We have looked at the younger crop of customers out there shopping for floor coverings for the last couple of months and how they are in the process of driving a wholesale change in the way business will be conducted in this industry in the future.
Think about it, an entirely new crop of customers that thinks differently, shops differently, certainly communicates differently and basically lives their lives in a completely different way than the way baby boomers do. For the past couple of decades we have been shaping virtually everything around the boomer—their likes, dislikes and their fat wallets. After all, boomers are retiring in droves and most likely watching a lot more closely the way they will be spending on just about everything including floor coverings.
While the crop of consumers is changing and will continue to change for years to come, who better to write the guidebook on the different brand of service and products that millennials demand than another millennial?
We recently had the opportunity to talk to one of these millennial floor covering retailers and an eye opening experience it was. We visited Justin Atcheson, the 31-year-old owner of Builders Floor Covering and Tile of Georgia, a four location operation that services designers and builders at one location and retail consumers at the other three.
Atcheson, was a builder of custom homes in the Atlanta area and during the housing bust ended up buying Builders Floor Covering and Tile, his floor covering supplier who had fallen on hard times. Next came the process of reinventing the company, which at the time had one location in a far northern Atlanta area suburb. Because at that time builder business was down, as was commercial business and there wasn’t a great deal in the government sector to say grace over, Justin focused his attention on retail.
The following are some excerpts from the video interview of that conversation with him that you may find interesting. You can find the complete three-part video in the archives section on the TalkFloor.com website, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’website, floortrendsmag.com.
TF: So you one day find yourself in the retail floor covering business without really a lot of background or perhaps no background what so ever in the business. What did you do then?
Atcheson: To make matters interesting, the previous owner went on to be a missionary so I didn’t have a great deal of time to train. It was literally here’s the business, good luck. So in short order I had to figure out what was right with the business and what was wrong and what I would want from this [operation].
This baptism of fire in reality turned out to be an asset because we had to totally reinvent ourselves. I had to figure out how to grow the business and how to impress people with the excellence we were planning to offer in service. I tell our employees all the time that that I want the company to be known as the standard for excellence. When you touch our business I want you to feel that we did it better than anybody else.
My goal in analyzing this business was to not only make more money per transaction but to hold a better margin. The way to achieve that I felt, was via a design approach. It became apparent the way to get customers to spend more money was to give them what they want.
I don’t feel that you can sell a customer into that. The days of the gimmicky sales approach are over—customers are instantly put off by it. The standard old school salesman approaching a female customer to sell her something is a letdown. I’ll give you an example: Say you go to buy a luxury car. The salesman doesn’t sell you a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. The customer is there to find what she wants and buys what she wants. We want to employ that same feeling in our stores.
So when you come in to the store you are basically there to sell yourself. We are not here to sell the customer we are there to help them find what they want.
It also became very clear to me if we do the design and they fall in love with it, we don’t have to hit a price, because they can’t shop that design. The design is intellectual property until it’s purchased. They may be able to shop the product but they can’t shop the way you are putting the product together.
I would say 75% to 80% of our customer base there is no competition. They come in, they find what they want, we show them how to do it and at that point we give them the price. We treat them fairly, everything in our showroom is priced because we wanted customers to be able to shop on their own and it simply makes the experience for the customer a great deal better.
TF: You bought a retail location in a far northern suburb of Atlanta, we are currently close but in a very large builder, commercial location. Talk about this location and how it differs from the retail locations.
Atcheson: This is a location that offers full design services. When customers come to this location they are typically doing their entire house. All the other locations are primarily retail, however they do service the builder market and all locations have designers, which have been a dominant feature our operation.
TF: Talk about how a typical transaction might go. A women comes in and she may have a file full of fabric swatches, a pillow or two, some wallpaper, she needs help and design advice, how would the conversation typically go?
Atcheson: Most customers who come in know what they want, they just don’t know how to get what they want. They don’t know about product mix, or colors or what’s available as an offering. The thing that we bring to the table on the design front is that we take their vision and we make it a reality. That’s what the designer does.
I feel the prevailing truth of the floor covering industry is that it’s full of men—men on the sales side. And most women don’t want to talk to a man they want to talk to a female designer.
What happens when we put this recipe together is the customer immediately feels comfortable, she lets her guard down and she doesn’t feel like she’s being sold. None of our designers are on commission and they’re not on the sales side, they are there to help the client regardless if they spend $5 or $5 million. They are there to help the the client find what she wants and fit it within her budget. What we have found however is that she spends more money because now it’s about getting what she wants. And the truth is we all want good quality.
TF: You are a millennial; you are a techie. How do you communicate with the other millennials and the boomers as well?
Atcheson: I do more sales by text that I do by email or phone call. When I get a customer 35 or younger we’re texting. On top of that we are very active on social media. When we do an installation we communicate through Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter and we ask the customer that if we make you happy will you post something about Builders Floor Covering.
We find that if you go above and beyond with service most consumers will be glad to post a favorable review.
All of us have a certain amount we spend on marketing. It is my philosophy to intentionally spend those marketing dollars on service. Like I said, we go above and beyond on service. For example, if someone calls and needs to have new hardwood put down in a hurry, I jump through hoops for them. We’ll spend the money on freight to get the product there quickly and communicate to them that if we can make them happy we’ll ask them in turn to help us promote our business with a positive review. When we do go the extra mile and spend an extra $100 on freight, I can promise you that if the $100 were spent on marketing it would never touch the benefit it will bring from reaching that customers 250 or 300 friends. I promise you the $100 on freight is a no brainer.
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this fascinating interview than space permits. To see the three-part conversation in its entirety visit TalkFloor.com, click on the TalkFloor TV logo and scroll down to the parts titled, “Justin Atcheson, owner of Builders Floor Covering and Tile, Atlanta.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Matthew Spieler at email@example.com.