as we go along and fix what we can before anything goes out the door. When it comes to hard surfaces like wood, we deliver it to her house days ahead so it can properly acclimate.”
For Fiore, his goal is to have the job ready three to four days in advance as “I don’t want to call her the day of the install saying it’s not going to happen because of some just discovered problem. So we go through great pains looking at everything, opening them up to ‘off gas,’ including the cushion.”
Basically, he said, “I don’t want my phone ringing with an unhappy customer.”
And, despite all the technology out there it may seem as if today’s consumer doesn’t want the personal touch but Fiore believes different. “They do want that personalized service, and that’s where us local businesses have the advantage over the national operations. I coach little league, my daughter goes to the same school as yours, etc. People want to do business with people they like.
“Personally, he added, “I don’t want to sell you anything; I want to educate you and find a product that fits your needs. I don’t like being No. 12 at the deli counter and I don’t want my customers to feel that way in my store. We need to understand the customer and to do so means sitting back and listening and paying attention to what they are saying—it’s almost a lost art in the industry. We treat every consumer as their own individual because each customer is different depending on their age, income level, etc., and each customer has different needs.”
It is for this reason why Fiore said his ad budget has been cut by 75% in recent years because “I’m seeing customers who bought from me eight to 12 years ago. We recently had a tax-free weekend and I was amazed at how many customers came in—and we did very little advertising.”
Running an operation started by your parents can be a tough job, but for Sean and Patrick Bradley, the fact their parents created a high-end fashion oriented business that doesn’t rely one product has been a blessing. As Patrick said, “To have family members around with the same vested interest and with the amount of experience that my mother and father have is an incredible asset.”
But when it comes to offering more than just floors, Sean pointed out, “The area we have found the greatest success would be the kitchen and bath sector. The fashion forward consumer has plenty of inspirational websites—Pinterest, Houzz, Cultivate, etc.—that can get the process started, but we picked up on a real frustration and that was making the next step easy.”
He explained today people wish there was one store that could help with their dream room—from creation to purchase. “Time is valuable and the need to run about town trying to put it all together is difficult. We sensed this. We trained our staff in the design process and forged relationships with vendors that made the complete package come together.”
So when it comes to selling the complete package, Bradley said, “We sell plumbing fixtures and tile; cabinets and faucets; bath accessories and counters; sinks and door hardware. Just about the entire room can be purchased from my designer staff. Why let that purchase ready, fashion-excited consumer out your door to find the faucet she loves? That is risking the entire project.”
But, he cautions that offering everything for the job doesn’t mean you have to sell “everything. You don’t need to carry every line available. Concentrate on the products that you would be proud to sell and are the things she is looking for. A quick stop at Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn websites will give you some simple insight. Let the big boxes sell the commodity items that are price driven, not fashion driven. We are, more or less, in the fashion business. Profit from the emotion.”
When it comes to the term one-stop shop, Sam Roberts believes it depends on the market in which you operate that determines exactly what that means. For him, being in business in for nearly 30 years in what is the nation’s fourth largest market means having to specialize in what your are best at, and for him it is selling floors.
“When we started in 1984, carpet stores sold carpet. Now, flooring stores carry carpet, tile, wood and so on. Look around and everyone is affixing flooring to their store name instead of just carpet.”
But the main reason for sticking to what you know is, “There are so many players in every category,” he explained, “there is no one enormous, significant dealer in one particular area. Therefore it is best to just be the best at what you do.”
For instance, Roberts said the company got into blinds a few years ago but “it was impossible to be competitive.” And when it comes to dealing with other trades, he “does not want to be involved in a business where I have to sub contract out to another person. I’m not their priority, plus they tend to make promises that are impossible to keep, such as when they will start a job and then don’t.”
It is because of this that there is a non-flooring area Roberts expanded into about 20 years ago, kitchen and bath countertops and splashes. “We purchased all the equipment and employ the fabricators. Again, the idea is I’m not relying on anyone to satisfy my customer.”
A certain amount of diversification is important,” Roberts noted, “but you need to be careful to be able to tie it into your core focus.”
Because Roberts deals with a mid to upper clientele, service is of the “upmost importance. A significant portion of our business is designer oriented and Houston has so many designers and design shops, so we have a few who we use in our stores but we don’t want to show favoritism. But we do want to make sure the people who we are doing business with are professional.”
The same can be said for installation, and even though Roberts does not employ his own flooring installers, “it is very important to marry installation to sales. So we need to have quality people, especially for the types of products we sell, as people are not forgiving. They have high expectations and you can’t overcome bad work.”