Monetary Wisdom - Aug/Sep 2011
By Alan Saltzman
In today’s economy and retail environment, the battle for the consumer’s dollar is greater than ever. Retailers are tripping over themselves to sell anything to anyone, simply to stay ahead, and stave off “The End.”
Many have failed, leaving a landscape of empty commercial space, while some have survived, by virtue of deep pockets and low prices, to stay one step ahead of their competition—but at a cost to bottom line profits.
Today, more than ever, a sound brand strategy can help retailers differentiate themselves from the competition, while at the same time protecting and enhancing their bottom line growth, even with volume reduction.
Consider how these well known successful brands set an example for today’s flooring retailer.
Coca-Cola is arguably the most familiar brand in the world today. This did not happen by accident. And yet, even the Coca-Cola brand needs constant care, updating, and promotion to maintain its image so that it continues to evolve, survive, thrive and grow marketshare—simply by virtue of its brand.
Coca-Cola has worked with extraordinary diligence to develop, grow and enhance its brand by using images, jingles and every media available to spread its message. In addition, it keeps its ingredients secret (shrouded in mystery!) and has developed a multifaceted personality. When a consumer thinks of Coke, they remember the rosy Santa Claus, the furry polar bear, the ice-cold penguin or the group of singers who hoped to “teach the world to sing.” Coca-Cola’s success isn’t about the fizzy, refreshing drink…it’s about the emotional connection that the consumer has with the brand.
Rolls Royce is another example of a brand with a promise to be the best. It does not have the sales volume of many of its competitors, yet it is arguably the most well known brand in the automobile and engine world. The company only needs to sell a small percentage of the cars and engines purchased in the world to make enormous profits, and it has been doing so for many decades. The company has achieved this because of its brand image of quality, prestige, unsurpassed engineering and the suggestion that driving a Rolls Royce is a symbol of a successful and opulent lifestyle.
I mention these two brands because they are from each end of the sales spectrum, one being a low cost commodity and the other being a major investment, but both use a brand strategy to achieve enormous, ongoing profitability.
Some brands have even transcended their products: Tiffany, Mercedes and McDonalds to name a few. You didn’t just shop for jewelry; you bought a bracelet at Tiffany. You didn’t just purchase a car; you bought a Mercedes. You didn’t go out for a hamburger and fries; you ate at McDonald’s.
Any time a brand replaces a product—with its name or image—then that brand in and of itself becomes the product, so to speak, and has evolved to a level that triggers a unique response from the vast majority of consumers—a very envious position to be in!
The ultimate name in brands even transcend themselves and become the word used to describe any type of that product, like Kleenex. Yes, Kleenex was first a brand of tissue, not just a synonym for paper handkerchief.
These success stories were not made by a “lowest price in town” advertisement or with a rebate check. They became success stories by a commitment to a brand strategy that was relentless, as well as defined and redefined over a period of time, enabling each of them to become etched into our culture.
Yes, they might promote price, delivery, status or even a free cup of coffee; these elements can strengthen a brand, but they are just parts of a larger brand strategy.
Brands are not limited to stores or products either. Individuals can become a brand, like swimsuit models or lifestyle advisors. Just look at the success of Kathy Ireland or Martha Stewart—two personalities that are used to sell flooring today.
I truly believe that, as a flooring retailer, you can develop a brand strategy that has the potential to drive customers into your store, increase sales and, more importantly, increase profitability. A retail store can separate itself from its competition. It can compete with the big boxes without battling it out with price. A store can become a brand, and it can thrive.
How do you start building a brand in your flooring retail store? Here are some starting points.
Identify who you are to your targeted consumer.
• What are you selling (broadloom, rugs, hard surface, professional installation)?
• What needs does your consumer have, and can they find a product or service to fulfill these needs in your store?
• What is your unique promise or competitive edge (exclusive name brands, in-stock merchandise, selection, professional designers in store)?
Tell your story in various venues.
• How long have you been in business? If your business has a history, tell it!
• Share your quest to keep customers for life.
• Share your mission statement.
Convey your story with an in-store design.
• Your name should be combined with your unique logo.
• Signage around the store should include a part of your story.
• Every employee should have a personalized nametag with the store logo (even if you are the only employee).
• Keep your store neat, clean and constantly updated.
• Post real photos of your installers or sales staff to bring them to life.
• Offer a handout with everything you want your brand to convey—to every customer that walks through your door.
These suggestions are just to get you started, but you must begin with a commitment to follow through with building a brand. Building a brand does not happen overnight, and once you move away from your brand you can lose focus.
Taking small steps along the way, such as the ones I have outlined, can lead you to the next level of brand strategy. Once you’ve created your unique message, you’ve got to spend some money getting the word out, and the secret with advertising is frequency and reach. Are you reaching your target audience? Is your message effective? Is the audience seeing your message frequently enough to remember it? Each market has its own unique set of circumstances; as a retailer, you must determine what works in your market and with your customers.
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