It’s a warm, dry, beautiful Thursday and there’s not a cloud in the sky for the first time this week. 

You just completed a $475 carpet cleaning job and sold an additional $205 in protector to one of your favorite customers.

It is midday and time for lunch. You decide to head to your favorite sandwich shop.

Finished with lunch, you feel that you are 10 feet tall and bullet proof. With the grace of a NASCAR veteran, you smoothly angle into the nearest shopping centerThinkstock/Fuse parking lot armed with a two-inch stack of the best designed business cards you’ve ever seen and attempt to do something you’ve never tried in the past: You stop at a local flooring retail store to share your expertise.

After all, today is your day! How could they possibly not fall all over you with the same adulation as your last customer?

With your perfectly stacked business cards between your thumb and first two fingers, your stomach full, shirt tucked in and ready for battle, you open the door to the store.

After all, needing your superior services is a forgone conclusion because they sell carpet, right? They have customers, right? You are about to align all the planets in their universe with your talent, truckmount and smile alone.

Landing the deal

Coming out of what appears to be a no-mans-land of carpet and wood floor samples, a middle-aged man with a goatee and wearing a sports jacket approaches you and asks: “Hello, how can I help you today?”

You reply, “Hi, I’m Jim with Amazing Carpet Cleaning.” You quickly notice that he doesn’t seem the least bit impressed and all of a sudden you see that the reality sinks in on his face that you’re not there to buy anything!

As he crosses his arms and scowls, every particle in your brain and all those spinning planets come to screeching halt.

Just a moment ago, judging by his inviting smile, you thought you were on the verge of being asked over this weekend for a barbeque. Now his expression makes you feel something just short of an intruder. Your stunned look follows with the only four words you can muster, “Is the owner here?” God save us all if this is the actual owner, as you may suspect. With overwhelming regret you pause and wait…

“No, he’s off today,” the man says. Yes, he is still scowling.

At that moment you weren’t prepared for any answer, especially that one. In less time then it takes to split an atom, you think to yourself: How could this have happened to me? Don’t they know how many certifications I have and that I just bought the new 4-jet wand? And that my truckmount produces 300 degrees of heat and I can go up to 1,500 pounds of pressure? And look how great these business cards are. I ordered 500 of these and that should demonstrate what commitment really is!

Your best case scenario boils down to an invitation to leave your cards on the front counter, stacked next to the cards from three other carpet cleaning companies. You are amazed that their cards look pretty good, like yours.

Thanking the salesman, you smile and start walking out gracefully. As you weave back and forth among the sample displays and in the general direction you seemed to remember the front door being, you think to yourself, “These people just don’t get it. They need me!”

What went wrong?

What happened was simple: You were running on emotion alone. You don’t understand the world the flooring retailer has to operate in.

Besides that, you brought a butter knife to a gunfight.

While vowing to never “waste your time on a flooring retailer again,” you make the single worst decision of your entire business life. You decide to stick to what you believe works: Yellow Page ads, buying pay-per-clicks, Groupon discounts and direct mailers with great coupons.

Start with planning

Being confident when you’re making a presentation is very important. It tells your perspective retail referral partner that you believe in your business and ultimately yourself.

However, all the positive emotion you possess can never replace good planning. You must learn as much as you can about the person you’re inviting to the dance. What does this mean in terms of business?

Questions about flooring retailers you must consider include:

  • What are their business concerns?
  • Where do their challenges exist?
  • Where do the opportunities lay within your partnership?
  • What problems can you solve for them?
  • How can you enhance their reputation?
  • Most importantly, why choose you over your competition?

There is much to learn about the professional flooring retailer and, while the challenge is like no other single referral partner you’ve solicited before, the rewards for this successful relationship are enormous.

Loose lips sink ships

Let’s start with a question: What do you think you are really selling the flooring retailer when you ask for their referrals?

If you think simply “great carpet cleaning services,” you couldn’t be more wrong.

They don’t care as much about that as you think they should. This doesn’t mean they don’t care at all, but it’s just not on the front of their radar screen. They’ve been embarrassed by others making this promise many times before you arrived at their store.

What you should really be selling them is your assurance that you won’t embarrass them in the process of doing their customers a service.

What type of embarrassment? Your van leaking oil all over the customer’s driveway; failing to properly manage their customer’s expectations; missing appointments and saying something off-the-cuff about their carpet that will get them into a conflict with that same customer.

Things like that.

One time I had a technician tell the customer, “If you’d only bought a higher quality carpet and pad you wouldn’t have all these worn traffic lanes showing already.” 

She then immediately called the retailer and complained that she was sold a “load of crap carpet” — and guess whose words she used verbatim to back up her position? You guessed it, the expert: My technician. Try to dig yourself out of that hole!

The domino effect

What they care about is not getting a telephone call from an angry customer because you failed to manage their customer’s expectations.

The customer is angry with the retailer because they referred you and now that stain won’t come out, even after the original salesperson told them it was stain proof, according to what they “remember.”

Now not only where you late for the appointment, but the carpet is still wet and now she thinks they smell and mold is starting to grow. And, of course, her children are dying and she’s deathly allergic to mold as well.

If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve had a customer just like this. I know I have.  

Perception is the customer’s reality. This is where the “domino effect” begins. Don’t ever get defensive and make excuses. Instead, fix it and stop the bleeding. Stop the dominoes from falling over.

Always remember you are working for two customers each time you serve one of their referrals. Protect the retailer’s reputation more fiercely then you defend your own.

All the months of unnoticed work you’ve done until now has been a series of small deposits into that retail partner’s “love bank” account with you. Now it is time to make a large withdrawal and you really don’t deserve it. At the end of the day, what matters is the retail owner’s perception on whether or not you’re overdrawn.

I’m painting this picture so you understand what’s important to them. Start by managing the retailer’s expectations of you from the start. Don’t begin your relationship by making promises you can’t keep and being unrealistic about how you’ll handle difficult people and situations.

Begin by making them only one promise: Whatever surprise you encounter together you’ll do everything within your ability not to embarrass them, and when a difficult customer arises, you’ll just fix it no matter what, protecting their reputation and keeping them informed along the way.

Building reputation

In a town of 150,000 people there are probably four big box stores, if not more, around six independent flooring retailers and four more belonging to a buying group. Not to mention warehouse retailers specializing in “cash-and-carry,” or furniture stores that offer carpet and other flooring choices.

At the core of all this confusion are primarily four fibers that are pulled, twisted, cut and dyed to more than 1,700 different labels, types and styles. All sold with warranties that are anywhere from non-existent to 25 years. At this point we’ve only touched on soft surface products — not wood, ceramic tile, stone or vinyl.

By the end of the day, all any retailer really has left to separate himself from the competition is reputation. Even location has its drawbacks. What started out being a great place or intersection to do business has changed, and has now become a nightmare.

When that happens, reputation is all that matters.

Remember, flooring retailers sell a commodity that can be purchased at countless numbers of places disguised under different labels. Everyone knows that the best deals are at the big box stores, right? Wrong. Try telling that to the average consumer.

Since reputation is all that flooring retailers have left at the end of the day, they are going to be very protective of their customers. You can’t bring in enough donuts and candy to make up for an angry customer that buys flooring every five to seven years and has now found a new store to shop at — all this because the flooring retailer referred you.

Flooring retailer issues

They are tasked with keeping up with the latest styles, fiber characteristics and colors in an ever-changing landscape of consumer-driven perceptions.

They are balancing their mill or buying group relationships against the physical limitations of space.

They are educating an ever-rotating sales force and confronting installation challenges that would make each of us curl up into the fetal position.

Let’s not even bring up consumer credit, accounts receivable and projects that get measured short.

So when you walk into a flooring retail store without proper planning, you might as just have stayed home.

Select a partner

I’ve been really blessed to enjoy wonderful relationships with the flooring retailers that I serve. I have honestly applied exactly what I’ve shared with you here.

Have I encountered some problems? Yes! I’ve had some withdrawals from my “love bank account.” But in the end, our reputation as a service company that protects their reputation is unchallenged. This is the key.

If I could tell you one thing about partnering with a flooring retail professional you would promise me you’d remember, it would be this: Select a retail partner that attracts the kinds of customers you want to work for.

If high-quality retailers attract high-quality customers, then the opposite is also true. I believe this is an absolute.

So the next time you walk into a flooring retail store, please give it the respect it deserves. Be prepared, know the owner’s name, make an appointment and be ready to offer more then a great service. Offer them assurance you will do your best not to embarrass them.

Bring more than just your A-game. Bring your reputation, too.

John Mapes is director of development for My Flooring Warranty, a program based on partnering service companies with flooring retailers in their local area around a referral system based on cleaning reminder cues and warranty cleaning requirements. The program is endorsed by Shaw Flooring Network, Mohawk Advisor Council and the World Floor Covering Association, including countless industry leaders. You can reach him via e-mail at, visit his website at or call (815) 895-9911.