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Sell More Rugs Than You Thought Possible - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 144 NO.6 November/December


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In the first part of this retail series published in the September/ October 2014 issue of Furniture World (see it at http://furninfo.com/Series/RugSales), experts in the field shared suggestions with Furniture World readers on how to create a compelling rug buying experience for customers. In this issue, the discussion continues with a focus on retail sales training programs, and sales techniques.

What’s The Best Approach To Sell More Rugs?

We asked Jim Hering, Vice President and co-founder of Colorado-based retail operation HW Home, if he has a standard sales process for selling rugs. He replied, “It’s most important that our salespeople listen, figure out our customer’s needs, and then try to steer them in the right direction in terms of what they actually need to fulfill their goals for living a luxurious lifestyle. And very often it’s hard for customers to articulate this information. Some people come to our store just to buy a rug. Others come in because they're looking for a sofa, and then as we're putting the room together, they realize that they actually do need a rug. So, a rug sale can happen anywhere throughout the course of the sale.

"We organize our rugs on the racks by color, because our store is all about aspirational living and it’s very visual. We want people to come in to our store and say, ‘Wow, I want to live like this.’ It makes no sense to have particular styles of rugs grouped together because most don’t care if it’s 100 percent wool, a wool and silk blend, nylon, or all synthetic. Initially what customers are looking at, and what they're looking for is a style and a color. So we group rugs by color. Once they are sold on the idea of getting a rug of a particular color or style, it’s not as difficult to walk them in to an up-sale, a finer quality rug.

"Sometimes they do buy a $1,000 rug, but very often they'll see one that’s $4,000 or even $8,000 that’s the perfect rug for their space. And it will tie in beautifully to everything else they've selected in the room."

Rugs come in myriad colors, styles, constructions and price points. So, where to start, when choosing rugs for displays?

“Not all retailers have such a well thought out display system for selling rugs,” observes Jaipur's Asha Chaudhary. “Because rugs are so heavy, it’s very difficult to manage how they are displayed on racks. Many stores jumble them in, one after the next. I think the way they should be displayed, is more by price point because it makes it easier for customers. Within that price point, there is an opportunity to organize the selection.

“In vignettes, many furniture stores pair a sofa with a rug that’s about one-third the cost of the sofa," she continues. "They’ve figured out that that’s what many customers can comfortably spend. The best salespeople ask a lot of questions, such as, 'What are you thinking in terms of area rugs? Do you have a budget in mind?' And, if they don’t know, the one-third rule is a good place to start. Most retailers won’t pair a $1,000 dollar sofa in a vignette with a $3,000 rug. Likewise, it’s probably not a good idea to start out by showing a $200 rug with a $3,000 sofa.”

Capel’s VPā€ˆSales Allen Roberson says there’s an alternative strategy. “Some smart retailers,” he adds, “will start out by showing a higher end rug so they can present how it has a better look, color and more design elements. Then if the shopper says he or she doesn’t want to pay that much, the salesperson can relate, ‘Well, we’ve got some nice machine made rugs. They aren’t’ the same as these hand knotted, but they still have a very nice look.’ This approach lets them know up front where they can get better goods and knowledgeable advice. The shopper may leave and visit Home Depot to find a rug anyway, but nobody there has an interest in telling them anything about the rug.”

What Do Sales People Need To Know?

Training is important, declares Asha Chaudhary, President of Jaipur Rugs. "The best retailers encourage reps to hold sales meetings. They want all the information available in as much detail as possible so that their sales people, who need to know why one rug is $3,000 and another is $400, can feel comfortable selling rugs."

“Yes, sales people need enough ammunition to feel comfortable explaining why this rug is 100 bucks, and that one is 500 bucks," confirms Seth King, Surya's Vice President, Sales. "But it’s not necessary to overwhelm them with all the details. Basic construction is important. They have to know a hand-knotted rug, versus a hand-tufted rug, versus a machine-made rug. Those are three big categories, and each is distinctly different in how it is made, how long it is going to last, and why one is more expensive than the other. There, are 10 levels of detail below that, and at that point it’s getting into specs that don’t really need to be translated to the consumer in a big way. When retailers focus on specs they can miss the bigger picture of color, design, and style.”

King tells a story about a woman who goes into a store and is presented with a rug worth $1000 that isn’t the right color or style, but at a great price of just $100. “Of course she won’t come close to buying it,” he says. “But If she looks at a rug that's worth 100 bucks with the perfect look and style, she might pay $1,000, because it's exactly what she wants. That decision,” he says, “has nothing to do with the specs, construction and all those details about the value of the rug. The value for her is how it will fit in her home. That’s what’s important for most rug sales.”

Furniture World queried Jim Hering about the rug materials and construction details HW Home’s sales associates need to know about. He replied that product knowledge is very important. “If people are coming in specifically to buy rugs,” he explains, “they tend to be a little bit more knowledgeable in terms of what it is they're looking for. This type of rug shopper knows the difference between hand-knotted, machine tufted, etc. Someone who’s in to buy furniture and knows that they need a rug as well, often times knows very little. It’s our job to explain what’s available out there and why some products might be better than others. That doesn’t mean necessarily that the most expensive rug is the best option for them. If they have dogs or kids, and if it’s going to be used in a room that’s heavily trafficked, it might be better to go all synthetic or steer them to something that’s easier to clean and maintain, than to have a finely woven, hand-tufted or hand-knotted, wool and silk rug. These are the kinds of questions that people don’t often think about if they’re not really rug buyers. It’s good for our people to be knowledgeable enough to say, ‘Okay, that’s a great rug, but it may not be the best fit for you in this space, and here’s why.’”

“At Safavieh Home Furnishings,” observes its President Michael Yaraghi, “sales training is essential. We have found the best way to educate our sales staff is to have a rug expert conduct classes once a week in the stores. They explain the categories of rugs we sell, the lifestyles, and design styles. We show them the difference between contemporary, transitional or traditional Persian rugs, and the various weaving techniques from around the world.”

Capel's Allen Robertson had somewhat different advice for the average retailer. "Consumers," he notes, "buy rugs off the racks, and it’s important to make that process as simple as it can be. I spend a lot of time watching people shop for rugs. They go up and down the racks, and many times they get to the point where they will tell their salesperson, ‘I want this rug,’ or ask, ‘Does it come in a larger size?’ Most retail salespeople let shoppers read the tags which identify the construction and yarn type. Most times the customer is going to pick out the color and design. They kind of know what they want. A regular furniture store salesperson, just needs to listen to customers, take them to the rugs, and be able to answer questions about price, size and construction. Regarding construction, shoppers don’t really need to have a ton of detail beyond the basics of hand knotted rugs versus tufted rugs, versus machine made. The most important factors are color, design and the price."

How Good Are You At Gathering Information?

As with any furniture purchase, getting information from customers is an excellent place to start.
“Of course you want to qualify customers,” Loloi’s Cyrus Loloi tells us. “If they’re saying they have a dog or a kid or a messy husband, you might want to suggest an industrial rug, but don’t call it industrial, call it easy care. That’s just one example. If someone says, ‘Hey, I need something for my entryway, it’s going to get a lot of traffic.’ You probably want to suggest something that’s polypropylene or a wool construction that’s going to be around for a while.”

Capel’s Allen Robertson warns salespeople not to, “make assumptions about what customers will be happy with. “Prejudging them can backfire. If for example you find out that a customer has a busy lifestyle with pets and children, or looks like she can’t afford a more expensive rug, you may tell her she needs something cheap such as a polypropylene rug, solution dyed and easy to clean. Afterwards, if she wants to look at a more expensive, hand knotted rug, can the same things be said?” It can turn into a negative for the better rug which the shopper might have purchased and been happier with. Don’t under-qualify what they can spend,“ says Robertson. “As for buying signals,” he continues, ”if they start talking about other sizes or ask if it comes in other colors, that’s a pretty good sign that they are serious.”

Safavieh’s Michael Yaraghi shares another story about pre judging customers. “My favorite story has a moral,” he says, “Never underestimate a customer. When I was a young salesman, a client walked in with his wife and two little kids asking for the least expensive rug we carried at the time – a Dhurrie. The salesman up next, rejected them for that reason, and passed them on to me. I spent time talking to the couple, finding out about their home and lifestyle. I sold them$120,000 in rugs that afternoon. I will never forget how upset that older salesman was.”

We’ve established that pre-judging and making assumptions about customers is not a good idea, but asking question to find customer needs is another matter.

“Gathering information is probably the most important part of a sales associate’s job,” Joyce Lowe, Nourison’s Executive Director of the Area Rug Division explains to us. “Every other part of the sale leads back to information gathering. If you don’t know the customer’s needs, how can you take them to the right product? How will you know when to close? Making a sale is not about the merchandise, it’s about the customer’s needs. When this is done, the customer gets the perfect product and you get the sale. Determining customer needs is the most important part of the process! To take a customer to the right product, you must understand what he/she needs, you must find out where and how the product will be used and color/style preferences.

“Remember to let the customer do most of the talking. Customers will lead you to the right product if you just let them. Information gathering requires two important skills; listening and questioning. At the beginning of a customer interaction, the customer should be doing most of the talking. Listen to what the customer says, and ask questions to get more information.

“A question should not be able to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” It should begin with words like How, Why, Tell me, and What. Ask open questions to encourage the customer to talk and reveal his/her needs.”

Examples Lowe related are:

• “What style do you have in mind?”
• “Tell me about the room where the rug will be?”
• “How do you plan to use the rug?”
• “What kind of traffic will the area have?

“Once you ask an open question,” she says, “stand back and listen. Encourage the customer along with phrases like, ‘I see,’ or ‘Uh-huh.’ Once you understand the customer’s needs, lead him/her to the product you think will best serve the customer.

“The tip I have for retail salespeople is to be sure that the minute they see a client, they smile and introduce themselves by name,” Safavieh’s Michael Yaraghi tells us. “The next step is to say “I would love to help you.” Then ask them to sit down and for the next five minutes, get to know them. Have a conversation about their home – what it looks like, where they live, how they like to live, etc. Talk about everything but furniture for the first five minutes.”

“Also, If possible,” adds Jaipur’s Asha Chaudhary, “salespeople should find out if their customers have pets or allergies as well as the type of traffic to which the rug will be exposed. Answers to these questions help salespeople to direct customers to the types of rugs they should be showing. Customers generally don’t spend much time thinking about what rugs are made from, but material can play a role for some customers,” she adds.

What Is The Best Time To Introduce Rugs?

Furniture World asked Capel’s Allen Robertson to explain at what point in the sale, the topic of rugs should be introduced.

“I find that the best time in the sales process to introduce a rug is when shoppers feel comfortable that they’ve selected furniture or have chosen fabric colors. That’s when you say, ‘We have a great deal on rugs here. They’re in stock, available, and I will be glad to show you some that will go perfectly with what you’ve selected.’ Or, ‘We just got some new rugs in that will coordinate nicely with this. May I show them to you?’ I don’t think you can take somebody who comes in to look for furniture and direct them immediately to the rugs. Furniture buyers generally select rugs as part of a package. If the salesperson gets the color and design right, they will sell a rug most of the time.”

"Once the furniture for the room has been selected," agrees Nourison's Joyce Lowe, "coordinating rugs should be introduced to anchor the room. The rugs could also be selected before the fabrics. Since there are hundreds of fabrics available, the rug will provide the customer with a color palette to incorporate with paint and fabrics.”

Furniture World received a very different answer from Michael Yaraghi of Safavieh. “You always start with a rug,” he says. “A rug will help narrow and eliminate a lot of extraneous options in fabrics, colors and looks. The rug helps your client make decisions about the style of the room, the color palette and the coordinating patterns. Our sales approach is to always start the conversation with a rug.”

Best Practices For Rug Sales Education

On the topic of sales education, most of our experts advise retailers to do regular training sessions using materials made available by suppliers and encourage knowledgeable reps to perform general and product specific rug training sessions.

Regular Training Sessions: “Sales people certainly need to get familiar with the category in order to sell it,” Cyrus Loloi of Loloi Rugs says. “Many retailers in the business community we sell to, do not have much rug knowledge. Even some buyers, as bad as it sounds, don’t have a working knowledge of care and cleaning, fibers, durability and the pros and cons of various constructions. I think a lot of that responsibility falls on sales reps, to make sure that buyers, sales managers and salespeople in stores have the information they need so that their teams know how to sell the category and feel confident. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you’re going to feel selling a category. A lot of our customers now carry a variety of products, so, they’re not rug experts.”

"Product training sessions," Nourison’s Joyce Lowe suggests, “can be a powerful tool in the struggle to achieve superior product knowledge. Held at least twice a year, they serve to keep everyone up-to-date on changes and new product offerings, additional promotional opportunities available and emerging trends in the marketplace."

Simplify The Process: The training process will be different for each store. Stores that choose to limit selection to narrow price points or constructions can simplify the sales process and reduce the amount of required sales training.

“A common way stores simplify rug selection,” explains Surya’s Seth King, “is to limit rug price point options. For example, a $200 level with a step-up to $400. Or, limit special order sizes. This takes the confusion out right there,” he observes. “The upholstery guys often supply small fabric swatches in a vignette near a sofa on the floor. There may be five, 10 or 20 options for that same sofa. They may display the gold one, but they also have a red option, a blue option, a beige, and a green. We have the same system. Salespeople who aren’t designer trained, may be pretty much dead in the water if a customer says, ‘Yeah, I do want a rug, but I don’t like the green in that rug.’ But if they have the tools nearby to give that customer three or four other options, the sale can easily be made by saying, ‘Well if you don’t like this rug, what about these other four? Here’s the green one. Here’s the red one. And here’s the blue one. And they’re all the same price.’ And they can be the same pattern as well. But at least they have a tool that helps them feel confident that they can still up sell the customer. That beats having to walk back to a 750-page catalog to try to pick from a huge sea of rugs. It’s just a more difficult transition.”

On the topic of sales education, Capel’s Allen Roberson says, Honestly, the rug category, it’s not that complicated. Capable, smart, professional salespersons don’t have problems getting familiar with the category. So it’s important to have a process in place to train people properly.”

Should You Have A Rug Specialist?

Many stores rely on reps to do in-store training. Another option is to designate one person in the store to become a rug specialist as the ‘“go to” person for questions about rugs and training.

We asked Surya’s Seth King about the advisability of having a rug specialist on staff. He replied, “Our sales team’s job is to make sure that all sales associates on the floor are equipped to sell rugs. For stores that want to get into bigger tickets, it’s possible that a rug specialist will help, but we try to find ways to simplify the process.”

“Since we began as a rug company and have been selling rugs for 100 years,” says Michael Yaraghi, “a large percentage of consumers come to our stores looking specifically for area rugs, about 50%. We offer design service and our designer’s obligation is to immediately ask for the rug. It is very important to have one dedicated person who understands the rug business to coordinate with sales reps and designers. This position at our stores is called Design and Rug Coordinator, and these people are knowledgeable in both residential and commercial applications.”

“It’s usually hard, however, to have a rug specialist in a smaller furniture store,” adds Capel’s Allen Robertson, “but we definitely recommend that somebody should be in charge of the rug area, a salesperson on the floor who knows the answer to any question. Someone who is good at selling mattresses, case goods or upholstery doesn’t necessarily know all about rugs. It’s important for the other salespeople to know there’s somebody to turn to if any issues arise during the sales process. And, if that rug specialist has interior design training, that’s even better.”

“Some of the best stores, if they’re large enough, and they have enough room,” Jaipur’s Asha Chaudhary tells us, “have a dedicated person in a rug department. These are the types of stores doing a huge rug business. Dedicated rug salespeople can help drive sales and emphasize the importance of the category.”

“We don’t have a rug specialist in each store adds Jim Hering. Everybody has to know what they're doing on every single product throughout our store, so we have extensive training. It takes about six months for somebody to really get up to speed, and feel confident and comfortable with everything we offer in the store. It is a long learning curve because there's just so many different vendors and so many different products on our floors.

“HW Home,” he concludes, “relies heavily on reps for training, provided they're good. I find, that the lines that do the best are the ones with a very committed rep who is in our stores often, knows the names of our people, is available to answer phone calls or emails at the drop of a hat, considers himself or herself an employee of our supplier’s company—whether or not they are a direct employee of that organization or not, does organized training, and then often, spontaneous training. Those are the reps who do the best. Consequently their lines perform better in our stores—all the time.


Sell More Rugs Sales Tips

-by Joyce Lowe, Nourison-

Closing: Closing is the most important and most neglected part of the rug sales process. Many salespeople feel that trying to close a sale will make them look pushy or aggressive. In truth, many customers are waiting for the salesperson to close. Asking for the sale is essential in becoming a successful salesperson.

The Trial Close: A trial close is a yes or no question that shows you where you are in the sale. If a customer is interested in a product, build “yes momentum” by asking questions about the product. Questions can be as simple as, “do you like it?” or “It’s a nice style isn’t it?” If the customer continues to show interest, it may be time to close. There are four main reasons to trial close, including to uncover objections, move toward the close, get customers to agree with you, and build “yes” momentum.

Buying Signals: Buying signals tell you when to begin closing a rug sale. Look for telltale signals from the customer such as: they continue to rub the product, say they like it, nods between couples, making jokes, and stating that it will work in their home. When you hear or see these buying signals, it’s time to start closing! The customer is ready to buy and all you have to do is ask for the sale.

Two Basic Ways to Close a Sale Without Being Pushy:

  • Just ask for it - The simplest way to close a sale is to simply ask for it. Say something like, “May I write that up for you?” Customers don’t mind being asked. They know that you are there to sell and they are there to buy. Just ask!

  • The nudge - The nudge works well for rug sales. Customers are often reluctant to make the next step to purchase. Give the customer positive messages about purchasing the product by summing up the benefits and relating them to the customer’s needs.

Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.
Read other articles by Russell Bienenstock