A series of articles I wrote several years ago titled “Good Store, Bad Store!” stated that all successful stores do all the same things right, and all the less successful stores do all the same things wrong. While the columns basically bashed most small flooring retail stores, what surprised me was this series of articles brought me the most positive reactions ever received from my readers. Remarks like “Your column changed my life!” and “You described my store perfectly. Thank you!” were not uncommon.

Successful stores display larger samples. Successful stores limit their selections, use displays, keep their showrooms neat and clean, prominently display their current ads. Successful stores attempt to close the first time in, are open nights and Saturdays and other hours when consumers aren’t working, recognize the “proven consumer buying periods” and spend the bulk of their advertising money during these periods as well as recognize those periods when people aren’t buying. Successful stores realize sales education is critical and have regular, ongoing sales training.

Moreover successful stores track everything. They know which qualities are selling and which colors are the best sellers. They study their closing ratios incessantly, recognizing this is the key to sales volume. They don’t allow their salespeople access to costs, knowing most salespeople don’t understand profit structure which inhibits gross profit. They keep meticulous sales records and let salespeople know where they stand in relationship to others and their own goals. They get paid from customer upfront for materials, typically by opening a charge account for every customer. Most successful stores also recognize their installers are the last people the customers see and are likely to judge the store by the installers’ attitudes during installation.

The less successful stores open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. when business starts around 7 p.m. They open until noon on Saturdays, usually the biggest day of the week, when business on Saturdays starts at 2 p.m. By way of explanation, when customers finish their Saturday chores and if they plan to make a significant purchase, they eat lunch, dress up a little bit and arrive at your store after 2 p.m. If you close at noon, you may as well stay home. My books cover the thousands of differences, but this article is about some of the bad information in our own industry.

There is a slick magazine published for retailers that ran a “Gotcha” article about secret shoppers who shopped the big boxes and independent stores. The promo was: “Who came out better, the independents or the boxes? Prepare for a surprise.”

Now the good thing is flooring retailers have to know where they fall short before they can improve. I’ve spent an entire career trying to improve sales and service in our stores and in the twilight of my career, there is still a lot of work to do. As the article pointed out, we have lost thousands of retailers. However in reading the article, it was obvious the company hired by the magazine wasn’t as familiar with the industry as they should have been.

My big objection was the way they presented the information. A long list was made of all the good points (approximately 40) of the shopping experience and a similar list was made of the bad points. The “Gotcha” came when it was revealed all the bad points they discovered were at the retail stores and all the good points were found at the boxes. It is inconceivable that the publishers wanted readers to believe there were no good experiences at flooring stores and no bad experiences happened in the box stores.

Don’t sell the big boxes short. Years ago, my experiences at Lowe’s and The Home Depot were poor—hard to find a clerk, harder to find a clerk with knowledge, orders misplaced and messed up, and a generally poor shopping experience. Years ago the head of a major mill’s education department hired me off the books to conduct a training session for a Home Depot opening in New Jersey and wanted to make an impression. The people at the session were terrific, but didn’t know or retain much from prior sessions. I kept hearing: “Why weren’t we taught this before?” Well I guess this is why I was hired. Yet some of these people, unskilled as they were, were writing $600,000 in business per year. Beware, because the people at Home Depot and Lowe’s are now better trained, more knowledgeable and more service-oriented than ever before, so the job of the independent retailer is even more difficult.

Most of the trade journals in this industry use industry columnists, but I am now seeing more outsiders writing columns. The disconnect is obvious. I once did a lot of training for a major merchandising group and I guess the bigger you get, the more sophisticated you want to be, so they started hiring speakers outside the industry. Their members came to me and wondered why I didn’t do all the sessions. Our retailers see the disconnect.