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From an early age, many of us can remember a parent, teacher or coach reminding us that, “if you don’t practice, you’ll never be very good!” Sound familiar? My question is, at exactly what age did we begin to believe that this is no longer true?

This past week I had the privilege of hosting the WFCA’s Industry Hall of Fame induction ceremony that honored three people; the late Sonna Calendrino, Sandy, and Paul Pumphrey for their distinguished contributions to the flooring industry. On paper, these three are actually quite different.

Sonna was largely known for the work that she performed in training our industry in the art of presentation and salesmanship. Whether it was through the media, or in person, her message was always one of improving yourself through service to others.

Have you ever been excited to finally get to make an anticipated purchase only to be met by a sales clerk who didn’t exactly share your enthusiasm? You know the type. They are the ones who mark off the days on the wall calendar behind their desk. We all have experienced this joyous soul!

You had the vision. You had the funding. You’d hired a babysitter. You had high hopes that this was going to be a special day – if only you had found a sales professional to make it special for you. Do you remember how disappointing this was? I hope so!

Much has been written and said regarding the so-called disadvantages that the local merchant faces in our new economy. On-line shopping, big box retailers, category killers – all common terms barely existing in our business lexicon not that many years ago. While it is true that these forms of retailing have minimized some familiar merchandising tactics, they have also brought new areas of opportunity for the independent retailer to focus upon and prosper from. We just have to look more closely for where these opportunities exist.

There is a saying that “the customer is always right”. I believe that there are exceptions to this theory. When a customer suggests that any flooring product be installed in a manner which would compromise the integrity of the installation, you are always best served by just saying no. Politely explain why doing so would not be in anyone’s best interest.

Traveling about the country conducting training sessions allows me a unique perspective on what I feel may be the most ineffective and underutilized part of our business – advertising. I am always observing what local merchants, typically operating without the benefits of a professional agency, have to say to potential customers. Sadly, the message conveyed in the media is too often focused on the business itself rather than where it should be – on the customer.

Spring is the time of year when sports pages are full of news pertaining to roster moves. Baseball teams are finishing up spring training, while deciding which twenty-five players to place on their opening day roster. NFL teams are pursuing both free agency and the upcoming college draft. All teams are seeking players who are either capable of greater performance than the existing roster member, or one who is comparable in talent that comes at a lower cost. Even last year’s champions recognize that rosters can always be improved.

One of the common mistakes that managers make is assuming that their staff members know more than they actually do. Never presume since “we covered that during orientation” or “it’s in the employee handbook” that any given message was fully understood and absorbed by your personnel. The tendency is to barrage new staff with information as they are first employed, when they are least likely to fully comprehend it, and then never follow up to see what their retention is.

I read a great quote in Entrepreneur Magazine recently that I’d like to share with you. Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Company, stated that “you have a viable business only if your product is either better or cheaper than the alternatives.” Wow! That pretty well sums up the flooring business just as it does the beer business.

What we must remember is that in our field, installation and service are products, just the same as a box of tile or a roll of carpet. It is an integral part of what the customer is purchasing from us.

Nobody likes to lose a sale. You’ve often invested a great deal of time, effort and resources with a potential customer. You feel good about both your offering and its chances for acceptance. Then you get the bad news – she’s bought elsewhere.

You feel somewhat defeated and possibly just a little hurt. You’d prefer to just be done with this customer, but only after you’ve told her what you really think! While these are natural inclinations, to behave in this manner would be totally wrong.