I look around and to see that retail is hurting does not take very long. The consumer shopping experience was the same for such a long time it was easy to just have your blinders on unaware of what was actually happening. I remember large retailers back in the early 2000’s that scoffed at the idea that consumers would buy goods online.

You name it from Borders to Sears, never thought a consumer would be comfortable enough to input their credit card online to buy a product. Here we are less than 20 years later and one of those companies has already closed it’s doors while the other is on it’s way to doing the same. The leadership in those companies didn’t fail because they didn’t foresee the changing consumer buying habits. They failed because they romanticized the way they did business and resisted the change until it was too late to steer the ship back out to deeper waters. This begs the question, in the building materials industry are we making the same mistake in thinking that consumers will always buy flooring or lumber the same way they always have?

The two most common responses I receive when I pose the questions “what makes you different” after speaking with thousands of dealers and yards is “we’ve been in business for 40 years” and “our customer service is what makes us different”. The 40 years illustrates my point that just because you’ve been around a long time doesn’t mean that customers will come back just because. That may have been the case before when access to options was limited.

The reality is, what makes you different is your customer experience.

That is not the case anymore as access to other options is as quick as the palm of my hand. On the other hand, this more than likely won’t come as a surprise to many of you but if you ask a room full of dealers what makes them different just about every single one of them will say it’s their customer service. Your customer service doesn’t make you different from the thousands of other dealers out there that also say their customer service is what makes them different. The reality is, what makes you different is your customer experience.

Your customer experience is everything. It’s what drove Amazon displace Boarders essentially disrupting traditional retail as we knew it and that disruption is trickling into our industry as I write this. I can point to the obvious in Home Depot with their 1% year over year growth the past 10 years or the near 8000 dealers who are no longer in business since 2006 but there’s one that has only begun to transform how we buy flooring, area carpets, furniture etc. and that’s Wayfair. Wayfair just started their One-Stop Flooring Shop one year ago so it’s still in its infancy. With the emergence of e-commerce who know’s what options will be available in the next 5-10 years. The one thing I do know is, innovation doesn’t wait for anybody to catch up.

The question I’ll leave everybody with is, how easy is it for a consumer to buy from you?