By Tom Jennings, WFCA VP of Member Services
The flooring industry has long been viewed somewhat suspiciously by the buying public. Frankly, I believe this dubious viewpoint has been deserved. I served on the Northeast Kansas Better Business Bureau board of directors for many years and each year we were provided with a list of more than 200 business categories ranked by the number of inquiries received. Please note that these are inquiries and not complaints. Inquiries come before a purchasing decision is reached and complaints are registered afterwards.
Year-in and year-out, flooring contractors have been typically ranked in the top 10 by the volume of inquiries received. This is definitely not how upstanding flooring dealers wish to be viewed.
The root cause of this suspicion by consumers is, in my opinion, obvious. Most flooring advertising tends to fall in the Too good to be true or the “What’s the catch?” categories. Very few of our products can be shopped and easily understood by a novice. Compared to other fashion industries, the majority of retail flooring establishments fall well short of must see in our customers’ eyes. If this were not enough, this is all experienced before service and installation are ever mentioned. When you add this all up, is it any wonder why our products are viewed as a purchase that can be postponed? As an industry, we seem to make it too easy for our customers to do just that.
You may be thinking that may be true at other stores, but not at mine. The very fact you are reading this would tend to support that position. However, ask yourself: What are you doing to make your customers understand your store and its representatives are not typical?
I feel a great place to increase the comfort level of the flooring purchase is by introducing your staff. This industry is at a great disadvantage due to the fact it largely operates anonymously. I don’t mean in our facilities. Hopefully all of our stores are clearly identifiable and distinctive. I mean we are largely anonymous when we are working outside of the store.
Ask yourself…What does not only your customer, but also her curious neighbor see in the driveway when we do an in-home estimate? The majority of the time it is an unmarked personal vehicle driven by a salesperson. The same is true of our installation crews. The usage of subcontractors almost always results in an unidentified presence from both a personnel and vehicular perspective. First impressions do matter. What are your representatives saying about your firm?
Spend an hour at home and pay special attention to how other service companies present themselves when visiting your neighbors. I’ll bet you’ll have no problem knowing which companies are delivering their parcels, doing their pest control or repairing their appliances. Professional service companies recognize the value of a strong corporate identity not only from a marketing standpoint, but from a security standpoint as well.
When a company representative steps out of their vehicle, the automatic assumption is that the company has done their homework as to who they are sending into their customers’ homes. Based upon what they see from their window, can your customers have the same feeling of assurance? Is it becoming clear where the “top 10” ranking in the public’s buying perception is coming from? By not recognizing this fact, too many installers are making their job more difficult than need be, simply due to the customer’s initial perceptions.
I realize it’s unfeasible for most dealers to immediately obtain a fleet of matching vehicles. This is all the more reason why it is important to place an emphasis on the person approaching the door. Advise the customer who will be coming to work for her. A national auto glass company is e-mailing their customers a picture of the scheduled technician. What a great idea, and it’s virtually free to implement! Have the estimator or installer call a few minutes before arrival not only to identify themselves, but to also advise the customer of the type and color of vehicle in which they will be arriving.
Further, advise your customers if background checks have been performed. Identification badges can have a value far beyond their cost. In today’s world, people want to know to whom they are opening their door. If truck signage is not feasible, consider having the installer put out a temporary yard sign identifying your company while he is working. Let the neighbors in on what’s going on. They are not only curious, but suspicious as well.
The goal of all stores is to generate more repeat and referral business. The way to effectively accomplish this is to “be somebody” to our customers. Make sure your service representatives appear both proud to represent your firm and are held accountable. Attitudes are contagious. You will soon notice an improvement in your company’s perception. It’s the only good option available. Hiding behind a cloak of anonymity will only serve to get us more of what we already have – a spot in the customer’s most suspicious top 10.