Dealing with Improper Specification and Application
By Lew Migliore
The largest single problem that exists in the floorcovering industry today is improper specification and application of flooring material due to misunderstanding of the product. Floorcovering of all kinds finds its way into locations where its failure is inevitable, and it fails miserably at the task it is expected to perform.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, AND LOTS OF THEM
These outcomes can be prevented two ways. First, as a floorcovering salesperson, you have to prevent a failure by being brutally honest with the consumer and yourself. This may sound unwise, something that could result in the loss of a sale, but it is the button you have to push. Second, you have to understand the products and where they are being installed. The correct floorcovering exists for every application; you have to know what will work where and why. If you don’t understand the product, its application and installation procedures, and the environment in which it will be used, as well as how it should be cared for, you’re doomed to failure, and if you don’t understand people, failure is certainly guaranteed.
Eagerness to make the sale, selling price only and overselling the product will lure you into one trap after another. Why would you want to do business this way? Isn’t it more difficult to continually respond to problems and challenges rather than preventing them up front? Unless you are bent on being a masochist or want to see how many people you can tick off before you go out of business, you have to change your attitude about how you sell floorcovering. There are a multitude of flooring products made to fit every home, office and business application, but you have to know the right one to use in each situation.
Ninety-eight percent of success is based on understanding people, and 2% is based on product knowledge. This is a formula I learned years ago from listening to Joe Gondolfo, touted at the time as being the world’s most successful insurance salesman. Understanding people means that you listen to them, put yourself in their frame of mind, establish a rapport with them, become their friend and empathize with them. Product knowledge, though the smaller part of the equation, is the heart of the matter. You must know the product so that you can satisfy the consumer. Think of it as a body. The 2% is the heart and the 98% is the rest of the body. Neither will survive without the other, and neither is more important than the other; they are interdependent. Unless they work together, there is no life. That’s how important this principle is to your business.
To be able to understand people, you have to listen. If you keep talking, you can’t hear what your customer is saying. That’s why you have two ears and one mouth, so you can hear twice as much as you say. Ask questions and listen to the answers, and the customer will tell you exactly what they want.
Qualifying the end user will maximize your sales efforts and prevent you from having to sell price. If every customer is a satisfied one, you won’t have to worry about selling cheap or having complaints. This will allow you to impress upon your new customer that your goal is their satisfaction, not just making the sale. This also shows your customer that you are genuinely interested in giving them the best they can get for whatever use and expectation they have.
Find out about the consumer by asking them questions about their home, themselves, their family and how they use their home. Will the floorcovering be subjected to continual concentrated, unalterable or pivotal traffic, as a family room is, or will it be in a room that receives little traffic? Will the entrance be through the garage or front door? At entry, will they be walking directly onto the new carpet or onto some other flooring surface?
How many children do they have, if any, and what type of children? Are they boys or girls, active or more reserved? Do they like to play outside or inside? Are they in and out a lot? Do they play in the dirt? Do they have lots of friends over and eat in the living room or family room?
Does the customer have pets? There is no pet proof carpet or wood flooring. Remember, a phrase like pet proof indicates that a product will protect against all negative influences of animals kept in the home. If the customer has an animal that is destructive—be it a cat, dog, ferret, pet pig or burrowing rodent—and likes to claw, it can shred the carpet. If pets are present, it is best to have a policy that will describe caring for the carpet or flooring material if there are pets in the home.
Is the customer’s home new or older? Are there stairs? Is it a summer place or a full-time residence? What type of heating is used? Will there be exposure to sun or outside elements? These questions will aid you in determining what colors to use, yarn systems to employ and what dye systems are required. Vinyl flooring and wood can also be adversely impacted by direct sunlight and heat.
How long does the customer expect to stay in this residence? Is this an investment in long-term flooring, or does the customer want new flooring for resale? This will give you an idea as to motives for purchase and the size of the investment they want to make. It will also let you know if this is a temporary or permanent investment in floorcovering.
Asking the consumer these questions isn’t prying; it’s showing your concern by offering them the best value they can get. Many floorcovering salespeople only want to sell a customer for reasons of their own. The sale has to be made for the customer’s reasons, not yours. If the floorcovering dealer has the products that the consumer wants, and the salesperson takes the time to offer them the product that best suits their needs, they will be more than appreciative. People want to know you care before they give you their money, and we have far too little caring in business today. That alone will set you apart from most businesses.
Each time you begin the process of finding the proper floorcovering for a customer, you should begin with these four questions:
1. What floorcovering is installed currently in the space?
2. What do you like most about it?
3. What do you like least about it?
4. What would you like to accomplish with your new floorcovering?
Then, work with the customer to find the product that will best meet the needs that they’ve expressed. It is also best to visit the location where the product will be installed to understand what that customer is describing. Take samples of the products you’ve pre-qualified with you. This process isn’t difficult, but I’ll bet your competition won’t be doing anything like this. Dare to be different, innovative and unique, and you’ll succeed.
Remember, everyone who walks into your store is a potential customer. People don’t go into a floorcovering store because they have nothing else to do and thought looking at floorcovering would be a good way to spend some time. People go to an art gallery to browse; they go to a floorcovering store to buy. If they are in your store, they are looking for flooring that, hopefully, you’ll have. They are there to buy, and you have to know how to make the sale happen.
THE RETAIL ATMOSPHERE AND STAFF
The role of the salesperson is often overlooked, yet they are one of the most important elements of the sales process. They are undoubtedly the key to the success of the business and its ultimate profitability. Until a sale is made, nothing else happens. So the salesperson, or sales advisor, is the front line soldier in the battle to operate a successful and profitable business. Sales should be made based on honestly, integrity, trust and an understanding of the wants, needs and desires of the consumer. If the salesperson is trained to make a sale at any cost, then the store is going to lose sales because the staff will insult customers. No one wants to be pressured into buying anything. If the consumer feels they are being pressured, you lose. If the consumer feels that you sold them a product that is failing to live up to their expectations, you lose again. If you avoid their concern or complaint, you are going to pay for the pain you inflicted upon them, and they will be merciless in their response.
It is imperative that you educate your staff in all aspects of the sales process if they are to perform to their greatest potential. Monthly meetings are a good way to distribute information to your entire staff: invite manufacturers’ reps to discuss new floorcovering products and components; invite installers to offer a presentation to help the sales staff understand the process of installing the products that they are selling; invite motivational speakers from local sources in your community; or invite an interior designer to come in and conduct a seminar on color, style, fashion and fabrics. In addition, most chambers of commerce have a professional sales organization that your sales staff should be encouraged to join. I also recommend having a library of self-help and motivational books and tapes, as well as industry educational tapes, for your staff to borrow or a list of where these resources can be found online. Involve your staff in training programs.
Most important of all is the development of their people skills. Without them, your sales staff will never live up to their fullest potential. A smile, coupled with genuine concern and a desire to help and care about their fellow man, is the most important quality a salesperson, or a human being, can possess. To some, this comes naturally; others have to be taught how and why this is so important. The golden rule still applies in all interactions with our fellow man. That is, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
* Edited excerpt from my book Floorcovering: Problems to Profits.
Copyright 2013 Floor Focus