For smaller retailers, advertising seems to hold a great fear: “What if I spend all this money and no one shows up at the door?” Well, larger retailers know effective advertising works. To obtain the basics of effective advertising every retailer should read “Oglivy on Advertising,” a book whether you have an interest or not, you will not be able to put down. It changed my life in many ways.

Oglivy is unique among advertising experts. The advertising industry as a whole has managed to give up all responsibility for the success of their clients. Their attitude is that they cannot be responsible for the skills or lack of skills of your sales force. I’ve spent lots or words and print on disputing this attitude. No matter how poor your sales staff is, the truth is the more customers in the door, the greater the sales. Oglivy takes responsibility for the sales of his clients.

Flooring retailers have to learn a few basics. As a beginning retailer, I knew I could never become successful copying other average stores, so I copied the professionals. In my time the most successful flooring retailers were the department stores—Macy’s, B. Altman and Sears, the largest carpet retailer in the world during this period. The other huge dealers were the national flooring chains like New York Carpet World and Carpetland, U.S.A.

I noted the bulk of their advertising took place during certain periods. I identified them as Proven Consumer Buying Periods: Veterans’ Day #1, Washington’s Birthday #2 (now Presidents Day), Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day Weekend, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving weekend, and, recently New Year’s Day, surprisingly as #3. Other successful periods can be remodeling sales, grand reopening sales and anniversary sales. The bulk of your advertising funds have to be spent during these periods directly proportional to sales history.

There are periods that the big retailers identify as dead periods: the days prior to the religious holidays in the spring and the weeks prior to Labor Day weekend. The worst advice I hear given to small retailers is: “You have to keep your name before the public.” Balderdash! The runoff from your big sales will keep customers coming for weeks after.

Never let the media design your ads. A sales or marketing degree doesn’t translate into advertising expertise. Never run a manufacturer’s ad—it will get you nothing. These ads are designed by manufacturer’s ad people, an entirely different skill from retail advertising. Retail ads are designed to bring customers ready-to-buy into your door—a huge difference. In the event you haven’t acquired the skills to create effective retail ads, a good ad agency is indispensable.

The other information you must have, and I feel badly for telling you this: “Customers are fools.” The more outrageous the promise, the more business the shop-at-homes and big boxes do. Consider Empire Today, who promises consumers if they buy two rooms, the rest of the house is free! Their regular price has to be a 10x markup to deliver this. Or the big boxes with their whole house install, which is more expensive than the regular price. What kind of fool would believe this?

Maybe the fool is you. What does this kind of advertising get Empire? They are the largest single retailer of flooring at $500,000,000 in sales annually.

In years past, the FTC used to monitor false and deceptive advertising. In the case of Sears, if they advertised a regular price, they had to prove they sold the item at that price for a period of time. No such scrutiny takes place in today’s market. For those of you who would like to hold on to some sense of ethical practices, the story of JC Penney deserves some study.

Penney’s wasn’t delivering the returns investors expected, so they fired the CEO, replacing him with a respected and proven executive from manufacturing, Ron Johnson. Ron believed, unlike most retailers, that consumers were rational people and embarked upon a campaign that supposedly wouldn’t insult their intelligence. He banished the words “sale” and “free” from advertising and presented everyday low pricing that was competitive with other department stores. The result: Penneys soon teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. It was “Goodbye, Ron” and now Penney advertises just like all other retailers.

The words “free” and “sale” are the most valuable words in advertising because they work. In order to compete with the big boxes who control 40% of our business, smaller retailers have to markup their pad or carpet (or both) and advertise “free installation.” I don’t like it either, but this is the business we’re in. There are a few rare businesses that don’t have to play the game because they have built extraordinary reputations throughout the years. Nebraska Furniture Mart barely has to advertise. They do it with a 560,000 square-foot store in a location that almost everyone sees.

The other question is where do you advertise? TV, print and radio still work but are expensive. My advice is to make yourself a social media expert or hire an expert who has proven successful to drive customers to your door. Many stores have had marked success through this venue. If it hasn’t worked, you have to change your strategy. Again read the trade press on how the experts do it. Floor Trends has published a number of informative articles and will do more.