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Friday, April 25, 2008

Meet Jenny Cross: Sr. Brand Manager, Mohawk Residential

Meet Jenny Cross.

She is senior brand manager for Mohawk Residential. She is also a friend, and an honorary Woman of Wear-Dated as she worked on the Wear-Dated side of the business not too long ago!

Given her fiber side experience, and now her intimate involvement on the carpet manufacturing side of the business, I thought you would enjoy Jenny's perspective on the flooring business.

CB: Jenny, please describe your role at Mohawk.

JC: As Senior Brand Manager for Mohawk Residential, I am responsible for brand and marketing strategy for the Mohawk residential carpet business which includes the Aladdin, Horizon and WundaWeve brands. The projects I manage go across all soft surface brands into builder programs and aligned dealer programs [e.g., programs that affect Floorscapes, ColorCenter, Floorz or any other Mohawk aligned retail programs].

CB: What's your background and how did you get started in the flooring business?

JC: I joined the carpet business right out of college, working for Queen carpet as supervisor in the Tifton, Ga. yarn plant. I then took over quality control. From there, I went to work for Monsanto [before the spinoff of Solutia in 1997] in Pensacola, Fl. in R&D. I then joined tech service [i.e., a role troubleshooting fiber performance in our customers' yarn plants], moved into the Wear-Dated mill merchandising role and then to Mohawk brand management into a newly created role. I've been in this role since 2004.

CB: What do you like most/least about the flooring business?

JC: What I like most? The people! It doesn't matter where in the distribution chain, but the industry is unique. As are the people serving it. This is a Southern hospitality type of business. From the plants to the corporate organizations, the people are down to earth, and committed to it for life. They know it well and they are proud of what they're doing.

What I like least? That this industry is overlooked at the consumer level. Flooring is the last thing consumers think about rather than the first. It's sexier to pick a Viking stove than it is to pick the tile underneath it! This is a challenge. Hard surface has done a better job being sexy with product concepts like "hand scraped." At some point, not that long ago, hard surfaces were unsexy and got covered by soft surfaces. Perhaps that will trend in the other direction.

CB: What do you like most about carpet?

JC: I love the physical and emotional interaction with carpet. It's a big advantage for soft surface. Think of it! Which one do I want to take my shoes off on or lie down on? Carpet and rugs create more opportunities to physically interact with product in a sensual way than hard surface does. Carpet is unique; it's comfortable. From a styling perspective, it also has lots to offer visually.

CB: What 5 things could we do differently to create a better retail experience in flooring?

JC: 1. It's important at the retail level to eliminate clutter. The mentality that more is more is not true when it comes to carpet. You don't see the proliferation of styles/choices in hard surface as you do in soft surface. So, not only will you have 1000 choices of similar textures to choose from, but they will all be beige. It's overwhelming. Intimidating. Much better to postpone making a decision.

2. It's critical to understand the markets in which you retail. For example, compare the North East to Florida: will the balance of hard vs. soft be the same? Do you understand who's coming into your store and what their expectations are? It's similar to the story of the Three Bears: what's right and what works differs depending on which bear you want to appeal to.

3. The idea of the tough sell is wrong. You have to give her time to make up her mind. If -as a consumer- you are visiting 2 to 3 stores and the Internet, you need time to absorb all of that information. So, let her peruse, don't turn her off. Pressure at the initial point of sale is big mistake.

4. Sales associates and owners need to have their story straight. As a retailer, you must assume that consumers aren't walking into a store clueless. She knows something. And, if she asks you about something she saw on your website and you answer wrong, you will lose. Salespeople have to educate themselves all the time. They need to really know what they are doing. Our industry gets criticized for not knowing what it's doing. That's embarrassing.

5. Lighting in stores is often overlooked. Whether a specialty store or a big box, any retail environment selling carpet must not be lit as if it were in a box. Stores need to show off the product and create magical Aha! moments!

We have done a lot of work internally to pull together merchandising so it looks cohesive at retail. Although it's unrealistic to expect that a retailer will carry only one manufacturer's products, it is not unreasonable to offer consumers a cohesive and logical flow [e.g., Floorscapes] to draw them into the store. Have what is most important to the consumer; that will drive your business.

I'm seeing more people go out of business right now than coming in. Those are the people who aren't focusing on their customers and creating a store that draws consumers in. When times are slow, it's time to look at what you could improve. And, if you're not sure, then take courses from Mohawk University to learn about how to better run your business long term.

CB: Would you talk about your involvement in the Greenworks blog; what it's about, how it's working, etc?

JC: As a whole, the Mohawk Greenworks Blog has been a great learning process. The blog is a group blog and includes Lindsey Waldrep, Frank Endreymi, Randy Waskul and me. We launched it in May of last year in anticipation of launching Mohawk GreenWorks, to start a dialog. The consumer is not the target. Rather, it's the trade. We want to put the right and real information out there because there is so much marketing greenwash murking up the waters. We are trying to think and present information in an open format as a consumer would expect it.

CB: any other comments about how you use blogs, social media and its significance to the industry....

JC: I recently sat in on focus groups for the Carpet & Rug Institute of women who had recently or were soon to purchase flooring. They are thirsty for information! Their attitudes about carpet improved considerably once given accurate and objective information about the benefits of carpet. As consumers get more technologically savvy, and more used to working off of blogs, YouTubes, etc. and develop communities, word of mouth becomes the number one driver, affecting purchase decisions.

Flooring is a confusing purchase! Start talking twist, pile, weight.... Argh! It's too much. But, done well, with proper segmentation and the right information from the right sources, blogs and forums can really become a worthy information resource to choose from. Beware though. Don't BS me! If I catch you, you are done!

That means that it is up to us to put the right information out there and let her feel confident about her choices.

[Note: this article from the Feb. 11/18, 2008 issue of Floor Covering News by Steven Feldman titled "Mohawk: New merchandising is female friendly" discusses Jenny's new merchandising program. To better appeal to women consumers, the new merchandising displays are low enough to not block her sight lines; swatches are larger, and the displays have been segmented by product to make the shopping experience easier.]

Thank you, Jenny!

Other Women In Flooring Posts:
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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