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The Role of A Brick And Mortar Retailer In The Flooring Business

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The front door chimes the alert that a customer has just entered the store.  The eager, helpful and trained associate welcomes them with a sincere, albeit canned, greeting.

“Good Afternoon and welcome to District Floor Depot, how can I help you today?”

The customer is clutching a 12” long piece of wood flooring.  He shows it to the associate saying.

“I want to match this in a bedroom in my house.  We have it in the hallway.”

Looking at the sample piece, the associate recognizes it as prefinished solid oak with a stain color.  Looking further he examines the back noting the channels and some stamping.  With his experience and training, he quickly identifies the product as Columbia Flooring 3 ¼” wide in Sierra stain. He asks the customer:

“Do you have a picture by any chance?”

He does and hands his phone to the associate.  Looking at the picture, he notices the flooring is select grade, further refining the selection. It took all of two minutes to identify and select the product. You can’t do that online or in a big box or for that matter many other larger flooring retailers.  It takes a retailer who’s invested in the business and their people and makes that investment meaningful to the customer. We all see what is happening in retail today.  Proud mega companies that serviced customers for generations are closing their doors. Great historic names like, Sears, Macy’s, J.C. Penny’s are all closing locations.  They’re no longer profitable in the new Web based retail marketplace.  Even newer players to the game like Lowes, Home Depot, and even Walmart and Target are feeling the erosion of brick and mortar profitability.  They’ve had to cut staffing to the minimum to keep shelves stocked, pricing evident and sales rang.

We are moving in droves to the web.  Why not?  You don’t have to get dressed to go shopping anymore.  It’s not like Alexa will judge you if you’re in your pajamas.  You don’t have to deal with parking.  You can shop at work.  Our lives have gotten so much easier with online retailing.  It bares asking, though, has it gotten better? Retailers historically budgeted a large portion of their SG&A (Sales and General Administration costs) on employee training and growth in order to provide their customers with a “respectful” sales experience.  Respect for their customer’s time, loyalty, and choice.  Respect to their vendors providing them the assurance their products were presented properly.  A lot of effort was crafted to service customers.  It’s unfortunate today that this level of customer service is simply not financially viable or personally valued.

There are still a few retailers today that get it.  I like to look at REI as an example.  Either on their web site looking at camping gear or in one of their stores, you can get plenty of information and help.  Of course they are not always the lowest price on items, I myself have paid a small premium for a product because I respect their business model.  I could have taken all the information given to me by the associate and simply saved 12% and bought it on line.  This is called show-rooming and is a reality for the brick and mortar retailer.

So, what are the respectful things a flooring retailer can do in this changing competitive market to provide a respectful environment?  What provides the customer a real reason to put on clothes, or take their lunch break and venture out into the wilds of a parking lot?  Lastly, what can a brick and mortar retailer do so the customer truly wants to give them their business?

In our experience there are three:

•Market ‘True Value’- Value is not a low price. Value is what you receive at a low price.  We recently did some comparison shopping on our own.  We tried a 50%/50%/50% off promotion. 50% off product, 50% off labor, 50% padding. The sales person came to our home and informed us that we just missed the cut off for the sale.  Then, they gave us a price that was frankly a little higher then what we already received form another company we shopped.  They couldn’t leave us a quote and they might be able to take a little off if we signed right then.  Otherwise, the price would be what he quoted.  We didn’t know what the product price was or what the labor costs were.  How can we see our value?

•Instill Trust- Trust is earned.  If you are like most, you’re suspicious of salespeople.  After all, they’re motivated by commissions and rarely have your best interest in mind.  But, not the Internet.  After all I am the one hitting all the buttons, right?  Are you really?  Here’s something to consider.  Google knows what you are going to do before you do it.  How?  Metta data.  Marketers know your habits, your likes and dislikes, the time you are going to start shopping, how long you’ll take you to make your decision, and frankly what you’re most likely buy and for how much.  I ask you did you really make your own decision or were you walked right through the process ending right where they knew you would.  Then, they continually entice you to return.  Call me a conspiracy theorist, but that creeps me out a little.  Granted, I didn’t have to deal with a salesperson, but I still was swayed by their motivations.  At least I can shop in my pajamas.  A brick and mortar retailer has a ‘real’ connection with the customer and not acting in the vacuum of cyber space.

•Live Quality- A quality person is liked and appreciated by all. My father taught me that if I treated everyone and did everything with integrity, I would never have to watch my back.  That goes for retailing.  If a retailer strives for a beyond reproach attention to integrity, they will always delight the customers.  They may not have the greatest profitability, they may not always get the sale but one thing is for sure, they will never have to worry about a job they’ve completed or a customer that’s un happy with the job long term.  Too much of what’s offered in flooring retail today, both on line and in stores, is suspect.  Does it meet quality and legal standards?  Isn’t it sad that retailers are subject to intense regulations just to make sure they are providing safe products?  It only takes a few bad apples or just some basic mistakes and businesses and industries are ruined or negatively impacted and people’s homes are unsafe.  It’s the reality today.  Wall Street rewards the industry leaders who provide the greatest gross profit margins and the lowest operating costs.  The easiest and quickest way to get both is to source the lowest cost items and provide minimal levels of service in retail.  How can any retailer provide a respectful environment now?

One last reality, if things go bad, a brick and mortar location simply can’t pull a plug or shut down a URL.  They’re usually part of the community they serve.  They have real skin in the game. Just to sum it all up, with a large ticket purchase that’ll be in your home for many years, the right floor covering store needs to give you the assurance that getting dressed, braving traffic and parking lots and heading out to your local floor covering retailer will provide them a far better value than they might expect.  That’s what we believe at District Floor Depot anyway.

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