It’s becoming apparent that, as the years go by, things have changed and there are a lot of new faces in the industry. So I am going to go back a few decades and repeat the lessons I’ve been giving for years.
When I opened my first store at age 23, it was a rough affair—small showroom, pegboard on walls and hanging deckboards. However, I could always sell, and it served to keep me in business.
In a short while, I could afford some manufacturers’ displays, enlarge the showroom and do some advertising. Unfortunately, this is as far as it got, and I became an average flooring retailer: Keeping the same hours, doing little or no training and not understanding when to advertise and why advertising works or doesn’t—just like 95% of the flooring retailers across America.
Things have improved slightly, mainly because of manufacturers’ retail programs and merchandising groups, although many of these aligned dealers try as hard as they can to return to their old ways.
Fortunately, I had a wise mother, and among the things she implanted in my soul was, “Warren, if everyone is doing it, it’s wrong.” This woke me up to the fact that if I kept running my business like everyone else, I would be like everyone else. So where does a retailer get his education? I’m not aware of a school of retailing, and parents and mentors ran their stores just like you do.
It made sense to copy what the successful stores were doing. The large flooring chains of the time were not very reputable, and although they did business, most of us wouldn’t want to copy their ethics. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them. It seemed to me the department stores were the retailers to emulate. At the time, Sears was the largest carpet dealer in the world, and significant volumes were done by Macy’s, B. Altman and others. Very few independents did well. Einstein-Moomjy would have been at the top of this pile at the time.
Studying these stores, I realized they all did the same things right, while everyone else did the same things wrong. Here’s a crash course from what I observed. If what you read from here motivates you, a must-read book is “Warren Tyler on Retail.”
The term professional retailers mostly refers to national retailers, especially department stores. Professional retailers open when consumers are not working; that means they don’t close until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. They are open Saturday afternoons, because in most areas, flooring business starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, and they are open on Sundays. Average retailers don’t follow these rules.
Professional retailers also advertise when people are buying and don’t advertise when they aren’t. They also know that conventional wisdom is always wrong, such as the little ditty: “You have to keep your name out there.” In today’s world, you can do this in social media, but a tiny ad every week or two gives the impression you are a tiny store. So whether you choose radio, TV or print you have to go big.
I found that the professionals discovered what I call, “Proven Consumer Buying Periods.” Some of them are Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day (#1), Thanksgiving weekend, New Year’s Day (#3), President’s Day (#2), Memorial Day, July 4th and the week after Labor Day. So the bulk of your ad budget should be reserved for these times.
There are a few periods where consumers aren’t buying flooring. Two are the weeks before the Jewish and Christian holidays in the spring and the weeks before Labor Day—back to school is the issue.
If you have no idea how to create an ad that sells, rush out and buy “Ogilvy on Advertising.” You won’t be able to put it down. I will write more on this in the future. “Warren Tyler on Retail” sheds more light on advertising that sells as well as showrooms that sell. This information works; there is nothing like coming to work at 8 a.m. on a cold Veterans’ Day and finding 50 people at the door waiting for your 9 a.m. opening.
Professional stores display large samples and rarely use manufacturers’ displays. Average stores use small samples and have a jumble of mill racks. Professional stores keep their showroom spotless; average stores don’t. Professional stores have more people working during busy periods and fewer during slow times. Average stores don’t.
How do the professional stores know? They all use “sales patterning books,” so they know exactly when customers are likely to show up. My book tells you how to set one up.
Another thing I have learned from the national flooring chains is teaching salespeople to close the first time in. They write orders on approximate measures. Professional retailers know there are “bellwether fabrics” that the public knows. Average retailers have no idea.
For example, when DuPont first introduced Stainmaster, for whatever you may think of the process, the marketing was genius. Even today, consumers know Stainmaster. At first, it was pricy, and dealers paid $6 to $7 a yard. So one store, Kaufman’s, advertised Stainmaster at $8 a yard completely installed with padding and it drove average stores crazy. It put three or four ratty colors in the corner and only sold them at the threat of death to the salespeople. But, of course, consumers wanted more choice, and if Kaufman’s could sell Stainmaster at that price, then everything else must be a bargain.
Professional stores always private label, collect money up front and make top markup even on commercial work. Average stores don’t.