Maryanne Adams on strategies for engaging customers: Successful Selling

Interview by Kemp Harr


One of the biggest challenges today at retail is getting enough consumers into the store, and once they are there, satisfying their wants and needs for new flooring. We discussed the ins and outs of selling with one of the most successful retailers in the industry. Maryanne Adams is CEO of Avalon Flooring, the 26th largest floorcovering retailer in the nation with 14 locations throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. After 50 years in business, Avalon has certainly honed the art of the sale.

Q: What is the best way to greet a consumer so they know you are there to help, not pressure them into buying?
 Every customer is greeted at the door by a sales associate. We start the qualifying questions by asking what room they are currently working on. This starts the conversation as the sales associate walks them toward the department.
Q: Once you make them feel comfortable, what questions are best to determine why they are shopping for flooring? 
 We ask if this is new construction, the purchase of an existing home or a renovation project. If it’s a renovation project, we then find out what product they currently have and if they were satisfied or not with it, and then start to make product recommendations.

We ask how many family members are in the household, are there children and their approximate ages, and if there are pets. Again, this helps when making a product selection.
Q: How do you qualify RSAs to determine what price point to show consumers? 
 Our sales associates can ballpark within $100 of any installed product on our sales floor on the spot. This allows a customer to know if they are in the ballpark of their budget. At that time we can make a second product selection if the first is too expensive. We call it a ballpark because things can change, but we try to get as close as possible so there’s no sticker shock.

It’s not something you pick up right away. We do ballpark training every month so they are all able to get to that price quickly. You’re training them how to sell a piece of carpet, for example, how to lay it out and figure seam placement. Then there’s padding and guidelines on adhesives. We give them an outline that our installation managers work on. This is ongoing all the time with our salespeople. 
Q: What is the consumer’s general level of knowledge about the type of flooring they are looking for? 
 Our customers are probably more educated than they have ever been. I think with sites like Houzz and various manufacturer sites, customers have a good idea of a look that they want. At that point it is our job as experts to present the correct product, such as wood versus laminate versus luxury vinyl, and review the features and benefits of each product.
Q: How do you make sure they are not overwhelmed with too many choices?
 I think it is the job of an experienced sales associate to ask the right qualifying questions and to know their product. They need to direct the customer to the right products from the start and not allow a customer to aimlessly walk around the showroom.

Q: Since flooring is a fashion item, what is the best technique an RSA can use to help them match their tastes with the right product?
 I think it goes back to finding out what the customer’s style is and the look they are trying to achieve. Then it’s our area of expertise to know the newest, hottest products to show a customer. No one wants to renovate a bathroom or kitchen and find out that they made selections for things people were doing five years ago. They want to know what’s new right now, what colors are trending. That’s when they need guidance from the sales associates. 

We have stores in Pennsylvania, and a lot of them are in traditional areas. Then we have a store in Philadelphia, and that gets a little more contemporary. Then you get down at the shore, and that is a coastal beachy look, different colors and a whole different look. Our people have to be well versed in style and trend because a lot of our customers are in their year-round houses in Pennsylvania, and they’re going into those stores and making selections for the shore house. 
Q: When consumers leave the store without having made a purchase, what are the primary reasons?
 Either they are waiting for us to come out to perform an estimate or they need to get back in touch with their builder. Also, if you have a less experienced sales associate, a customer will sense this and not feel comfortable with the guidance and selections given. That’s why we do not allow new sales associates to wait on customers for approximately three months without an experienced salesperson by their side.
Q: How do you make consumers feel confident that buying from you will give them the best value when you balance overall experience and satisfaction with price paid?
 We are the largest dealer in the area, having been in business for over 50 years, and we have an excellent reputation. However, it is the salesperson’s responsibility to discuss the features and benefits of each product selection so that the customer feels comfortable with the product they have selected.
Q: What do you do if the consumer wants a product that is probably not the right fit? 
 We try to be as honest as possible in telling a customer why it might not be the right product for them. An example might be a customer who is looking for hardwood flooring and they have three children and two large dogs. We tell them their floor is going to scratch. 

Q: What is your policy on manufacturer’s spiffs? 
 We allow manufacturer spiffs if it is a product and program we support on our floor. We don’t put an abundance out; we might have one going on at a time. Some sales associates will focus on spiffs, but you would be surprised at how many leave money on the table. They’re commission selling and they make pretty good money. I’ll bet not even half of them are claiming the money. They’d rather get onto the next sale.

Q: Do spiffs get in the way of matching the right product with the consumer’s needs? 
 I would hope that the salespeople are taking the time to match the customer with the right product. In Pennsylvania, the majority of the product is a solid wood. But you get out in the shore areas and it has to be an engineered because of moisture conditions. We’re ultimately responsible, and if they are out there helping the customer make selections based on the spiff program, and it’s the wrong selection, that’s on us. It has to be ripped out. We take ownership of that. 

Q: Do you ask questions on a routine basis that help you determine why this consumer is shopping with you?
 Yes, we try to find out if they are a repeat customer and how they heard of us. 
Q: Talk about your follow-up after the sale.
A: Our sales associates follow up with a phone call on all installed jobs to make sure our customers are pleased with their installation. And they write thank-you notes to all cash and carry customers.
Q: How do you compensate your RSAs so that you are rewarding the right type of behavior?
 We have two compensation plans: Plan A is full commission selling, and Plan B is an hourly rate and an override on sales volume. Plan B allows us to hire sales associates who are not quite comfortable with selling on full commission to ease their way into the program. Once they get comfortable with the product and they realize they can make more money on commission, they switch from Plan B to Plan A.

Q: How do you train your salespeople on techniques like overcoming the objection and how to close? 
 We spend a lot of time and money to train our sales associates. Not only on product training, but also on sales techniques. This is handled by our product managers and our VP of sales.
Q: What are some key questions that should be asked that often aren’t? 
 When are you looking to start this project? Who is paying for the project i.e., the contractor or builder or the end user?

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 

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