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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Wishes for 2010! from Flooring The Consumer

Party Time by disneychick

Happy New Year!

Best Flooring The Consumer Wishes for 2010...

I wish you and yours a very happy and safe New Year celebration.

Thank you for being such a wonderful part of Flooring The Consumer. I appreciate your comments, emails and encouragements and realize that I couldn't do this and have as much fun without you.

Many thanks and may you have a marvelously inspiring, flooring and customer focused New Year 2010!



P.S.: I also extend to you my Happy Holidays! from the Chief Simplifier with my wishes for you to Simplify!, Recharge!, Refocus! and also Enjoy!

Photo Credit:
Party Time originally uploaded by disneychick.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hide, Seek, Be Found And Connect: Your Retail Experience

Hide, seek, be found and connect: your retail experienceThis article about the retail experience appeared in the May 18/25, 2009 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

Hide, Seek, Be Found & Connect

By Christine B. Whittemore

Consider your brick-and-mortar store. It’s solid, three-dimensional, and occupies physical space. You probably have a sign over it stating your company name and purpose. Your store windows may draw visitors in. The entire effect may even stop people in their tracks.

Or, maybe despite your store being so clearly obvious [to you] and physically present, you can’t be found. You blend in and appear to hide. Visitors can’t find you and don’t generate business for you. Perhaps the same is true of your website presence.

Consider that in 2009 not only does your store need to be found in the physical brick-and-mortar world – with a memorable retail experience that exudes strong customer commitment – but you must also be found in the digital virtual world with an online experience that educates, communicates trustworthiness and customer commitment and also reinforces your store experience.

That means that, in either place, you want your customers to have that same good and consistent experience. Online or in your store, you don’t ‘scream’ at visitors and repel them with poor customer service, messy and disorganized store displays, dirty bathrooms or loud and interruptive noisy, flashy website distractions. Perhaps you consider them engaging, but to your website visitors those mind-numbing jingles or video clips of TV ad campaigns literally attack them as they browse through your site, possibly late at night with children finally asleep, a cup of soothing mint tea close by… They can’t find that mute button fast enough! [you do have a mute button?]

Put yourself in your customers’ or visitors’ shoes. How would you react? Is that what you expect and appreciate? Is that what makes you want to return, for more of the same?

What if, instead, both brick-and-mortar and digital experiences showcased how focused you are on the needs of your local customer base? You listen intensely both online and offline – so much so that you anticipate and respond to customer needs. You truly connect with your customers – capturing critical information about them, their lives and their product interests, sharing relevant information about yourself in the process. You truly care about them and how to offer them meaningful and relevant value.

What about beyond that first interaction? Are you connecting beyond your store or website? Gaining permission to contact them with news? Asking them how best to connect? By phone, mail, e-mail or even IM? And, asking them how frequently you might reach out? That gives them a reason to return, to check out what’s new. It invites them to be part of the energy and enthusiasm you generate – about your category, your employees, your community, your customers.

Asking permission is powerful. It sets expectations. Following up demonstrates how seriously you take your commitments and customers as well as your trustworthiness and authenticity.

Asking permission opens doors. It allows you to explain why you want to stay in touch. Perhaps you have an in-store event on how to care for what they’ve purchased, or design experts or fun facts to share or some community involvement. It’s only natural that you would want to talk about those events and programs and get the word out. After all, these events offer value to those interested.

Asking permission takes place not just in-store, but also online. Both physical and virtual experiences must be consistent and reflect the same concern for courtesy. That’s how you set the stage for meaningful connections that lead to a community. Communities are vibrant: members talk to and about one another, share ideas and create new value for one another as you deliver more value to them.

Here’s the beautiful aspect of all of these connections. If you’re truly passionate about your business and customers, and truly committed to forging connections and establishing community, not only will you connect with others, but you’ll also easily be found by future like-minded customers when they start to seek out information about your products, and your brand.

Not only is it more fun, but it’s more profitable. That’s why I say: Hide no more! Be found and connect.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meet Ellen Roman, LMNOP CEU Manager

Ellen RomanIn June 2009, I wrote about LMNOP: An A&D Networking Community. Six months later, the organization has progressed impressively because of the passion and dedication of its volunteer management. Here I share with you an update from Ellen Roman, LMNOP CEU Manager. She is also a friend and former Ultron carpet fiber representative, based in NYC, LMNOP's home base.

Ellen Roman, LMNOP CEU Manager

Ellen has extensive experience in the NYC architectural and interior design industry. Passionate about learning and sharing information about new products, applications, and technologies, she has shaped an impressive learning curriculum via her role as LMNOP CEU Manager.

CB: Ellen, how did you get started in your role as LMNOP CEU Manager?

From relatively at the formation, I was asked to be the Continuing Education Units (CEU) Manager for LMNOP (Leadership, Mentoring, Networking Opportunity for A&D Professionals).

We are an organization developed “to provide personal, professional development to members of the architecture and design community through training, mentoring, and networking activities. Our goal is to create an organization for the A&D community whereby members can connect, support, and advise each other in a proactive and productive environment.”

CB: What kind of programs have you created for LMNOP?

In my role as CEU Manager, I have had the opportunity to address the particular needs of our members through the establishment of two CEU programs:

LMNOP Lunch & Learns

The first program is called “Lunch & Learns,” a term commonly used throughout the industry.

We established this program by approaching design firms and arranging for our members to have the opportunity to matriculate into scheduled CEU courses provided by manufacturers. This program furnishes numerous opportunities for members to maintain accreditation, visit design firms, network, and gain valuable exposure to differing workplace environments and cultures. It also offers insight into design firms that individuals would perhaps be interested in marketing their professional skills to.

Examples include courses on Stainless Steel Finishes in Interior & Exterior Design by Rimex, on Architectual Precast Concrete from Saramac, Delivering on the Promise of LED Lighting by Amerlux Lighting, Specifying Architectural Hardware from Assa Abloy, Architectural Flush Doors & Stile and Rail Doors from Architectural Woodwork, Inc., and a course from Schott Glass.

We also offer events specifically for our members.

LMNOP Member Events

This second CEU program is held in manufacturer showrooms, and is exclusively for LMNOP members. It addresses special topics of interest and creates an intimate networking opportunity among industry colleagues and reps.

At Steelcase, Inc., we held a course titled "Workshop Observation." The presenter was Peyton Larkin, a Workplace Consultant.

At Benjamin Moore, we offered "EU Course: Creating Healthy Living Environments with New Paint" with Bob Upton, Architectural & Designer Representative, as the speaker.

LMNOPCB: What else are you working on?

I am also currently researching how the LMNOP Workshops can be incorporated into CEU accredited courses.

I am always researching CEU courses that discuss innovative and cutting edge design and topics, especially in regard to green and sustainability.

In addition, I am constantly researching courses in various disciplines within the industry for members to participate, especially for those that express the need or interest to redirect their professional career in another market sector, especially in response to today’s market trends.

CB: It sounds like you are having the time of your life!

I am really passionate about the program, as it challenges me in a new area within the industry. It offers me the opportunity to network with other reps, learn about ongoing CEU programs offered, acquire knowledge about new product offerings, and further exchange industry information.

Overall, the opportunity as CEU Manager is personally and professionally fulfilling. I can contribute to the needs of members, provide members with courses that can contribute to their professional development, and build on the focus of the organization.

CB: This is really exciting to witness LMNOP develop and offer such value to the A&D community!

Design firms and manufacturers have been highly supportive of the program, and so considerate of our members.

CB: I'm not surprised! Any last thoughts?

As CEU Manager for LMNOP, I am always researching CEU programs of interest. I welcome CEU program suggestions and feedback. Please feel to contact me by e-mail at roman9091@cs.com

Please also visit the LMNOP website at www.lmnopnyc.org.

Thank you, Ellen!

Comments, questions, suggestions and ideas for Ellen?

For those of you not in the NYC area, do you have access to programs to share knowledge?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BuildDirect, President & CEO Jeff Booth

BuildDirect President & CEO Jeff Booth

Are you familiar with BuildDirect and BuildDirect President & CEO Jeff Booth?

He and co-founder Rob Banks, launched BuildDirect in 1999, building it into "the world's leading online manufacturer-wholesaler of flooring & building materials." Not only have they satisfied customers in Canada, but also in every state in the U.S. plus over 60 countries around the globe.

How? With a different flooring business model and a strong commitment to customer service, transparency, authenticity and integrity.

You'll notice BuildDirect prominently featured in the Social Flooring Index. They actively participate in social media marketing tools with Twitter, Facebook and blogs and have integrated the tools into their overall business. In other words, they are Flooring It Differently with social media!

Jeff Booth, BuildDirect President & CEO, shares his insights in the following interview.

C.B.: Jeff, tell me about yourself and your company, BuildDirect.

BuildDirect is an online building materials firm, founded in 1999 by myself and my friend and business partner Rob Banks. We’re both interested in how technology impacts business, so we looked at the Internet as the best way to make the traditional international building materials supply chain more efficient, since the Internet is international by its very nature. Coupled with traditional business values of good communications and customer service, we’ve achieved a good balance between efficiency, and customer relationship management.

C.B.: How did you get involved in flooring?

I was involved in the construction industry before I started the company and had many contacts in the field. The thing that tipped me off about flooring was how much markup there was on these items, along with other building materials used in construction projects. I wanted to devise a way to get flooring products into the customer’s hands without those markups. And with my understanding the potential of Internet technology, and by developing a system to manage the logistics side of things, that really made the difference in my approach to marketing our flooring products

C.B.: How did you get involved in social media?

We’re always looking to make deeper connections with customers, to identify what their needs are and how we as a company can meet them. Early on, we incorporated unedited customer product reviews on our site, and began developing a blogging presence, too. It seemed to me at the time that we as a company needed to do more to connect with site visitors, and with our peers in the construction industry.

And in closely following how Barack Obama connected with the American people directly while using social media platforms during his Presidential campaign last year, I was inspired to follow in the spirit of that. I did so by approaching social media as a means of connecting with and learning from other people, and responding authentically. My team and I started to build a vision of success in social media based on that kind direct interaction. After that, we started a Twitter account for the company; I started my own Twitter account, and we expanded our social media presence on Facebook, on YouTube, and in many other social arenas. The results have been encouraging, and we’ve made a lot of friends, and sales, that perhaps we wouldn’t have made otherwise.

C.B.: How do you personally and your organization use social media for business?

Two key precepts with social media are transparency and authenticity. It’s about adding value, and providing practical information to an audience with these precepts at the forefront. Since many of these principles have been a part of our core values as a company since we started, getting involved in developing a social media presence along these same lines just seemed to make sense to me, and to many of our staff, too. And another aspect has been that old idea of ‘word of mouth’, which had served us very well before many of these social media platforms came along. But, with Twitter and Facebook, for instance, the potential word of mouth equity is increased exponentially.

And where we do use social media as a means of directly promoting products, we also use it as a way of forming community with our peers. This also includes some of our competitors, some of whom also do great work in providing practical value. To the customer’s benefit, it makes sense for us to get involved in that, in sharing information even if it doesn’t come from us. Many people then begin to know who we are and what we’re about on a level that wasn’t possible before. So, when it comes time to talk about buying floors from us, it’s just a natural progression that comes out of a growing relationship with them, based on how helpful we’ve been in the past without expecting a sale.


C.B.: What do you like most and least about flooring?

Quality flooring represents a range of products that I believe adds value to the lives of pretty much everyone. In this, developing a way of getting the best of it to customers for less money is very rewarding. Getting that feedback from customers who tell us about how pleased they are with their orders, both in terms of the high quality and the lower price is a definite signpost that we’re doing good work.

I suppose the thing about it which is the most challenging is changing people’s perceptions about quality against price. Because there are so many factors that affect product quality across multiple product lines, it has been historically difficult for customers to get a real apples-to-apples comparison industry-wide. When customers see a ticket price, there are often a lot of hidden factors there that affect it which is kept from them, in many cases. And this can lead to rash purchases that cost them later on. The real challenge for us is to bring our customers and buyers in general into a place where they’re getting a true picture of how flooring and other building materials should be compared before a purchase is made. This is another arena where transparency is so important. In some ways, making the sale is much like conducting oneself in social media; it should be an honest dialogue about what is the best way for customers to make an investment in their flooring project that saves them money in the short term, but also leads to a good return on their investment in the long term.

C.B.: What suggestions do you have for improving the flooring retail experience?

I think vendors who really know their stuff, and who are interested in taking the time to educate their customers when needed are the real superstars in our industry. Flooring is a long-term purchase. Making sure that the customer has all of the facts, and in turn increasing the chances that the customer is going to be happy with their purchases for years to come, is the best way of proving credibility for those vendors. By extension, it proves credibility for the industry too.

C.B.: What do you like most and least about social media?

Our purpose as a company is to transform our industry, by making the products more accessible, more affordable, and with a higher standard of quality across the board. The best way to do that is direct engagement with partners and peers, with influencers in the media, and with customers and industry professionals. Social media in this respect is invaluable. It helps us to focus our purpose on creating community, dialogue, and learning opportunities in order to bring about a vision for ourselves and our industry that we set in place since we began the company. This is the kind of potential that excites me the most about the possibilities that social media platforms present.

I suppose the drawback to social media is that everyone is invited to the party, some of whom aren’t as transparent as others. Information and motives therefore must always be questioned. Yet, at the same time this is true of traditional media too, although without the chance to talk back. It’s a question of discernment. Exercising that skill is pretty important anyway, and there are many opportunities to do so in social media spaces.

C.B.: Is everyone in your business involved on social networks?

Many are, yes. Some aren’t. The real value in social media comes out of honesty and personal passion. It’s always best when people embrace social media in their own time. In our case, involvement has definitely risen over the last year, with some really getting into it, while others are just dipping their toes in the water. Both approaches are valid, as long as what is put out there remains true to personal and company values. Luckily, everyone involved understands that pretty well.

C.B.: How do you manage all of the different channels?

In some ways, the channels are really secondary to the approach. Managing them is a question of providing useful information and by engaging with others on a daily basis. A part of social media is about telling the story of our company, about how we’re getting better everyday, and about how our interactions with others affects how that story goes. And it’s about being prepared to transparently deal with situations when we don’t do a good job, or when people get upset even when we’ve done our best. In this respect, staying true to our core values of respect for others is the key tool in managing our presence online, regardless of which channel it happens to be.

C.B.: What advice do you have for others wanting to get involved with social media for their business?

I have lots of advice!

1. Be prepared to listen more than talk. After you’ve finished listening, always add value in some way – be helpful.

2. Ask questions of the experts, once you’ve used your powers of discernment to find out who those experts are (there are a lot of would-be ‘gurus’ out there).

3. Start a social media presence because you want to build relationships, not sell to customers. The relationships you foster today may result in the customers you sell to tomorrow, but it rarely works the other way around in a social media space.

4. Find out who in your organization is passionate about social media, and empower them to get involved without trying to control every little aspect of how they do it.

5. Take risks; show yourself as a person or group of people, not as a brand. Relinquish control over your brand so that your customers have a voice in determining what your brand means based on how you interact with them.

6. And above all – KEEP IT UP! Social media is a slow road to success, with no silver bullets that you can design or expect. Just stick to your ethics, your values, and to those things which are true to your personality, including passions and interests that may have nothing to do with what you’re trying to sell. Your audience will decide how successful you’ll be based on these factors, not you. That’s the scary part, and the rewarding part at the same time.

Thank you, Jeff!

Comments? Questions? Reactions?

How would you apply these insights to your flooring business?

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Brick-and-Mortar vs. Web: Which Retail Experience Wins Out?

Here's an interesting premise, as described in The Obsolescence of Brick-and-Mortar:

"Brick-and-mortar retail stores selling everything from clothing to high-ticket items like flat-screen TVs will turn into warehouses where consumers can touch and feel the merchandise. Web sites, supported by search engines and site search, will become the cash cow for the retail store."

Rather extreme, wouldn't you say?

At the same time, it isn't when you consider the various forces at work which the current economic environment has only precipitated.

Customers, now more than ever, seek value in-store and online.

On the web they find credible information and the ultimate in convenience.

Customers can and will compare prices and evaluate products online. They expect the same level of transparency in-store. And, if you as a retailer cannot justify the value you offer customers, you can count on customers to make their purchase decision based entirely on price.

Otherwise, customers feel stupid and taken advantage of, a sure way to lose customers for life.

So, what is a brick-and-mortar retailer to do?

Have you identified what value you offer customers?

Do you ignore the online dynamics and expect them to fade away?

Or, do you have a strategy to deal with them?

Kim Gavin, from Floor Covering Weekly, in her editorial titled "I feel guilty, but I saved money" from October 19/26, 2009 describes this very scenario. She asks about strategy and whether retailers are ready to demonstrate and explain the value they offer.

What's your response?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flooring eNewsletter #1 From Simple Marketing Now

Simple Marketing Now Flooring eNewsletter

eNewsletters From Simple Marketing Now!

I have two eNewsletters to tell you about, both from Simple Marketing Now [aka me].

The first went out on 12/2/09. It's the latest issue of Simple News & Insights. [To receive that directly, you do need to subscribe to Simple News & Insights.]

The second went out yesterday and represents the inaugural copy of my Flooring eNewsletter. I share it with you here.



And, Happy Holidays!

This is always an interesting time of year with so much happening as it relates to Flooring.

• It’s the consumer’s Holiday-buying home stretch – which gives us a read on her shopping mood.

• Many flooring retail buying groups have conventions in the works, allowing members to compare notes about the state of flooring retail.

• And, then, from a flooring product perspective, we have manufacturer regional and national shows, and – of course! – Surfaces in the U.S. and DOMOTEX in Germany.

Given this time of analysis, anticipation and consideration of possibilities ahead, what do you consider the most valuable flooring inspiration?

Sources of Flooring Inspiration

Catalina Research’s Stuart Hirschhorn predicts that the residential replacement market will strengthen in the second half of 2010. What’s your take on that?

What About The Consumer of The Future? How different do you think her attitude will be about shopping, and shopping for flooring products more specifically?

What about your customer relationships? Are you rethinking the relationships you establish with customers and the experience you offer them? How might you translate the new retail experience benchmark – Apple – to your flooring retail experience?

What about highlighting flooring’s fashion and design sensibilities? I was delighted to come across the UK’s Fun on The Floor campaign which celebrates the versatility, warmth and fun of carpet! I encourage you to visit and explore http://www.FunOnTheFloor.com including the video tour of the Fun on The Floor house…

Finally, what about your marketing strategy? Has it changed? What’s working for you? What’s not? Serious discussion on that is in the works for Surfaces 2010. Perhaps you’ll join me? You have two formal opportunities:

Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 from 9am to noon, Marketing in a Recession 101 with Scott Perron, Paul Friederichsen and me

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 from noon to 1pm, Social Media 101 with me

And informal ones, too. Just let me know when is convenient for you!

I look forward to seeing you at Surfaces 2010.

In the meantime, I wish you Happy Holidays and amazing productivity in all of your endeavors. And I welcome your feedback on some of the questions above and suggestions on other sources of inspiration.

Warm & Simple Regards,

Christine B. Whittemore

Chief Simplifier
Simple Marketing Now LLC

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Woman Centric Retail...

Pearl Harbor widows have gone into war work to carry on the fight with a personal vengeance, Corpus Christi, Texas.

What would woman centric retail look like?

Let's start with woman centric homebuilding as described in the 2/6/08 article titled "A woman's place... is in their designs" from TwinCities.com by Jennifer Bjorhus - and unfortunately no longer available online. [Grrrr.]

As in retail [yes, flooring retail especially], homebuilding is male dominated. And, yet, the purchaser is a woman 91% of the time...

Luckily for women home buyers in Minnesota, there's the Minnesota Woman-Centric Homebuilders Consortium. And, they've transformed several aspects of the overall home buying experience by:

1. Enhancing and simplifying the buying experience for women
2. Re-evaluated in-home features and amenities so they makes sense and add value to women buyers
3. Redesigning floor plans to be more relevant to women's multi-tasked lives.

More specifically, you'll find kid-friendly areas in model homes. You may receive postcards of the purchased home to send out to friends/family. And the home-builder website will include tools for sharing photos and articles. There's lots more, though, including color-coded floor plans address four areas of importance to women [i.e., livability at a glance]:

+ de-stress
+ organize
+ flexible living
+ entertaining

Check out the woman centric videos and the woman centric home building blog, too.

All common sense approaches especially if you're in touch with your customers, listening to them, asking questions, observing trends and responding to their suggestions... which I know you're doing, right?

So, how would you apply Woman Centric Home Building to create a Woman Centric Retail Experience?

Photo Credit:
Pearl Harbor widows have gone into war work to carry on the fight with a personal vengeance, Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally uploaded by The Library of Congress.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

The Apple Retail Experience And Your Store

Apple Store, 5th Avenue, NYC

How does the Apple - aka the New Nordstrom - retail experience affect your store?

If the Apple Store redefines the retail experience to such an extent that it has become the new Nordstrom, what does that mean for your store?

It's an interesting question to consider.

Here's my starting point: an article titled "Apple is no longer the Nordstrom of Tech , they're the New Nordstrom." It makes several interesting observations about the Apple consumer retail experience.

1. Apple stores are less about retail stores and more about community gathering place for those Apple-interested customers.

2. Apple stores and devices enable activities that people pursue: music, web-browsing, etc. And Apple has simplified many of those activities through both the retail store experience and the products.

3. Apple's customer service and retail experience have turned Apple customers into passionate fans who rave about their experiences.

[Perhaps you've read that Microsoft has decided to launch a retail presence. You can read an initial reaction in First look: Inside the Microsoft Store. I'll be interested to observe how their retail experiment and experience evolves... Can they successfully overcome the brand identity crisis that the author notes?]

Given Apple's success in selling products as means to experiences [and doing so via a memorable experience] for a wide range of consumers - not just Boomers [definitely read through Sell Experiences Not Products which, although about Boomers, applies to any selling situation. Note the reference to taking the time to listen to customers and not rush into pushing products before understanding what they want.], how would you translate that into equally successful retail experience models for other product categories?

Other Apple related posts from Flooring The Consumer...

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Flooring Industry Blog From Floor Covering Institute

Floor Covering Institute Blog

Floor Covering Institute Blog Offers Flooring Industry Insights, Research, Perspectives & More

Relevant to any immersed in the flooring and flooring covering marketplace!

Yes, that may mean you!
This past September 2009, as a result of my affiliation with the Floor Covering Institute, I helped launch the Floor Covering Institute Blog.

The goal of the blog is to bring you "insights, perspectives, best practices and resources relevant to the global flooring industry all from seasoned and recognized flooring industry experts who have owned, operated, and served flooring businesses in every tier from manufacturing to retail buying groups." The experts in addition to me include:

+ Jim Gould [also interviewed in my Floor Covering Institute Series
+ Chris Ramey
+ Susan Negley [whom I need to include in my Women in Flooring series]
+ David Wootton
+ Lew Migliore
+ Stuart Hirschhorn
+ Carl Ruland

What I've found fascinating is the range of perspectives on one industry that having a group blog such as this brings. Stuart looks at the trends and patterns that his research on the floor covering industry uncovers. Lew is known as a flooring product trouble-shooter. Chris' name is synonymous with the luxury market. David knows hard surfaces. Jim and Carl bring international perspective and cachet. Susan, among many other responsibilities, is my partner in blog-crime!

These are the posts I've written so far:
Meet Christine B. Whittemore, Social Media Marketer & Customer Enthusiast
Flooring Industry Wake Up Call Sets Stage For Insights
Flooring Retailers, Are You Evolving Your Digital Retail Experience?

I'd love it if you would check it out, perhaps even subscribe.

If you think of topics worth addressing either leave a comment on the Floor Covering Institute Blog, or let me know here.

And, regardless, what do you think? Do you like it?

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Simple Marketing Now - November 2009 Update

Simplify with Simple Marketing Now

November 2009 Simple Marketing Now Update

Welcome back from Thanksgiving! I hope, for those of you in the U.S., you spent a lovely long holiday weekend with friends and family.

As I'm sure it is for you, it's been busy on my end and I'd love to share some of what I've been up to...

If you are new to Flooring The Consumer, I also write the Simple Marketing Blog where I discuss marketing strategy and creative, practical, simple marketing approaches and best practices - many of which may be relevant to you and your business as you consider what's possible. The blog also acts as newsroom for Simple Marketing Now.

During the month of November, I had big news and two interviews, a client case study, notes from two fascinating presentations I attended and social media marketing recommendations.

Big News & Interviews

I have finished updating the Social Flooring Index which you may remember reading about back in July when I published the Beta version on Flooring The Consumer. The index continues to evolve and includes many great flooring social media examples. Here is the Press Release: Social Flooring Index From Simple Marketing Now for more details.

I alluded to this interview last month. I had a blast with Paul Chaney and John Munsell from Bizzuka on User Friendly Thinking Radio interview. You can read more about it on Whittemore On Bizzuka's User Friendly Thinking With Munsell and Chaney.

Finally, I had a chance to talk with Becky Carroll and include details and a link on Whittemore On Customers Rock! Radio.

Client Case Study

One of the top performing blogs on the Social Flooring Blog Index is the Carpet and Rug Institute Blog [yes, my client] which reached the six month mark in October 2009. I celebrated the occasion by writing up The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog: 6 Month Case Study.

Fascinating Marketing Presentations

I mentioned Becky Carroll above. She and two other colleagues were part of a panel discussion on how Big Brands Engage Customers In Conversation: MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer.

Earlier this month, I attended Sigma's Food For Thought event in Morris County, NJ. The keynote speaker was John Battelle who discussed The Conversation Economy.

Social Media Marketing Recommendations

I published another segment in my 'How Do I?' series: How Do I Start With Social Media?

Finally, What Questions Do You Ask About Customers? particularly as it relates to the experience your website offers them?

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, please do let me know.

If you aren't already, perhaps you would consider subscribing to Simple Marketing Blog and becoming a Facebook Fan of Simple Marketing Now...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maria Palma On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Marketing Series

Maria Palma

My latest guest for Flooring The Consumer's social media marketing series: Bridging New & Old is Maria Palma.

Maria Palma is intensely passionate about customer service. It comes across throughout her many blogs [~ 13!] and touches all of her varied interests that range from music, fashion, art and creativity [she is a gifted artist], to real estate, online business & legal resources, Audis and creative inspiration. Like Terry Starbucker, Maria contributes to Joyful, Jubilant Learning.

I 'met' Maria through her CustomersAreAlways blog, where she shared invaluable customer service related wisdom [it unfortunately no longer exists, a casualty of the demise of the KnowMoreMedia blog network]. This was early on when I started blogging. I really appreciated her support and was delighted when she joined me as a fellow contributor to the first Bathroom Blogfest in 2006. She has been a faithful participant ever since!

Luckily, Maria Palma lost no time launching People2PeopleService [which is just about 1 year old!] to continue the conversation about the importance of customers and service.

C.B.: Maria, how/why did you get involved in social media?

MP: I first tapped into social media back when MySpace was big. I saw it as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, plus let people know more about my business and what I do. I started blogging back in 2004 and spent a great deal of time online, so it was only natural that I would become involved with the entire social media scene including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

I saw blogging as a great way to express my thoughts and share my experiences with the world. I also viewed it as an opportunity to market my art and jewelry business. The more I blogged, the more I realized just how much I enjoy writing. My passions and interests vary...

I got started writing about customer service when I saw an opening for a customer service blogger over at KnowMoreMedia.com. They hired me to write for CustomersAreAlways.com for a couple years, then I branched off on my own and started People2PeopleService.com. I feel very passionate about customer service and learned so much about it during my 13 years of working in the retail industry. I probably learned the most about customer service while working in sales at Nordstrom.

Everything I do and everything I write about is connected to service. Before I sit down to write, I ask, "What can I do to be of service today?" Whether I'm writing about fashion or internet business, my main goal is to offer information that can either inspire or help another person.

KnowMoreMedia.com ceased operations last year, so I no longer write for their fashion blog. Because most of my experience in the retail industry was fashion-related and I understood the business side of the industry, they allowed me to write for two blogs.

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn is my form of socializing and networking. Not only do I use it to connect with friends and people I know on a personal level, I use it to connect with customers and people I know on a business level.

I use Twitter and Facebook more than I use LinkedIn. Most of the time I'll share interesting articles, posts, or videos I come across. I also love to post inspiring quotes. Other times I'll share current projects I'm working on.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

MP: What I love about social media is that there are so many ways to share information - and anyone can do it. Media is no longer in the hands of the "elite" few such as corporations and big-time publishers. If you have something to say or share, it can be done with the click of a mouse...literally.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

MP: With so much information out there for people to read and share, it's easy to become bombarded with too much information. And because I love to read, I often suffer from information overload! This is especially true when you are connected to so many fascinating people. I want to read everything they have to say, but it's just not possible.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

MP: Social media has definitely changed how I do business with companies. It's so easy now to do an internet search and find reviews and experiences that people have with a company. I can even share my own thoughts about companies via my blogs - which I do often! I don't have to rely solely on what a company says about their products or services. I can do my own research online and make informed purchasing decisions. In addition, I can connect with those companies via social networking websites. Social media has made business more personable.

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1) Establish relationships with bloggers in your industry and give them access to information you normally offer to the regular press. Nowadays bloggers have a tremendous amount of influence in the marketplace and are able to make a more personal connection with end users.

A great example of a company who does this is Audi. They give bloggers access to their news media site which contains press releases, exclusive video, and photos. Bloggers can use this information on their blogs and share their opinions about Audi's vehicles.

2) Get active in social media. Even if you don't start a company blog, at least become active in networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Not only is it a great way to get to know who your customers, you can get valuable feedback on your company's products or services.

If you look at President Obama's campaign for the presidency, I think that new media contributed a great deal to his success. Because many young Americans are interacting online, President Obama's campaign managers saw the opportunity to connect with them. They used Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to help spread messages and influence votes.

3) Pay attention not only to what is being said about your company in newspapers and TV, but what people are saying about you on blogs and forums. This gives you the opportunity to connect with those people who have expressed concerns or issues about your company. There's nothing more damaging to your company's reputation than to have a bad experience published on a blog go viral and shared with hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter or YouTube!

4) Let people know you're online. If most of your marketing channels are in old media such as newspapers and TV, make sure to include a website URL that people can visit online. If applicable, encourage them to visit your social networking pages as well.

5) Be transparent and honest. In old media, sometimes you were at the mercy of an editor who can twist and turn a story, but with new media you can tell people exactly what is going on with your company. People know that things won't be perfect all the time and you have the opportunity to let people see how you overcome challenges. You can tell the story from your perspective and not hear the story from a journalist's or TV reporter's perspective. Telling a story from your perspective helps establish credibility and trust with your customers.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and how best to do so.

MP: Social media is not just a marketing fad and companies shouldn't ignore all the opportunities to connect with people. Social media is here to stay. I truly believe those companies that do embrace social media and build relationships with customers online will thrive no matter what the economy is doing.

Thank you, Maria!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

Maria makes a really important point in saying that her "goal is to offer information that can either inspire or help another person." How do you go about doing the same?

What do you think about her advice to get active in social media... so you can get to know who your customers are and get feedback from them. How are you currently doing this if not through social media tools?

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit the Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Listening To Women Customers

Woman aircraft worker from Library of Congress

How do you go about listening to your customers, particularly your women consumers?

I'm focusing on women because women make or influence over 80% of the purchase decisions in the United States. That means that they - and what they say - really matter to retailers and to flooring retailers in particular.

Listening is one thing, though. The more challenging task is interpreting what you hear, making sense of it so that you can truly deliver a memorable experience for your customers.

Thanks to a Tweet from Learned On Women's Andrea Learned, I came across this article by Mary Lou Quinlan titled Listen Up, Marketers: Women Aren't Telling You The Whole Truth.

I've heard Mary Lou speak several times and love how insightful her whole truths and half truths are. Check out these two previous posts: Mary Lou Quinlan, Whole Truths, Half Truths and Marketing With Women and Marketing To Women... Online. I wasn't disappointed with her article.

What I particularly appreciated are her ideas for listening more carefully to and better interpreting what woman customers say:

+ Spend more quality time with your women consumers.
+ Challenge any of your assumptions about your women customers.
+ Immerse yourself in the world of your customers [i.e., Walk In Her Shoes or try in-home ethnography - as Grant McCracken describes].
+ Pay attention not only to words, but also to body language and to what you're not being told!

How do you go about listening to and interpreting the words, actions and body language of your core women customers?

Image source:
Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies (LOC) originally uploaded by The Library of Congress

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Higher Calling For Retail Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Las Vegas Retail Store InspirationDid you catch the 9/28/09 article from AdAge titled Boost, Microsoft market via bricks, mortar [registration required, but here is link to pdf of the full article]? It's mostly about cell phone providers, with a dash of banking thrown in, but it includes significant insights for flooring and non-flooring retailers alike. Particularly those with brick & mortar stores!

More specifically, according to Wachovia Bank research, "brick-and-mortar investment was the single biggest contributor to customer acquisition, outpacing advertising..."

Now, that does that capture your attention? It did mine.

Why brick-and-mortar stores are so important.

They represent an effective means for communicating with customers. Particularly for complicated categories, a store represents an opportunity for a customer to get one-on-one time with a sales representative for guidance and to help make sense of the plethora of choices.

Stores are where the brand comes alive, where you can demonstrate your commitment to customer service and truly humanize your brand, where you deliver your customer retail experience and demonstrate marketing value. Stores are much more than just distribution points .

Note the five recommendations for enhancing the retail brand experience in-store:
1. "Present your merchandise in a way that helps shoppers navigate through the sea of products."
2. "Help customers feel comfortable with their choices and decisions."
3. "Train store reps to be knowledgeable."
4. "Define what customer enjoyment is for your brand and express that in your physical environment."
5. "Provide great customer service."

The Apple retail experience

One of the best retail experience stories is Apple, and one of the most disappointing - considering its entertainment heritage and its strong commitment to storytelling - Disney. What a delight, then, to learn that the two have teamed up to deliver a reinvented retail experience. Per Disney's Retail Plan Is a Theme Park in Its Stores from the New York Times, "it's time to take risks" and deliver experiences! These may include scent elements [something done in the theme parks], technology and new recreational activities. Some of the Apple touches that will be adopted include "mobile checkout, ... emphasis on community, ... focus on interactivity." The goal, "dream bigger" and turn these brick-and-mortar stores into true destinations.

Retail Customer Experience's Five things any retailer can learn from Apple lists the following to remember:

1. "Product knowledge isn't everything... and the world needs new and exciting retail experiences."
2. To get unstuck, "call in people you respect from a wide range of professional and personal backgrounds and keep an open mind."
3. Experiences represent a competitive advantage - so create a memorable one.
4. "We need to bring the joy back to shopping."
5. "Innovate in downturns."

To those, I add:
+ Don't dumb down your merchandising. Instead, create magic and stories.
+ Figure out how to simplify your processes to benefit your customers.

And, then, make sure you have people in your organization with strong passion for wanting to "make people look good, feel good" as described in Women trust Gamble's fashion tastes from the Poughkeepsie Journal. Gamble strikes me as having a higher calling. "...He connects with his clients by listening carefully to learn who they are and what they want." He's not just selling stuff, he's solving problems.

Would you like more ideas? Then read through this article Mixing It Up from Metropolis Magazine. In it, you'll learn about L.A. based firm Commune and how it combines inspiration and authenticity to create unique brick-and-mortar retail experiences with fabulous photos of three projects: the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, Juicy Couture in London and Heath Ceramics in Los Angeles.

By the way, Commune equates being a designer to being a therapist.

Sounds like another higher calling...

So, what is your higher calling for your retail brick-and-mortar experience?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meet Bethany Richmond, CRI Communications Manager

Bethany RichmondI met Bethany Richmond, Carpet and Rug Institute [CRI] Communications Manager, at Surfaces 2009 when we got to talking about writing and communicating stories, particularly as they related to flooring and carpet.

In the back on my mind, I thought I might convince Bethany to get involved in the Carpetology Blog... as a break from the technical writing she was doing. I never imagined that she would become my client.

I'm not surprised, though, that she is as critical a content creator for the Carpet and Rug Institute Blog - which just celebrated its 6 month anniversary [see The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog: 6 Month Case Study]. She has a knack for story telling, certainly in writing and also on video. I'm delighted, then, to introduce you to Bethany Richmond, who truly is a Woman In Flooring!

C.B.: Bethany, tell me about yourself.

BR: I am a Southern girl from a family with deep Southern roots. I love the South, and it saddens me to see the region become paved-over and homogenized. I went to high school in Richmond, Virginia and college at the University of Virginia. After graduating, I worked as a TV news reporter, producer, and scriptwriter for a small market network affiliate. I’ve written for a newspaper, trade journal, and at an advertising agency as a copywriter. Besides my work at the Carpet and Rug Institute, I still do occasional TV and radio voice-overs. I have two sons in college – one about to graduate. I love to cook, read good books, and go to movies. You can read my complete profile on the CRI Blog.

C.B.: How did you get started in the flooring business?

BR: I’ve lived in Dalton since 1984, but my first involvement with the carpet industry wasn’t until ten years later when I started writing stories for Floor Covering News. When my kids got older I started writing for Shaw Industries’ employee newspaper, In the Loop. That’s when I really started to learn about the carpet industry - writing everything from profiles of retiring executives to a feature about an employee who hadn’t been absent or even late for work in almost forty years with Shaw. As the copywriter for an advertising agency, I learned about product marketing and promotion on both the residential and commercial sides of the business. Now, at the Carpet and Rug Institute, I deal with more technical issues, like Indoor Air Quality, Cleaning and Maintenance, and sustainability. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to gain experience in so many aspects of the business.

C.B.: What do you like most about the flooring industry?

BR: I like living in “The Carpet Capital of the World”. This little town has a fascinating history of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the people who built the carpet industry are, to a large extent, still here. I love the stories of boom and bust, and the adventures of some of the early industry’s more colorful characters [like Said Shaheen, Bud Seretean, Mose Painter, and others]. You can drive through the older parts of Dalton and still see the remnants of the Crown Mill village – the company-built houses and store where Dalton’s original cotton mill workers lived and did their shopping. There’s a lot of history here – of an important American industry that is still made in America.

C.B.: What do you like least about the flooring industry?

BR: What I like least about the carpet industry right now is how much it has been affected by the current economy. It also bothers me that carpet gets a bad rap on issues like sustainability, Indoor Air Quality, and carpet’s alleged connection to increased asthma and allergy symptoms. Some people just aren’t listening to reason.

C.B.: What five things would you do to improve the flooring retail experience?

BR: I’d like to see consumers get the correct information about cleaning and maintenance right at the point of purchase. I think addressing proper cleaning before the carpet leaves the store is a proactive step that consumers will regard as good customer service. To use one of CRI President Werner Braun’s analogies, you know about your service plan before you drive your new car off the lot, so why should carpet be any different?

The Carpet and Rug Institute has a booklet called Carpet Cleaning Tips for Dummies that was published for us by Wiley, the company that puts out all the other “Dummies” titles. It was written by Elizabeth Goldsmith, a professor of family resource management for Florida State University, with input from CRI, The Housekeeping Channel, and the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification). The thing I like about it is that it’s everything consumers need to know in one handy-dandy little reference. And it’s easy to use – like all the other Dummies products.

CRI sells the CCTfD books on our website, but CRI also has a series of downloadable fact sheets on our website that are free to anyone who has a use for them.

C.B.: What carpet trends and concerns are strongest? Does it vary much across the country?

BR: Without a doubt, I think one of the most important trends in the next few years is going to be an increase in demand for carpet recycling. For a very small annual fee, retailers can join CARE [Carpet America Recovery Effort], and participate in the dramatic growth of consumer interest in environmental issues and recycling. CARE represents, among other things, a network of 65 entrepreneur/collectors who are spread out across the country. Largely through their efforts, approximately 300 million pounds of carpet were recycled or diverted from landfills just last year. Wouldn’t it be great to offer consumers the option of diverting their old carpet from the waste stream at the same time they bought new carpet?

Some parts of the country, like the Pacific Northwest and California, are more enviro-conscious than others, but the trend is growing everywhere.

C.B.: What about blogs, social media, etc.? How do you see them affecting the flooring industry and consumers?

BR: Obviously, I’m a fan of blogs. Consumers are forsaking advertising and conventional marketing channels and getting more and more of their information from their social network – blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

The CRI blog is a valuable resource for all the audiences we address – consumers, retailers, the professional cleaning industry, and the carpet industry itself. The most remarkable thing about a blog is that is a two-way conversation. Anyone who reads one of our blog posts can leave a comment, ask a question, or engage CRI in conversation.

And the CRI blog is one of the only places where consumers can read information that balances the often horribly incorrect and sensationalized information that is out there about carpet and indoor air quality. I recently discovered a slew of websites that all “quoted” the same made-up statistic about how a baby crawling on carpet was exposed to pollutants equal to that baby smoking four cigarettes a day. The mud is being flung largely online, and I think that’s where CRI needs to address it – and what better way than by using social media?

Thank you, Bethany!

Follow this link to other Women In Flooring interviews.

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