Here's something that'll sound weird: I love retail, but I hate shopping.
So much of shopping is a matter of checking off your to-do list, like picking up groceries or getting school supplies in fall. What thrills me about great retail is seeing businesses that excel at customer service and create an unforgettable experience—so much so that customers can't help but tell their friends.
There is plenty of room for creating a positive reaction from customers in the wood flooring industry; it's just that many don't know where to start. In my opinion, the best place to start is to take a look at companies that do it very well and adapt their ideas.
With that in mind, here are a few lessons I've learned from exceptional retailers.
1. Become a must-see destination.
What would it be like if your store was so impactful that tourists wanted to stop there on vacation? I know it sounds crazy, but there are stores just like that. For example, I recently went to Waco, Texas, and before I went, everyone asked me if I was going to Magnolia Market, the store owned by "Fixer Upper" stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. (In fact, I have friends who took a vacation to Waco entirely because they wanted to go to Magnolia!)
Now think about your store. What are you doing to give people a unique experience?
In the Portland, Ore., area, we have a chain called Umpqua Bank, which focuses on "slow banking." While they have all the digital banking services you'd expect, they want their locations to be so hip and fun that people want to deposit a check in person. Each location looks nothing like a bank—think hotel lobby with no stanchions in sight. They always have complimentary coffee and cookies. Some even have little libraries!
What can you offer at your store to make the experience better for your customers? How about cucumber water in summer? Chips or other small snacks? People talk about stores like that.
2. Little things make a difference.
The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle is one of the most epic retail experiences. It has a bar and a pizza place in it, and it looks very Willy Wonka-esque—pipes running everywhere, demonstrations, it's all magical.
When you walk in the front doors, a concierge greets you and tells you the day's roasts. This person's other job is to clean the glass on those doors. The last time I was there, I saw the concierge cleaning them and asked how often they clean the doors. "Every 10 minutes," he said. That may sound excessive, but they do it because it matters.
Researcher Martin Lindstrom found that when it comes to shopping, 90 percent of each buying decision is made subconsciously. And it's small stuff that sways the purchasing decision one way or the other.
Look around your store: Are the doors and windows clean? When was the last time you dusted? Every component in the showroom either helps or hurts; there is no neutral.
3. Lay roots in your community.
The other thing Umpqua Bank excels at is establishing a name for itself in the community. Many locations, for example, have meeting rooms that anyone in the community can use, for free.
Sure, you may not have room for that purpose. But do you have a nice landscaped area? Try inviting yoga studios to have outdoor classes. Even your parking lot is valuable space — you could invite local artisans for a pop-up craft show.
Think about what you can offer beyond your physical space, too. Umpqua, for example, has an ice cream truck they drive around each summer, giving away free ice cream.
Of course, a company ice cream truck may be far-fetched for most wood floor pros, but you get the point. Think about what you could do that would make your business part of the community instead of just "a place."
4. Watch placement of after-market products.
Imagine we're going out to buy you a brand-new car. We just pulled up to the lot and you're super excited. So we walk through the front doors and we don't see any cars in the showroom. Instead, we see a pile of 30 tires. Then we go a little bit further and see three cases of oil. And then … tanker trucks filled with gas? Wow. OK.
Finally, after walking past all this, we see the car. You're not feeling so stoked about it anymore, right?
The same applies to wood floor retailers. When new guests come in and see maintenance products right up front, they're suddenly not as excited about installing a new wood floor. They're thinking, "Man, is this what I'm in for if I get a wood floor?"
Put care products toward the back of the store or behind the service desk, which invites conversation between the homeowner and pro.
5. Know your competition.
People are not comparing you to the other wood floor retailer down the street. They're comparing you to the latest Apple store they were in, or to Barnes & Noble. They're comparing you to their favorite retail website. You're competing against the whole world of marketing and that set of expectations.
It's not good enough anymore to just have a nice showroom in a nice spot with products on display and an educated staff. If you can't become a destination with a true experience, you'll be replaced by the internet.
But if you think creatively and get comfortable trying outside-the-box ideas, you'll find you can truly surprise and delight people when they come into your store.
Mario Maichel is the retail marketing manager at Vista, Calif.-based Watkins Wellness.