A decade or so ago, not many would have imagined that we’d be buying everything from cars to toasters from our living room couch without first having the chance to see, touch and feel our purchases.
Floor Coverings International is North America’s oldest and largest shop-at-home floor covering retailer which lets its customers see, touch and feel its products. But contrary to what one might expect to hear, Company President and CEO, Tom Wood flatly says that the mobile concepts of the past have not been overwhelmingly successful in the flooring industry. That might be the case for some. But by putting a laser focus on consumer buying habits and expressed desires, its operating model, growth ability, marketing and advertising as well as merchandising, Wood has built Floor Coverings International into a company that operates with Amazon-like efficacy. In 2003, FirstService Brands, a Toronto based company specializing in home service franchises, acquired the brand and started to put its expertise in franchising, in-home service and mobile concepts on the system.
Tom Wood took the helm of Floor Coverings International in 2004. By specializing in residential, personalized flooring; selection, design and installation, in-home customer consultation, this company has created a discernable difference from other floor coverings companies.
Bringing Flooring Straight to Home
Wood says, “You would think a mobile concept in flooring would make sense, but our competition is bricks and mortar. Customers don’t initially see the value in a mobile business. They have been trained by time and old habits. They wonder: Do we have enough samples? Can we provide the labor? They have the idea that since a bricks-and-mortar competitor is bigger, they must be better.” He adds, “Our success is predicated on our ability to execute in the home and to show the consumer that we truly can deliver an entire experience in the home. There is no need to go to the store.”
Wood believes that Floor Coverings International can really differentiate by creating a personal experience that can’t be matched outside of the consumers’ home.
From Challenges to Milestones
Floor Coverings International’s road to profitability didn’t come without a few bumps. Originally founded in 1988 as a mom-and-pop, low investment, work-from-home franchise, the franchisor’s model wasn’t sustainable for long-term growth and resulted in high franchisee turnover. “Additionally, I was the seventh President of Floor Coverings International in seven years and many of the franchisees didn’t trust a new leader,” Wood said. He adds, “We needed to take steps to gain consensus and trust in the early years. We invested heavily in the company. But that meant taking a company that was profitable to one that was losing money while we fixed the core issues.”
Those fixes, according to Wood, resulted in doing three main things really well:
Floor Coverings International revamped its home experience for consumers from top to bottom. The franchisee is not necessarily the person who visits the home but rather Design Associates are on staff to adhere to a rigorous experience model that demands perfection. “This allows the customer to learn who we are, what we do and how we do it,” Wood said.
Franchisees were provided new training in areas such as coaching and skill development in team leadership and sales-team management. “This allows our franchisees to scale their businesses more quickly and keep their people longer,” Wood said.
A high dollar investment was made in a mobile platform that allows Design Associates to demonstrate the Floor Coverings International system, choose from a vast selection of products, provide a quote and secure the sale all while in the customer’s home. “It’s the best in the industry,” Wood said.
As a result, a once mom-and-pop franchisor that was slow and stodgy has evolved into a fast and explosive machine, with a franchise business model predicated on reaching $1.5 million in annual sales in quick fashion.
Being on Top in Every Category
According to Wood, “I thought if we’re ranked number one in almost every category let’s get to number one in customer service. Company practice had been to send surveys to customers after we performed a job for them.” He adds, “The feedback was very positive for the most part, but I wanted to know what the mediocre or negative feedback was based upon.”
Wood’s decision was to expand the customer surveys to include those who had received a presentation from a franchisee and didn’t move forward with the work. Existing customers who had gone through the whole process and chosen to work with Floor Coverings International reported very good results.
Changing the Perception of Customers
Wood decided to survey everyone who hadn’t moved forward after an in-home presentation. Initially, the customers who didn’t know the name Floor Coverings International or how it operates differently than other flooring companies, were reluctant to move forward but when the customers clearly understood the entire operation and service, they loved it.
At the end of 2013 it became clear that customers needed a much clearer education process before making a big decision. Floor Coverings International also realized that franchisees themselves should not give the sales and product presentations. As a business based on style, design and decorating of the home, it only made sense that the Design Associates already on board should be the people interacting the most with the customers. As the number one mobile flooring retailer, the company offers over 3000 flooring products and the fact that customers could see the samples in their own homes, next to their furniture and walls, made this much more of a designer experience.
Prioritizing Customer Experience
In January of 2014 Wood hired two vendors who specialized in polling then contacting customers about their experiences. After 8 months of diligent work the companies had mined a tremendous amount of helpful data which gave Wood the answers he needed. “Our customer service experience had to change,” expressed Wood. “That’s when we decided that we would recruit more Design Associates and put them through five weeks of intensive training to learn the presentation process. We wanted it kept short, precise and simple. Think of what your dream floor would be. Then the associates find three options that will fit the “dream”, each ranging in appointments, (some are ecofriendly, some more durable, etc.) and that represent three pricing options.”
In October of 2014 Floor Coverings International launched their new, more regimented, customer presentation experience.
Managing Customer Expectations
Woods says that one of the best things Floor Coverings International does is show the customer the truth. Managing expectations goes a long way and Floor Coverings International videos the process of measuring the rooms, ripping up the floors, and all the unpleasantness of home remodeling. If there are problems, such as mold or other issues, the company also addresses those and fixes problems before the floor is laid. But by seeing the truth in what is going to happen, customers are no longer disturbed by a day or two of mess. They plan for it.
To wit, Floor Coverings International has tripled in size since Wood became president and he expects to double in size within the next three years. With over 150 operating franchises throughout the U.S. and Canada, Floor Coverings International expects to add at least 50 more franchises through year’s end. FirstService Brands CEO Charlie Chase and consultant Dr. Paul Woolner were working on a project that used feedback from the NPS (Net Promoter Score). As part of a group of highly ranked professional home service brands under the FirstService Brands umbrella, ongoing methods for excellence and benchmark practices are constantly being researched.
A World Leading Mobile Flooring Franchise
Floor Coverings International is ranked as the Number One Mobile Flooring Franchise on numerous lists including Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise500 ® for the 8th year in a row and now has an NPS of between 76% and 83%. It also enjoys a 4.7 out of 5 rating on social media sites. The industry average is 38%.