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Monday, April 09, 2007

A Store That Floors: Aggieland Carpet One Floor & Home

In Stores That Floor, I ended saying that I had identified my first honoree. Today, I am happy to share with you the specifics... The recipient of the first ever Store That Floors Award is:

Aggieland Carpet One Floor & Home in College Station, TX.

You may remember Aggieland Carpet One from an earlier post titled Bathrooms That Floor in which I relayed Claudia Smith [owner with her husband Ron] 's comments about the critical role a beautiful bathroom plays in a store.

From that post: the bathroom is the one space in the store most like a home environment. It is where a whole design concept can be carried out from floor to ceiling, to countertop, to fixtures, to the walls. It's the best place to display the quality of installation work and the range of products that Aggieland offers. It is part of the overall retail environment, a part of the shopping experience, with the added benefit of being more home-like.

I first heard about Ron and Claudia Smith and their store at a 2005 Carpet One Award Dinner during which they were awarded a Special Achievement Award for "significant achievement... based on their outstanding implementation of the “Destination: Carpet One” store planning program." You see, Aggieland Carpet One became the first Carpet One store with this format when they opened their new showroom in December 2003, a format developed by CCA Global's Theresa Fisher and FRCH Design Worldwide [note: link opens to a flash intro that I wasn't able to get beyond].

After speaking with Claudia for the Bathroom Blogfest '06, I asked her if I could come visit. She graciously agreed and when I found myself in Dallas in early March, I couldn't think of a better opportunity.

I expected to be really impressed. However, I left blown away with the vision that Ron and Claudia have created in their 6400 square foot store in College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies.

[Claudia is sitting here at the designer table in the center of the store; it creates a strong visual element as you enter and you can't help but gravitate toward it.]

As you can see from the photo above, I had no trouble spotting the store sign from the highway - even though I came from out-of-town! My first impression as I drove up and parked was positive: large windows showcasing an intriguing view of within and serious potential for fashion. I walked in and onto a semi-circular tile patterned area. As I made the transition from outside to inside, Joshua, seated to the right of the door at the Service Desk, greeted me and offered me bottled water [greatly appreciated].

Several immediate reactions: delicious spaciousness, great wall colors, warm lighting [especially with all of the natural light flowing in], a variety of display heights, wonderful music playing [via iPod with a range of tunes from instrumental, light jazz, The Three Tenors, Norah Jones,....], no clutter, informative signage and a multitude of intriguing product ideas shown within each separate category and in the central open area. I didn't feel overwhelmed with product selections. Rather, the store organization was intuitive. And, not only was the store clean, but it smelled good!

Ron and Claudia emphasize newness. They change displays, rotate products and rearrange them frequently [i.e., every week] to highlight different concepts, combinations or trend stories. They create their own sample boards for imported tile samples or simply to showcase an interesting idea. Every element on the floor showcases product - from the top quality padding used with the store carpet to concept boards. What a way to draw customers back! Perhaps just for ideas, but eventually for business.

I couldn't spot a single work desk on the floor! Claudia explained that she and Ron had purposely banished desks to an office space so as not to detract from the consumer experience. The store, though, features many tables and chairs - unlike most flooring retailers - in private nooks/crannies where intense discussions and consultations can take place.

If you remember the characteristics of Stores That Floor, not only does such a store have to address the 10 Principles of Retail Shoppability, but it also needs to make the retail experience stand out. Here's a little more perspective on two of those elements: creating a sense of community and passionate focus on the consumer.

Claudia and Ron make a big effort to connect with the design community in their town, welcoming designers to the store and encouraging them to hold meetings on site. The feedback they've received from this community is that their store is engaging and inspiring, full of ideas that they enjoy sharing with their customers.

The Smiths also connect with another community - the installer trade - via a separate outlet selling installation tools and supplies. They even sell to installers from competing stores. Another dedicated resource caters to the commercial and builder community.

As it relates to the consumer, Ron and Claudia and everyone in their organization focuses passionately on the consumer. The 3 store salespeople are customer champions: they develop relationships, find solutions, manage expectations, followup, integrate communications between the sales and installation process and generally ensure that the entire experience is not only painless, but surpasses expectations. Each customer receives a thank you note - which includes a feedback form - that Claudia or Ron followup on if necessary.

Even the operations manager checks in with consumers after installation takes place [and debriefing with the installer]. He also visits the worksite. Impressive - especially when I think about my Mom's experience [see Final Issue: Endless Frustrations].

How is it that so many flooring stores get it so wrong? Why can't more stores be like this one? I asked Ron and Claudia to tell me more about their backgrounds and here's what I learned.

They don't come from the business!

They don't hire from within the business!

Claudia and Ron are well traveled, having lived in Japan and Turkey when Ron was employed with Raytheon, and visited many other places. Claudia is from Bolivia. They are world citizens with an affinity for listening and putting themselves in the consumer's shoes.

Their 3 delightful salespeople are college graduates with a design background. They view themselves more as 'consultants' than as salespeople. With no industry-related pre-conceived notions, they exude passion, fashion, and freshness of perspective. They get involved with their customers, ask questions to help them find solutions and have fun in the process.

I did visit the bathroom, but took no photos since it will shortly be redone. Let me assure you, though, that it was spotless, beautifully tiled, with interesting faucet, sink, and mirror details and fun accessories [nice ornamental bouquet, pot pourri and accent table]. I anticipate a Bathroom Blogfest '07 blogpost on the new and improved Aggieland bathroom!

The March 26, 2007 issue of Floor Covering Weekly included on page 2 an article titled "Appealing to your female consumer" by Maya Avrasin and refers to Aggieland Carpet One. 'The 6,000-square-foot showroom they moved into boasts a cozy feel, with nooks built into the showroom that provide privacy for customers while they peruse the racks, with small tables conveniently placed throughout the store for them to compare colors and styles, Smith said. "We wanted the customers to feel like they were in their own space," she said.'

'The Smiths pipe in smooth jazz or easy listening music to put their consumers at ease, have warm lighting and natural light wherever possible and add seasonal scents like a winter spice or fruity spring to the air for added relaxation. "We don't get questions like 'can you do a quality job' anymore; the customer immediately knows that we are a serious retailer that's going to back up anything and everything that we do," she said.

'Whittemore said that the Aggieland store is a good example of what more retailers should be doing.'

There you have it. Truly, a Store That Floors. Thank you, Claudia and Ron, for being so committed to creating an amazing experience. Congratulations on becoming an official Wear-Dated Store That Floors!

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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