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Monday, June 23, 2008

Meet Lisbeth Calandrino - Executive Coach Extraordinaire

I recently caught up with Lisbeth Calandrino. If you don't know Lis, this is a big deal as she runs faster than anyone I know.

Lis is an amazing Woman in Flooring. Her enthusiasm for the retail experience is so contagious that the shortest conversation will have you considering new approaches to old problems, energize you to tackle the impossible and generally inspire you to transform the flooring retail experience

She and her sister Sonna Calandrino [equally amazing and subject of a future Women in Flooring post] were the subject of my second post: "What Consumers Really Think."

Lis' ability to put people so much at ease came through at Surfaces 2007 in Lis Calandrino - Tips From the Trade. Finally, she contributed Time For Decorating From the Floor Up!.

Here follows my conversation with Lisbeth Calandrino, Executive Coach Extraordinaire.

CB: Lis, please tell me about yourself.
Lis: My company and mission are Improving Human Performance; it’s all about getting better to meet the challenges in life both personally and in business. My background is physical education and psychology. I have a BA in physical education and psychology and a masters in organizational psychology. Physical education training helped me understand the value of focus and persistence; it taught me more about goal setting and why people compete. For years I was a competitive runner and it was 20 years in-between winning my first and second 5 K. I’m not sure why I hung in so long, maybe because I love the run and all the other people.

My passion is human beings and what makes them tick. For the last 7 years I have been a student and coach at Executive Success Programs in Albany, New York which is all about maximizing human potential and understanding our belief systems. The basis for our behavior and decisions is based on what we believe. If you want to change your behavior you have to change your belief system. I’ve had the privilege of coaching business guru, Michael Gerber, who wrote, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.

I worked in the field of Human Services for many years as a college instructor administering field placements for students in work study situations from the police station to the nursing home. During that time I also had a consulting business where I did team building and organizational consulting for the state of New York.

CB: How did you get started in the flooring business?
Lis: Sonna, my younger sister, talked me into it. She decided to open a flooring store right out of college. At the time I was teaching college, but, like my sister, always wanted my own business. She talked to me about carpet and home furnishings - she majored in textile design in college - and it seemed like a wonderful way to meld my love of people/performance/potential and build my own business.

CB: What do you like most and least about the flooring industry?
Lis: Most I like that it's forever changing and becoming more fashion oriented. My first job was in the fashion business as a women’s clothing buyer in Washington, DC. – I've always loved fashion. Our industry is becoming more fashion focused; more retailers are taking risks, building vignettes, holding in-store parties for their customers and focusing on the female customer.

Least, that there's too much focus on product and not enough on combining the sales aspect with product. In other words product is boring unless you know what questions to ask the customer so you can give them the “right” product knowledge. Selling is a partnership with the customer—customers know what they want; and what they want is a “unique” solution. Once you combine product knowledge with a customer's motives, selling is easy. Not only is it easy, but you can build a meaningful training program.

CB: Tell me about your involvement with Fabulous Floors, the only consumer magazine in the country and industry dedicated to flooring.
Lis: The magazine was a labor of love for several of us in the industry, a way to raise the bar, show what's possible, help retailers find a way to raise their ideas and "their" bar. Something we never had when we were in business—it’s a way to help the customer “aspire” to what she wants. Once we know her aspirations, we know what to show her. As director of sales and consumer research I get to spend time investigating why women buy.

CB: What 5 things would you do differently to improve the flooring retail experience?
Lis: In order to improve the the retail experience, I would first have retailers talk with lost customers. It takes a lot of guts to call up customers who decided not to do business with you; these people can tell you what you don't do and what you need to fix --from the front door to the way your salespeople dress and act. This information can be so useful--sometimes it can answer the question "are my prices too high?" I just finished a survey and a walk through with a good customer; the most important thing she got was that the front of her building was so distracting that she probably was getting lots of wrong customers--when they came inside they were astounded and overwhelmed--they were in the wrong store! This information can be fed back to salespeople so they can come up with solutions. This is really problem solving and that's what will change the culture of these stores and help them get to a higher level.

[Note: this is something that Lis encouraged Home Valu to do, as described in Lis Calandrino - Tips From the Trade. As a result, Home Valu has seen a change in how customer perceive them. They have determined their own course forward, figured who the competition is rather than just assuming that they understood. It's powerful.]

2. My experience is that owners don't spend enough time being educated; they send salespeople for training without identifying goals or suggestions for what to do with the information that they've acquired.

3. The other thing is that small retailers don't seem to have a handle on the bottom line, expenses, gross margins etc. You have to know, on a daily basis as well as long term, where you stand with your cash flow. Many don’t like numbers, they would rather sell. But you’ve got to know where your business is going and be actively involved in the process. I have trained 5800 people in the past 20 years, conducting training with people with good intentions, but little store direction. They don’t seem to have any idea of how a business runs and how important it is for a business to have a focus. Then, they also focus on PK [i.e., product knowledge] when women don’t really buy products, they buy finished interiors! PKs should be used to close sales rather than open or build relationships.

4. Many in flooring/carpet don't understand why they are in business. They don't look outside the industry. As I just mentioned: women don't buy products. They buy solutions. They want to know what the product can do in terms of the solution. Showrooms need to change to show examples of successful solutions, like jobs done and photos of completed projects.

Look at Benjamin Moore design centers. The paint industry used to be about white paint and the expertise of the painter. Now the salesperson has to have design skills. It’s more inspirational. It's about design.

5. Flooring retailers need to train people better on communication skills. We fill them with product knowledge, but don't teach them how to connect with customers. They need to be comfortable making connections, expressing who they are so they can understand who their customers are. And, how be better with people that they don't like. That's an art!

And a bonus tip: Retailers need to pay attention to the outside world and to what mattes to women. In my opinion, all retailers must see The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and City: The Movie. These are the fashion movies that our customers connect and identify with. Know about them. Be able to talk about them. See how all of the products inter-relate to tell a story.

Look to create non-traditional approaches to build connection. I know a woman business owner who is passionate about micro-lending. She is making that a defining aspect of her business.

Look at Cirque du Soleil. They have moved their industry elsewhere. Is it traditional circus or fashion show, art show, entertainment? [See Innovating with Blue Ocean Strategy and Experience Co-Creation.]

I know a flooring retailer in Maine was so taken with a local high end shoe business, that he decided to replicate what the store's shoe buyer did. That buyer traveled regularly to Italy for new shoes. Every time she returned from a buying trip, she would have a store event to celebrate the new fashions. My retailer friend decided to do the same thing with flooring coordinating floor/carpet choices with new shoe introductions. Wow!

CB: What about blogs, social media, etc. How do you see them affecting the flooring industry?
Lis: Blogs and social media are very important. Angie's Llist, Facebook and MySpace are definitely influencing customers, reaching them where they spend time. I had a dealer tell me that he had sold a 40,000 wood job off his MySpace!

CB: Lis, do you have any other advice about marketing to women and communicating with consumers at retail?
Lis: Have you been to a Macy's/MAC counter? It's a happening place. I recently spent half an hour at the counter talking to the young 25 year old salesperson. The counter was packed. I watched who was there. How they interacted with one another, the technology, the product packaging. I watched how the salesperson showed product, and how she behaved around consumers. It was fascinating. Getting your eyes professionally done is free. To get the rest of your face done, you need to buy something. Overall, it's fun, hi - energy, knowledgeable, organized. Does your flooring store express any of that energy? It could...

So be sure to learn from other industries. Go hang out where your customers are.

A few years ago, I went and hung out at an IKEA and asked customers why they came [until I got chased away]. Here's what they said: they love the meatballs. The kids can play. They can push their friends around in shopping carts because the carts are so roomy. It's fun! Is that how your customer talks about your retail experience? Why not? And, what are you going to do about it?

CB: Lis, I know your book is close to being finished. Tell us about that.
Lis: The book is titled "Over Promise, Over Deliver, 50 customer service strategies that will impact your bottom line". It's due out in October 2008, and it's about truly outstanding examples of customer service. My father was in the construction business and inspired me from a very young age [as a 6 year old I would accompany him on job sites] because of his amazing people skills.

Thank you, Lis, for sharing so many ideas!

Other Women In Flooring Posts:
+ Meet Jenny Cross: Sr. Brand Manager, Mohawk Residential
+ Meet Kim Gavin, Editor, Floor Covering Weekly
+ WFCA's Floor Talk! Blog: Meet Shannon Bilby

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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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