Selling residential carpet requires a new approach: Flooring Forensics - July 2017

By Lew Migliore

Contrary to what some may think, carpet is not on its way out. In fact, with the proliferation of hard surface flooring options in the market, the category now finds itself with a unique selling proposition, and specialty flooring retailers who understand this have an opportunity to find success with and make money in the residential carpet business. 

The residential carpet market continues to be divided primarily into two segments. The bulk of volume is on the low-end-with products suited for the multifamily housing and builder markets-primarily solution-dyed polyester. On the other end of the spectrum is high-end carpet. This product has evolved into a luxurious product, rich in pattern and texture, that adds a unique quality to a space. There is very little happening in mid-range carpet, which, like commodity carpet, is primarily sold by the home centers.

Fundamental to having success with carpet for specialty flooring retailers is the understanding that selling and marketing are two distinctly different things. Selling is providing goods or services for money-this is what the home centers do. Marketing is paying attention to customer needs and satisfying them. In college, I was told that marketing is “finding a need and filling it.” We see this with unique businesses all the time; Starbucks is a good example, as is FedEx.

There was a time when carpet was used throughout the home, but those days are behind us. Today, consumers purchase carpet for special areas in which they are seeking comfort and a unique look. And that’s where your marketing skills can be a differentiator. Not only does selling broadloom require a trained salesperson with decorating and design experience, but it also requires a trained installer who knows how to work with the product. 

Employing true marketing will set you apart from the home centers. Home centers do not employ professionals on the sales or installation end. Neither do they focus on marketing. Their business model is mass sales and mass merchandising. 

Consider, on the other hand, how the best retailers build customization around the consumer, allowing them to personalize their products or experiences. When the guy in front of you at Starbuck’s orders a half-caf, double shot, almond milk mocha with a pump of vanilla and double whip, and a smiley Starbucks barista shouts his name and hands him that drink in under two minutes, take notice. That $4 beverage is essentially marketing in a cup. The specialty flooring retailer equivalent of this is doing things like coordinating the floor with the furnishings; pointing out which yarn system would work best; explaining different constructions, color and performance characteristics; and communicating how to maintain and extend the life of the product. 

If you want to be like everyone else, believing that your prices have to be lower than your competition’s, think again. Instead, let them follow you. You can separate yourself by being the best: offering the best products and services, having the best store, understanding what your customer wants and giving it to them. In his book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices, author Peter Drucker says individuals have to know what business they’re in and who their customer is. Flooring retailers are in the business of selling style and fashion flooring, and the consumer is typically female. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand the flooring business. 

If you refuse to change your business, the dynamics of the industry and the retail environment will change your business for you. If you want a good example of a flooring sector that is tuned in to its customers, look to the hospitality market, particularly at the high end. It is highly specialized, extraordinarily relationship-driven, served by a handful of very unique and dedicated manufacturers that employ design-oriented and skilled salespeople. Though price is still a consideration-and always will be-relationships, style and fashion are the drivers. These people know what business they’re in and who their customer is. 

As they say, “If they can see it, you can sell it.” Make your store a showplace that exhibits the beauty, style and fashion of carpet. Change your image, market your products correctly, have an inviting store and display your wares tastefully. Don’t be hung up on price. 

To succeed in any business today, you have to be willing to adapt your market and its dynamics. Carpet is not dead; you just can’t sell it like you used to. 

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus 

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