Floor Trends set out to uncover the key(s) to the success and longevity specialty retailers around the country are experiencing in this category that many believe still has tremendous potential for growth. From this a number of common elements kept coming up as to why certain dealers have been able to beat the boxes and mass merchants.
Sure, customers seek the inherent credibility of the boxes and big-name chains like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators, but nothing beats the attention, personalization and quality of customer service that comes from working with a specialty retailer.
According to many dealers being able to provide personalized service is an essential component to the success of their business.
As a number of retailers mentioned, unlike the boxes they have the ability to provide individualized attention to customers from the beginning of their buying process to the end—and often long after the sale has been made.
To retailer Scott Falk and the salespeople at Prestige Flooring & Interiors located in White Plains, N.Y., this means assessing the customers’ needs and the environment in which the floor will be used, to properly provide guidance through the entire buying process.
Falk and his team of trained salespeople pride themselves on taking “everything from A to Z” into consideration when helping customers select the best option for their homes. “My workers here are completely educated and certified,” he said.
Good customer service can be what keeps a specialty retailer in businesses for many years to come. For many it is the reason for them being around for 20, 30, 40 or more years. Whether it is a family business passed on through generations or one that goes through a non-family succession, every retailer who has been successful selling laminate will point their company’s level of customer service.
One part of providing exceptional customer service has to do with product knowledge. By knowing the products they are selling they can help customers find exactly what they need—“especially after they come from a box store,” as many note. “Many consumers value good customer service over price point when making purchases for their home.” In other words they are willing to pay a little more when treated like someone who is making a major lifestyle purchase.
Customer service also works the other way as a number of dealers point out when everything is added up they are equal to or even less than the box stores which tend to nickel and dime the consumer to death. “People think because we are a fashion oriented store we’re more expensive, when the reality is we’re not,” is the cry of many dealers. “After they include all the additional charges it ends up being more expensive than what we charge.”
Branding is adding extra appeal to products in all categories and laminate is no different, as a recognized name can help dealers and the products they sell standout among the rest.
For specialty retailers, these branded products are tremendous assets, as they are usually what get the customer in the door. From popular design shows and networks to design-based social media platforms, consumers are set on flooring trends and products long before they step foot into a store. In addition they allow dealers to have a trade-up story.
As a number of dealers said, great brands are tremendous assets to retailers—they help bring people into the store and provide a sense of trust and confidence. And while they can provide for a better profit margin, not all brands are expensive. Retailers pointed out there are many products backed by a name that the brand-conscious consumer is familiar with and has come to trust over the years.
A brand doesn’t necessarily mean high-end expense. Rather a brand is something consumers have come to trust over years of providing a product that is dependable and meets their needs.
In other words, beyond the name of the product, retailers will point to their own names and reputations within their towns as being important weapons when fighting the boxes. “People trust us over the other stores to give them the proper information and help them find the best product for their needs,” is a common saying among dealers.
Another area many successful laminate dealers point to is their displays and merchandising—be it a private label from being in a buying group or aligned with a manufacturer or a mill’s own unit that brings attention to the product.
In addition, as a few dealers pointed out, “We have superb displays and merchandising.” In some cases they credit their affiliation, other give it straight to the mills, noting the good manufactures “spend a great deal of energy and money” to make sure their products are merchandised the very best.”
When it comes to the better display, retailers generally note how they feature samples that are large. Why is that important? “Consumers like to see the bigger pieces as it gives them a better sense of the patterns and textures,” they say.
Then, as many noted, “It is up to us to make sure to take advantage of that.” And to do that, that is where training and customer service come into play as a properly trained salesperson knows not just the product but how the merchandising unit works in helping to make the selling presentation easier.
In other words, a good salesperson can use the merchandising units to navigate the full range of options and demonstrate an understanding to the customer’s preferences. “They are there to do more than simply present products,” said a number of dealers. “They can help increase sales while maintaining a focus on stylish, high-quality products to visually show the story.”
As the amount of laminate produced in the U.S. continues to increase, manufacturers are urging specialty laminate retailers to not only carry these products, but to help tell their ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ story as well.
In fact, these stories often coincide with the stories of the specialty retailers that are carrying the products, according to some manufacturers. Specialty retailers are part of the fabric of cities and towns across the country, they said. As noted earlier, a retailer’s name or brand is just as important as a national brand because it is something residents of their town have come to know and trust. Nowadays, with the Made in America movement continuing to gain momentum the combination of a locally owned store carrying American made products “is a powerful selling tool,” a few company executives pointed out.
Retailers are proudly displaying these products and in return, gaining business as they invest in the U.S. economy, and making sales at all price points. In cases where domestically produced product has a higher price point, some feel consumers are willing to pay more because the quality of U.S.-manufactured products tend to not just have the perception of being better, in many cases they are. But even here it gets back to providing the right kind of customer service because without an educated salesperson to explain this to the consumer it could be a lost selling point.
As with any product, having the right supplier is just as much paramount to a dealer’s success as anything.
This seems to be even more true when it comes to laminate, as the product can be found not just in box stores and mass merchants but in just about any retail location that sells any type of home product, including the club stores such as Costco. It is for that reason retailers who continue to be successful selling laminate across the board agreed that working with the right supplier is imperative. A number of them said in the case of laminate, if they cannot private label a product they will do their best to use only suppliers that support independent retailers, such as Mannington.
According to a Mannington representative, specialty retailers are quality people—“representing the best of the best”—and therefore the best source to represent the mill’s products.