From 1985 until my unforeseen double heart valve replacement in 2010, most of my peers considered me the premier sales trainer in the industry. The replacement valves didn’t work as well as those nature had provided, and for years I neither had the desire nor energy to continue my schedule. I was a retailer for 27 years prior to my career as a trainer and installer and a rug cleaner before that. This background allowed me to connect with retailers and their staff, which contributed to my success.
Throughout this time, it was a full-time job convincing most retailers they needed training at all. Despite this, I travelled almost 50 weeks a year. I was a fixture at almost every floor covering show and retailers’ convention, and loved what I did. (Before my unexpected heart valve problem, I had ordered quantities of my books, including the best-selling sales book in the industry. I have limited quantities of my 13-week in-store sales DVD which has received plaudits from outside the industry. For groups and larger retailers, I am willing to nearly give them away. Please contact me.)
Today, in reading the trade press, things have changed. Almost every merchandising group is asking for and planning training. Industry schools abound, whereas before, only one group had a sophisticated training program and I was an integral part of their efforts.
So how do retailers choose the best people to listen to? This is a sticky question, for when I was on the road, very few retailers, salespeople—or for that matter, manufacturers—actually had a base from which to judge. So it is now. After 25 years of active training, I had a proven track record of results. I doubt many trainers can point to significant provable results. Given my health and conditions, it may be time to get on the road again.
While this training revolution is starting, all of us are well-aware of the American revolution taking place. Back when things were going well, all of us could vote with our hearts for people whose promises made us feel good, whether or not their policies were bad for the country.
Years ago, we had a saying; “What’s good for GM is good for the country!” Even more explicitly: “So goes GM, so goes the country!” The truth behind these sayings was that in order for all citizens to prosper, the economy has to be strong. The proof is right here in front of us. We all know what happened to GM making these sayings outdated.
Politicians of all stripes are calling for increased training and a revamp of our college systems to have employees ready for 21st century jobs. The training revolution is underway even in government. This is good business policy. Everyone in our industry relies on the flooring industry, as do others in their industries. In our particular case, everyone knows small businesses are the most prolific producer of jobs, so it stands to reason that policies that are good for business are good for us all.
Back when I was a retailer, things were much simpler. Carpet was 80% of the business and vinyl took up most of the other 20%. When I go through retail stores today, I have no idea what I’m looking at, other than the products are mostly beautiful and so realistic I have to touch them to find out whether they are real or not.
I trust by now that everyone knows technical training, product knowledge, and sales and service training are entirely different. Product knowledge is not sales education, although required in specific instances. Technical training adds another huge facet to the training effort, one for which distributors and manufacturers are well-suited. I read the trade press studiously attempting to learn about new technology.
Another problem, of course, is labor. With the misguided push to have everyone attend college, all trades are suffering. Those in higher education aren’t prepared to inform students of another track such as high-paying careers in plumbing, carpentry and hundreds of other trades including floor installation.
My son, Ben, a CFI installer at 20 years old, makes between $300 and $800 a day installing, and he owes $0 in student loans. The industry installation schools do an excellent job within the industry, but to reach enough people to make a difference, we should present installation programs to our schools wherever possible. This is something retailers can do themselves. As a retailer, I presented different ideas about installation; I would also send out recruits with my best installer to train them how we wanted to service our stores. For this, I would foot the salary and expenses until they had an accomplished helper on the way to becoming an installer.
Given the complexity of retail flooring and the government interference in opening and running a business today, I am only too happy I was a retailer in my timeframe. I am fortunate that the human skills of professional sales and service haven’t deviated.