Best Practices - March 2013
By Sonya Jennings
Competing for floorcovering consumers in hard hit Florida has not proven easy over the past five years, but Bob’s Carpet Mart (BCM) has developed several ways to stay afloat under difficult circumstances. Launching a targeted core product group called the Ultimate Home Collection and going head to head with big box competitors by developing a creative ad campaign have kept customers coming through the door. We spoke with Ed Keller, general manager, about the details of how BCM is thriving in Florida.
When asked what keeps him up at night, Keller says that he worries about the housing market in Florida. He explains that Bob’s Carpet Mart’s sales increase when houses turn over in the market. Floors are replaced on both sides of a home sale, so the more homes that are sold in his market, the better the sales number for BCM. Home sellers may replace a floor in order to sell the home, and buyers are likely to replace floors after a home purchase for the purpose of updating or replacing damaged floors. He notes that the housing market is getting better, and he hopes to see that trend continue to increase over time. BCM hopes to add three or four additional stores within the next ten years.
Because Florida was hit so hard by the housing crash, Bob’s Carpet Mart encountered serious competition from the discount big box warehouse chains. The company met this challenge head on with the launch of the “Dare to Compare” advertising campaign. While the big box stores were offering “free installation” or “$30 installation,” Bob’s Carpet Mart asked consumers to “Dare to Compare” the final price of the project installed. This advertising campaign was very successful at keeping the store in the ring when customers were shopping around and comparing prices and products. BCM management had also considered offering free installation to compete against the big boxes, but inflating product prices to cover installation was just not an attractive strategy. Offering a competitive price with the added advantage of buying from a full service retailer was the message BCM chose to run. Over and over, the message has hit home—“compare our installed price to their installed price and enjoy the level of attention and quality that comes with buying from a full service retailer.” The “Dare to Compare” logo is seen in every form of store advertising, and it’s comprised of an orange apron featuring the Bob’s Carpet Mart logo and the words “dare to compare” written in a familiar font.
Comprehensive sales training helps to set BCM apart from its big box competitors. Keller notes, “We strive to do what we do better than anyone else, and training and education are a big part of that.” The store holds monthly sales manager meetings introducing new products and discussing sales techniques. These meetings give store managers tools to train and grow their salespeople. On a quarterly basis, all sales staff members meet for in-depth sales and product training.
Another strategy used to combat the difficult economic climate in Florida is focusing on fewer products to reduce inventory expenses. The company chose to highlight a core group of products and promote those products with highly competitive pricing and a “guaranteed in stock” designation. This grouping of products is called the Ultimate Home Collection and it accounts for 50% of sales. BCM offers Ultimate Home Collection choices in many product categories such as tile, laminate, carpet, etc.
Within the collection, the store may feature three or four color choices and offer special discounts on those colors as opposed to offering discounts on every available color. The products are kept in stock at all times and have private labeling to prevent price shopping. These are price sensitive products at varying levels. For instance, an entry level Stainmaster carpet installed with a pad for $1.99 per square foot, an ultra light for $2.99, and a heavier product for $3.49. The sales staff is comfortable and very knowledgeable about this collection of products, making them easier to sell.
For the consumer, the Ultimate Home Collection offers better pricing on popular products, and for the store, it provides more of a guarantee that these in stock items will be sold and won’t be sitting on warehouse shelves. In company advertising, the message is, “buy today, and enjoy your new floor tomorrow, as all Ultimate Home Collection products are in stock and can be installed the next day.” In the ads, the names of the products are used because they are all private label names and cannot be shopped. Bob’s Carpet Mart sales staff gravitates to these products because margins and commissions are generally better.
Bob’s Carpet Mart offers carpet, hardwood, laminate, ceramic, LVT, cork, bamboo and window treatments. The company is a Stainmaster Flooring Center, Armstrong Elite Dealer and NFA member, and it carries Shaw’s HGTV products as well as other products from Shaw and Mohawk. The breakdown of sales used to be a 60/40 split with approximately 60% of sales consisting of hard surface products and 40% carpet. Recently however, Keller sees a trend of consumers moving back toward carpet, and the current breakdown of sales is more like 50% carpet and 50% hard surfaces. In the West Coast Florida market, the affordability and softness of the new carpet products are allowing carpet to regain some marketshare.
Another current trend is the popularity of LVT products. According to Keller, visuals are becoming more realistic, and the click system is a popular method of installation. Customers like the low maintenance aspect of the product, especially in wet areas. In addition, the numerous choices and species of wood patterns are helping to drive the product, and the costs are coming down.
Driving store traffic can be difficult at times, so BCM began a “Shop at Home” program about five years ago. This service is designed to offer a convenient shopping experience for those who do not have time to come into the store. Advertising methods like eblast and website promotions highlight the Shop at Home service, prompting customers to call. During the call, a store salesperson asks specific targeted questions over the phone about product type and other competitor bids. Samples are taken to the customer’s home and measurements are taken. This program has been successful for the company, and it is expected to continue to grow.
BCM draws consumers in using nearly every form of advertising, including television, radio, direct mail, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, eblasts, and a company website. Television commercials are produced through a local agency or by a television station. BCM uses “sense of urgency” advertising always related to a particular sale or theme. For instance, the store recently promoted a “44th anniversary sale.” A high profile radio personality highlights store events or sales on a popular country radio station. In addition, direct mail and social media are used to promote the same sale or event that is featured in television and radio ads. BCM spends 6% to 7% of sales on advertising to gain a strong media presence on the West Coast of Florida.
Bob’s Carpet Mart was founded 44 years ago in St. Petersburg, Florida by Bob Butler. He is now retired, but three of his children are active in the business. The company began as a warehouse operation serving the retail market and specializing in carpet and vinyl. Today the company targets the middle price point consumer, and sales are 95% residential and 5% mainstreet commercial.
Copyright 2013 Floor Focus