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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How Might Flooring Displays Tell Better Stories?

Question Mark Sign On Hobson's Old Building, Corner Of Henry & Main (Honor, MI) originally uploaded by takomabibelot.
I've been noodling this one for quite a while. I started to verbalize it after posting about my 1st Blog Bday back in June, and my July Blogtippings post...

Two recent posts - What Luxury Marketing Can Teach Us and In Search Of An Experience - have propeled the thought process forward.

In fact, I have a challenge in mind. Will you take part?

This from my July Blogtippings post: Imagine transforming a lousy experience - in flooring, for example - into a positive simply by figuring out How to be Different - as Ryan Karpeles describes. Or, consider truly looking at the world from your customer's perspective as Becky Carrol illustrates via Customer Lenses... to better appreciate where our customers are coming from and going to - literally and figuratively - to then craft a better marketing experience with them.

I wondered then - as I do now - what a really fun flooring retail experience would look like....

I believe that consumers are truly In Search Of An Experience for every category out there. Look at the transformations that surround us.... Apple vs. electronics. Starbucks vs. the corner coffee shop. Barnes & Noble vs. musty/dusty bookstores.

Flooring - in my mind - represents untold opportunity for reinvention.

Melodies In Marketing's Mario Vellandi comments that "experience design is what it all comes down to nowadays.... Diverse affordable merchandise is available practically everywhere. What's the differentiator if people could get cheaper goods at any discounter? An emotional experience across multiple interaction points is what builds loyalty, and makes the shopping trip memorable and WOM-worthy."

Yes. Absolutely!

Peter Kim has had recent flooring experiences, and they've been lousy. He says: "I'm building a house and there wasn't much of a flooring experience of which to speak. I imagine part of this comes from the fact that the particular store I'm working with must have a heavy commercial business, so focusing on the individual consumer isn't a priority. However, I probably would've bought much more expensive tile and carpet if it had just been presented differently, rather than assorted manufacturer POP displays stuck into free space around the store. Unfortunately for flooring, my understanding is that it typically happens last in the decision-making process when most people have already spent a ton of money. In any case, using personas and tailoring an experience for your most important customers would still go a long way... "

Pete highlights a critical point that works against flooring: decisions tend to be made late in the design process, and thus get short shrift. Subject for another discussion.

Using personas and tailoring the experience - as Becky also suggests, would definitely help. But what about product presentation? How might that be improved?

If you remember from What Luxury Marketing Can Teach Us, Chris Ramey made specific suggestions for product presentation: sorting by color, editing out anything that isn't consistent with store message and positioning, even eliminating wing racks... Not doing so leads to missed opportunities to trade customers up on their product choices - as Pete describes.

How might displays do a better job telling the product story? Flooring can absolutely transform the vibe of our homes - our most precious and individualized investment - by adding luxurious texture and cushiony warmth with tantalizing color underfoot, or creating a polished, glistening opulent formal entertaining floor surface, or a practical, hearty, Tuscan-like kitchen backdrop.

Given the rich potential of the category, how might it be better displayed?

Mario Vellandi offers an interesting analysis of Merchandising Innovation: Soup. If soup can be improved, can't carpet?

Check out the Advantage Line and Foster's Wine Bar. It was originally featured in the April 2007 issue of Marketing At Retail. This display system represents true innovation in wine display; it significantly improves the shopping experience, making it easier for shoppers to find the right wine; and educates. The end result: it grows total wine sales and grows the value of the category. [Independent Retailer has a better visual here]

My dream flooring store would include all of the elements relevant to the creation of a perfect home interior... paint, wallpaper, lighting fixtures, ... It probably wouldn't be called a flooring store since it's more about creating that perfect home space. Perhaps it's a concept store [think of all of the marvelous vignettes that IKEA creates in-store, or the wealth of ideas that a Pottery Barn catalog offers].

Within, I'd want to linger, take my time, relax and reflect and a coffee bar would really help nurture the right vibe. Music, too. It should definitely represent an opportunity for feasting the senses. Organization by color seems like a no-brainer. That's how I shop for carpet.

But, I get stuck on how best to display product samples. Retail salespeople tell me that big carpet samples sell product because consumers can better visualize the product. Ironically, product displays are trending smaller. The end result is a large swatch with microscopic samples detailing color options. [Note: the two photos above capture two displays from our last Surfaces trade show booth.]

So, tell me. How would you display flooring products? How best to let them tell their story? How to showcase product so it sings to us as we select the most beautiful product possible to enhance our home living environment?

Naturally, I'd like to hear from as many of you as care to participate in this fundamental retail challenge. I particularly welcome additional thoughts from Mario Vellandi, Peter Kim, Becky Carroll, David Armano, Ryan Karpeles, Shannon Bilby and David Polinchock.

The challenge:
1. Share your vision and perspective on how to display carpet so it enchants consumers.
2. Refer back to this post.
3. Encourage others with a passion for design, user experience, or a firm desire to banish sad consumer experiences to participate.

My promise:
I will recap all of the responses in a separate post. I also expect to share your thoughts at every opportunity with the flooring industry - in presentations, articles and blogposts at Talk Floor Blogs.

Thank you.

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Mario Vellandi said...

Hmm., sounds like an interesting challenge. My first idea for brainstorming would be to visit some DIYs and niche stores for paint, siding, and window devices [curtains, blinds], and see how they do it.

Let's start with this: What kinds of flooring materials are sold? carpet, vinyl, wood, tile...
Each material has its own personality.

Anonymous said...

Hi CB, What a great post and I couldn't agree more with the quote from Mario Vellandi. People often cite Apple's remarkable rise as a retailer and their strikingly different approach to CE retailing. It's important to remember that unlike CCity or BestBuy, Apple has the luxury of being able to design the retail experience around the Apple brand and it's limited number of products. It's clean, simple and easy to incorporate the brand image into the store design. CE retail competitors and virtually all pure retail operators for that matter, must partner with all of the brands they carry to offer the customer a wide array of offerings. The individual brand images are not clearly reflected in the average retail experience because the retailers 1) won't typically give preferential treatment to selected brands and 2) can't afford to set up individual brand experiences within the store. What you are left with are those bland POP displays that are provided as part of the purchasing deals with the vendors.

Interestingly, the comparisons that you make in describing your dream flooring store (IKEA, PB) are also models like Apple where the retail experience is specifically designed around the company's products. I agree that finding a way to demonstrate the product in a way the customer can relate to (vignettes) is a good model. We did this in many Circuit City innovation test stores with excellent results. To your specific request, here are some random ideas.

1. Flooring is not something the average customer buys frequently. When it is time to replace or upgrade, I think customers are overwhelmed by the number of options available to them. Making the right choice comes down to striking a balance between texture, color, maintainability and cost. That can be daunting so having the right level of help in-store is critical. Buying furniture presents a similar problem. Ethan Allen's approach of putting interior designers into the store mix has been highly successful. Can you simplify the selection process? Can you translate the tools on the Wear-Dated website to the in-store experience? Can the Wear-Dated brand support it's own branded retail experience or perhaps partner with a furniture brand in a way that allows your products to be shown like you described in your dream store while at the same time, offering a high level of guidance? Lot's of opportunity to show the product in vignettes with that approach.

2. In the end, customers don't want "flooring products". They want solutions to a problem or need that they have. It may be that they want a bedroom floor that feels like walking on a cloud or an entryway that makes a statement about their personal style. Find ways to present flooring products as solutions to those problems instead of just dazzling assortment of materials, textures and colors.

3. Look at placing your products in real use areas. Hotels are using their rooms to market mattresses, plumbing fixtures, linens, and electronics. Why not carpeting. Hey if it can withstand hotel traffic, imagine how well it will do in your house.

Sorry for the long-winded comment. I look forward to reading the discussion on this post and to meeting you at the Blogger Social.


CB Whittemore said...

Mario, I love the notion that each material has its own personality. But each should interact with the other within the framework of a house. Interestingly [I'm at a trade show as I write], there's lots more talk of carpet styles that emulate or provide a counterpoint to those other materials - carpet, granite, wood, tile... - as they can all appear in the same home.

Another fascinating source of display inspiration comes from commercial carpet showrooms, where product is shown as artwork - in frames, hanging from walls, with focused lighting.

 Ryan Karpeles said...

Thanks for including us, CB. Here are some of the first ideas that come to mind:

1. Place it in model rooms (similar to IKEA).
2. Have people actually take their shoes off and walk around on it.
3. Incorporate samples into the web site. Allow people to take photos of their existing rooms, and then swap virtual samples in and out to see what it would look like.
4. Find out exactly what people need and why. Give recommendations based on their actual situation/preferences.
5. Make your store smell like a home, rather than carpet. Bake some cookies. Light some candles. Etc, etc.
6. Stay meticulous. Never let the store get sloppy. Keep it neat, organized, and sharp at all times.
7. Turn your store into a home. Allow people to envision themselves in their house - not a carpet store.

There's lots more here, but I don't want to overload the comment box ;-) Thanks again.

CB Whittemore said...

Doug, thanks for participating in this challenge and bringing your CE expertise! I hadn't thought of Apple/PB/Ikea from the perspective of experiences specifically designed around a single company's products. Making Mario's suggestions around DIY and niche stores for paint/siding/window, etc that much more relevant.

The furniture comparison is extremely relevant. Like Ethan Allen, La-Z-Boy found that adding designers to its Galleries has significantly improved the experience and the bottom line. And, quality sales help is critical!

Great ideas and suggestions! I'm really looking forward to Blogger Social '08!

CB Whittemore said...

Ryan, thanks for adding your perspective!

I love how sensual your suggestions are, how attuned they are to home living - where the carpet belongs. Taking one's shoes off to feel the carpet, turning the store into a home, evoking the smells of home.... And keeping the store clean.

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