By Tom Jennings, VP of Member Services, WFCA
It’s a reality that most local, independent businesses are constantly being pressured by large mass merchants. It matters not if you’re selling toothpaste or televisions, some large firm is bound to have a bigger, faster, cheaper version they are promoting with yet another barely believable offer. The flooring business certainly falls into this category. However, we have a distinct advantage over those selling toothpaste ‒ we have the opportunity to sell both our product and services.
Too often, it seems as if the local merchant views this form of competition with something between disdain and contempt. They want to blame the suppliers, the media and the gullible public. This is an understandable, yet flawed logic. To compete with any opponent, you must first find out what their strengths are before you can determine where any vulnerabilities may lie.
Remember that big businesses didn’t begin big. They were born small and grew only because in the public’s eye they did a lot of things right. One of the key common aspects of these successful big businesses is that they all developed strategic operating systems. They have learned the most effective methods to bring their goods and services to market at the lowest possible costs. That is one of their strengths.
Think of these systems as the rules of the game. As customers, we are asked to play by the vendor’s rules. That is not a problem – until there is a problem. This is where in many operations a weakness exists and on which a properly trained installation team allows your firm to capitalize.
Always remember, the customer only cares about their situation – not yours. We have all been told, “The computer won’t let me do that,” “No substitutions allowed,” “Deliveries to your area are made on Tuesdays only,” or the classic “You don’t qualify for this offer.” How do you feel upon hearing comments such as these? My guess is these remarks didn’t exactly warm your thoughts. What we need to learn is the problem usually doesn’t lie with the message, but rather the messenger.
Rather than projecting an attitude that says, “I’ll do everything within my power to see that your wishes are honored,” you are more likely to hear “That’s not our policy.” These untrained representatives just don’t understand that it is the customer’s total purchasing experience, not just the product, which is most important.
All businesses must have clear policies that are fairly administered. Without them there is chaos. Just remember that when we explain these policies to the customer, it must always be done with their point of view in mind. When did you last explain to your installation team the value of projecting a customer first attitude? Customers should always sense an “I’m working for you” attitude.
Big stores with big offers will initially attract customers, but without the right messengers they will always struggle to keep them. Use this weakness to your advantage. Make customer first one of your greatest strengths. You, and your customer, will be off for doing so.