Marketing Minute: Embracing change is key for retailers - Aug/Sept 2020

By Paul Friederichsen

Some floorcovering dealers have not only adapted to the pandemic, but they are actually thriving. Recently, I heard about a dealer who was doing some very smart, creative adjustments to promote his brand and business during these, well, less-than-ideal circumstances. So rather than just talk the talk, let’s see how they really walk the walk in L.A. County.

When COVID-19 and the shutdown order hit in early March, Jason Fromm, president of Carpet Spectrum in Lomita and Hermosa Beach, California, took control of the situation. His first decision: Close it down. His second decision: Get to work. We marketing types have been preaching the wisdom of taking advantage of the downtime to regroup and respond to the crisis. Fromm did just that. And his story is pure textbook.

“This closure ultimately lasted for eight weeks, and we stepped back to take another look at how our clients would view, contact and interact with our company during this time, while keeping our associates’ health and safety in mind,” Fromm says. This caring, external and internal perspective (or empathy) would be the basis for many of the store’s operational and marketing decisions that follow.

Empathy provides a pathway to success: The more empathy, the more validation of the customer. The more validation, the better the relationship between brand and customer. The better the relationship, the more commercial success of the brand through loyalty, advocacy and, ultimately, growth.

Experts have recognized this pandemic as the ultimate marketplace disruptor. As a recent article in Branding Strategy Insider observes, “It is the occurrence of a dramatic and deep-seated disruption that knocks the marketplace out of its grooves, thus necessitating a new model for business success.”

This is exactly where storeowners like Fromm and thousands of others have found themselves-looking for a new groove, forced by “accelerated change” but also presenting them with “accelerated opportunity.”

“We reviewed our digital presence and enhanced our website.” These were Fromm’s steps 1 and 2 following his assessment of the circumstances-and they were exactly in the right priority. The pandemic has accelerated everyone’s use and reliance on digital media. The technology to have virtual meetings and to purchase goods and services online has been discovered and accepted even by those most resistant to change. Retailers have taken note of that shift in attitude and behavior, and as Accenture points out in a recent report, “160 percent is the expected future increase in e-commerce purchases from new or low-frequency users.”

The challenge of marketing is to facilitate sales opportunities, even when normal channels are stifled. Like a cardiac surgeon, Carpet Spectrum promptly bypassed the blockages in its normal sales arteries to promote a new sales flow.

Consider their remedies:
• Increasing shop-at-home offerings
• Promoting safe hygiene through sanitization and the use of PPE
• Offering drive-up, contactless sample service
• Instituting home sample delivery
• Promoting an appointment-only shopping experience

In short, the dealer developed a concierge-style service approach that not only adapted to the interruption of retail shopping as usual, but also burnished the brand image and reputation of Carpet Spectrum in the bargain.

Like most dealers, Fromm cut his print and digital advertising schedule back dramatically at first but has slowly increased it to control the limited availability of visits to his store.

As Fromm observes, the silver lining to all of this has been the honing of a competitive edge. “We have been able to continue providing service to clients that other companies have not,” he says. “Clients have appreciated the extended service offerings, and it has resulted in increased closing ratios.” Note his use of the word “clients,” instead of “customers.” This one word reflects a real professional care and respect, not only for his clients, but also for the store associates themselves. Unless brands are genuine and authentic in how they relate to others, they’ll be more likely to receive poor online reviews. (For the record, Carpet Spectrum enjoys an impressive 4.9 Google rating.)

“We believe that COVID has created a new standard that will be with us for a long time to come,” Fromm says. Indeed, for many retailers like Carpet Spectrum, there has been an embrace of the new reality. The pandemic has made brick-and-mortar far more reliant on technology and remote shopping than anyone could have ever imagined just a few months ago. These changes are becoming increasingly baked in for those seeking to stay on top. “We will continue to offer services that enable clients to view our company as a preferred provider,” Fromm predicts.

The experts have echoed this forecast, as well. Jason Goldberg, a fourth-generation retailer with decades of marketing and strategy experience, writes in his Forbes article, “The Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. Brands and Retailers,” about three fundamental changes:
• Consumers will have adopted short-term behaviors during the pandemic that in many cases will become permanent.
• Consumers will emerge from the pandemic in a new economic reality, changing commerce behaviors in profound ways.
• A significant consolidation of retailers will fundamentally alter the competitive and partner landscape.

But if COVID-19 has been the impetus for change, it was already happening to retail by the steady drift toward e-commerce and online shopping. And in a category already beset with an installer crisis that puts many installations eight weeks out, being a floorcovering retailer today requires grit, determination and creativity. Or, as Jason Fromm advises other dealers, a willingness to “embrace the challenges.”

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus