In the 20-plus years I’ve been writing training manuals and advice columns, this subject is the one I’ve written about the most often. That’s because this area is where most retailers and commercial flooring companies make the most mistakes and lose the most sales. Far too many companies believe their sales advisor’s time on the sales floor is too important to waste with on-site measuring and estimating. In fact the first flooring retailer I worked for more than 30 years ago had that same idea.

As salesmen we would meet with the customer on the showroom floor, help that potential buyer make a choice, then tell them that our measure man would contact them in a few days to set a measure date. The measure man, who was paid a set amount for each measure, would then call them to schedule a date that fit both their schedules. Sometimes the measure date would be a few days after the in-store presentation, but most often it would be a week or more out. After that, the measure man would get the diagrams back to the salesmen/women a day or two later.

In this system the salespeople had to figure out the diagram for yardage and other total chargeable costs. If the diagram happened to be on my day off, that delayed my estimate/bid one more day. This process took on the short side about four days and on the long side upwards of 10 days. I remember calling customers back with a final bid, only to have them tell me, “I’m sorry; we already purchased elsewhere.”

At one point I asked the store manager why I couldn’t go out and do my own measures. My thinking was I could set the measure appointment when they were at the store and get the measure done much faster. Plus, since I was the one with the relationship with the potential buyer, they would feel much more comfortable with me coming into their home. The store manager of this chain told me he agreed. He then arranged for me to go out with the measure man to learn how to properly measure. He also arranged for me to go out for a couple of half days with installation crews to observe both carpet and linoleum being installed.

That exercise proved to be the greatest knowledge I could have ever received. As it turned out, installers are very seldom happy with the yardage or footage they are given by an estimator. Until you understand how installation is done, you often miss things that should have been measured and bid correctly.

Moving Up

Within two months of learning to measure and estimate on-site, my sales volume had moved me from being the rookie to the No. 2 out of eight sales people at the store. The No. 1 guy who I never did beat was “Old Mel,” a 30-year veteran of flooring who had started out as an installer. He went back to the days when seams were hand-sewn and the edges were hand-tacked with single tacks. After my sudden surge to being a top performer, the manager started to have the other salespeople learn to measure and estimate on-site. A few of them did not want to do this because they felt time lost on the sales floor was not productive. They were wrong.

After about six months of doing my own measures, I got to the point where I could measure the job and give the final bid at the house. Now I was finalizing a sale within a day or two. As you might guess my closing ratio more than doubled. Most of my buyers would actually tell me how impressed they were with the speed and personal touch it gave to the situation.

One day, I had a buyer who had to have a job installed quickly. The buyer asked me if there was any way I could go “right now” and follow them home. They were very busy people, but they were free right now. So I cleared it with manager and followed them home.

The carpet they had picked was in-store roll stock. I measured the three rooms, took a deposit on site and returned to the store with a closed deal in an hour and a half. Wow! I had just figured out how to gain a customer’s respect and cut down on the long lag time of the old system.

That was when I learned a great lesson on how moving fast pays big. From that day on I have tried to follow my buyers home whenever possible. When that timing does not work, I try to get out no later than the next day. On the occasions where the buyer can’t meet me for a week or so, my closing ratio is much lower.

Having a high closing in home ratio is not as simple as just moving fast. Before you ask to follow them home, you need to have all the details taken care of. That buyer needs to know approximate (guesstimated) costs, when the flooring can be installed, reasons why you and your store are better than the competition, why this product is the best for their given situation and what is expected if they accept your in-home (on-site) estimate.

So before you get to the measure/estimate give them your store’s terms to finalize the order. In my case I say “I’ll give you an estimate on-site. If you’re happy with it, I need to take half down and the rest is paid when you are happy with the final installation.”

Here’s the best part. When I’ve presented them with the final numbers in the home, they usually get out the checkbook or the credit card. Only a few times have I ever had to ask for the sale. The buyer closes the sale for me because I did the footwork, answered all the questions and did not waste their time. Thanks for reading and have a great New Year.