Building Store Traffic: For independent retailers, there are more ways than ever to reach the consumers. Knowing what’s best is the challenge - April 2021

By Meg Scarbrough

Getting consumers to walk through the front door of a retail store isn’t like it used to be. For years, advertising to them was pretty straightforward and involved TV, radio, newspapers, mailers, etc., and it was geared toward a very specific demographic-women. But a shift has been emerging in recent years in which women of a certain age aren’t the only ones making design decisions in the home. Additionally, consumers have become more reliant on technology and digital platforms to research and buy products, especially amid a pandemic that saw record Internet use. It’s an evolution that’s forcing some retailers to adjust decades-old strategies to keep up.

The challenge moving forward is there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for retailers, and with crucial advertising dollars on the line, they must now decide how to best allocate those dollars, and to what resources, to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Choosing the right path comes down to knowing the consumer. Says Paul Friederichsen, a marketing and branding expert with the American Marketing Group, “Retailers must have a really good idea of who their best customer is, what their demographic profile is and media habits, and so forth. And you’ve got to know how to marry up the right media delivery vehicle for your message.”

Historically, retailers have targeted their approach around women. But growing data suggests that men are taking a larger role in decisions around home design. What varies between them is the motivation behind what products they choose.

Says Friederichsen, “What’s happening is that she may drive the demand for it based on aesthetics and design, but he’s still getting involved in making the decision about which flooring to buy based on things that matter to him, which is the construction, performance, durability, resell value and so forth.”

What’s also changed is that younger people are entering the market. Millennials, the oldest of whom are now 40, have gained the largest share of the real estate market and now represent 38% of homebuyers, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The organization notes that this demographic is most likely to purchase existing homes or townhomes, meaning that for flooring retailers, there’s plenty of opportunity for replacement floors. Other notable data from NAR shows that 23% of homebuyers are Generation X, 33% are Baby Boomers and 6% are Silent Generation.

As younger generations age into the market, ones who have grown up in a world of websites and big box stores, retailers will increasingly have to seek out the consumer, not wait on them to come in the door. And that will mean a higher focus on online promotional efforts.

Ultimately, connecting with the consumer means having a defined, or refined, message. Without one, the approach to advertising won’t matter. And it must be consistent.

Friederichsen says independents can start by highlighting their inherent strengths. The advantage they have over their big box competitors is that they are the experts. He says, “You are the curators of style and selection. You are the trusted counselors of installation excellence for floorcovering, and whatever you do from a messaging standpoint and so forth, you need to really capitalize on that.”

Joy Gendusa, CEO of Postcard Mania, a direct mail marketing agency based in Florida agrees, adding, “I think that the smaller retailers need to focus on service.”

And as retailers find their footing coming out of pandemic shutdowns, experts say now is a good time to leverage that service message.

Experts say any advertising strategy must include a quality website. Some retailers admit they’ve been slow to come around, perhaps driven by the notion that since most flooring isn’t sold online, they didn’t need a strong web presence. But, as Friederichsen points out, HGTV-type home improvement shows are driving clicks, and retailers should be prepared. “That’s where they’re getting ideas. That’s where they’re getting inspired. Then they’re going online to look for this thing they saw on ‘Property Brothers’ because he was doing something in a kitchen that was cool,” Friederichsen notes.

Todd Saunders, CEO of Broadlume, a floorcovering-focused digital technology provider, says 70% of flooring consumers start their buying journey online. “Your online presence is your first interaction with your consumer,” Saunders says. “And you have to take them from a great experience online to a great experience in-store, and those need to be connected. The story you’re telling online has to be the story that you’re telling in-store.”

Says Gendusa, “Everybody is going to check out your website before they come to you, and your website needs to convert visitors into usable prospects.”

And as Saunders points out, consumers are going to compare a flooring retailer website up against not other flooring retailers, but every online experience they have. They will want to see the same quality site that major retailers offer. He adds, “Online, the expectations of the consumer are as high as they’ve ever been.” And they’re only increasing.

Retailers seem to have gotten the hint in the past year as record numbers of consumers flocked online amid shutdowns, and some have reported either revamping their websites or launching complete overhauls. In many cases, the updates included new features from online consultations to improved/expanded inventories.

But a strong digital marketing strategy goes beyond a website and can include a host of options from Google Ads to social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. And here again, having balance and the right message are key. And it takes time. As Friederichsen says, some retailers do too much too fast. “You know, it’s like the old cliche: Rome wasn’t built in the day. And neither is a social media presence, frankly. It takes dedication, and it takes effort.” And being spread too thin can be almost as harmful as doing nothing; it’s better to focus on a couple of social media platforms well than cover all of them poorly.

A benefit of digital marketing is that apart from generating leads, it can provide data that can’t be gleaned from most traditional avenues, including specific demographics and consumer habits. Some retailers may find that assumptions they’ve made about the consumer over the years no longer hold true.

Says Saunders, “I think the most important thing for people to realize about digital is there’s data behind everything. There’s data on who’s coming to your website. There’s data on who’s clicking on luxury vinyl plank versus wood. There’s data on the type of person staying on your website for five minutes versus two minutes. And you can leverage that data to tailor your marketing efforts to your in-store merchandising, and there’s a lot of power in it if retailers want to harness it.” There’s also data available on social media that goes beyond “likes” and comments, as well, thanks to tools like Facebook Insights.

Ultimately, Saunders says the key to digital success is constant evolution. “I think what retailers understand is it’s not a once-every-five-years thing,” he notes. “Technology is moving very quickly, and we have to stay ahead of the curve because the box stores certainly are.”

While digital advertising is certainly a large part of the conversation, traditional forms-TV, radio, outdoor, print-still have a critical role and remain relevant in marketing strategies. Says Friederichsen, “Everybody thought radio was going to be dead when television came into being in the early ’40s. Well, radio didn’t go anywhere. And then everybody thought television was dead when the Internet started, but it’s still here.” With such a mix of media, he says, different consumption habits have been created-and opportunities.

But traditional outlets like TV, radio and print have a bad rap to overcome. Says Friederichsen, “They are thought of as being old school and bad, and that’s not necessarily true.” In fact, not only are they still relevant, Millennials are actually part of the traditional audience. According to a report by Yahoo! Finance, Generation Z and Millennials accounted for 55% of HGTV’s audience. And a 2019 report from Nielson shows that on a weekly basis radio reaches 132.4 million people ages 18 to 49.

A good approach to traditional advertising takes creativity and consistency. One flooring retailer found success on TV by targeting ads around sports and news. Why? Because more people are recording TV shows they plan to watch later, and when they finally sit down to watch, they fast-forward through the commercials. He found that by airing his ads during live games and news broadcasts, viewers wouldn’t be able to hit fast-forward button.

Now, take radio. Prior to the pandemic, Americans were spending 70 billion hours behind the wheel; that’s an average of one hour per day per driver, according to a 2019 report from AAA. And when they’re in their cars, they’re listening to the radio and passing billboards. For flooring retailers, that’s opportunity.

Friederichsen says, “You might say, ‘Well, radio really wouldn’t make any sense because flooring is a very visual medium. I need to see pictures of floors. I need to see rooms. I need to see color samples and woodgrains and that kind of thing.’ That’s true. However, radio can be paired with your digital, online presence-social media, website, Google ads and so forth. If I’m stuck in traffic, I’m listening to the radio. What’s wrong with getting a message about what you are looking for?”

Some retailers are also still investing in direct mail, as well. Floor Coverings International of New Braunfels, Texas recently launched a campaign to promote business in the surrounding community. The mailer was targeted to single-family homeowners with homes older than five years. The company reported an 812% ROI.

When combined with digital methods, traditional advertising can extend retailers’ reach. A report from MediaPost, an online resource for advertising and marketing professionals, says TV paired with digital can increase purchase intent 6%. It also improves brand recall 33%.

Friederichsen says a good promotion mix should be about 50/50, print versus digital, although it can fluctuate based on region, size of market and individual needs. For Pat Molyneaux, co-owner of Molyneaux Tile Carpet Wood in Pennsylvania, the mix is around 60% traditional and 40% digital, with most going to TV.

It can be a costly venture, but as Molyneaux says, “If you have the budget you should be in traditional and digital.” Unfortunately, there’s no magic number on how much retailers should spend, and it largely depends on each retailer’s need and what needs to be done to stay ahead of the competition. Friederichsen says one way to gauge what it will cost is based on the A to S Ratio, which means dividing marketing expenditures into total sales revenue for the year. He says, “Keep in mind, launching a store, opening a new location, or fighting off a competitor will likely require more investment.”

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Broadlume, Molyneaux, Coverings