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Developing Referral Relationships with Carpet and Flooring Retailers

April 12, 2007
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Many cleaners don’t know where to start when it comes to developing relationships with carpet retailers, and that’s understandable.

It’s kind of like wanting to get to know someone that you’re interested in romantically. You have to work up the courage to talk to them in the first place. And if you don’t want to look like a total doofus, you need to figure out what you’re going to say.

It’s the same when trying to develop relationships with companies that can refer you. Once you work up the courage to try, you have to figure out what to say in order to break the ice. And just like you would want to get to know someone before getting serious about them, a retailer is going to need to get to know you before they will refer you to their valuable customers.

One great way to start developing these relationships: sell them stain removers they can resell to their customers.

You already have common ground with the retailer in that you both make your living from carpet, in some cases with the very same customers. We all know that where there is carpet, there are stains. And while most carpet retailers already carry some sort of stain remover, you have the advantage of selling products that you know really work because you use them in your cleaning operation every day.

In order for such a program to be successful, you need to understand the needs of the carpet retailer. They need high-quality, effective products with a retail label design; a counter display; the bottles must be bar coded so they can use scanners at checkout, and the retailer has to be able to make a good profit selling them. You can put stickers with your company information on the bottle, even adding a clever message like, “Still Can’t Get it Out? Call the Stain Removal Experts!” with your company name and phone number.

Now, you might be thinking that a lot of retailers won’t want to buy the stain removers you’re offering. And that’s true. But this is where you use the retailer’s natural resistance to your advantage. What you really want is to provide the stain removers on consignment and act as what is known as a “rack jobber.” The way this works is, you place the counter display and fill it as well as leave a small amount of inventory so the retailer can refill the display as the items sell.

This way, they can try the program for free, because it costs them nothing unless the products sell. All you have to convince them to do is allow you to place the display on their counter for a couple of weeks. Then, you return on a regular basis and restock the retailer’s inventory and collect for the stain removers that have been sold. How often you visit the stores will depend on how much stain remover they sell. Typically, you will need to visit between once and twice a month.

With a properly designed program you can earn a nice profit on the stain removers, and so will the retailer. You will be amazed at how much stain remover some retailers sell and how much profit this will generate for both of you.

The real genius behind the program is that it provides a valid business reason to visit the store regularly. You use your visits to the store to replenish the stain remover inventory to develop a relationship with the owner, the salespeople and the other employees. Bringing along a box of donuts or other goodies during your calls is another way to get their attention.

Once you have called on the retailer a few times and are getting to be on a first-name basis, you have now laid the groundwork to talk about a more active referral program. This is the time to start talking to the retailer about how they can “offer” cleaning services by creating an active referral relationship with your company. And, don’t forget about performing their liability cleaning at a greatly reduced rate or even for free. In many cases, liability-cleaning issues will be an even bigger problem than competition from the Big Box stores.

Carpet cleaners that have successfully developed these relationships find that once retailers see the benefit, they are even willing to let you advertise to their customer list. There are many cleaners that have built their entire business based on referrals from carpet and flooring dealers and other retailers. Another bonus: the quality of the customer. These are typically not price shoppers, but customers that want quality and service and are willing to pay for it.

You might be thinking that this is a lot of work. But think about all the other marketing programs you use. Most of the time you pay your hard-earned money to get a newsletter sent out or a brochure put together, and you hope you get jobs from it. This is a marketing program that you make money on from day one, and get jobs based on the very best advertising there is: word of mouth! It’s the best of both worlds.

This is the kind of marketing that has a much bigger impact than just sending out a flyer. Your message gets to thousands of potential customers over the year and is endorsed by a powerful, independent third-party: the carpet and flooring retailer.

Many times we cleaners don’t realize what the smallest of things can do for us. These stores have people coming in that we would never have an opportunity to contact. And by building relationships with these storeowners, when someone mentions cleaning, you’ll be the first one that comes to mind.

Now, I’ve been talking about carpet retailer because I have found that they are the very best kind of retailer for this program. But there are many other good targets. A while back I discussed building relationships with your local independent vacuum cleaner shop. This program works perfectly for them as well, along with pet stores, groomers, veterinarians’ offices and hardware stores. Once you get to know them, you can work out an active referral program and cross-promote each other’s business.

And for those who think stain removers are small potatoes, keep in mind that the best-known brand-name carpet stain remover sold in supermarkets everywhere had over $7 billion in retail sales last year. There are literally hundreds of other stain removers sold in grocery and hardware stores across the country. Stain removers are a multi-billion dollar business, and you might as well get your fair share!

No matter how you go about developing relationships with carpet and other retailers, don’t avoid doing so. You will be amazed at the positive impact on your business. So, like asking that cute girl to the prom, build up your courage and just do it!

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