Do You Really Know What’s Going on in the Retail Flooring Industry?

The Secret Shopper Research

The Secret Shopper Research

Have you read the “Secret Shopper Research, the In-store Evaluation?” It’s in the September/October, 2015 issue of the Premier Flooring Retailer, published by the World Floor Covering Association. (This is the first of the reports, the new one isn’t yet posted.)If you haven’t, I suggest you do. It is definitely thought provoking.  I know the sampling isn’t thousands, but it’s enough to make you question what you’re doing. The survey is being conducted by David Romano, Founder and Owner, Benchmarkinc.

I have not read part one, only the second part; How Consumers View Independent Flooring Retailers & Big-Box Stores.”  Frankly, the statistics and information have not made me feel warm and fuzzy about the flooring  industry in general.

The most troubling of the statistics is that “Only 3% of the shoppers for both Independents and Big-Box stores felt they were properly qualified and only 13% of independents and 19% of Big-Box stores offered financing.”

This seems a bit dismal to me. Maybe we all need to step up our game and pay attention to improving profits in our industry.   Do we forget to train about qualifying the customers or how and why to offer financing? It seems unlikely.

Both statistics are connected to selling at higher prices and getting better margins.  The financing partners have spent considerable money on training and offering special packages to retailers, what are we missing?

Everyone talks about the value of selling at higher prices and improving their bottom line but this survey clearly points out that it didn’t happen with this group.

Why wouldn’t a store want to sell at higher prices? Over the years I’ve heard many excuses for not selling better products. Are we still afraid that showing better merchandise will scare a customer into not buying? Is the 2008 recession still in our heads?

Do we think we’re insulting the customer if they can’t afford it?  If we’re not doing a good job “qualifying,” how do we know whether or not they can afford it?

(I don’t know but I always feel better when I’m shown the better merchandise, it gives me something new to think about. If I like the merchandise, I also rethink my budget.) Does your sales staff feel the same way about showing better merchandise?

How are you paying your sales staff a good wage? Do you have enough traffic for them to go for the higher tickets or do they have to sell every customer no matter what the cost?

How are you mining your leads and your sold customers? Are you so busy with everything except selling that no one has time to call past customers?   In a June report from RSR Research, 41% said that employees aren’t spending enough time on selling and customer service, and 46% said staff is spending too much time on paperwork. Are salespeople just too busy with everything except selling?


Being unable to qualify the customer is the prelude to “leaving money on the table.” Selling cheap customers almost guarantees cheap referrals. Do you have the mindset that any sale is better than no sale? Could you be selling better?

I know if I were l in the retail business, I would be reviewing the “Secret Shopper Research” with my sales staff and working on training for the New Year. What does the article mean to them?

Even if your business is doing well it can always strive to be better. The independent retailers claim to be the experts in the business but are we really?  It’s tough to think that the Big Boxes are gaining on our territory. Maybe it’s time to rethink what we’re doing and  go back to basics.

I would love to know your thoughts about the survey.


Lisbeth Calandrino is the Associate Publisher and Director of Social Media, Fabulous Floors Magazine. To find out more about Lisbeth, reach her at

9 Ways to Grow Your Interior Design Business Using Social Media Marketing

Social media matters more than ever.

Social media matters more than ever.

So exactly what is social media marketing and why must designers quickly adopt a strategy?

Social media marketing is all about connecting with people on a human basis through conversations and shared interests. Its focus is primarily on the consumer and sharing information that will help them grow. Humans like to engage with others, share their interests and events that are going on in their lives.

An informed customer is a better customer, although I often hear, “What do I do? The customer knows too much, and the information is wrong?”

The new sales climate brings a customer who has many ways to get information. They can go to Facebook, Pinterest or Houzz to name a couple to get ideas. They are watching television shows that teach them how to do most everything. If you’re not on any of these sites, you are likely to lose your edge. Adding your information to these sites builds what we call social currency.

The term social currency was coined by Vivaldi Partners in 2010. According to their definition, social currency is the degree to which customers share a brand or information about a brand with others. In this case, you are the brand. In order to gain social currency you must post on various sites. We’re talking about sharing yourself and encouraging your consumers to evaluate and add to your posts.

As humans, we like to engage with others who share our interests, even when we haven’t yet met. If you’re putting yourself as the expert, you will have to develop content so people can comment and share what you’re written. Now you are building social currency.

  1. People buy your talent and your expertise. How will they know who you are unless you can share what you do? If people aren’t talking about you, you don’t exist. Produce a White Paper on “How to Hire an Interior Designer or “Why Hiring a Designer will save you Money.” Talk about your awards and professional affiliations.
  2. Buy a good camera to take photos of your jobs. Take many photos of the same room so you can determine which ones are the best. Also make sure you have a good head shot of yourself. As the associate publisher for Fabulous Floors Magazine, I’m always looking for great room shots but often come up empty handed. I hear about great jobs, but the photos are missing. If you’re taking photos, don’t forget to do a little ‘staging.’ This is another way to sell the customer more products and also help them dream
  3. LinkedIn is another good place to blog and join interior design groups. Engaging with other designers can give you lots of information about consumers. What are your peers doing, are they using social media and what is working for them. Participate in discussions and share what you’re doing. You’re likely to find new ways to market yourself and your product as well as a customer or two. You can also blog on LinkedIn.
  4. Make sure your online reputation is solid. Notice what people are saying about it; if it’s not all good, find a way to fix it. Get as many positive comments you can.
  5. Spend time creating your own fan club. Past clients who love you can spread the word across the Internet for you, but you must ask them to do it. 90% of your business is through referrals so why not have your delighted customers talked about you?
  6. If you’re doing a design for a show or model home, make sure your name, phone and website are visible to all. You can give a gift for anyone who contacts you.
  7. Produce a webinar on color, style or design tips. This could be free to past and present customers or charge a nominal fee to “not yet customers.” I’m not a fan of charging, there are too many places to get this information for free. You can host an online color clinic or how to design on a budget on five easy steps.
  8. Hold a design event in your studio. Partner up with a vendor, possibly a restaurant or florist or anyone with an email data base so you can increase your email reach.
  9. Keep at it and continue to engage your customers. Be consistent with your postings and give it time. It will pay off.

More tips from High Dollar Designer, Thanks to PinkCloud for the image.


Lisbeth Calandrino is Associate Publisher of Fabulous Floors Magazine as well as Director of Social Media. She is a regular speaker at flooring and design conferences as well as interior design events. She can be reached at

7 Ways to Improve Your Area Rug Business: A Conversation with Dan Burkle

rug marketYou meet the nicest people in the strangest places. Several weeks ago, I was returning from Surfaces, the floor covering market and found myself sitting next to Dan Buerkle and his wife.

Dan is the owner of The Rug Market in Rochester, New York.


We started talking, and Dan tells me his store, The Rug Market has been open since 1932 and was bought by his family in 1958. What makes his business unusual, is that Dan stocks 800 area rugs in his 3000 square foot floor covering store. Dan is the first person I’ve met that loves the area rug business and apparently is very successful.


Dan’s dad was a road salesman for Gullistan Carpets. He was tired from being on the road and felt if he owned a retail store; he would be able to spend more time with his family. We all know how this went. As a young man, Dan had several part-time jobs, one with Wegmans. In 1963, Dan decided he would try working alongside his father.


“I thought it would be a temporary job, but the industry was getting to me. I contribute much of my enthusiasm to industry educator Frank Mayfield. Frank was the first inductee into the World Floor Covering Hall of Fame and was considered a leader in the flooring and home furnishings industry. As I continued to listen, I realized the opportunity that was in front of me. I knew I could be part of something very valuable, and I could cause a change.


In 1968, Dan’s dad retired and Dan assumed the leadership role.


Area rugs seem to be a mystery to some retailers. However, Dan dedicates approximately 50% of his showroom to area rugs, and the other 50% to floor covering products, lighting, window treatments and accessories.


Rochester was one of America’s first “boomtowns” and rose to prominence initially as the site of many flour mills located on the Genesee River, then as a major manufacturing hub. Rochester is now an international center of higher education, as well as medical and technological development. It continues to grow although experienced the recession of 2008 like the rest of the country, and I wondered how Dan made it through the recession.


“In 2008, we lost a total of $54.00. Since then our business has continued to grow, and December 2014 was the best month we ever had. It has been all about knowing our costs, our customers and staying focused.”


How does a small upstate rug store continue to grow and thrive? Here are Dan’s tips:


  1. 1. Do your best to understand your business and your customers. Know their buying habits and watch the trends. When rugs don’t sell, get rid of them and find better ones to replace them.


  1. Attend trade shows. I attend the Atlanta Rug Mart, Surfaces and whatever else I feel will give me new ideas and products for my store. Look at fashion magazines, and look at new colors and styles. Fashion is fashion.


  1. Enjoy what you do. I realized I love area rugs; they’re magnificent and really dress up a home. I carry price points from $150.00 to $3000.00. I make sure the customer likes the rug they choose and suggest they take the rug home and make sure it is what they want. It’s just a question of finding the right rug.


  1. 3. Work with interior designers and let them know you want to be their resource. I have designers who have been with us for years. I let them know what I’ve seen at markets and what I’m planning on buying. I want to make sure I have things that will please their customers.


  1. Join a group that focuses on education, Dan is a member of joined CarpetsPlus Color Tile.

CarpetsPlus Color Tile is a national chain of premier floor covering design centers. Founded in the fall of 1996, CarpetsPlus began with a philosophy that emphasizes the independent store ownership backed by the buying power of a national chain. The buying power has been extremely valuable to Dan as well as networking with other members.


  1. Continue to update your showroom. Dan says he’s in the business of making homes look good, so he has to invest in his own showroom.


  1. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be optimistic and learn as much as you can about your industry. Dan finds the trade shows stimulating and enormously valuable. He and his wife love the trips, but the focus is on the products and education.


  1. Find your niche. I love area rugs and realized I was good at it. I built our brand by doing lots of advertising and word of mouth. You can’t be everything, but you can determine your path. When you find it, get better at it and stay with it.


What’s next for Dan? “I realize social media would take us to another level, says Dan, and my daughter is coming in to help me.” I’m wondering, is she just visiting or will she be inspired by what has been in her family for generations?


It may be hard for Dan to give up this temporary job.

Dan can be reached at 585-544-8690.


Lisbeth Calandrino has been helping businesses become more profitable for over 20 years. To have her speak to your staff or schedule a consultation, reach her at


140 Under 40 Luncheon Provides Unique Networking Opportunity for Emerging Professionals to Learn from Industry Mentors

surfaces east August 28, 2014 (Dallas, TX) Emerging professionals attending The International Surface Event East (TISE East), will not want to miss the unique opportunity to attend the 140 Under 40 Luncheon, featuring insight from a diverse group of leaders in the floor covering, stone and tile industries. The event will be held on Monday, October 20 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. during the launch of TISE East, October 19-22 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Open to young professionals under 40 years of age, 140 Under 40 participants will have the chance to interact with their peers and learn from successful industry experts who have volunteered their time to serve as mentors.

Mentors participating in the event include Lisbeth Calandrino, Associate Publisher, Fabulous Floors; Mallory Cruise, Assistant Managing Editor, Floor Covering Weekly; Scott Humphrey, CEO, World Floor Covering Association; Mike Micalizzi, Senior Director of Technical Services, Custom Building Products; Lew Migliore, President, LGM and Associates; Christopher Ramey, President, The Home Trust International; Betty Sullivan, President, Architectural Ceramics and Dana Teague, Vice President, Hanley Wood Exhibitions Inc.

Hanley Wood Exhibitions reports that the number of young professionals attending The International Surface Event has steadily grown over the past several years. In 2014, this audience segment represented about 30% of the event’s overall attendance. “Providing emerging professionals with increased learning and networking offerings will continue to be a strategic area of focus at future events,” said Amie Gilmore, Director, The International Surface Event. “Investing in professional and personal development for individuals that will one day become future leaders of our industry is a responsibility we all share.”

To register for the 140 Under 40 Networking Event and take advantage of early registration rates extended through September 5, visit

To take advantage of discounted hotel rates at TISE East which include complimentary shuttle service to and from the show, visit


Lisbeth Calandrino is Associate Publisher and Director of Social Media for Fabulous Floors Magazine. For the past 20 years she has been a business consultant and customer retention specialist. To speak with her about your business, you can reach her at, .




The International Surface Event East (TISE East) Is Just Around The Corner

Miami Beach Convention Center (MBBC) October 19-22, 2014.

Miami Beach Convention Center (MBBC) October 19-22, 2014.

It’s exciting to have a new show to attend this year and even more exciting for it to be in Miami Beach. TISE East 2014 will take place at the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), October 19-22, 2014. In 2013, SURFACES and StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas co-launched with the all new TileExpo, and created the ultimate floor covering event for the east coast, TISE East.  This show promises to be the biggest flooring event of the fall.

I’m always interested in the education events and what new programs are available.   This year, the TISE East Conference Manager, Michele Nebel Peake has asked us to be more cognizant of our audience and to try some fresh learning techniques modeled on Brain-Based Learning Laws.

“Our attendees are adults,” says Michele Nebel Peake, Conference Manager, “and adults learn better and stay more involved if the presentations are interactive and have an emotional component.  We are trying to move away from lectures with speakers behind podiums to sessions that allow adults to share experiences.”

TISE East has also instituted an Emerging Professionals Program for young professionals in the floor covering, stone and tile industries. The inaugural 140 Under 40 Luncheon will be held on Monday, October 20 at the MBCC from 11:30am-1:00pm. The luncheon is intended to bring young professionals together to network with each other and industry experts.  There has been a steady growth of young professional attendees over the last several years at TISE and they currently make up nearly 30% of overall attendance.

I am aware that many businesses are being run by younger generations who are facing new challenges but come with a variety of new skills; specifically social media.  (Of note, a session on Tuesday, October 21, 8:00am-9:45am, which will feature multi-generational family businesses and the challenges they face.  Included will be a father/daughter business and a mother/son business – TU03: Family Business: Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation.)  I am very interested in learning about their take on business and challenges for the future. Hopefully, I and others can provide some information that will be useful with their challenges.  For more information on the Emerging Professionals Luncheon visit

For more information on the educational sessions, including sessions appropriate for the emerging professional, visit

Don’t miss your chance to register early and attend both the exhibits and education for $15 ($5 for MIA and WFCA members) – early bird registration ends Wednesday, August 20 –


Lisbeth Calandrino is the Associate Publisher of Fabulous Floors Magazine and has been and industry trainer and consultant for the past 20 years. She can be reached at

What Does It Take To Really Know Your Customers?


Is it possible to know what your customers want?

Is it possible to know what your customers want?

Knowing and understanding your target customer is not as easy as it sounds. And companies that know their customers as well as they know their families are few and far between. Knowing a customer to depth is the key characteristic of highly effective  companies.

Companies that have this knowledge about their customers are wildly successful. Once you understand your customer you can deliver the exact solutions they need. Many companies spend their time on everything but having heart-to-heart conversations with current and potential customers. The biggest error is “thinking you know what your customer needs from your point of view.”

Not long ago I was invited to be part of a Design Council with retailers and interior designers with Karndean Design Flooring. Karndean is a 40 year family-owned business out of the UK. The two-day session was moderated by Product Manager Jenne Ross and National Account Retail Manager, Tim Hanno.

“We focus on producing luxury vinyl tile products with the high-end appeal, says Product Manager, Jenne Ross. Our design council gives us the opportunity to speak with those who use our products everyday so that we can see if we are on the correct path. We want to provide the right tools and the best product so our customers can grow their businesses through our designs.”

Unlike a focus group, the Design Council was interested in finding out the challenges faced by their customers. The purpose of the  group, is to get to know the  customers better and understand their needs. To build better products, a business has to understand their customer’s challenge.

I have moderated focus groups in the past and have found them to be useful; unfortunately, it’s a small segment of the marketplace and just because they like a product doesn’t mean they can sell it. It’s more practical to understand their trials with the customer. Then you can go back and determine what products will fit their needs.

I remember conducting a focus group for an area rug company; the product was unusual, ahead of its time and filled a high end niche. The product eventually sold out at discounted prices; the manufacturer did one product run, and that was it.

Different than a focus group, the Design Council brought in customers who understood their market and their customer. For a manufacturer, it’s wise to be consumer savvy. The real value is understanding what hurdles your customer faces in getting the product to the end user.    Consumer information is certainly useful, but the challenges faced by the seller are even more important. Just because a customer likes the product doesn’t mean they will buy it!  If you know what they buy and what they spend maybe  in direct opposition to what they like. There is no question that as a shoe lover Manolo  Blahnik is on the top of my “love” list. However, spending the money on them is a different story.

Unless you sell directly to the end user, how will you know what the customer wants to buy?

Karndean can use this information, along with what they glean from their other groups, to determine how they can help their customers sell their products. Karndean is not a stranger to roundtable discussions. They recently held one  on color and style at the Material Pub in London, with top interior designers and architects.

“We know that our customers can use our help, says Tim Hanno, that’s why we spend time giving our customers information and training that will help them sell our products. We consider them our business partners, and together we need to collaborate to bring the right design to market. No one understands the marketplace better than our customers.”

Getting to understand the hurdles that your customer faces will help a manufacturer get their product to the marketplace and build trust with their customer.

Eventually, the bottom line is the bottom line, and the buck starts there.

Lisbeth Calandrino is Associate Publisher of Fabulous Floors Magazine and Director of Social Media. To schedule a consultation or have her speak at your business, she can be reached at

It Takes Both Innovation and Good Partners to be a Leader in Business

AaronAaron Pirner and his family are legends in the flooring industry. Both he and his father LaVone, are owners of CAP Carpet Inc. in Wichita, KS. They have been influential helping to move the industry forward through their ongoing association with the World Floorcovering Association. It’s one thing to spur the growth of your own business; it’s another to   pledge yourself to the entire industry.

LaVone Pirner opened his first 4,000 square foot store in Wichita in 1967. Since then CAP Carpet has grown to seven brands and more than 50 million in business.

Aaron is a legend, and it’s hard to write about legends but there’s something very different about how Aaron speaks about our industry and his commitment. After reading an article in a trade publication, I decided to give him a call.

One of the things that fascinated me about Aaron was his interest in learning and in serving the flooring industry. Despite the fact, he grew up in family-owned business; Aaron went on to pursue an MBA. Growing up in a successful family business already puts you in the driver’s seat. So why would Aaron spend all that time in college? It’s because Aaron is always looking for new ways to serve his customers and to transform his business. Those two things alone would make Aaron a leader in any industry.

Here are some of the highlights of my conversation with Aaron.

Aaron grew up in the flooring business and apparently had always planned on going into the business; guess you could say, “Flooring is in his blood.” However, it takes more than this to make a business prosper.

I asked Aaron why his business has been so successful, his answer, “People matter.” It’s not only the customer, but it’s the people, who work for us and have created our business, says Aaron. If you start with that premise, you will treat everyone “the right way.” When this is your philosophy, you are starting with a successful attitude.”

In 2013, the CAP Senior Leadership Team developed a new concept called the Floor Project. The Floor Project consisted of two pilot stores devoted to making it easier for the consumer to get the right flooring.

“We reached out to our customer and asked them what we could do to help make the shopping experience more directed and the process less confusing. They told us what to do, and we decided to do it. Success is getting the right people involved to help provide direction and keep you on the path. That involves our customers and our talented staff.”

The voice of the customer is critical but how many stores actually talk to the customer before they develop a product? My dad told me without a customer your product was worthless. To this day, he appears to be correct. However, store owners get so overwhelmed with their “good ideas” they forget to involve the customer in the process. According to the CAP philosophy, the customer comes first.

Aaron says there are five elements that if put into place would make it easier for the customer. Simply put, the consumer must know how much flooring they will need, when they can get it, what will it cost, how will it look and is it right for their “life stage.” Products are shown on-line in various room settings with larger carpet samples in the showroom.

The Floor Project caters to the “middle range” price point where there are more customers. If the products are right, a lower priced customer is likely to spend some extra money to get what they want, and the “middle range” customer will be quite comfortable and not be intimidated. It’s what we call a “win-win.”

Stores talk about “value added” and usually focus on products. These days finding products are not the issue. There are more than enough products; the problem is finding a way to determine the “right” product without spending hours in the process. It takes a concept like the Floor Project to decipher the problem and narrow down the consumer’s choices.

As Aaron points out with the concept of the Floor Project, real value added has moved from products to the consumer. It will be interesting to follow the Floor Project as it continues to evolve The products are available on smart phones and have QR codes that take the consumer to his web site.

I would say that Aaron is not only on the right track for the consumer, but for the entire industry.

Lisbeth is the Associate Publisher of Fabulous Floors Magazine as well as a business consultant. She helps businesses build loyal customers through improving customer retention management and  the customer engagement. To have her speak at your store, reach her at Her book, Red Hot Customer Service, a primer for customer relationships can be ordered from Amazon.