25 retail tips from top executives

One of Scott Humphrey’s favorite books is “It’s Your Ship” by Michael Abrashoff, a former Navy Captain. Abrashoff, according to Humphrey, CEO of the World Floor Covering Association, wasn’t successful simply because he liked change; rather, he changed for a purpose. “He had a vision for what he wanted to accomplish, and he was very specific in that,” he stated.

Humphrey contrasts that with a lot of leaders he has come across in his own life who simply change for the sake of changing. “They’ll go into a new organization and think that in order to be necessary, they need to change things up—even if what was there before was working,” he explained. “Abrashoff was very specific; he wanted to be the best ship in the Navy, and he wanted to have the best reenlistment rate in the Navy.” The conclusion that Humphrey came to is it’s important to have a vision for your business, but the vision has to be specific.

In this special feature, dozens of industry leaders spanning retail, distribution and manufacturing share their insights and anecdotes to help retailers plot a path forward as the industry navigates through these challenging times.


 

1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

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Today’s up-and-coming consumers shop differently than before. They rely on the internet and other interactive experiences to guide their selection. Make sure your website offers a positive experience. During the pandemic this is even more important as the move to interactive experiences has sped up. There’s a lot of touch and visual to our product, and it’s happening faster than ever.

– Russell Grizzle, president and CEO, Mannington Mills
2. CHOOSE PARTNERS WISELY

Work with a partner who can help you gain a competitive advantage in your local market. Take the time to thoroughly and deeply evaluate which tools and resources elevate your business and which manufacturing partner puts you and your goals first.

– Tim Baucom, president and CEO, Shaw Industries
3. CLOSELY MANAGE YOUR PRODUCT ASSORTMENT

As a retailer, I would focus on domestic suppliers and/or buy from fewer suppliers so you are more important to those vendors you support. Personally, I think the worst will be behind us with respect to supply issues come the first quarter of 2022. I’m seeing things loosen up a bit with more domestic production of LVP and laminate coming on board from Mohawk, Happy Feet and several other suppliers.

– Olga Robertson, president, FCA Network
4. ESTABLISH CORE BUSINESS PRACTICES

It’s no secret that flooring retailers are incredibly busy dealing with unprecedented consumer demand. This overwhelmingly busy period can make it difficult to keep up with core business practices that don’t have to do with selling and installing floors. But now is the best time to invest a little extra in making sure you are strengthening core business practices. By staying on top of your P&L and making sure things are flowing properly, you build skills that will serve you well when the inevitable slowdown occurs. It’s critical to stay on top of aging receivables in particular. We don’t know what the slowdown will look like but if it’s a “full-stop” situation, retailers with big receivables balances could be in a tough spot.

– John Gilbert, president, Carpet One Floor & Home
5. EMBRACE ECOMMERCE

Really focus on your online experience. With people being at home [during the pandemic] the flooring industry is probably five years ahead on e-commerce because of COVID-19 than they would have been had the pandemic not happened. So, I would suggest focusing on your website presence; determine what your capabilities are for ordering online and picking up products in-store because that part of e-commerce has vastly accelerated.

– Jeff Meadows, president, Mohawk Residential
6. COLLABORATE WITH SUPPLIERS THAT ARE FOCUSED ON SERVICE

By collaborating with consumer-centric manufacturers, you can take steps to streamline the journey your consumers embark on when making a flooring decision. From an engaging web presence to clean and simple displays in store, the more cohesive and polished the presentation, the more confidence the consumer has in you as well as in her ability to make the best decision for her home.

– Tim Baucom, Shaw Industries
7. FOCUS ON THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF THE PURCHASE

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Buying decisions are made based on more than just price. The customer wants a beautiful space in which to live or work. Do all you can to help her find her aesthetic preference first. Human behavior shows that we buy emotionally and then we justify those purchases rationally. Aesthetics are still far and away the biggest driver in purchases, followed by function. Price is down the line.

– Russell Grizzle, Mannington
 8. LISTEN MORE CAREFULLY

Listen more and talk less. Most successful salespeople let the customer do all the talking so they can fully understand her needs. Ask pointed questions that don’t simply solicit a yes or no response. For example, ‘What do you like about your existing floor and what don’t you like about it?’ You’ll get a real sense of what they want and don’t want and then guide them to the right product for their project.

– Olga Robertson, FCA Network
9. DEVISE A SUCCESSION PLAN

Think about the future. 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and there are far more sellers than buyers in the flooring industry. If you are the owner of the store and the No. 1 salesperson in your company, you’ve got a problem. Train others to do what you do. Start working on a succession plan long before you need one.

– Keith Spano, president, Flooring America
10. MAKE ADJUSTMENTS TO BETTER NAVIGATE THE SUPPLY CHAIN CONUNDRUM

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There are ordinary issues we’ve all dealt with over the years with regards to this aspect, that everyone simply makes minor adjustments and then moves forward. Then there is what has occurred with COVID-19. The impact has been historic in that it has literally impacted every category within flooring in some aspect of strained availability. Quite frankly, since there is little that has been able to be done, the best advice during this current dynamic would be this: Do as we all have done over the past year by continuing to adjust your expectations to adapt. The good news is that improvement is just around the corner, with industry-wide improvement on the horizon starting in 2022.

– Jeff Striegel, president, Elias Wilf
11. MIND YOUR MARGINS

We all know that “sales hide sins.” Being vigilant about keeping margins up is critical as expenses are rising in every facet of the business. Are you discounting? Don’t. Are you adding an overhead factor into your point-of-sale system to account for the litany of freight and fuel surcharges? Are you maximizing your labor margins?

– Keith Spano, Flooring America
12. WORK MORE CLOSELY WITH PARTNERS

The single best path for flooring retailers to better position themselves as a true specialty retailer is to first align with those distributors and manufacturers that offer differentiation, styling and specific focus to the independent retail community. Next, limit the number of lines featured to be able to develop the highest level of expertise within those lines to effectively convey the confidence and knowledge that consumers won’t typically find in the big box stores. This allows distributors to better develop programs and merchandising alongside those partnered retailers.

– Jeff Striegel, Elias Wilf
13. ENGAGE IN YOUR COMMUNITY

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As a local business leader, involvement in community events will increase visibility among your potential customer base and foster goodwill. An added benefit: It’s not just good for business—you will feel good by doing good. Despite the challenging times and severe time constraints, it’s every bit as important today to be involved in our communities.

– Russell Grizzle, Mannington
14. CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS

In this hybrid/remote work environment, technology can make us more efficient and more flexible, and it can often save money. However, a personal relationship can transform a business. Relationships are one of our most valuable assets, so it’s important to invest time in cultivating them. Consumers who feel valued will not only be return consumers but will tell others about their experiences at your retail location. By cultivating relationships with consumers and your own people, you will inevitably drive your business forward.

– Tim Baucom, Shaw Industries
15. BE ADAPTABLE AND AGILE

Continued success hinges on those two critical factors. The complexity and ever-evolving nature of the flooring industry pushes retailers to anticipate market changes as they make decisions based on what the economy has in store for the future—growing while possible and preparing for economic changes when necessary. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of maintaining business continuity through adaptability and agility.

– Tim Baucom, Shaw Industries
16. EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE WILL SET YOU APART

Before, during and after the sale—from online presence to professional sales staff and installers to follow up calls—service is what will set you apart. Especially during the disruption of installation, be on time and do it fast to make it as easy as possible for the customer. Professional installation can make a huge difference.

– Russell Grizzle, Mannington
17. CHOOSE THE RIGHT VENDOR PARTNER

First and foremost, ask questions like: ‘How long have they been in wood flooring and do they manufacture the product directly?’ Anyone can slap a long warranty on a product but has the business been around long enough to really stand behind the product? ‘Do they control the raw materials and components from start to finish or are they simply an assembly plant?’ Wood is a finicky product if not treated correctly in the manufacturing process.

– Dan Natkin, managing director, Boen Hardwood
18. BUILD CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS

In these times of challenging supply chains, develop go-to relationships with partners for each product category that can respond. Having deep relationships with local representation and their leadership will be helpful to address last-minute projects or unforeseen challenges.

– Michel Vermette, president and CEO, Armstrong Flooring
19. SUPPORT THE RIGHT BRANDS

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Build a competitive advantage by leveraging the solid foundation provided by promoting a well-known flooring brand. A trusted brand has shaped consumer equity over decades and, therefore, provides instant recognition and credibility with your prospects. A strong national flooring brand brings in consumers, simplifies the selection process and provides added comfort and security during cluttered purchase journeys. Furthermore, a trustworthy brand generates ongoing referrals.

– Michel Vermette, Armstrong Flooring
20. WATCH OUT FOR BURNOUT

2021 was arguably the most frantically paced year in recent memory with sales and traffic numbers breaking records and consumers becoming more demanding than ever. Operating at near redline level for long periods can wear on you as a retail owner and your staff’s mental and emotional status as well. Have regular check-ins with your team and be alert for signs of burnout. As an owner, force yourself to step away, recharge and refocus on what’s important. As a manager, set up one-on-one time with your staff. Be creative in your approach to keeping staff engaged.

– Keith Spano, Flooring America
21. OFFER VARIETY

Based on her needs, there will be a variety of appropriate product solutions in residential hard surface. Style, performance and price will all factor into the decision, so make sure to let her know she has choices. The more we can help the consumer understand the different options the better off we will be.

– Russell Grizzle, Mannington
22. FOCUS ON STAFF RETENTION

retail tips

You’ve heard the adage, “You have to give in order to get.” You need to “give an ear” to your staff. Listen, I mean really listen. Be empathetic. Everyone wants to feel like they are being heard. People want to know that you care. That will go a long way to ensuring loyalty.

– Olga Robertson, FCA Network
23. COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY, EDUCATE

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In an ever-evolving and highly technical industry, it is critical for retailers to thoroughly understand and properly communicate product offerings to the consumer. With innovation comes the need for education, and a commitment to education on both a manufacturer level and a retailer level is key for continued success and positioning retailers as trusted, valuable and honest partners. Look to your manufacturing partners to provide transparent and thorough product information that addresses key consumer motivators to help close the sale.

– Tim Baucom, Shaw Industries
24. HOW BEST TO POSITION WOOD AGAINST LOOK-A-LIKES

The better question is, How do you differentiate the sea of wood look-a-likes from one another? The low end of wood flooring gave way to LVT and laminate a few years ago, so the remaining wood-focused consumers will focus on color, character, quality and the fact that it’s the only product proven to last for generations.

– Dan Natkin, Boen Hardwood
25. RECRUIT SMARTER

Now is a great time to be in the “always recruiting” mode. Labor is certainly tight, but the only way to really deal with the market is to have your eyes out for new talent. Hand out your business card to anybody who catches your eye in your daily life. It could be a server at your local restaurant or somebody stocking shelves at the grocery store. Nobody is ever offended if you show an interest in their work. Handing them your card creates the avenue for a possible employee to reach out to you. Your business card can work a whole lot harder for you when you take it out of your desk drawer and hand it out. Make it a goal to hand out 50 a week to potential employees; you’ll be astonished by the results.

– John Gilbert, Carpet One Floor & Home

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