Small Boxes Should Always Beat the Big Boxes
Every day I thank my lucky stars that my retail “small box” store is located between two “big boxes.” We are located on a main highway just a half mile east of Home Depot and a mile west of Lowe’s. That means a flooring buyer on their way to or from one of the two big boxes will have to pass by our store.
Why is this so important? Well, by nature the majority of shoppers think that any and everything sold at the big boxes is cheaper. You and I know better, but we don’t get to control the thoughts of prospective floor covering buyers. So we need to play to the strengths we have over the competition. The trick is to get the chance, and then make the best of it.
I have to use this example, because my Denver Broncos just won the “Big One” against what the talking heads saw as a sure loss to the Carolina Panthers. The unlikely Broncos had a charmed but lackluster season. They won the majority of their regular season games by just a few points. In fact, there were many of the games where the great Peyton Manning never scored with his trademark touchdown passes.
I remember watching the seventh game of the season with a few friends and relatives. At the time we were all down on the Broncos because they simply could not roll up big scoring totals. They were not as exciting to watch as they were two years earlier when Peyton set passing touchdown records and the team averaged about 42 points a game.
So here we all are complaining about a team that was 6-0 on the year. What only a few of us understood was the Broncos had one of the best defenses in the history of football. So when we were lucky enough to squeak through the playoffs and make it into the Super Bowl, we were given the chance to use a powerful yet unnoticed advantage.
The high-flying Panthers were shut down on offense and once again Peyton helped put just enough points on the board to let the defense rule the day. Before the first half was over I told everyone that Von Miller, a defensive powerhouse, would be the Super Bowl MVP. The seemingly obvious choice to win (make the sale) was left wondering what had just happened.
Decades ago when the big box stores became, well, big, places like Walmart, Home Depot, and later Lowe’s would come to town and put most of the local mom and pop stores out of business. The local grocery store, hardware store and any other type of store that had to compete with the products sold in the big boxes simply could not match the prices and went out of business.
The key word to this takeover is “product.” The stores that had cash and carry items that you could walk out of the store with had nothing to offer those buyers. But we flooring dealers had one unnoticed advantage that other types of sellers do not have—and one of the best things we could have. That thing is installation.
Let’s face it, DIY buyers want to save money. Big boxes offer an excellent selection of low-end, low-priced items. Most of us small box operators sell more medium- to upper-end flooring. This is where that great word “installation” is needed. You and I know the big boxes can’t touch us on timely, quality installation. We get shipping quicker on special-order goods. We can give exact installation dates on the day they place the order. We don’t have to charge for an estimate because we gain trust before we measure. We have control of our installers from start to finish. We have a personal touch on follow-up and service. The two biggest things we have to offer are expert advice and lower prices on medium- to high-end, special-order flooring.
Big Box Education
A truly great “Trusted Sales Advisor” can’t work at a big box because they can’t make the kind of money that we small box advisors can. A long time ago when I first started to write training manuals and national trade journals, I was hired to give training sessions for a few of the big box stores. The first thing I noticed was that almost half the store’s employees from all departments were there.
Needless to say I learned how boring I could be. They couldn’t care less, but they had to be there because they might have to cover the flooring department at one time. The other problem I see with big box clerks is they don’t do their own measures and they don’t get out to observe the installation process. So how can they explain those aspects to a customer that needs that education to help them make a wise purchase?
The Pricing Myth
As explained before, big boxes sell low-end goods at great prices. So why try to compete with that? The myth that many buyers believe is that the big boxes also have good prices on installed medium- to high-end flooring. Not true. I get my buyers to give me the big box estimates they paid for, so I see my prices on installed medium- to high-end goods beat their prices anywhere from 15% to 30%.
The first time a customer gave me their Home Depot paid estimate, I was confused because the yardage was way too high and the laundry list of overpriced extras was huge. In fact I asked my buyer if I had missed a room in my measure because their yardage was so high.
We need to start being proud of being the small box that slayed the big box. But in order to do so, we have to take advantage of our unnoticed strengths when we get the opportunity. Thanks for reading.