By Frank Hurd
The economy is getting better. Housing is starting a slow recovery, and that has been good news for flooring, in general, and for carpet, specifically. As is reported in this month’s Annual Report on carpet, the category took a slightly larger share of the flooring market in 2012. Here, two flooring retailers talk about their current carpet sales, including who is choosing carpet, why they are making this choice and what types of carpet they are choosing.
Cathy Buchanan is the operations manager of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home in Westland, Michigan. According to Buchanan, the majority of Independent’s carpet customers are in their 50s, and they are choosing to upgrade their floorcovering because their current flooring is out of style, not because it has worn out or uglied out. These buyers are looking to upgrade to a quality product, and many are attracted to the feel of the new ultra-soft carpets on the market.
Buchanan’s customers don’t come into her store seeking a specific manufacturer’s product. What they are looking for is a product that fits their needs in terms of aesthetics, quality, ease of cleaning and stain resistance. When a shopper visits Independent, Buchanan has found that it is important for her staff to determine the customer’s needs, as opposed to their wants, and to work with them to get the best product based on these needs; this process results in the highest degree of customer satisfaction.
The average purchase at Independent is larger than it was previously, which indicates that homeowners are doing more than just replacing flooring in one room. With these larger purchases, the ability to offer financing is key to closing sales for the customers at Independent. She specifically highlighted mill-financing programs as great assets to closing sales.
In an effort to maintain customer satisfaction after the purchase, Independent sends a notice to the buyer on the one year anniversary of their purchase, reminding them know it is time to have their carpet cleaned in order to maintain their warranty. With this “birthday card,” they include a coupon for a discount with a cleaning partner that their store recommends.
At Johnston Paint and Decorating in Columbia, Missouri, which has been in business for 88 years, the focus is on the company’s design and decorating business. The company employs seven degreed designers to assist their customers.
Johnston Paint and Decorating’s core customer base tends to be older; the store frequently sees customers in their 70s. However, it also serves a large number of generation Y customers, who are concerned about the environmental profile of the products they are purchasing.
Many of Johnston Paint and Decorating’s carpet buyers have purchased spec homes that came outfitted with inexpensive polyester frieze carpet; after three to seven years, when this carpet reaches a point of lifelessness, the customers comes in search of new carpet. But the company sees style clients as well, those shopping to replace old product that is wearing well but has no personality. Nylon accounts for the bulk of Johnston Paint and Decorating’s carpet sales, and the company reports that ultra-soft carpet is resonating with the consumer. Carpet orders in Columbia, like those in Westland, are usually for multiple rooms.
Melissa Murphy, who serves as design center manager of Johnston Paint and Decorating, believes that success comes when the sales associate listens to the shopper before going into the “selling mode,” especially because creating a good customer experience and relationship is so important in light of all the comparison shopping that goes on today, both online and in competing retail locations.
The challenge for retailers is to make sure that they identify the customer’s needs and marry them to the appropriate product. Regarding ease of cleaning, durability and stain resistance, customers want to have their cake and eat it too. As Murphy says, “It is just like finding that perfect pair of boots at Nordstrom...the ideal thing would be that they were made of rubber, so there wasn’t any maintenance, right? But they look and feel so much better if they are Italian leather!”
In order to prevent a claims nightmare in coming years, Murphy believes that the mills need to shoulder the responsibility to make sure the RSAs have the pros and cons of style versus durability and stain resistance embedded in their heads.
Now that demand for carpet is on the rise, RSAs need to understand the customer’s needs in order to help them find a product that will bring them long-term satisfaction and have them coming back to the retailer for their future carpet needs.
Copyright 2013 Floor Focus