Wool for the Masses: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

July 19, 2012
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At its Summer Convention, CCA Global Partners, partnering with the Just Shorn people of New Zealand, launched a wool program that seeks to bring this natural fiber into Main Street.  Wool in the U.S. has a market share in the range of 2%, and as far as I can tell it’s seen by most consumers as the highest-quality fiber in the carpet category. There’s no question that some of the most beautiful products in this industry are made with wool. Consumers for the most part walk in the front door of floor covering stores not thinking that they want to buy the absolute cheapest product in the store; they walk in with the idea of ending up with a beautiful room and a floor that will make their friends green with envy.

Given that, it’s somewhat puzzling that after all these years the category has achieved no more than this 2% level. Certainly the perception of wool as overly expensive will drive a sizable amount of potential buyers from even looking at products made with the fiber. But subtracting that group from the total number of customers that walk into floor covering stores in any given year, and it would seem to me that it if these people were actually exposed to wool fabrics and had a chance to hear the story, I couldn’t imagine that wool couldn’t eek out a share somewhere north of a paltry 2%.

I don’t think there’s any question the reason wool has done so poorly in the marketplace is because most customers have just never even see it; they don’t even know it exists. If there is any wool in the store, it’s in the back somewhere in the shadows and salespeople for the most part are afraid to steer the customer over to the display and qualify them as potential buyers. You know the old adage: Walk down the street and ask everybody for a couple of bucks, and you’ll get lots of sideways looks and no’s, but you’ll probably end the day with a wad of cash in your pocket as well. (I’ve changed the old adage somewhat, but the point is still valid).

Sure, every customer should not be shown wool samples – the prices would surely stun some and perhaps send them to a competitor or make them forget the whole idea of buying carpet. But if there’s a top 10 list of salespeople no-no’s I suspect prejudging a customer’s ability to pay has to at least be in the top 5, and its surely not a good way to make money if you make a living selling something.

When you really get down to it, broaching the topic of wool with a customer boils down to sales technique. If it doesn’t always result in a sale of a wool product, at the very minimum it sets a upper price limit in the customer’s mind and takes the sticker shock out of the mid-price goods that will be presented next, potentially driving the customer to a higher ticket than they might have otherwise agreed to. And that concept holds true across the board for any carpet, or any product in the store.

Lots and lots of stores that I’ve seen in the country have way too many products on their sales floors. It’s a phenomenon that’s counterproductive to selling floor coverings. Placing too many options in front of customers just bewilders them and perhaps postpones a purchase or drives them out of the store entirely. The litmus test for determining what should remain on the sales floor and what should be committed to the floor covering bone yard is the “story test.”  If the product doesn’t have a captivating story and a real place in the home then it probably needs to go.

Certainly wool, and the New Zealand co-op Just Shorn wool in particular, has a captivating story and that story is brought to the sales floors of Carpet One, Flooring America and Flooring Canada stores via some very clever POP material that brings the romance and the heritage of New Zealand sheep farms inside the store … and the customer’s home.

The more customers that see higher-end, higher-margin, higher-design wool, or any higher-end product for that matter, the more that have an opportunity to hear the story. That translates to more wool and higher-end products being sold.

The concept is most certainly not for every retailer, but it is good for most retailers. Carpet One and Flooring America stores will be proving this point moving forward, with higher average ticket from selling lots of beautiful rooms. Bringing wool into the mainstream is an idea whose time has come, and CCA and its members need to be commended for seeing this opportunity.

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