Welcome to Good News & Bright Ideas, a round-up of stories that point to a general strengthening of the economy. We are always on the lookout for stories from the industry that show how companies are not only surviving during this rough climate, but also thriving. Have a story you’d like to share? E-mailChmieleckiM@bnpmedia.comfor consideration.

This month, we focus on an e-mail from Ron Gilstrap, general manager of Better Floors in Meridian, Miss. He began his career in the late '60s as an installer, before moving on to selling flooring in the early '70s. He offers several tips to retailers looking to stay in the black.

"First, cut your costs wherever possible. Use lower wattage light bulbs. Turn half your warehouse lights out. Adjust thermostats." He even advises taking out coffee machines to save energy.

"Next, listen to your customers' problems and see what's new in the industry to help them." In Meridian, many customers are looking for laminate flooring, he notes, but it requires work to find the best deals. "The deals are out there but they won't come through your door. You've got to find them," he says.

He also pushes the discount message. "We don't stock anything that costs over 99 cents. Upper end customers will usually wait. We hold training seminars for do it yourselfers. We let the customer know that we try to save them as much as possible."

Another way to attract customers is to offer guarantees, Gilstrap says. "Push guarantees and stay away from irregulars. Offer lifetime guarantees on labor and charge extra for it. We price cash and carry at 40 percent and labor at 50 percent."

He also stresses the importance of a well-trained sales staff. "If they can't produce, train them. If they won't change, replace them. There are a lot of good people looking for work right now. If there is any negative talk on the sales floor, eliminate it. You've got to get aggressive."

Finally, he says, do not overlook the importance of advertising. "Increase your advertising. We use 4 percent of gross sales primarily on tv."

The result of all these measures? "Our sales have gone up continually," Gilstrap says proudly. "The kind of guy that won't make it in these tough times is the guy that wants everything else for his lack of expertise. He'd better watch out, because someone like me will be right behind him!"