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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Greater Green & The Customer Experience

The Greater Green:  How Does It Fit Into Your Customers’ Lives?
This article about sustainability [i.e., the 'greater green'] and the retail customer experience appeared in the November 23/30, 2009 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

The Greater Green: How Does It Fit Into Your Customers’ Lives?

By Christine B. Whittemore

By now you’re fully prepared for that question “what do you have that’s green?” You’ve created a compelling green section in your store and filled it with bamboo, cork, wool and various other recycled and earth practical products. Fantastic! You’re set.

But are you truly set? Have you stopped to consider the greater green question and how the green product frenzy fits into your customers’ lives? Doesn’t that green flooring product actually represent more to them – possibly a solution to a greater green vision or aspect of their lives?  Otherwise, wouldn’t they simply buy the cheapest and most expedient flooring product?

So what about that bigger perspective, that greater green? How does it fit into your customers’ lives?

And then, how connected is your [green] retail experience to that bigger picture?

Our flooring consumer is time pressed, fiercely protective of her financial resources and skeptical of marketing claims – particularly green related ones which she assumes are false from the get go. She – the maker or influencer of over 80% of the purchase decisions affecting our industry – wants to do the right thing for her family and her community. She cares about environmental and social welfare because it holds the potential for making her place a better one for her children.

At the same time, she realizes that many greater green solutions – like climate change – are beyond her control. And, too often the issues are so large that they overwhelm as do the plethora of product choices and claims. The result: she avoids decisions and postpones new flooring.

However, she wants to be part of smaller human-scaled decisions and solutions which she can control.

Given all of that, how can green be of benefit to you and your retail experience? How can you be part of a greater green world of importance to your customers?

The question matters because – let’s face it – the world is trending toward increased environmental stewardship. We’re more aware that resources are limited, that our use of them has been irresponsible and wasteful, and that climate change is real. We’ve built up infrastructures that aren’t sustainable long term – kind of like the housing crisis. Overall, resources, including money, aren’t as readily available as they once were.

Furthermore the economic environment is forcing us – individuals, municipalities and businesses alike – to question the status quo, to radically rethink assumptions and come up with new models. So why can’t those new models include a green element?

As consumers, we aren’t rushing off to the mall as frequently as we used to. We’re getting more use out of our cars and our clothes. We’re rediscovering local and community, taking part in group hikes, interacting on Facebook and reconnecting with long-lost friends. In the process, we’re figuring out how to solve problems, efficiently and effectively and, more often than not, with a green angle.

We are still spending, though. It’s just that we want our purchase decisions to stand for something and for our resources not to be wasted.

Can you connect with this zeitgeist? Can you offer solutions? Can you reshape the conversations that take place in your retail environment around your green products in terms broader, more concrete and more relevant to your customers? Can you create a conversation around your role in the greater green?

Look at your retail experience: have you simplified your offerings so they make sense, their claims are truthful and can be transparently evaluated? Can you present them in terms of the greater green?

Can you innovate your processes in terms of green? Improve your lighting both in efficiency and illumination? Repurpose waste? Eliminate Styrofoam? Be more effective with service calls? Eliminate quality issues and installation problems?

What about your organization, including employees and family: what matters to them?

Extend outward to past and current customers. Share with them what you’ve discovered. Ask what matters to them? Can you align yourselves with other businesses in your community? Can you create a regular event that gathers customers and community to eradicate local hunger? Can you gather folks to your store to rebuild a home perhaps in combination with a “Cash for Clunky Carpet” event? Can you volunteer to help cleanup the Conasauga River?

The interesting thing about being part of the greater green is that it opens you up to real conversation, to authentic relationships and to unexpected and new sources of business -- sustainable, long term business that your customer has a vested interest in ensuring the success of.


Anonymous said...

That's great information on flooring the consumer.Thanks a lot for sharing it with us.It will keep us knowing the business.

Colorado Springs Carpet

CB Whittemore said...

Kathleen, I'm pleased to hear you say so.


Ben said...

Great post. One thing I would suggest for those in the hardwood industry is to associate themselves with distributors that are members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or join the FSC themselves, especially if they deal in exotic hardwood. The FSC allows consumers to run checks on the companies they are buying from, and since rainforest depletion is a HUGE environmental problem, many consumers base their buying decisions on whether or not a company is endorsed by the FSC. Check 'em out if you aren't familiar, and keep up the good work!

CB Whittemore said...


Thanks for sharing that excellent suggestion!

Thanks, too, for adding to this conversation.


Bruce D. Sanders, PhD said...

Achieving the greater green includes making it easy for customers to dispose of replaced flooring in ways that help the environment. You touched on this, C. B., when you mentioned repurposing waste. I’d go on a bit with: Is the retailer taking the customer’s waste to recycling centers when allowed? Are replaced flooring and old samples that still have a useful life being donated? Then let the community know what you’re doing to achieve this greater green for the physical environment.
But in my opinion, it’s wise to limit what you’re promising to what you’re willing to stay with for the long-term. As you point out in your posting, C. B., consumers are often skeptical of green claims. Consider what’s happened to McDonald’s Corporation. Most objective observers would agree that the world’s largest fast food chain does have the credentials to brag about friendliness to the environment. They were at rank 22 on the Newsweek Magazine 2009 “Greenest Companies in America” list. Even with all that, the food retailer continues to draw criticism for not showing sufficient social consciousness. It seems to me that people are confusing overall social consciousness with specific environmentalism. Last November, McDonald’s Corporation announced that they’re redoing the d├ęcor for about 100 of their restaurants in Germany. The change is from a red backdrop to a green interior. The objective, says McDonald’s, is to dramatize their commitment to the environment. Trouble is, they’ve already been changing from red toward green and issuing press releases since at least 2003.

CB Whittemore said...

Bruce, you bring up some of the perils associated with making green a marketing platform vs. a core commitment.

About McDonald's in Germany, I'll be interested to hear how their choice of green for restaurants affects food purchases and customer behavior in-store. From all of the color experts, I've only heard that warm colors are better suited for food establishments...

Thanks for putting the greater green into perspective.


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