Retail Sales Strategies: Supply chain challenges and the current labor market make having the right people and practices key - June 2022

By Jennifer Bardoner

There are 30 stores within 30 minutes of Oshawa Carpet One, so owner Guy Pylypiw has to make sure he and his sales team are at the top of their game. “They don’t just sell for the sake of selling,” the CCA member says. “They have to be able to give the customer the right information and have the knowledge to be able to find the right product for that customer and explain very articulately why it is the right product for them.” And these days, between social media fueling consumers’ desires and product shortages and price increases holding the door open for disappointment, that can be an increasingly difficult task, but not an impossible one with the right people and practices.

First impressions are everything, and they start well before potential customers-or prospective employees, for that matter-formally step foot on the showroom floor.

Rick Myers has helped turn his family’s carpet business into one of the country’s leading wool retailers. His client list includes Dolly Parton, the late Donna Summer and a host of movies and TV shows. “To be in business for 65 years, you’ve got to build up a reputation and client base,” he says. In addition to his stores’ focus on custom work and rugs, Myers attributes his success to his stores’ brand. “Our brand is higher-end,” he says, noting that this has not only helped him attract discerning customers, but also employees, organically creating a culture of excellence. “When they go to work for Myers Carpet, they know they’re in that high-end niche, and they like having high-end customers,” he says, describing his employees as “self-starters.”

Jason Waggoner, vice president of sales for National Floorcovering Alliance member ICC Flooring Plus, takes a traditional “first impressions” approach-one of his most recent hires was his server at a local restaurant, and he says he’s had repeat success hiring cellphone salespeople who impressed him with good customer service. “I’ve got two or three here now that are just killing it,” he says. “It’s just really a good fit. The hours are better with us, there are fewer customer complaints, and the rep is happier.”

In the last six months, Waggoner has hired eight sales associates for his growing network of Indiana-based stores. He’d tried the Indeed job posting platform but was unsuccessful. “I wasn’t getting a whole lot of traction, and the traction I was getting was not that good,” he says. So, he decided to try the platform’s sponsored-posts option, which allows employers to attain better visibility commensurate with the budget they set for the service, which charges each time someone engages with the post. Waggoner set a budget of $100 per day. “I got blanketed with resumes, and good ones,” he says. “I did that for two weeks, then cut it off. I had hundreds [of resumes]. It was unreal.” After narrowing the pool down to 20, he hired eight of them.

He lists likability as the most important quality in a salesperson, and says he aims to hire those in their mid-20s to mid-30s “to keep it fresh and young and also develop people that will have a lifelong career here,” adding that if older, veteran salespeople are job hunting, there’s usually a reason.

Pylypiw, too, has gone on a hiring spree amid the pandemic. He lost two of his three established salespeople to relocation and fear of illness, and added a new sales position to help keep up with the spike in sales his Oshawa, Ontario store has seen. Pylypiw says he looks for personality in new hires, but he has also learned to seek “complementary” experience, explaining that one of his recent hires previously worked in kitchen design, one worked in a paint store that dealt heavily with contractors, and one has a background in interior design. “I can teach flooring, processes, products and installation methods,” he says. “I need someone who is going to be a good fit for our team and has the personality to deal with our customers and has a passion for it-we’re not an order-taking store.” Based on his most recent experience, Pylypiw plans to continue prioritizing aligned skills over formal experience, having found that “when you hire somebody with flooring experience, they generally have bad habits.”

The sales process with a consumer is built on trust. Clients have to have faith in your company and the promises you make. They must believe that the salesperson understands what they’re looking for and that they are recommending the best thing for them in all regards, and they have to trust that the company will then get the job done and do it well. “There’s all sorts of sales tactics-I guess you could consider our professional selling system a sales tactic-but the best sales tactic is honesty and integrity,” Pylypiw says. “That word spreads.”

Some of that comes down to the personality of the salesperson, but product knowledge is fundamental as well. Armed with today’s technology, consumers often come in with a clear picture of what they want to purchase, making the salesperson’s job that much more granular. If a customer comes to ICC looking for LVT, for instance, Waggoner’s team educates them on the nuances of bevels, wearlayers and product thickness.

“I think consumers are overwhelmed and getting information through a variety of vehicles, so being able to be that source of knowledge and trustworthiness is critical, but difficult when there are so many choices out there,” says Nicole Harding, vice president of CCA’s training arm, CCA Global University.

The reality of “so many choices” is also impacting the hiring process, making companies’ culture and onboarding processes that much more important, she reports. “I liken it to Tinder,” she explains. “You have to swipe, and they have to swipe, too. You can’t only find the best person; they have to be equally attracted to you as a workplace. Sometimes training is thought of as nice to have, but what we’re seeing more and more is it’s a critical component. It is now a basic employee expectation that they will have continued development.”

Pylypiw sets the expectation for training from the get-go, completing all the training himself so his staff sees how important it is to him. CCA provides its members with a formal onboarding and training curriculum called “Ready, Set, Go.” The six-week process is structured but can be customized through the selection of specific modules (though the entire program is included in CCA membership), as well as by reordering or pausing the units’ delivery.

The first two weeks get the new hire “ready” by introducing them to the member company and its culture, expectations and people. The next two weeks “set” the recruit up with background knowledge and sales training, teaching them about the products on offer and how to sell them using CCA’s seven-step sales system, which guides trainees on everything from welcoming a customer to closing a sale. And finally, it’s time to “go” put their training into action in the final two weeks, which include tests and a one-week “Fast Start” group practice program on topics including building business, boosting key sales metrics and strengthening brand knowledge, headed by industry leaders.

CCA’s team of trainers spent the past two years honing the curriculum in light of the pandemic, developing virtual options and a mobile app. These efforts netted CCA Global University a Top 100 award from Training Magazine and have helped the program evolve to new styles of learning-which will long outlive the need ushered in by the pandemic-while also encompassing a variety of learning styles. “If you like to read, write, watch videos, be hands-on, there’s a part of the training that is going to capture you,” Harding says. In terms of some of the new tweaks, she notes shorter instructional videos. “People are consuming information on Instagram and Twitter, and they’re bite-sized bits of information, so we can either say, ‘We like to do these videos longer,’ or, ‘This is the way people are learning. Let’s meet them where they are.’” Still, she says incorporating a workbook is key, as “adult learners like to track their progress.” It also gives the store manager or owner a point of reference.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, finding the time to truly guide a new hire through the training and sales process can be difficult, especially these days. With three new sales members on the floor, Pylypiw opted to take advantage of CCA’s new concierge service, which provides one-on-one mentorship for the trainee to keep them on track and motivated. Waggoner says simply having a dedicated training program has freed him from having to personally focus on it day in and day out. And pointing to the incoming workforce, he notes, “They need to stay busy. If they feel like they’re not part of something and there’s this weirdness, you’re starting off on the wrong foot.”

As fate would have it, Waggoner helped develop a replicable training program for ICC just before the pandemic, which he and business partner Blake Powell now offer to other companies through their offshoot business, Floorish. The 30-day/six-week curriculum plots out each hour, covering everything from company culture to software systems to “101” introductions to each of the various flooring categories. After the new hire passes those online courses, they learn different design principles and, finally, product-specific information in conjunction with vendors.

“I think we were all guilty of bringing in a new person and counting on our manufacturer reps to do training for us,” says Waggoner, adding that can lead to bias and not a full working knowledge. He says he gets a lot of feedback on the part of his training he calls “the five steps of the sale,” even from industry veterans. It mimics different sales floor scenarios in order to coach the sales member on the kinds of questions to ask and how to ask them in order to get the information they need to service the client well.

With very little turnover on his sales teams, Myers entrusts new hires to his sales associates. He has roughly 35 salespeople between his three stores, so there’s a wide safety net supporting trainees and “everybody is very helpful,” he says. He also tries to schedule vendor product sessions for his staff as often as possible, typically weekly, working through individual showroom managers to keep the calendar updated. “Knowing what you’re selling and years of experience are very beneficial,” he says.

Stock naturally plays an important role in sales, especially these days-as in, what’s in stock is what’s selling, which makes keeping up with everything on the sales floor a moving target.

Oshawa Carpet One typically opens at 9 a.m. during the week, but on Fridays, Pylypiw pushes that back an hour to allow for team meetings. Alternating between sales “town halls” and specific training, whether through a vendor, installer or Pylypiw himself, it not only gives the staff the opportunity to learn something new, but also offers them time to go over the news of the day and share concerns, experiences and best practices. It’s become a highlight of his team’s week, Pylypiw reports. “They’re always asking for different training,” he says. “When we don’t have a vendor come in to do a product knowledge session on Friday, they tend to get a little bit upset.”

Those product sessions are key, as new hires work the sales floor while going through training. Immersing them in that way lends relevance and practicality to their training and immediately makes them feel a part of the team as they bond with and learn from their co-workers, as well, though Pylypiw, who initially joined the company as a sales associate in 2009, keeps a close eye on them. “Usually, for the first week, a new person will be a little farther back on the floor, and I make sure others are there and readily available so they don’t get trapped by themselves,” he says.

Myers also works to get his sales staff together to go over updates, though not as routinely. He uses the time to educate his sales team on what the stores are buying and have available, noting that the stores have the ability to source product from each other. “When we get notice that a price is going to change, we scan it and send it to all the salespeople,” he says. “If they’ve got a person close to ordering something, they may go out of their way to say, ‘The price is going to go up.’”

At ICC, keeping up with price and inventory changes has become a full-time job, with Waggoner adding a showroom administrator to track and keep pricing updated in real time and ensure that whatever is on the show floor is actually in stock. “It started out as an internship, but it has turned into a career,” he says, explaining that his initial hire showed a lot of interest and potential and has since moved over to design, while helping to groom the next showroom administrator. “We’re kind of using it as an avenue into the company and then moving them into the right position,” says Waggoner.

His stores’ pricing is linked to QR codes on each product display, allowing team members and customers to access the most updated information-and soon, room scenes-but Waggoner says he’s also added a step in the sales process. “I will call or text my rep to verify price and to check and make sure it’s really available,” he says.

He’s also changed the terms of his estimates, reducing their effective timeframe from 30 days down to seven, though he says, “Most of the time, if it’s within a couple percent, we will just take care of it.”

About a year ago, Waggoner hired installers as full-time estimators, freeing up his RSAs to focus solely on sales. “They see things those RSAs don’t, problems that could come up,” he notes. He outfits his estimators with RFMS’ Measure Mobile tools and protocol is that they upload the job details and send them to the RSA before pulling out of the potential customer’s driveway. “That’s what is helping us pick up speed,” he says. However, it is critical that the sales team keep in contact with the customer throughout the entire process, which can take a week or two. “If you’re not following up with that customer, they’re still looking,” says Waggoner. “When sales are good, follow-up is terrible,” making that a constant priority.

Having worked the sales side of the business on a commission-only basis, Pylypiw pays his sales associates a base salary plus commission, and new hires are no different-though he doesn’t believe money is the most important thing when it comes to keeping quality people. “People like to work at a place where they feel happy and enjoy being there,” he says, listing company culture, work/life balance and flexibility as equally, if not more, important. In addition to hosting company events like “French Fry Fridays,” golf outings and even pedicure days, he strives to create a supportive environment by keeping his salespeople accountable to their goals, which they set for themselves at the beginning of the year, and making sure every sales associate has equal opportunity on the floor.

Many of his employees have been with him since he and his wife, Michelle, took over as owners in 2014. Each year, CCA recertifies members’ sales floor employees, offering design coursework and certification for those who have successfully completed the sales training.

During training, Waggoner pays his new hires a salary plus a small percent of their sales. At 90 days, he offers them full commission with a draw based on an annual salary of $40,000 “to help take the edge off,” or the safety net of that baseline salary. He shows them the difference on paper, based on their performance thus far. Most opt for commission and end up making double the baseline salary.

“Commissions tell the story of success and volume,” says Myers. “I love to sign commission checks.”

He believes the key to retaining sales members is their personal success, and this has borne out in his business, whose project work might mean $65,000 to $100,000 of product for a single movie job. Some of his sales members have worked for Myers, now in its second-generation, for 25 years. “We have very little turnover in salespeople, in Atlanta and Nashville especially,” says Myers, whose father founded the initial location in Dalton, Georgia.

Copyright 2022 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Carpet One