How important are the retail experience and marketing to women to your business? They should matter to you. In this blog interview, Manny Llerena sets the record straight about marketing to women, the retail experience and flooring! Manny, by the way, is a fellow Paco Underhill fan [see my previous blog articles about retail anthropologist Paco Underhill]. Through him, I met Sonna Calandrino, the ultimate woman in flooring.
Manny has an impressive background in the flooring industry. Over the past 30 years, he has been both retail sales associate and store manager. He has managed a 50 store operation with $50,000,000 in annual sales. As a VP of National Accounts, he was responsible for all of Mohawk Industries' sales and marketing with key accounts like Home Depot, Lowes and Carpet One. He started a new soft surface flooring division, installing carpet departments in a 500 store chain, and grew revenues from zero to $100m annually. He managed overall operations of the Mohawk Aligned Dealer network, with 2000 independent aligned retailers across the U.S. and Canada and annual revenues of close to 1/2 Billion Dollars.
What comes through when you speak with Manny is his passion for the retail experience and his commitment to marketing to women in flooring. I think you'll enjoy what he has to share on the subject.
CB: Manny, you've been very involved in the flooring retail marketplace. How has it changed over the years?
ML: The flooring industry has primarily changed in who is selling product to the end consumer:
Thirty Years Ago - Home Depot and Lowes didn't exist. Independent dealers were mostly large volume operators, and the bulk of the sales were being made through department stores like Sears and Macy's. Hard Surface was being serviced by the "bucket and trowel" contractors and by Color Tile which had over 500 stores nationwide focusing primarily on the very profitable DIY hard surface business.
Twenty Years Ago - The department stores had lost most of their steam to independent flooring retailers. The need for complete services including affordable professional installation led that charge. Also, the selection of carpet products began to expand from basic saxonies and cut & loops to a variety of textures and berbers. Branded Fibers like StainMaster took the stage and the power shifted to the fiber companies Dupont, Monsanto, Anso and BASF. And a company no one thought would make it... Home Depot entered the arena.
Ten Years Ago - The department stores are completely out of the picture. Home Centers now own 10% share of all residential floor covering sales. And buying groups like Carpet One, Flooring America and Abbey are flexing their muscles as they provide much needed professionalism to the floor covering independent retail owner. Flooring stores are shifting from soft surface-only retailers to offering both soft and hard surface assortments.
Today - The Big Box stores (Home Depot and Lowes) own over a 25% market share of all residential flooring. The Buying Groups (CCA Global, Abbey etc.) probably own another 25% and the Independent Retailer continues to shrink in share as well as in number of dealers. Fiber companies have practically disappeared as the Big Three carpet mills (Mohawk, Shaw and Beaulieu) have become totally integrated. All retail outlets offer a complete assortment of both soft and hard surface flooring, with the majority offering complete installation for all products.
CB: I love your background in Anthropology. How has that benefited you in the retail marketplace?
ML: Anthropology is the study of cultures and people. It teaches us to look at how people interact, their habits, their beliefs and practices. If there is one thing that I have learned about the flooring retail marketplace, it is that the decision maker is without a doubt the Female Consumer. My anthropological background has allowed me to really study this segment of shoppers and develop product offerings, displays, store merchandising, marketing, advertising and promotions that are geared around the female shoppers wants, needs and desires - how she shops and how she wants to buy.
In our flooring industry, which is so male dominated both at manufacturing and at retailing, we need more focus on the needs of our key target customer. My anthropological background has allowed me to do just that and have great success from it.
CB: You've spent a lot of time focusing on women in the flooring retail experience. What do women look for in a retail store?
ML: There is an adage that I remind myself of often. It states:
A man buys a hammer...
A woman buys a picture on the wall...
I believe that the female consumer has a pretty good idea in her mind of what the finished project she wants will look like in her home. She can visualize the look, the color scheme - how the new floor or wall will work with the other pieces in the room. She also has an ambiance she wants to achieve. And of course she wants to make a smart decision when it comes to value, care and durability.
The retail store must then provide her with ease of shopping, and answers to her questions in a language she can understand and relate to. It must provide her with visual suggestions and ideas so that she can get a feel if the product or products being suggested match her ideas. And, just as important, it needs to give her a clean, stimulating environment that will allow her to feel as if she is in her home, finding solutions to her home project.
Flooring retailers need to look at their stores and really ask themselves: is my store and are my sales associates providing these things? Many have a lot of work to do to get there!
CB: How does that vary across product categories?
ML: I do not believe that it varies much between product categories. Some products, like ceramic tile for example, are a little more complicated with so many decos, accents, trims etc. It will require more room scenes, grouted boards and a work station where the female shopper and the retail sales associate can lay things out, mix and match (almost like Legos) to visualize. But all the basics are the same.
CB: How can (flooring) retailers create and deliver the kind of experience that women will respond to by buying in the kind of tough and complex environment we're in?
ML: The keys to women deciding to buying from you now, during these tough economic environment, is truly in you and your store's ability to meet her needs and provide the Basics in the Science of Retailing.
- Do you have a professional sales staff (versus order takers) who are capable of truly finding that female consumers wants, needs and desires?
- Do you have a sales team that can recommend the right products to meet the vision of the flooring that she wants for the room in her home? Then able to offer a lower priced alternative if the original choices are beyond her budget?
- Do you have a retail selling environment that is visually stimulating? That offers graphics, room scenes that will allow her to visualize the products in her home versus a store full of racks?
- Does the messaging answer her questions in terms of decor, color, ambiance versus technical specs or manufacturing lingo that she cannot relate to?
- Do you offer a credit plan that will allow her to spread out her payments over 12, 18 or even 24 months?
- Do you run a business that truly cares about developing satisfied customers for life and not just getting all that you can from that one transaction?
Theses are the value drivers that convince female consumers to purchase now, and to purchase from you!
CB: Manny, which retailers - in flooring or outside the industry - do the best job with their retail experience? Why?
ML: My favorite flooring store is Avalon Carpet and Tile. Normally when I talk about Avalon’s success some retailers suggest "You shouldn’t compare us to them! They do over $70 million a year in business." It's true they are very successful, however they did not always do $70MM in sales - that took 50 years. And, the things that stand out, you can do, too!
- Their stores are not cluttered with every manufacturers displays
- They put up room scenes on their walls so the female shopper can visualize flooring in a room setting
- They display a lot of different styles on their own floors so, again, the consumer can see what it will look like
- They build small vignettes with product and decorate with matching fabric, a chair, even bathroom vanity and sink
- Everything is clearly priced with professional, typed Avalon price tags
- The lighting was purchased not only for energy efficiency, but also to simulate sunlight as closely as possible
- There are signs that remind customers of the warranties and service levels that they will receive by buying at Avalon
- Their staff are expertly trained to find the customer's needs, provide the perfect flooring for those needs; and what is a more affordable "back – up choice" if the original choice falls out of the customer's price tolerance
A wonderful shopping / buying experience indeed!
CB: What advice would you offer retailers who truly want to reinvent their retail experience and make it more appealing to women customers?
ML: I would offer three areas to focus on:
1) Begin by truly defining what you want your business to be and the customer segment you want to focus on. The idea that you can be all things to all people rarely works, and then you resort to price to try to compete. So are you going to be a roll / pallet stocking dealer focusing on lowest prices? Or a full service / all products provider focusing on service and decorating assistance?
Next, learn everything that your competition offers and be able to clearly define what separates you from your competition.
Once you know the answers to the items above, you can hire the right people to carry out your mission. Train them to the expectations you want your business to stand for. Make sure their pay is based on meeting the needs of the business, not just their personal financial needs. And finally, let the consumer know what they will get from you that they may not get anywhere else.
2) Develop a "Female - Centric Selling System" as we discussed earlier, not just a store full of racks. When she walks into your store, she should be impressed with what she sees on the inside, much more than the outside environment she just came in from. Make sure it is clean, organized. Buy plants, fabrics, chairs and pillows. The more it feels like the inside of her home, the better you will be.
3) Service each customer as if you were selling to your best friend. Find out what they truly want; what they want the project or room to end up looking like. Provide them with what they need to accomplish that look and feel. If the cost is beyond what they can spend, have lower priced alternatives that can still fulfill their needs.
These three pieces working together in harmony will deliver a memorable retail experience to create not only immediate sales, but Customers For Life.
CB: Manny, thanks so much for sharing perspective on the retail experience and how to be successful marketing and selling to women.
Readers, what has been your experience creating an unforgettable and engaging retail experience that appeals to women customers? What has worked best? Have you implemented ideas similar to those Manny suggests?
Let me know in the comments!