On a return flight home from a recent sales trip to the West Coast, Pami Bhullar – like many others directly and indirectly impacted by the sudden rise of COVID-19 – watched his whole world change.
“I was flying back from California, and California started closing. So, I started following the news over the weekend,” he said.
Bhullar had seen enough in his decades in the business to know what this could mean for his STAINMASTER retail customers. And the director of aligned retail development with INVISTA – Koch Industries’ textiles, polymers, fiber and resin producer – felt a personal responsibility to help.
“My first thought was, ‘OK, it’s going to be a couple of weeks,’ but some of us started thinking about how it was going to affect the consumer psyche, and how we would all be different at the other end of this,” said Bhullar. “Not doing anything wasn’t an option, so we started thinking about how we could facilitate our retailers.”
As soon as he got back to work, Bhullar convened a team to begin brainstorming ways of supporting the company’s STAINMASTER retail partners just as consumer spending habits were starting to shift. Though the task was big and the team small, they had a plan and program in place within two weeks.
“It was kind of crazy,” he added. “We were all working day and night because it became an obsession.”
By April 1, Bhullar and company were making their first conference calls to introduce retailers to the Select Now, Install Later program – a rapidly prototyped web tool that streamlines the carpet selection and purchase process entirely online as more and more consumers elect to shop from home.
As a marketer, Bhullar is a believer in the power of three – short, yet memorable and satisfying. That’s why the team designed the Select Now, Install Later program as an easy three-step process for consumers. Shoppers simply access the portal through a local retailer’s website where they can select the carpet they want, determine how much carpet they’ll need and then schedule an appointment for later installation.One of the retail partners already making use of the tool is Wichita, Kansas-based Star Lumber and Supply, a family-owned business that’s also an official STAINMASTER flooring center. For more than 25 years, Star has been more than a retail partner to Bhullar – he considers the owners and some of its employees to be close friends. And that’s what has made this initiative so personal.
“STAINMASTER has been the vendor, from our perspective, that has really partnered with us in a sales effort,” said Ryan Walker, senior vice president of flooring and decorating with Star. “We’ve had other vendors send training and videos, but STAINMASTER has been the one vendor that has come to us in the current environment and partnered with us to offer our customers the ability to still do business.”
For Star, the transition to a digital sales focus has been a big shift in business operations, but a necessary one. Because shopping for carpet is a very tactile, sensory experience relying on the physical touching of samples, the company has traditionally focused on driving customers to its showroom. Now, the redirect has been to the online sales tool.
“I think people are becoming more in tune with their homes being there more,” said Kelley DeCesaro, marketing director with Star. “So looking at that, they’re wondering how they can do this easily. And the tool really takes some of the intimidation out of it. It opens up a world of samples and colors.”
For Star Lumber, Select Now, Install Later quickly opened another avenue of opportunity for its flooring business, which accounts for 25% of the company’s revenue. Within the first 12 days of using it, Star saw nearly 100 additional customers, recorded a 35% increase in unique webpage views and generated multiple leads on new carpet installation.
“With this tool, it allows our customers to go out and look at a specific piece of carpet,” added Walker. “Instead of walking into our showroom two months ago and saying, ‘I’m ready to re-carpet my bedroom,’ they’re coming in saying, ‘I want to see a sample of this style in this color.’ And I think we’re going to see more of that as we move forward.”
While Walker notes that many things about Star haven’t changed because of the pandemic – like its customer focus and values – the Select Now, Install Later tool is a welcome change that came when they needed it most. And he credits Bhullar and his team for helping Star combine its physical offerings with the digital world during such a challenging time.
“For us to be able to pull something like this off, frankly, I don’t know that we could have in such a short timeframe. For them to partner with us and provide something like this has been a gamechanger.”