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Are Your Wood Flooring Customers Thrilled or Disillusioned?

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Like a kid at Christmas they walk in your store, wide-eyed and excited to select a new hardwood floor. Perhaps they want oak, or maybe it's maple, or it could be an exotic to match their kitchen table. The selection was quick, the floor is installed … but now something is wrong!

Unfortunately, this is something we all have experienced-or will-over the course of our wood flooring careers: customers selecting a hardwood floor that just does not mesh with their lifestyle. They come to us with a predetermined idea of what they want to be walking on for the next 15 to 20 years or more. With all the information available via the Internet, it sure seems they have deemed themselves "the flooring professional." They know what they want and know this is the floor for them. Even the best of efforts to sway a customer to a more suitable floor can fall on deaf ears. Let's look at some typical scenarios:

"What a horrible mistake. I don't know if it has to do with the grade or the manufacturer, but everything dents or scratches my floor. My baby's high chair left a nasty dent. My husband and I are sick over this. How come you didn't tell me this floor would end up looking like this?"

Here is a typical scenario where the customers came to the showroom with their personal interior designer. There are two problems here. First, the designer asked for a "cabin grade" floor in order to achieve a more rustic look. There was no telling her that cabin grade really meant inexpensive builder-grade hardwood. In her mind, it meant rustic. Second, the customers were on a very fixed budget, with not much left for the flooring selection. Seems they had a bit of money going to the designer and not to the flooring, where it would have been better spent. The designer made the selection for the customers based on color, not quality, and without a thought of the clients' lifestyle. The unfortunate outcome: customers left dealing with a floor that is not good enough for the demands of their family.

Customers have a hard time understanding that this strong, durable, natural product we call hardwood can-and will-ding and dent. Since it comes from those giant trees, the floor must be indestructible. We all know some floors are harder than others and some finishes are more scratch-resistant, and we really need to find out the needs and expectations of consumers in order to provide them with the best possible flooring solutions.

"My floor is showing a lot of smudges and marks."

This is a characteristic of the high-gloss, tight-grained, piano-finish floor the customer requested. Yes, it is beautiful and shiny, but, like a beautiful and shiny black Cadillac, it's going to show every little smudge, ding and dent.

"I moved my couch today, one year after you installed my Brazilian cherry floor, and now there is a discoloration to my floor-a giant light spot where the couch was."

This is a very common issue, particularly with exotic hardwood flooring. Over time the hardwood will go through a period of oxidation. The more it is exposed to light, typically the darker the floor will get (there are a small number of exotics that will lighten with light exposure). This process will go on for six months to a year. More than likely, over time the lighter color will catch up to the darker areas. You will have an unhappy customer for a period of time until it does begin to darken. The floor may never fully catch up to the rest of the floor, but it definitely will darken.

"We purchased a 7-inch-wide plank floor. It is showing gaps-I can put a quarter in between the spaces."

A solid nailed-down, wide-plank floor is going to gap. It is a common characteristic and will for sure expand and contract with the change in seasons and changes in the climate of the home. The wider the plank, the more gapping should be expected. Customers, of course, need to have this explained to them ahead of time.

"My new floor's finish is very dull; I don't know why. I wet-mop it all the time and it just keeps getting worse."

The dreaded wet mop is to hardwood as kryptonite is to Superman! It will for sure damage the floor and the finish. Please make sure after you take the time to sell a beautiful, new hardwood floor that you send your customers away with the proper care and maintenance instructions. Most manufacturer websites have this information readily available. Print it out and give the instructions to your customers. The care instructions may or may not be in each individual carton, and if an installer is hired to put the floor down, do not assume they will give the homeowners a copy of what is in the cartons. Do not rely on the customers to get this information once they leave you. Give it to them at the time of the sale. It will help in saving you callbacks and will aid in the satisfaction of your customers.

These are just a few examples of what I've come across after being in the business for over 20 years. Most of these scenarios are easily prevented at the point of sale. Make sure to ask the proper questions of your customers. Take note of how many people live in the house. What are their ages? Do they have pets? Listen to what your customers are asking for. Then it is your turn, and your responsibility, to take the information you are given, ask the proper questions and make an educated decision as to which hardwood floor will satisfy your customers. It does not take much to make your customers happy; a little work and probing up front will save you some giant headaches later.

Live and learn from the mistakes of others, and be smart and informative with your customers. The idea is to keep them smiling for the next 20 years or more!

Business Brief: Unconditional Happiness

photo of yellow smiley face ping-pong ballsLots of people think the "pursuit of happiness" is a linear process, so they live in a state of expectancy, or hope of happiness arriving … some day. They need to realize that happiness is a state of being; it is a conscious choice. Here are three strategies you can employ:

1) Recognize that happiness is available now. One way to increase this awareness is to set aside a few minutes during the day to focus completely on the present moment. Relax and become conscious of your breathing. Practice smiling without feeling the need to justify it.

2) Choose to think positive thoughts. Begin by making a list of at least five affirmations in the present tense (such as "I am enthusiastic about my job," rather than, "I will be enthusiastic about my job.") Read your list aloud to yourself. The idea is to become conscious of all the attributes you have.

3) Harness the power of the moment to choose happiness. This is not a process of denying the existence of stress. But often people find it easier to see negative aspects of life than to accept the positive forces surrounding them.

Marti MacGibbon is a motivational speaker, standup comic, and author of "Never Give in to Fear," available on Amazon.com and at www.nevergiveintofear.com.

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