The Social Flooring Index Blog:
Monitoring the Social State of Flooring & Floor Covering

Who in Flooring Has Time for Social Media?

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Thu, May 08, 2014

time for social media in flooringDo you make time for social media? Many business people wonder how to find the time - particularly in flooring. They bring it up repeatedly during presentations and in conversations about digital marketing, getting found online and embracing new marketing habits.

Matt Spieler from Floor Trends brought it up, too, when he invited me to contribute an article, after Surfaces 2014. 

The article, which appeared in the April 2014 issue of FloorTrendsMag.com, is titled "Who in Flooring Has Time for Social Media? You Do." I'd love your reactions to it. To read it in its entirety, you'll need to register (it's free).

Who has time for social media in flooring?

In the article, I make the point that, as a business person, finding time for social media means that you can become part of how prospective customers connect, interact and gather information.

Every business person in flooring should take such an opportunity to heart!

According to GE Capital as well as Google, getting found online matters (see Data on Why 'Get Found Online' Matters in Marketing: ZMOT, Pew, GE Capital and Why Bother With Social Media Marketing Strategy?). 80% of shoppers start the purchase process online; they'll educate themselves intensely about purchase options before even speaking with a sales associate. For that reason, you need to make sure your business can be found online so that, when they are ready to make a purchase decision, they make it with you.

The article is organized into six sections. Here are highlights.

1. Why bother finding time for social media? 

Taking part in social networks has gotten much easier with smartphones. During Surfaces and Coverings presentations, I used to ask people who in the audience had a smartphone. Now, I ask who doesn't; very few hands go up.

Smartphones change how and when we interact with online data. We are no longer tethered to an office and desktop. Rather, we carry our access portal with us and can pull it out instantaneously. It allows us to check on emails and add updates. We can be human and social and interactive in between other activities, building relationships and figuring out whom we’re willing to trust enough to do business with.

As much as you may regret the always-on aspect of smartphones, think of all of the unexpected benefits:  

  • Sharing - thoughts, ideas, images, good wishes, links to deeper content and context...

  • Connecting with others and facilitating connections between others - even if they are far away

  • Educating prospects before they realize they have a need for your product or service

  • Bringing your business and people to life through photos, videos, words so people get to know you and trust you so they don’t think twice when they are ready to do business

  • Being present online 24/7 whenever prospective customers are searching and researching flooring. 

2. How to find time in your busy day to engage online and with social media?

If you’re like me, you’ll find time for social activities if they provide tangible benefits. That's how I got started with blogging: my blog, Flooring The Consumer, meant that I could gather in one digital, easily accessible public location references and resources as well as ideas about the retail experience.

Here are some possibilities for your business:

  • Respond to customer service questions on Google+ so there's a record of your commitment to customers. 

  • Show how you do flooring installations, track before/after pictures and share them on Pinterest or Facebook. 

  • Keep an evergreen list of customers' frequently asked questions and your responses on your website in an FAQ or in blog articles. Share links to those pages on Twitter.

What would you add to this list? 

who has time for social media in flooring3. How will you need to spend your social media time?

So, once you make the decision to commit time, how will you spend it? Expect it to fall into two categories: initial set-up and ongoing account management.

For setup, you'll want to be prepared with logos, images and consistent company descriptions.

For ongoing account management, prepare a content calendar so you can consistently and regularly publish updates. Be prepared to respond to comments and questions. Plan on reaching out beyond your profile page to develop your community. Invite your staff to participate in being social.  

4. How to select which social media platform(s) to focus on?

As important as it is for your business to have a presence online and in social networks, it's not possible to be on every single social media platform in existence and be effective. Resources - including time - are limited, so pick based on where your customers spend time and focus attention on doing those few platforms really well.

As a business professional, be sure to complete your profile on LinkedIn. Have your company representatives do the same; create a company description they can include in their profiles. Set up a LinkedIn company profile that all can link to in their profiles.

Definitely claim your company Google+ Local because it's tied to map results.

Then, experiment with the other social networks to determine which is best for your business using Google Analytics.

5. What tools can help you manage time for social media?

Luckily, there are tools to help manage time for social media. 

(I just discovered that my SnagIt update allows me to upload via QR code any images taken on my mobile device to my desktop for editing. Sweet!)

Be on the lookout for applets and bookmarklets to Pin or share interesting links. 

My favorite tools include Hootsuite and HubSpot (which has an amazing social monitoring tool). For Twitter Chats, I like TweetChat.

During the last #KBTribechat, I noticed images being shared via Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. What you use really depends on what works for you.

Which do you find most helpful for managing your time?

6. How to be successful with social media so you maximize your time spent on it?

Although social media takes place on technical devices, the activity and interaction has to do with being human and social. The more you and your organization consider the implications, the better prepared you will be.

My rules for success on social media include:

  • Creating social media guidelines for your organization so everyone understands how to participate on social networks on behalf of your organization, agrees on what courtesy online means and how to interact with customers.

  • Participating regularly and consistently in social media.

  • Developing a content calendar which includes images, videos, simple updates as well as more involved ones. Your customers are a valuable source of content ideas. Think of all of the questions they ask you.

  • Having a goal for your social interactions which aligns with your business goals.

What would you add?

Please read the full article on FloorTrendsMag.com - "Who in Flooring Has Time for Social Media? You Do.  

Then, let me know - if you are using social networks, how are you managing your time? What works best for you? Which tools are more helpful? What (good) surprises have you had as a result?

Thanks for reading!

 

Tags: flooring marketing, social media

Driving Flooring With Social Media Marketing

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Tue, Oct 01, 2013

Driving Flooring With Social Media Whittemore (250x229)What goes into driving an industry with social media? In May 2013, I spoke with Ken Ryan from Floor Covering News who asked me questions for an upcoming issue about People driving the (flooring) industry.

Ken is an interesting person to speak with - he has been teaching at Stonybrook University for the past 5 years. I enjoyed the conversation because it allowed me to think back on my experience in the flooring industry which I joined in 2003 and how much marketing has evolved with social media.

Here are highlights from the conversation.

What got me started with social media marketing?

I got started because I saw traditional marketing shifting in 2005. New digital tools had the potential to better connect with customers. Traditional push marketing messages were becoming more expensive and less effective. 

Marketing was headed in a different direction as a result of digital marketing and social media marketing tools. I wanted to experiment so I could understand what the tools were about, how they worked and how they might help me create value for the flooring industry. They seemed ideal for educating, and I needed to prove that out.

What also helped was being in a corporate environment where we were constantly in contingency. I had to be creative about how to deliver value.

These were the early days of social media and digital marketing; I connected with other savvy marketers outside of flooring and together we learned and experimented with the different social networks. The experiments also created opportunities to establish an online track record:

"The name Christine B. Whittemore can certainly be found online; a Google search of her name reveals two full pages of Whittemore-related entries — her LinkedIn account, Simple Marketing Now, Flooring the Consumer, Facebook, Coverings, Pinterest, VoiceAmerica talk radio, YouTube, Floor Covering Institute blog, and PROLibraries.com, all on the first page alone.

Do flooring industry retailers truly understand the power and importance of social media?

They are starting to. I've noticed a frequent misconception - not just in the flooring industry - that social media can be delegated without oversight to people with some digital experience, but little understanding of the business. As helpful as it is to be familiar with Facebook and Twitter, it's important to remember that these are legitimate customer relationship channels and need to be managed as such. 

Markets are conversations. Social media tools allow for conversations to talk place online. Think what the telephone made possible; the telephone is a powerful social tool. Social networks expand that type of opportunity:

  • For individuals seeking helpful, informative and credible resources to educate themselves with
  • For companies looking to stand out and connect with customers in an authentic and transparent manner

“Business, as well as life, is all about building relationships and interacting with other people. Social media is perfect for this.” 

What have you done to help retailers, and others, tap into this marketing message that is social media?

I'm passionate about helping businesses get found online and connect with customers. Social and digital tools enable that. I like to provide a big picture perspective on how social fits into the overall business strategy and dovetails with content strategy, increating web traffic, generating leads and generally understanding customers better.

I share that perspective via educational in-person sessions at trade shows, such as Surfaces - for example, read Social Media, Digital Marketing, Floor Covering Marketing: Surfaces - and Coverings - read about Selling Tile Online - Tile Industry Forum at Coverings 2013 (with Bill Buyok, Avente TileTom Carr, Pan American CeramicsDave Milanowycz, Florida Tile, and Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile and Stone).

Whittemore has been speaking about the role of social media in the flooring industry for years. During her Surfaces appearances, she has seen an “evolution” in those embracing different social media platforms."

She likens the community environment of social media platforms such as Facebook to the old general store concept, where groups with similar interests and backgrounds congregate."

(See Social Media - Corner Grocery Style! for more perspective.)

"Whittemore explained flooring retailers should build a social media strategy into their overall business models. “It’s better to be focused online rather than being all things to all people,” she said. “Social media is like Cablevision; there are a lot of channels, or in this case niches. Know where your customers are gathering — they may be totally enamored with Facebook while another group may be congregating on LinkedIn. Today your digital presence needs to be buttoned up.”" 

What has surprised you about social media since you first immersed yourself in it in June 2006 with Flooring the Consumer blog?

From a personal perspective, social media has enabled me to connect with professionals who care as much as I do about the customer experience.

I love how social media and digital marketing can enable you to always ready with content to educate your prospective customer -- before she is ready to buy. In so doing, you begin the relationship building and that person will be far more likely to buy from you. It means that social media integrates powerfully with a website strategy, helping increase website traffic and generate leads.

Digital tools, including social media networks, offer small and medium businesses opportunities to connect with customers in ways that used to only be available to large organizations with multi-billion dollar budgets. These are exciting times!

Thank you, Ken, Steve Feldman and Floor Covering News for the opportunity to discuss how social media marketing is driving the flooring industry!

Tags: flooring marketing, social media

Tile Industry Forum: Selling Tile Online. Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Apr 17, 2013

Selling Tile Online at Coverings 2013
In less than two weeks, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in Coverings 2013, and attend Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer, a tile industry panel discussion with four tile industry experts.  All four have an online presence. All have distinct opinions on selling tile online.

The panelists include Bill Buyok, Avente TileTom Carr, Pan American CeramicsDave Milanowycz, Florida Tile, and Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile and Stone. They will share a range of perspectives about selling tile online, how the Internet affects the tile industry and how it fits into tile business models.

In anticipation of this discussion, which I will moderate, I've invited each participant to participate in a blog interview. Next is Steve Slutzah.

Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile

C.B.: Steve, tell me about yourself and your company. 

My tile career began as a salesperson for Color Tile, quickly becoming a Regional Manager,  I have managed over 100 stores from New York to California. Getting tired of being told I made too much money, I opened Westside Tile and Stone in 2005.

Having learned from the mistakes of others, and that being on the cutting edge was not certain doom, Westside Tile quickly became one of the most successful stores in Los Angeles. With the opening of a second location in Beverly Hills, we are proud of the quality and service we provide.

(Read Steve Slutzah of Westside Tile and Stone Does It for the Love of Tile to fully appreciate Steve's committment to creating "an extraordinary experience and ambiance for anyone entering his store... (where) tile facilitators -they are not salespeople- ... are always on hand to personally guide customers throughout the gallery of products and help them find the perfect tile for their specific need and application.")

C.B.: What do you love most about tile? 

During a lecture at the Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA) for my CTC certification, Joe Taylor of the Tile Heritage Foundation said, “some of you will have very successful careers  just selling and installing tile. A few of you will either sell or install tile in such a way that years in the future people will see it and say INCREDIBLE!!”  I want to somehow be involved with the WOW!! Factor.

C.B.: How does online fit into Westside Tile and Stone's business? 

Along with all of the other marketing we do, it is number 1 in priority. It brings people to my store, my phone rings with people asking questions about location, hours, what we sell. It is without a doubt the most important marketing tool we have.

C.B.: Which of the online resources you use for your business do you find most effective and why? 

We do not buy google adwords. Most of our effort is thru organic search. We use one company to increase our presence in Southern California.

C.B.: What is your opinion on selling tile online? Why? 

If price becomes the most important selling tool in our industry, we are going the way of the record store, the book store and all the other places that are disappearing. But tile is different. My customers have to see it, touch it, get help designing it. When the tile store disappears, Joe Taylor’s words will disappear as well as most of us.

C.B.: What advice would you offer someone who wants to get started online with tile? 

It’s too late unless your prices are cheaper than the other guy.

C.B.: Steve, how can you and Wetside Tile and Stone be reached online?  

You can find Westside Tile on Facebook, on Twitter and on Pinterest. You can contact us via the Westside Tile and Stone website and definitely check out the Westside Tile and Stone Blog

C.B.: Thank you, Steve! I look forward to our panel discussion!

What is your take on selling tile online? How do you use the Internet in your business? 

I hope you'll join us at Coverings 2013 in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 1 from 3:15 to 4:15pm forSelling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer. Registration is free!

 

 

Tags: tile industry, online marketing

Tile Industry Forum: Selling Tile Online. Dave Milanowycz, Florida Tile

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Apr 10, 2013

Selling Tile Online at Coverings 2013
If you're interested in learning about Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer, I invite you to attend Coverings 2013. You'll get to attend a tile industry panel discussion with four experts.  All four are immersed in tile. They all have an online presence. All have distinct opinions on selling tile online. You're guaranteed to learn a lot!

The panelists include Bill Buyok, Avente TileTom Carr, Pan American CeramicsDave Milanowycz, Florida Tile, and Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile and Stone. They will share a range of perspectives about selling tile online, how the Internet affects the tile industry and how it fits into tile business models.

In anticipation of this discussion, which I will moderate, I've invited each participant to participate in a blog interview. Next is Dave Milanowycz.

Dave Milanowycz Florida TileC.B.: Dave, tell me about yourself and your company. 

Florida Tile is owned by the Panaria Group, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of quality wall tile, quality porcelain tiles, and thin materials. Panaria has  manufacturing facilities in Portugal and in Italy.  Florida Tile is responsible for the North American market. Florida Tile serves 84 distributors and 19 company owned stores and growing. The FT areas served are Canada, the Carribbean, and the United States.

    My responsibilities as National Director of Independent Distribution are to provide our distribution network with the most updated styles and designs of tile, marketing materials, and services to continuously grow sales through our North America distribution network.  In addition we have to be certain that all market segments are covered, and we maintain our lines of communication from manufacturer, to distributor, to dealer, contractor, A&D, etc.   

    C.B.: What do you love most about tile? 

    While in college I was offered a part time job at a tile store and the old saying is “if you stay in the industry for two or more years you are a lifer”.

    The things that really engaged me in tile were continuous improvements in technology, style, design, manner of marketing, and new markets.  Every year has been extremely exciting and always new and refreshing.  It definitely keeps you on your toes.  But I truly love it.

    C.B.: How does online fit into Florida Tile's business? 

    We feel through education we can empower the consumer to make an intelligent decision.

    When you visit our website we provide the end user with an online tile catalog, tile inspiration gallery, tile finder, tile video gallery, and tile installation and care instructions. We then can recommend the end user to a local supplier.

    C.B.: Which of the online resources you use for your business do you find most effective and why? 

    The most effective means for us is to continually update our website with room scenes and great information so we can educate them, and finally direct them to a local professional showroom.

    We also supply information to our prospective customers through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

    Florida Tile online

    C.B.: What is your opinion on selling tile online? Why? 

    We are pro Internet and social media. In order to communicate with the ever changing markets you need to be progressive as a company and continuously changing your communication approach to each market. 

    Both Florida Tile and I feel you need to select and view your tile at a local professional showroom. Showrooms provide an indelible service to the consumer guiding them through some of the challenges of style, design, shade, lighting effects, so that consumers can achieve their “dream area”.  In most cases a consumer remodels or constructs a kitchen, bathroom, hall, etc., only a few times in their lifetime.  Why wouldn’t you want to have a local professional showroom work with you to achieve your dream?  

    C.B.: What advice would you offer someone who wants to get started online with tile? 

    I always tell anyone who asks this question to initially go to reputable tile websites where they can view products, room scenes, get ideas, understand about shading, get educated, and to also narrow down their dream for the area they are covering. 

    On good websites the manufacturer would direct you to a local dealer so you can view tiles, sometimes in vignettes, concept boards, panels, cradles, and loose pieces so you can see and coordinate your dream. You can also educate yourself on:

    • Whether the products are made in the US (support American workers),

    • Is the tile certified (PTCA Porcelain Certification),

    • Does it have the specifications that you need, and finally

    • Is the product Green (Green Square Certified).  

    You can get a vast amount of information before you even enter a professional showroom. You short change yourself if you purchase from an online retailer. If you have a problem or question who do you go to when they do not even list their address or contact information other than an email address?  

    C.B.: Dave, how can you and Florida Tile be reached online?  

    You can find us at www.floridatile.com, on Facebook, on Twitter @FloridaTile, Pinterest, YouTube and Linkedin

    If you need any additional information you can always email me at dave.milanowycz@floridatile.com.

    C.B.: Thank you, Dave! I look forward to our panel discussion!

    What is your take on selling tile online? How do you use the Internet in your business? 

    I hope you'll join us at Coverings 2013 in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 1 from 3:15 to 4:15pm forSelling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer. Registration is free!

    Tags: tile industry, online marketing

    Tile Industry Forum: Selling Tile Online. Bill Buyok, Avente Tile

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Apr 03, 2013

    Coverings 2013: Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry

    I hope you plan on coming to Coverings 2013, and attending Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer, a tile industry panel discussion with four tile industry experts.  All four have an online presence. All have distinct opinions on selling tile online.

    The panelists include Bill Buyok, Avente Tile, Tom Carr, Pan American CeramicsDave Milanowycz, Florida Tile, and Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile and Stone. They will share a ange of perspectives about selling tile online, how the Internet affects the tile industry and how it fits into tile business models.

    In anticipation of this discussion, which I will moderate, I've invited each participant to participate in a blog interview. Next is Bill Buyok from Avente Tile.

    Bill Buyok Avente TileC.B.: Bill, tell me about yourself and your company.

    Hi, Christine.  First, let me say thank you for taking the time to interview the entire group of panelists participating in the Coverings 2013 educational session, Selling Tile: The Internet, the Industry & the Consumer. Also, thank you for organizing and moderating this event.

    I’m Bill Buyok, owner and founder of Avente Tile and I’ve been attending Coverings for over a decade. 

    In 2003, I started Avente Tile because I was looking for hand painted tiles with an old world design similar to some I had seen from Spain. I couldn’t find any designs in local showrooms, tile stores, or online. When I found the right tiles, I fell in love with them and decided I would start a company focused on providing hand painted ceramic tiles, cement tiles, and artisan tiles.

    As a result of training as a mechanical engineer, I developed a strong commitment to quality in what I do that starts with an in-depth understanding of tile and the tile-production process. I worked for Chevron, a Fortune 500 company, as a field and project engineer, manager and team supervisor. I understand the importance of delivering a user-friendly website after working at a startup web design company selling and developing web applications. 

    In fact, the namesake, Avente, is derived from the Latin 'abante' that means “before” or “at the forefront.”  Avente Tile is committed to providing handcrafted tiles that are of the highest quality with the best customer service.  I believe it is these unique professional experiences and perspectives that have allowed Avente Tile to thrive.

    C.B.: What do you love most about tile?

    Clay and Mold SMN InterviewTile makes me feel connected to the world and its people in a very special way.  It’s wonderful when a customer in Maine shares a photo of how they used a classic Spanish tile design for their new kitchen backsplash. 

    It’s amazing that an almost-forgotten Cuban tile pattern found in a crumbling Havana estate has been re-discovered and re-interpreted as the design for restaurant in Houston.

    I love knowing that a piece of clay sculpted into a relief tile in the hand of talented artisans from Antiqua will be used for a beautiful bath in Beverly Hills. 

    It's this story that tile tells every day that I love.  Tile has connections to history, art and design and provides a very useful function.  It’s amazing how a piece of clay allows us to share this world in wonderful and unique ways!

    C.B.: How does online fit into your business?

    Online is my business. There is no ‘brick and mortar’ store.  Avente Tile is an online tile showroom and catalog that also provides inventory data, installation guidelines, and troubleshooting tips. 

    Because online is my business we strive to provide an excellent online experience and excellent phone support.  We are finding more and more folks find us through search. They compare us with the competition.  Then, they buy from us because the service and experience we provide - including design and layout services.

    Avente Tile Home Page Screen Shot SMN Interview

    C.B.: Bill, which of the online resources you use do you find most effective and why?

    Think of online resources like a toolbox.  Each has a strength or benefit and like tools is designed for a specific job.  Pick the tool that helps you get your job done most efficiently.  Learn how to use the tool and make sure it’s a good fit for you.  Then, start using another tool.   And, remember, the tool that is most effective for me, may not be the best fit for your task at hand.

    1. Start with a web site that includes basic contact information and puts a face on your business.  Include installations and provide answers to frequent questions so that you can establish what you do and show how you solve customer problems or needs.  Whether to include a product catalog and e-commerce solution is a much more complex question that needs to be evaluated based on distributor relationships, cost, and expected income.

    Tile Talk Screen Shot SMN Interview

    2. After that, if I had to choose only one resource, it would have to be our company blog, Avente Tile Talk.  It is a great place to share customer experiences, installations, new products, design ideas, tips, and our monthly newsletter.  Blogging allows me to share my unique perspective about a product I love, Tile.

    3. I use Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to help broadcast my message.  Google+ is a great productivity tool.  Twitter allows me to network with vendors, professionals and colleagues.  We are also finding more customers using Twitter to get answers to their questions. Facebook helps me connect with friends from my past.

    • LinkedIn provides a great way to grow and nurture your professional network and is ideal for B2B distributors.
    • Pinterest is a great way to easily share visual concepts with others.  Great for helping folks pinpoint a design style or color.   It can also help you spot trends in style, design and color.
    • Flickr allows me to organize and share photos of tiles and installations.  I use this for both product photos and installations.  Photos can be grouped in non-traditional way (outside of typical categories or lines) that present options not always available in a product catalog.
    • YouTube (and video in general) excels at showing a process like how tiles are installed; or, telling a story, how handmade tiles are made.  In my opinion, video is a most difficult media to master because you dealing with images, sound, and story all at once.  Video will continue to be a power house in social media, because of its popularity and ability for anybody with a smart phone to create short videos.  There are many great online resources that can assist with video production and provide great value like oculu.com.

    {For additional perspective, read Bill Buyok, Avente Tile on Social Media for Small Business.}

    C.B.: What is your opinion on selling tile online? Why?

    Selling online (and being found online) will become increasingly more important as users rely on search to qualify and find vendors of the products they demand.  While price will drive search results for commodity items, I believe knowledge, transparency, value and service will drive results for most other products, like custom or hand-crafted tile.

    C.B.: What advice would you offer someone who wants to get started online with tile?

    Think big. Start small. Be committed.  If you have a plan (think big) with specific goals (starting small) and are deliberate, you will get results.  First, and foremost, start with a web site, and then consider a blog.  Then start promoting these efforts with social media (one at a time).  I strongly encourage the support of professionals in both web development and maintaining your social media presence. 

    Online is here to stay and getting online is a process.  Follow the advice I detailed above when I detailed which online resources I find most effective. This will help establish where you are in “getting online” and “where you need to be.”

    C.B.: Bill, how can you be reached online? 

    Avente Tile Cement Tile Installation SMN InterviewFeel free to connect with me or Avente Tile through these channels:

    C.B.: Bill, thanks very much!

    What is your take on selling tile online? How do you use the Internet in your business? 

    I hope you'll join us at Coverings 2013 in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 1 from 3:15 to 4:15pm forSelling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer. Registration is free!

     

    Tags: tile industry, flooring marketing, online marketing

    Tile Industry Forum: Selling Tile Online. Tom Carr, Pan American Ceramics

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Mar 27, 2013

    Coverings 2013If you come to Coverings 2013, consider attending Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer, a tile industry panel discussion with four tile industry experts who all have a presence online:

      • Bill Buyok, Avente Tile

      • Tom Carr, Pan American Ceramics

      • Dave Milanowycz, Florida Tile

      • Steve Slutzah, Westside Tile and Stone

    You'll hear a range of perspectives about selling tile online, how the Internet affects the tile industry and how it fits into tile business models.

    In anticipation of this discussion, which I will moderate, I've invited each participant to participate in a blog interview. The first is Tom Carr, president of Pan American Ceramics.

    CB: Tom, tell me about yourself and your company.

    Tom Carr, Panamerican Ceramics

    I am the president of Pan American Ceramics, located in California. We have two warehouses here, one in the LA area and one in the Bay area. We are a Florida Tile distributor and we also import, primarily from Italy and Spain.

    We sell primarily to dealers, distributors, builders, design centers and for projects.

    CB: What do you love most about tile?

    What I love most about tile is the people and the travel.

    There is a very wide variety of people in this industry; small installers and large contractors, architects, designers, small businesses and large. You encounter every type of person, including very artistic and creative people as well as clever business people.

    Also, tile is manufactured all around the world, so there are wonderful opportunities to travel to very interesting places to source tile.

    CB: How does online fit into your business?

    At the moment, online is not a big part of our business. We are working on a website to help our clients with information, but we still prefer to work with people on a face to face basis. 

    CB: Which of the online resources you use for your business do you find most effective and why?

    Our website will eventually provide pricing, test data, installation photos, ideas, and more to our existing clients. But we still prefer to do our business face to face.

    When you call us during business hours, a live person answers the phone. If someone calls us to ask for a list of dealers in there area, we talk to them and find out how they found us. It is almost always because they went to one of our dealers and got a sample and started searching the Internet and found the factory and then the factory referred them to us. We always refer them back to the dealer that gave them the sample.

    If for some reason they still want to "shop" the product, we do not support that. If they have a problem with the dealer they started with, we offer to talk to the dealer to resolve any concerns. We support our dealers and do not support the Internet companies that try to benefit from others' efforts.

    CB: What is your opinion on selling tile online? Why?

    I realize that there are more people shopping online now, and that many begin online to start educating themselves about what type of product they want to buy.

    I also realize that the percentage of sales online is rising, although still very small for our industry, and so we need to embrace it as a reality.

    But I still believe that the health of our industry depends on well merchandised showrooms, helpful sales people, and excellent customer service and professional installations. I believe this can best be accomplished at a brick and mortar store that specializes in tile.

    CB: Tom, how can people reach you online?

    I can be reached at tom@panamericanceramics.com and followed on Twitter at Panamceram. I am also on LinkedIn.

    CB: Thank you, Tom! I look forward to our session at Coverings 2013!

    What is your take on selling tile online? How do you use the Internet in your business? 

    I hope you'll join us at Coverings 2013 in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 1 from 3:15 to 4:15pm for Selling Tile: the Internet, the Industry & the Consumer. Registration is free!

     

     

    Tags: tile industry, flooring marketing, online marketing

    Social Media, Digital Marketing, Floor Covering Marketing: Surfaces

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Jan 30, 2013

    Surfaces 2013Surfaces - the leading floor covering industry event in the US - is taking place this week in Las Vegas. It's big, and intense and spread out! My Fitbit says I've already walked over 5 miles today.

    It's also been an intense social media marketing filled event for me with three education sessions completed: 

     This is the second year I've presented with Sarah Kelly and I can't say enough about how wonderful she is! (By the way, you may be interested in the resources we put together for the 3 hour workshop we led last year: Social Media: How To for Business.)  

    Sara Kelly and Christine Whittemore Surfaces 2013

    During my second session, I led a panel discussion about Social Media in Action with two very thoughtful and focused retailers whose insights I captured in these two blog articles:

    Although he wasn't able to join, I did refer to Chris Morrissette's observations which are captured in Social Media in Action: FLOFORM Countertops Connects With Customers.

    For the retail experience/marketing to women session, the resources I put together for last year's session about marketing/selling to women remain relevant.

    With these sessions behind me, I can focus on meeting up with many digital marketing friends, including Scarlet Opus meeting Stacy Garcia from #KBTribeChat for the first time, as well connecting with Arpi Nalbandian, Stacy and Irene Williams for #kbtribechat. 

    It's a full and social floor covering life!

    Best,

    C.B.

    Tags: Floor Covering marketing, online marketing

    New Bathrooms for Tile Outlets of America, Fort Myers - Bathroom Blogfest

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Mon, Nov 05, 2012

    TOA Women Bathrooms After 1a

    When Michele Hoover, General Manager, Tile Outlets of America, Fort Myers, FL, informed me in June that her store's bathrooms would be remodeled in October, I had my fingers crossed that the project would be done in time for Bathroom Blogfest 2012.

    Lucky for us, it was, and I have a fabulous bathroom and retail experience transformation to share with you - albeit a bit late because of Sandy...

    C.B.: Michele, tell me about yourself and your background.

    MH: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania where for 3 generations my family owned a textile manufacturing business. I graduated from Bloomsburg University with a BS in Business Management/Accounting and went immediately to work full time in the sewing factories.

    I started working for Tile Outlets of America in September 2002, a few weeks before the store opened for business, as the Fort Myers store accountant. I always joke that I went from textiles to tiles.

    [Note: TOA has stores in Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa, Florida.]

    I later took on the Tampa store accounting as well as corporate accounting. In July of 2011, I became General Manager of the Fort Myers store and was excited to put into place all the things I’d accumulated over the years of helping the managers in both stores. I still function as Controller and oversee the accounting functions for both stores. I love being part of TOA and think of it as my own. I guess that comes from being brought up in a family business and the fact that Don Aronin and Warren Lampert have given Tile Outlets of America the same feel as a family business. 

    TOA Bathrooms Before DSC0766C.B.: Michele, why did Tile Outlets of America consider this bathroom makeover important?

    MH: The bathrooms were in their original state from when the building was first built over 15 years ago. Not only were they well worn with over 15 years of retail use but they also reflected out-of-date styling. They were floor to wall gray ceramic tile with gray Formica countertops and partitions. [See photo right.]

    The remodel is a project that has been discussed numerous times over the last 5-7 years. It was clearly something we’ve known needed to be addressed. The comments that registered to me the most came from a young brother and sister (approx 8 – 10 years old). Each came out of their respective bathroom and the sister commented on how pretty the hallway was outside the restrooms. The brother responded back “it’s a whole lot better than the bathroom”. And the sister responded “yeah, not so good for a tile store”.

    If the condition of the restrooms was that apparent to kids, they were obviously a disappointment (to say the least) to our adult customers. I think for most people the first room that comes to mind when initially thinking about tile is the bathroom and it is the one area of the store where we hadn’t done a good job of inspiring or showing our products and their possibilities.

    TOA Womens Bathroom 2aC.B.: What was the reaction once TOA's bathroom transformation was complete?

    MH: For me personally, my first reaction was pride. After years of being embarrassed by the restrooms I am so proud of how wonderfully the project turned out. I truly feel like for commercial restrooms they could rival some upscale hotel type lobby restrooms.

    All of our associates are as impressed as I am. Repeat customers and contractors who were witness to the transformation are blown away. New customers are commenting on the beauty of the restrooms. The male associates are a little jealous that their restroom isn’t quite as elaborate as the women’s. And of course in good fun, the women make sure the men know they are missing washing their hands under a waterfall faucet into a travertine vessel.

    I don’t think anyone could be more pleased with the completed project.


    C.B.: How have the remodeled bathrooms improved the Tile Outlets of America retail experience in the Fort Myers store?

    MH: The restroom remodel completed the flow from the Inspiration Center through the back hallway. Now the positive ideas flow right into the restroom where as before entering the restrooms off the Inspiration Center surely interrupted “dare to dream” mode and returned customers to reality sooner than we would have liked.

    Even though the old restrooms were cleaned three times a week by an outside service they never felt clean because of the worn condition. I think generally customers relate the cleanliness and overall condition of the restroom to the rest of their visit and the type of service they expect to receive. Now customers can enjoy bright, clean, and stylish restrooms.

    TOA mens bathroom 1C.B.: How do the remodeled restrooms help Tile Outlets of America sell tile?

    MH: When choosing our designs for the restrooms we took numerous things into consideration.

    Of course product selection was important but we also wanted to show different ways to install products to truly inspire and spark creativity in our customer’s minds.

    We used travertine, porcelain, glass, pebble stone mosaics, glass bridge mosaics, porcelain planks, split face mosaics, etc. We featured on the wall behind the vanity/mirrors in the men’s room a porcelain wood plank tile that many people would only think of putting on the floor.

    In the ladies’ restroom we combined porcelain floor tile with 18” travertine point set on the walls to show that you can combine the two in one job and to show how a large format tile looks on the wall.

    TOA Mens Bathroom 3aThese are just a few of the design concepts we used to show the diversity of the products. We have already seen the increase in sample and job lot sales on some of the products we have selected.

    We also have a steady stream (no pun intended) into the restrooms of customers looking for ideas and to see how the products we used look in a finished project. They have become a great sales tool for our sales reps. You can now expect to see sales reps holding the door to the bathroom open while a couple is in them looking for ideas.

    The restrooms have become an extension of the Inspiration Center and another way to help customers visualize what they can do in their homes.

    C.B.: Michele, that is fantastic! Congratulations!

    MH: Here are miscellaneous details about the Tile Outlets of America bathroom remodel project:

    • We started the project by demolishing the men’s restroom on Sunday, Sept, 16th.
    • The completed men’s room went into use on Friday, October 5th
    • The demolition of the women’s restroom occurred on Friday, October 5th.
    • The completed women’s restroom went into use on Thursday, October 18th.
    • Both restrooms were gutted to their studs including all the plumbing fixtures, ceiling tiles, etc.
    • TOA Mens Bathroom 5aDuring the install we turned the other restroom into a unisex restroom with a lock.
    • We had two last minute emergency product modifications that had to be made in the women’s restroom. Both new products ended up as excellent substitutes.
    • The installer for the Tile Outlets of America Fort Myers bathroom redesign was Jesse Decicco of Majestic Enterprises.

    Majestic has been in partnership with Tile Outlets of America, referring customers to us and vice versa for as long as the store has been open. Jesse takes great pride in his workmanship and has a great eye for design. He is the type of installer who will walk his customers through their remodel step by step starting with product selection. He goes above and beyond simply laying tile.

    [BTW, you can see more photos of the TOA Bathroom Remodel on Majestic's site.]

    C.B.: Thank you, Michele! What a terrific success story to share for Bathroom Blogfest 2012!

    I hope everyone who reads about Tile Outlets of America's new bathrooms in the Fort Myers store will go visit and be inspired to recreate similar designs. 

     

    Tags: flooring marketing, Bathroom Blogfest

    BuildDirect Uses Google Analytics To Get Found Online

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Aug 08, 2012

    Google BuildDirect
    Kudos to my friends at BuildDirect! They are featured in a Google Analytics case study for using Google Analytics to get found online and increase sales! 

    Very cool!

    The link above takes you to a high level summary describing how BuildDirect increased sales by 50%. It also links to a more detailed pdf case study document.

    The secret to BuildDirect's success getting found online?

    1. They linked Google Analytics to AdWords.

    2. They used campaign tagging [i.e., a Google Analytics URL Builder].

    3. They improved site usability and simplified the checkout process for customers. 

    From the detailed case study, this section caught my attention:

    "Through GA reporting, BuildDirect found that sample purchases were a powerful way to drive more sales. “Home buyers who purchase a sample have a 60 percent likelihood of returning to the site within the next 30 days and placing a full order,” says Brodie.

    In addition to tailoring messages to each customer segment, BuildDirect uses GA’s A/B testing capabilities to perfect its marketing approach. “We test different versions of creative on each newsletter and track results using GA, so we know the open rates, clickthrough rates, and conversions for everything we try.”"

    Why?

    Because of the insights gained about visitor traffic patterns and purchase patterns. [By the way, how many of you have set goals within your analytics?]

    And also because of the focus on making meaning for specific customer segments via content and testing to determine what works and what doesn't.

    BuildDirect is on online manufacturer and wholesaler of flooring and building materials. Although I regularly see BuildDirect's co-founders at Surfaces, I met them via Twitter. BuildDirect is fully engaged in building relationships via social networks [see Facebook and Twitter for Marketing: It's About Relationships!].


    Read more from previous articles about BuildDirect:
    Let me know what you find most intriguing about how this flooring company uses digital tools, including Google Analytics, to get found online.

    Tags: case studies, Get Found, online marketing

    Marketing With Pinterest: Flooring Eye Candy!

    Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Wed, Jul 25, 2012

    Pinterest AndersonI really enjoy Pinterest. It's a joyous visual adventure that many flooring companies have embraced as they explore marketing with Pinterest. The visual flooring eye candy these brands have created inspires and delights. It also redefines traditional perceptions associated with flooring.

    It's about time, don't you think?

    Here are links to the Pinterest Boards of several flooring companies: 


    Of course, as with all social media, the less time you spend focusing on yourself [i.e., self promoting and doing hard sales], the better off you and your community are. That takes practice as well as a strategy.

    What do you think? Could you see doing the same as these flooring companies? Could you be marketing your design ideas and trend concepts via Pinterest?

    In case you are, I share with you several resources so you make the most of marketing with Pinterest, and come up with regular and consistent doses of flooring eye candy.


    1. The basics still matter
    2. Have a [visual] plan
    3. Photography can't be an afterthought
    4. Teach storytelling
    5. Understand the mechanics of 'pinable' images
    6. Make your past as visual as your present and future.

    According to Pinterest, the following “best practices" for brands include [ here's also a visual guide to Pinterest Best Practices]:
    • Pin from various sources rather than one specific site.
    • Repin from within the site to engage with others – repinning is one of the most social activities on Pinterest and it’s how any user really builds his/her network of followers.
    • Create at least a few boards that cover a broad range of interests, rather than maintaining a single board devoted to one topic.
    My friends at Integrity in St. Louis have put together a good overview in Share Your (P)interests.

    By the way, to set up your account on Pinterest, you will need to use either your Facebook profile or your Twitter account. If you are setting up the account for a brand, you will want to use your Twitter account. Otherwise, your updates will show up on your personal Facebook profile.


    Love the advice in this blog article, Pinterest marketing: Best practices to get your brand started, including the recommendation to check who has pinned you by using the following link http://pinterest.com/source/simplemarketingnow.com/ [simply replace your website address where mine is].

    You'll also enjoy this blog article from Nufloors Coquitlam: Interested in Pinterest?

    Have you created Pinterest boards for your business? If yes, share them in the comments. 

    What is your Pinterest strategy? What reactions have you had?

    I'd love to hear!

    Tags: social media

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