Marketing Minute: Next year will bring more hurdles to jump for the floorcovering retailer - Nov 2021

By Paul Friederichsen

This issue of Floor Focus celebrates the Top 100 residential dealers in floorcovering this past year. Unlike many dealers, these businesses not only survived but found ways to thrive during a worldwide pandemic and mandatory lockdowns.

As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough, this year has shaped up to have its own set of hurdles heading into 2022. By being believers and ardent practitioners of marketing, top floorcovering retailers know that a strong marketing posture not only works in good times, but especially in the bad.

What should a marketing strategy look like for most flooring retailers? How do you plan 12 months out when it seems like the world changes every 12 hours? How do you account for the new hurdles in your path?

Make no mistake, those hurdles will be there. But what won’t be there is your customer if you fail to remind them consistently and often why they should buy from you. They are how you’ll make it past the hurdles.

On a macro level, “the best marketer ultimately becomes the dominant player,” says Chris Ramey of The Home Trust. “In a category that’s bought infrequently (flooring), marketing builds brand preference.” This is especially important for “regional gems,” as Daniel McGinn of Bain & Co. observes in Harvard Business Review. He adds, “They are the companies that are doing well in local markets. They are protected by having very strong ties to the consumer base and a good value proposition.”

These “regional gems” constantly encounter category killers like LL Flooring (formerly Lumber Liquidators) and Floor & Décor yet continue to perform as top flooring retailers. Forbes writer Pam Danziger, who has studied and written about the Floor & Décor phenomenon, offers sage advice: “For an independent flooring store to survive, even thrive, against the onslaught of competition, they need to have a firm understanding of what their customers value most about their store and their services. With that understanding, they can communicate those consumer-centric values through branding and marketing.”

Top retailers communicate consumer-centric values even after they make a sale. But according to industry veteran Steve Hillis, CEO of Empower Partners consultancy, most average retailers don’t. “This is a key part of marketing strategy,” he says. “It is all about building long-term relationships that keep the customer coming back. Going beyond the call of duty is critical. Setting up an appointment after the installation with the customer to check on the quality of the installation and help the customer with maintenance instructions can go a long way to accomplishing innovative follow-up.”

Another positive development we are seeing is the serious attitude toward social media taken by top dealers. Many are investing in qualified positions to devote full-time employees toward customer engagement on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. “Top clients are learning to use social media to stay connected with their customers, and they are building customers for life,” Hillis says. “Connecting with the customer on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and other social media sites will show the customer you really ‘C.A.R.E.’ (Customers Are Really Everything).”

Good communication is more than just before and after the sale with advertising or post-sales follow-through. Top retailers also communicate through the shopping experience itself, says branding expert Derrick Daye of The Blake Project. “Top retailers recognize that marketing creates the future that their customers want to be a part of and that they can uniquely offer,” says Daye. “At retail, that future begins to come to life through the experience the retailer creates.” Some floorcovering retailers have even invested in outside interior design consultants to create that unique, branded experience-it’s that important.

Online shopping has indeed been growing at a phenomenal rate, especially since the height of the pandemic lockdown. As a result, “96% of Americans now routinely utilize online shopping,” says eTail in “5 Key Challenges Facing Retailers Today.” No doubt, that’s likely to continue erosion across categories, especially with the continued growth of mammoth “ecosystems” such as Amazon and Alibaba, aggressive marketing by Wayfair and BuildDirect, and the seamless multi-channel buying experiences offered by the big box stores. “Thirty-seven percent of U.S. consumers will buy online and pick up in-store more often in the future,” reports an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “How E-Commerce Fits into Retail’s Post-Pandemic Future.” All of this adds up to the highest hurdle of all for any retailer, but one that can be overcome with consistent, targeted marketing (both traditional and digital), a carefully curated product selection, a unique online and in-store shopping experience, and customer-centric communication before, during and after the sale.

While e-commerce becomes more sophisticated and intuitive, whether through direct sales or multi-channeled delivery, the brick-and-mortar showroom is still a formidable advantage. Of course, there will always be a certain amount of “showrooming” to be expected, but, for most consumers, flooring is a considered purchase, fraught with anxiety and unknowns that no software program or automated “chat” can completely diminish. It is here that the retailer must put an exclamation mark on all that the marketing has accomplished. It is you, not Amazon, who has the category knowledge and experience. It is you, not Wayfair, who has the background and working relationship with the manufacturer. It is your designer, not some virtual robot, who can ask the right questions and create a perfect space for your client. As someone very wise reminded me, it’s not a floor until it’s installed. That is what you sell. Not a bunch of boxes of planks dropped off by UPS.

What hurdles will you overcome in 2022?

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Lumber Liquidators