Like all flooring categories, the tile sector is ever evolving and changing to meet both commercial and residential consumers’ needs and demands. Consumers in the market for the latest and greatest in tile go to the experts for help.

Recognizing this is an area where the specialty dealer can capitalize on, Floor Trends spoke with some of the best in the business to find out just what it takes to be a successful tile retailer.

Article Index:

Answers varied among the retailers we spoke to, but a knowledgeable, well-versed sales team was a key common denominator among them all.

“I really believe we’ve got some of the best salespeople out there,” said Ryan Bechtold, operations manager of Contract Furnishings Mart in Tigard, Ore. “Not only are they great people and very personable, but they know their products and they’re comfortable working with tile—and the customers are comfortable working with them.”

Contract Furnishings’ tile sales team members have been in the industry for 15 to 20 years, according to Bechtold. “We’ve got a lot of history and comfort in tile, so we are able to easily guide customers though the selection process.”

This comfort level he speaks of not only comes from his team’s history in the sector, but continued learning and education initiatives. “Product knowledge sessions are huge for us in terms of keeping up on tile trends and installation techniques.”

The same holds true for the sales team at Dillabaugh’s Flooring America in Boise, Idaho. Even after 33 years in the business, on-going education remains a key ingredient to the retailer’s success. The 25-member team holds monthly education sessions at the company’s headquarters. At these meetings, the team goes through sales processes and product knowledge.

“We’re advocates of on-going education,” said Casey Dillabaugh, “so not only do we have monthly meetings as a company, but we also have weekly meetings in our individual branches. Learning never stops.”

Manufacturers at Your Service

“We rely on our manufactures’ representatives to bring us the latest and greatest in tile trends, training and products,” explained Bechtold.

Mike Garren of Carpet Fashions Carpet One Floor & Home in Anderson, S.C., credits much of his success in tile sales to the ongoing training he gets from Dal-Tile. “We have a good relationship with Dal-Tile, so anytime there’s something new in the industry, we continue to get our salespeople up to speed. The relationship we have in general helps us to continue to stay ahead of the game and know exactly what we’re talking about when it comes to selling tile.”

According to Lori Kirk-Rolley, vice president of brand marketing for Dal-Tile, effective consumer merchandising, providing marketing and financial support, and continuous training are all key elements to driving success through specialty retailers.

“It is important that we set our dealers up for success and help them stand out in the market,” she said. “Training is key to the retailer in terms of both product and installation. Today’s tile and stone products are growing bigger and linear in the finished size. The consumer demand for these new trends is driving more complex installations. We offer product training, retail sales training and detailed installation training down to the individual level if necessary.”

Marketing Across All Channels

In a society where the Internet and social media connect consumers to any and everything, at any time of the day, things are no different in the design world. Social media and the Internet have transformed the design industry, flooring included, with popular sites like Instagram, Houzz and Pinterest.

“We’re not immune to the research that says 90% of clients will research you online before they come into your store,” said Dillabaugh. “If they go online and they don’t find a presence—they don’t find people talking about you—they aren’t going to come into your store.”

With that in mind, Dillabaugh and his team place a large value on client feedback. “We constantly ask clients to go in and share reviews of their experience with us, whether it is the Better Business Bureau, Google Review or our Facebook page.”

Even in Boise’s slow to respond market and culture, as Dillabaugh describes it, a social media presence is still crucial for business, he says. “Other parts of the country put a lot more emphasis on social media, but we are always proactive with it—probably the most proactive among the flooring stores in our area.”

Online client feedback both good and bad is welcomed by Shawn Robb, CEO of C.V. Tile and Stone Home Center in Monrovia, Calif. “We are able to validate ourselves online with customer reviews, and those customer reviews help to put another customer’s mind at ease—even bad reviews, honestly. Bad ones are going to happen and they just make you look human.”

However, in this digital day and age, Robb, believes product catalogs are still a relevant resource to keep in showrooms. “Many of our customers will read about the items right in the store and then make a decision. Catalogs save them the time of having to do the online research.”

Diversity Means Longevity

In addition to its tile offering, Dillabaugh’s has its own cabinetry division and granite fabrication company. “Our company is able to get in and essentially do the entire kitchen or bathroom renovation,” said Dillabaugh. These extra benefits paired with its tile offering sets the retailer apart as a “do it all company.”

For an ever-changing market, Dillabaugh says retailers diversifying their product offering is vital to continued success. “If you’re strictly a flooring retailer, in the next two to three years, you might be looking at yourself in the mirror saying, ‘Where’s my profit?’” It’s crucial that you start to look to diversify your business to broaden your customer base.”

For Garren, continued customer care is what sets Carpet Fashions apart from the rest. “Our approach to our customers sets us apart from others. We offer a lifetime warranty on installation for the life of the product, which has resulted in a lot of return customers.”

Robb and his team believe that customer service goes long beyond the sale as well. “We follow up with phone calls to make sure customers are pleased with products after they’ve gotten the tile home.”