Steve Simonson is a pioneer in the floor covering industry, launching iFloor.com in 1999 and in the process defining how marketing floor coverings online would play out in the years to come. Since then Steve, as a student in the ever-changing arena of digital marketing, has become a consultant and CEO of the global mobile accessories website Kyasi.com.
We had an opportunity to sit down with Steve recently and get his take on a variety of digital matters including the various players selling flooring online today. We also pick his brain as to how retailers can maximize their online competence and effectiveness. You can listen to this FloorRadio conversation in its entirety at TalkFloor.com. Here are some excerpts.
TF: You headed one of the first successful retail floor coverings online. What are your observations now as to the players who are offering floor covering products online? Are they doing a capable job, are they lacking or are they somewhere in the middle?
I made my first secured transaction online in 1998. That sale involved a rug that I sold to a customer in Bulgaria. I was tickled as could be and I told everybody that we were international. Of course the rug was an item that was out of stock at the supplier. We emailed the customer and told him the order would be delayed a few weeks. We finally received the rug and immediately sent it to the customer. The next day we received notification that the whole operation was a credit card fraud. That was our very first sale online in 1998.
Fundamentally, however, the flooring market has continued to evolve. There are a few principal players and a number of organizations that try to participate on some level, but they are not really making e-commerce the focus of their business. The principals are all the usual suspects, some of which are doing very well and some not doing that well. One of the best ways to get a good reading on that is to look at the reviews about the major players. You will find some great reviews and great customer service experiences and you’ll see some very negative experiences, which don’t help the industry and certainly don’t help the customers in those cases.
TF: What about the developments the websites of these major players? Have you seen some new advances in the tools and the bells and whistles that are available on their sites?
I’ve not really seen any breakthrough technology, but I have seen wider adoption of some of the smarter Internet marketing practices such as incorporating the use of video in their websites, which is a key factor in engaging an audience. This is a key part of the marketing funnel concept, which starts at the top with general awareness, which is then turned into leads, then prospects and ultimately at the bottom of the funnel, a sale is made.
The major point about the funnel is that more of the area is occupied by the marketing function than by the sales function. More customers are seeking education, which works out for those who are astute enough to adopt video—they are engaging customers in a pre-sale situation, building credibility and developing a rapport with the customer in a virtual way that outperforms competitors who are not engaging in that type of technology.
TF: Retailers who are not interested in selling floor coverings online but want to have a reasonably effective website may come to the realization that if they do not seriously engage a consumer on their site, that consumer is extremely unlikely to ever walk into that retailer’s store. What would your suggestions be for a retailer who wants to achieve a higher level of engagement with that prospective customer?
From my perspective I find this is the most common question that land-based retailers face, so as a result I have put together a list of the top seven factors retailers need to develop a web presence that will produce a sufficient number of leads. Once they develop that presence—and it doesn’t take as much time as many think it does—it can really accelerate their business. I’ll begin with the seventh and work toward the most important factor.
The seventh is Houzz. It has in the neighborhood of 120 million users and is a very large and visually stimulating website. Many consumers go there for ideas and Houzz’s objective is to monetize leads. As a result they will sell leads and ways for retailers to interact with audiences even on a local basis. It’s worth it for retailers to consider how they can leverage this site because it is so relevant to their consumer base. And that includes participating on the social platform part of the site. There are opportunities where retailers can upload before-and-after pictures and engage consumers without paying for advertising.
Number six is a similar concept in terms of lead generation—it’s Thumbtack.com. Thumbtack has a similar lead-generating concept to Houzz, and in talking with a number of land-based retailers who have used it they have told me they have received some extremely lucrative leads from it. One retailer told me that in the first two months of using it he spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 and received leads that turned into $70,000 in flooring jobs. With the Thumbtack site people make inquiries. For example, “I’m looking for ceramic tile or wood flooring, or for an installer.” Over time it is possible to discern a good lead from a bad one so you can get a better feel for the ones to pay for and the ones to pass on.
Number five and a very important one, Google Maps and the reviews that are on Google are vital to one’s business. Google Maps and ultimately Apple Maps will virtually eliminate the need for Yellow Pages. Asking your phone: “Where is a local restaurant, or where is a local gym?” reveals a mapped and directed location. With Google, retailers can also pay to have their store’s awareness and their visibility increased on that platform. It’s very important for retailers to get their store listed and validated on Google Maps. It’s also very important to monitor and manage your reviews on Google Maps. When someone is looking for directions to go to your store, they may already intend to visit the store and if they see a one- or two-star review on their Google Map app they may divert themselves from the store.
Number four is Amazon.com. This is very important. Amazon has launched local services. For example if you search for a barbeque on Amazon, they will offer a local service to set it up for you; the same with other installed products such as gate openers. They now have services that are relevant to floor coverings including interior design, and these are huge opportunities in terms of lead generation. Anyone who doesn’t understand the scope of Amazon is really missing out on what is happening. Consumers trust Amazon, it’s growing by leaps and bounds and they have an enormous amount of consumer power.
Anyone who resents that is missing the boat and should be focused on how they can capture some of that power for their own interests. Engaging Amazon services for any relevant services is where local retailers can really make a difference. You can sell the service on Amazon and then sell the customer whatever types of flooring they may need. The opportunity to buy a lead is very inexpensive. And this is just the beginning of Amazon’s new service offering, so the early adopters will really have an unfair advantage over their competition.
Number three, I think retailers need to find their tribe—a community of like-minded entrepreneurs or retailers that are similar to them and in a non-competitive way exchange ideas and even commiserate from time to time. With the resources of today such as LinkedIn and Facebook, there are many retailer groups that you can interact with, bounce ideas off and share experiences. This type of community really gives one the sense of really not going it alone.
Number two is getting a Pinterest page. Pinterest is fast-growing, it’s female-dominated and for flooring retailers in particular there is a high correlation to visual imagery with a well- qualified affluent female audience. For the majority of floor covering retailers this is the place you need to be. Pinterest now allows you to set up a business page. You can share before-and-after photos and cool photos of jobs that have been completed. Pinterest has now opened up their ad platform which allows a retailer to promote to make it possible to drive some of these customers to your website.
Let me just put a word for Google AdWords in here. Even though it doesn’t permit as much targeting as one may want, it does offer the ability to advertise your phone number and pay per call. This allows retailers to manage and measure the lead flow and gauge its effectiveness. You can buy a call for say $1 you and if you can close from 5% to 20% of the leads it can be a very lucrative undertaking.
The number-one marketing idea that floor covering retailers need to be accessing is Facebook. Start advertising in a meaningful way in your marketing area. Facebook purchased Instagram a few years ago so now it’s possible to target consumers on both Facebook and Instagram on one platform. This is a very effective way to reach customers, especially ultra-targeted customers.
Some retailers have extraordinary targeting methodologies—for example it’s very simple to target just female homeowners of a certain age range within a certain radius, who have an iPhone, drive a Lexus and watch a certain TV program. You can do extraordinary pinpoint audience targeting. And this allows a retailer to test a variety of different strategies.
Facebook is a very complex operation. I recently purchased a Facebook training course for myself and my staff, and the types of tools that are available on this platform can offer very positive ROI for retailers. My advice is to get good on Facebook and Instagram. There is probably nothing you can do that will be a powerful as Facebook for the next three to four years.
Editor’s Note: To hear the full three-part interview with Steve Simonson, visit www.talkfloor.com, click on the Floor Radio tab and click back in the archives to the audio files posted between Dec. 16-18. The three parts of the interview can be found under the title “Steve Simonson—Seven Ways to Effectively Build Leads Online.”
We’d love to hear your feedback on this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, along with any ideas you have for people and companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at email@example.com or Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org.