Flooring Retailer Forum: An Insider's Look
Floor Trends took some time to talk to retailers about how business and results were mixed. These retailers also shared how they reach out to current and prospective customers, and how showrooms can be reflective of the type of business they strive to be known for.
“Business overall is good,” expressed Mike Blanton, president, Dalton Carpet One Floor & Home, located in Athens, Ga. “We are budgeting for a 17% increase this year, with most of the growth coming from the new construction and commercial markets. We are up 29% for the first two months over last year (which started slow), but our retail business is running 8% behind last year. All indications are that we should finish ahead of last year even in the retail sector.”
Todd Bierl, owner, Carpet One Floor & Home, with four locations based out of Iowa, tells a similar story. “Things are going very well. Last year we saw some solid growth and we are optimistic about 2016.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cathy Buchanan, owner, Independent Carpet One Floor & Home based in Westland, Mich., stated that business is slower than it was in 2015.
“I would have to say flat, and right when we were feeling optimistic with resurgence in business and foot traffic,” she said. “Traffic coming through our doors is quiet in comparison to other years, especially during this past March. I honestly feel that political TV and media of any sort have hindered business due to the concern of the candidates and the direction our country will be led.”
While she thought traffic would be slower later in the year closer to the election, she’s already seeing the effects now. “Our TV campaigns are being bumped due to the political advertising so we have had to make adjustments in cable, billboards and the possibility of radio, which is quite expensive in the Detroit area compared to smaller demographics.”
AJ Rose, co-owner of AJ Rose Carpet and Flooring, with three locations based out of Massachusetts, expressed that this year has been pretty good for business.
“In the Northeast, it has really slowed down in January and February. However, for us—because we had an epic winter last year—it hasn’t really been as bad so we’re pacing ahead of last year.”
Rose said March was very good, so he is optimistic about 2016. According to Rose, 2015 was the best year ever “so we’re kind of hoping to bring that over into this year, and I think things are pretty good retail-wise.”
Hottest New Products and Trends
“It may not be new, but USFloors’ Coretec and some of the other manufacturers’ WPC (wood-plastic composite) floors are selling by leaps and bounds,” said Buchanan. “We have the entire Coretec Collection, along with Carpet One’s exclusive Invincible H20, and we love the presentations, warranties and the confidence it provides for our staff to sell. Basically, hard surface has made a huge resurgence.
“It’s rather funny how cyclical the flooring industry is. Wood, laminate, luxury vinyl and resilient sheet seem to be selling quite a bit more than soft surface. Last week alone, I worked with five clients for area rugs (rather than pre-manufactured ones) that the client and I create together from broadloom or one of our Create A Rug programs through Tuftex and Masland.”
Rose also mentioned USFloors’ Coretec being a major part of their growth in sales. “It seems like it’s always Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)—everything is going toward more and more LVT and everyone is trying to come out with their own version. The biggest product for us the last couple years in terms of growth has been USFloors Coretec, and that has kind of propelled our growth in LVT. Just the LVT category in general is definitely the hottest category.”
Bierl agreed. “The trend toward hard surface products continues and we don’t foresee that changing. LVT leads the pack by a wide margin.”
Blanton explained that the hottest product today is still large-format tile and wood plank tile looks. “12x24s, 18x36s, as well as subway wall tiles and high-end products, glass, metals, etc., for the wall are strong. Wire-brushed wood products are coming on strong; 3”,5” and 7” engineered wood has been good and nicer looking—hand-scraped products are still our best-selling wood floors. Of course, LVP and LVT are very good now, replacing most vinyl sheet goods.”
Focus on Store Layout
“Store layout is so important,” stressed Buchanan. “You need to keep your showroom fresh and appealing—presentation is everything. Not only should your flooring consultants look professional, but your showroom should as well—even more so. Samples need to be color-categorized in the specific display/house, and floors need to be vacuumed and clean. Showcasing different product selections is key to what the consumer will invest in.”
Buchanan suggests showcasing all the types of flooring you sell in as eye-catching a way as possible while still making sure the layout makes sense. “Make your showroom enticing and comfortable to the consumer.
“Space is key to allow the sales associate and their client to maneuver through the showroom without feeling confined. Signage is another important aspect when it comes to selling your story and your message. Freshen up the paint as well and be aware of the scents and the overall aroma of the store. Invest in diffusers, if necessary—appeal to every human sense. Soft subtle music is calming so that’s something to keep in mind as well.”
Bierl stated that a store’s layout should be simple and logical for both the salesperson and the customer. “You don’t want salespeople dragging customers from one end of the store to the other comparing products. Having a logical floorplan is also helpful when training new salespeople so they can get up to speed much faster. We have certain areas of our showrooms, particularly near the front door, that we try to change up regularly so our customers don’t miss anything new or exciting.”
The same sentiments were echoed by Blanton. “Store layout is critical. Having an environment where a customer feels at home, and loves to come into, even just to look, cannot be overstated. While I don’t have a set schedule on how often we remodel, we do it as needed to keep up with trends. We are making smaller changes all the time, especially flooring.”
“You need to keep your showroom fresh and appealing—presentation is everything. Not only should your flooring consultants look professional, but your showroom should as well—even more so.”
Blanton noted that major changes can be disruptive, so usually between three to five years he redoes the showroom. Right now, they are adding 2,000 square feet of retail space, creating a new tile design center and adding cabinets (kitchen and bath) to the mix.
Rose also expressed how important store layout is, in addition to cleanliness and organization. “How your store looks is really reflective of your business. If customers come in and see a disorganized, ugly showroom, then they might think that’s exactly what their floor is going to look like if they were to buy it from you. So it’s important to keep your showroom looking great, clean, organized and fresh.
“Whether a retailer changes things up every five or 10 years, redoing your showroom—or doing something that’s a little more creative in order to keep up with the latest ways of shopping and the latest trends—is essential.”
Buchanan stated she changes her showroom every two years with new flooring. “I make sure I don’t have discontinued display floors that a customer can fall in love with but not have. My sales associates are excited and love their home-away-from-home, which is important to the overall environment of the store.”
She added, “I am never done with my showroom. I love when a customer comes into our store after many years and they remain feeling comfortable but enjoy seeing new products, new displays or just a new look, by the simple aspect of moving galleries around. I want my customers to feel they have the world at their fingertips and assured they will find what they need easily and enjoyably.”
Ways to Engage with Customers
“Our websites and social media sites are usually the first impression a customer gets of our company, so we keep everything fresh, up-to-date and consistent,” expressed Bierl. “We also work hard to make sure our salespeople are included in what we are doing online so they understand what customers are seeing.”
Rose’s company has a major presence online. “We’re engaging in all facets online. We’re doing a lot of pay-per-click, basic SEO and there’s a digital marketing company we work with. We’re also on all the major social media sites and we always try to make a few posts per week—relevant posts for flooring related topics or if we have sales going on.
With three stores, each of Rose’s locations has a slightly different feel. “We have maybe three really big sales per year, and then depending on the store, we add more sales because some of our stores are more sale-driven than others.” He noted that the stores always have different promotions going on including promoting financing options to customers, and they also have a couple of private sales every year.
Blanton said his company is on social media regularly. “We have a full-time marketing person to keep everything interesting. As far as engaging customers in the store, the retail sales associates are, by far, the most important element.” He said two associates are always on the floor at a centrally located selling desk to stand up and interact with customers after they enter the store.
He added, “We have a history wall, a TV showing photos and ideas for tile work, and another TV with pictures of beautiful interiors scrolling—but nothing can do a better job of engaging customers than a caring, sincere sales person.”
Buchanan speaks to the benefits of being a Carpet One member and the ease of connecting with customers. “The greatest aspect of Carpet One’s marketing is consistent messaging to engage the customer. Our website, TV spots, Facebook/Twitter cover page, direct mail, exterior message board signage and in-store POP displays all send the message of what’s happening at our stores, and I love that. I want to entice the senses of our customers.”
Buchanan continued, “We have promotions outside of Carpet One and I make sure our Facebook page represents that promo. Additionally our Watchfire message board catches thousands of drive-by customers, and we belong to Chamber groups and spread the news.”
When a customer comes into the store during a sale or promotion, Buchanan said there is a sense of excitement in the showroom with balloons and colorful signs. “My staff talks about what we are doing upon greeting their customers and I post on Facebook everyday about what’s happening in our store,” she added.