Tile Files - November 2010

By Ryan Fasan

Selling ceramic tile has always been a challenging career. Every client has different needs, desires and levels of familiarity with the product. It is up to the retail ceramic consultant to efficiently coax out those details while guiding each consumer to a range of products that are the best choices for the job. Since 2008’s economic meltdown, the rules of the game have been steadily changing as consumer values shift. Success has become harder for many retailers as they struggle to adapt to tighter budgets and a changing client profile.

For some, the answer is slashing prices in an effort to be the lowest cost option. It’s a less than optimal strategy, since there can be only one “lowest price,” and buyers use this claim to force constant competition among suppliers. Choosing this path can also irreparably damage reputations, making it extremely difficult to regain past prestige. Other retailers are using the challenge of changing consumer behavior and the poor economy to affect positive change without harming their margins or reputation, utilizing something not abundantly available during boom years—time. 

At the risk of sounding cliché, the difficult market we find ourselves in can be looked at two ways: glass half empty or glass half full. Positivity keeps a business dynamic, allowing for management and staff to actively search out and capitalize on new markets while improving methods for existing ones. It can be a frightening proposition to spend money investing in a business during a depressed market; however, with patience and a determined team, there is opportunity to emerge from this storm in a stronger position.

It is up to management to instigate and foster a feeling of optimism. Including the staff in decision making and new initiatives helps to keep everyone focused on the same goal as a cohesive unit. One effective place to start is a meeting with the personnel to streamline, edit and organize all in-stock products. Each retailer should have a clearly defined target demographic; each item in the stocking program should relate to that hypothetical consumer in a specific way. In detail describe the age, style and tastes, household income, price sensitivity, color and size preferences that are most common to your dream clientele. Utilize a pyramid approach to help edit your inventory selection.  

Strategically Planning Your Inventory
The most important step in this process is to physically lay out all currently stocked tiles. Separate each line into the appropriate price category. If a program doesn’t fit within your profile, why display it? With the lines identified that make the cut, it is time for your team to edit, edit, edit. 

Start by examining all core tile lines. Discuss how each collection fulfills a technical or aesthetic purpose. This will help to eliminate any superfluous lines that only serve to confuse the consumer with redundant options. If you carry four lines that have the same basic shape, size, delivery times, technical features and price, you should pare down to one. As an added bonus, the exercise provides a clear understanding of the features and benefits of each tile program. 

Beginning with the core inventory group is important in the process because the commodity tile below and specialty tile above should be selected in complementary styles to allow for effective up-selling. 

Once the core program has been established, the broad, basic commodity tile priced below the bottom threshold price can be chosen. Select programs that have a basic similarity to your higher priced programs but are much more limited in color, size, texture and available specialty pieces or trims. Commodity tile should be just that—no frills selections that are stocked in larger quantities for the customer seeking value. When clients want larger size formats or a variety of trims and mosaics, a similar aesthetic between value and core product lines provides your sales team with the perfect segue and justification to introduce customers to a superior product line. 

Next, top end specialty programs can be considered. This is the eye candy to draw customers into the showroom and also creates another level of up-selling possibility. Styles should, once again, relate to all of your other inventory selection, and you should not be afraid to go over the top on at least one striking innovation. Utilizing the entire staff in this process will help to separate the ore from the dross, ensuring that the most effective lines are represented within the core program and synergistic selections are made for the top and bottom of the pyramid.

Focusing the Sales Team
When employees are included in the decisions, understanding and enthusiasm is fostered throughout the organization, making it easy for each staff member to decide where they should focus their sales efforts and energy. Today, those efforts require more patience and tenacity than in better times; sales is a numbers game, and persistence is the greatest key to success. It is especially important for associates to realize that consistent contact is an essential component in the equation of successful sales. 

Why is it so important for management to acknowledge this? Prior to 2008, a retail salesperson may have made ten calls to achieve a successful sale, but now that number may be closer to 30. 

It’s vitally important that staff members don’t become discouraged and are praised for their successes, because there are some startling truths and statistics about consistent contact: 48% of salespeople call a client once and then quit; 25% call a second time before giving up; 10% keep calling. Eighty percent of sales occur after the 5th contact. This means that 80% of sales come from the 10% of the salespeople who are persistent. The more encouraged staff are, the less they worry about the inevitable number of rejections on the path to success, and that makes creative incentive programs and motivational team meetings essential for bolstering morale and inspiring staff to make the “one last call” that makes the difference. 

A costly maneuver your sales team can use too readily, in order to close a deal, is discounting. Discounts are easily forgotten and usually add little perceived value for the customer at the end of the day. Instead of discounts, offer creative services or gifts that actually add value to the client and go much further toward fostering repeat customers. Some of the most effective solutions retailers have instituted are ancillary product add-ons, gift certificates from a partnering company, complimentary maid service, or company branded gifts. If a discount must be offered, it should be extended as a thank-you in exchange for referrals, survey participation, before and after images of the project, or testimonials of the client experience that retailers can use on their blog or website. When there is a value placed on the discount, it becomes a more meaningful experience for the client, and the company, in turn, receives some form of compensation for the loss of margin.

This value-cost equation has become central to the new consumer’s decision making process. Priorities have moved away from opulent status symbols towards quality product that allows for personal expression. While it is true that purse strings may be tighter today, there is one place where consumers are willing to spend money—their homes. As “stay-cations” take the place of all inclusive trips and movie nights take place more frequently in homes than in theaters, consumers are enjoying more time in their personal havens and view these expenditures as one of the most secure investment and savings vehicles available.

Understanding the shifts in consumer preferences will help salespeople appeal to this changed consumer, but it’s also important for sales consultants to present themselves as design concierges, experts who will help the retail client maximize their investment, building value at every step of the process. So that when the time comes to ask for the sale, the client’s mind has long been made up. Often this is not the case, and clients are allowed to wander showrooms by themselves looking at a dizzying array of choices before a salesperson eventually walks up and says, “May I help you?”—only to be fended off with the dreaded, “No, I’m just looking.” 

This approach didn’t work effectively before, and it certainly won’t work for today’s consumer. Instead, every client should be engaged in a quick interview that defines the scope of the job, including the use of the space, the level of traffic, the cleaning regiment and the client’s prioritized wish list. This simple step has many benefits for both parties. It allows the salesperson to determine who other than the buyer will use the space and how they will use it; the technical requirements of the tile and glaze; the desired style; and the priority of the client’s wish list. For the customer, it builds value immediately since they have been given an opportunity to tell their story and immediately feel they are in the hands of an expert who is ready to help them make this investment and answer all their concerns and questions. 

Key Questions for Clients
During the entire selection and sales process, there are five important questions that every perspective client will ask themselves before they commit to a purchase. Why should I buy your product? Why should I buy it from you? Why should I buy it from your company? Why should I buy it at your price? Why should I buy it now?

Sales associates must keep these in mind, letting their client lead the discussion and guiding them to answer each one fully. There is also another undeniable truth before any sale can be closed: everything is too expensive until the client wants it. The sale will only take place when the value for return equation and the emotional fulfillment is achieved in the client’s mind.

Once the ceramic specialist has gained the client’s trust, offering order add-ons should be viewed as a way to build additional value for today’s consumer. A full list of ancillary products like setting materials, sealers, heating mats and grouts can be handed to the client on a simple checklist to be considered by the client as the order is being written up. Asking the customer to review the items to make certain they have everything they need for the project is a great way to bring up complementary products available and ensures the client is aware of the full range of services and products that are offered.  

The purchase of ceramics should be a positive experience for everyone who walks into a showroom. Ceramic tile is one of the oldest building materials; furthermore, the durability, low replacement frequency, ease of maintenance and the ability to create uniquely personal custom installations has immense value to the consumer. A positive attitude keeps sales staff engaged with the company and product but, more importantly, is palpable to the client. People will often forget what was said to them, but they never forget how they were made to feel. If the showroom and sales staff create a positive experience, especially in this economic climate, half the battle is won. 

Take an example from ceramic itself, a product that is harder than a lot of stone. Life is like a grindstone—whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you’re made of. Attitude is everything. 

Copyright 2010 Floor Focus 



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