The basics: Marketing for Canadian flooring businesses

There is an old adage in business: What good is your product or service if nobody knows about it? It partly explains why marketing exists in the first place — to help businesses get access to their target market. In fewer industries is this challenge more apparent than in Canadian flooring, where retailers, dealers and other providers face the daunting task of reaching their intended customers.

“There is no doubt that flooring retailers in Canada provide great products with the best service at a good price. The challenge for them, however, is to tell the consumer about it,” says Jeannine Ghaleb, chief operating officer of Cantrex Nationwide, an organization that specializes in marketing services for independent Canadian retailers, including those in the flooring sector.Marketing basics

When asked what her first piece of advice would be to rectify the situation, Ghaleb responds, “Small retailers need to get their financial house in order, since they are generally under-capitalized to begin with.  When you’re competing against the big box stores, you need to maximize your own cash flow.

“There are various ways of doing this,” Ghaleb continues. “For example, we often tell small retailers to do two things. First, they should be asking for a deposit from their customers. Second, they should wait to get paid themselves before giving a commission to their people. It’s these kinds of measures that can free up cash that can then be used for marketing purposes.”

People most often associate marketing with advertising, which is where much of the freed-up cash might go. However, advertising is only one of three basic approaches to marketing. The other two are public relations, which is often overlooked, and direct sales, which works with walk-ins, but might have limited use in flooring marketing, since most customers need to be in the store to be approached. Yet, even in-store, mass marketing solutions are available.

For example, Ghaleb talks about how in-store videos can target customers: “One of the services we have been able to provide since our acquisition by Nationwide Marketing Group is video production. They have a production facility in Atlanta that creates video to be be uniquely crafted for individual stores.”

Ghaleb also firmly believes in the power of using the tools you already have around you. In other words, an Atlanta video studio isn’t always the answer. She explains, “It never hurts to familiarize yourself with the web, to become more computer savvy, to learn about things like Google analytics — whatever it takes.”

At the same time, however, these kinds of tools don’t always come easy to people whose first speciality is flooring. Tanya Borisov is floor covering and corporate project manager at Cantrex. She has extensive experience with people in Canada’s flooring industry. She says, “There are some great mom-and-pop flooring stores across the country, yet they sometimes need help with certain marketing tools.”

Borisov uses local newspaper advertising as an example, which she says is very common among flooring retailers. As she describes it, “I have seen some ads that could use some work. That’s where we can step in and provide some help, if required. The ultimate goal is to create content that is both professional and targeted.”

Buying an ad is not the only way to establish a relationship with a newspaper or any media outlet, including local radio and television. As mentioned, public relations is one of the three pillars of marketing, and it doesn’t have to come with a dollar sign. Stripped to its basics, public relations is nothing more than managing your perception with the public, and that can include developing relationships with journalists.

In fact, the world’s flooring industry has already spent a great deal of money and resources developing a P.R. message tailor-made for the media: going “green.” Flooring manufacturers have gone to great lengths to produce sustainable products that are more environmentally friendly. From the use of recycled materials to less-toxic finishes, the products Canadian flooring retailers are offering the public make for a good news story to a receptive media.

Whatever the message, any public relations outreach involves some attempt to shape the opinions people have of you, which can be heavily influenced by the media. A cynical approach to public relations would suggest trying to manipulate journalists. This isn’t necessary. It can also backfire. All it should take for successful P.R. outreach is a conversation at a local function, a question about sponsoring a sports park, or just letting someone see that you’re not a heartless capitalist out to rip people off.

It should also be noted that not all media are created equal. Freedom of the press is a great achievement for society. It also means journalism as an industry is largely unregulated. The standards that do exist have to be self-imposed, and they are not always adhered to.

It is worthwhile to get to know such standards as the ethics guidelines for the Canadian Association of Journalists or the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, and find out if the media outlets you’re interested in follow them. Associating yourself with an unethical publication or broadcaster does not constitute good public relations.

Another component of good marketing is knowing your target market, and then using the right tools to reach it. Not all marketing strategies are suitable for flooring retailers and dealers. It should come as no surprise that the marketing tools already mentioned involve local media. A retail store in Victoria, B.C., for example, wants customers to walk in from, you guessed it, Victoria, not Halifax.

This is why smart marketers need to be cautious when approached with the latest fad in marketing. Social media sites serve as a good example. Although useful in reaching out to friends or local customers, people don’t necessarily go to Facebook to get blitzed by flooring ads. It’s like going to a party and having a used car salesman pitch you on a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta. You don’t want to come across as that used car salesman when targeting the market.

Instead, Ghaleb suggests engaging in a forward-looking plan that involves all facets of your business, including marketing and revenues. She says, “Successful businesses need to plan for growth, and then implement marketing strategies to achieve that growth. Even if it’s a modest plan for increased revenues, having that plan in place will help ensure future success. It’s crucial.”

Another pitfall to avoid is marketing for reasons other than getting a response from the market. As much as this may sound like common sense, sometimes marketing is done for political reasons — which isn’t always a bad thing. For example, a business might support other businesses belonging to the same ethnic community as a show of solidarity. Lutherans might support Lutheran causes. So on and so forth.

Political marketing can also be counterproductive. For example, a group of car dealers in the American Midwest decided to punish a local newspaper that supported a new sales tax. The car dealers withdrew all their advertising, thus causing a loss of revenues for the paper. The public was not amused. Car sales slumped and the dealers were forced to end their advertising boycott. It was bad marketing, and P.R., at its finest. The effects of losing focus on the target market can sometimes be devastating.

In the Canadian flooring industry, maintaining focus on that target market involves defining it, coming up with a plan to target it, and using the right tools for marketing success. Through financial discipline and a little marketing savvy, expertise in flooring can be channelled for long-term growth and profitability.

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