When the Going Grits Tough

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Feature

An Abrasive Sales Primer

This being National Hardware Show issue, it’s even more of a good idea to help the independent dealer compete against folks with bigger budgets and more floor space—though do you really want 300,000 square feet to stock, sort, and sweep up after your staff goes home? One thing we’ve been fighting against over our quarter century of publication is the perception that sundries are cheaper at a bigger store. Certainly, some are. Just as certainly, some aren’t. People who actually check out the difference (vs. relying on internet memes) are often surprised at how well the independent measures up in a sundry price war.

What you’ve got on top of that is someone on staff who will make sure customers get everything they need their first trip and don’t have to come back again…and again…and yet once more to buy things like abrasives, says Mike Gulley, product manager at Mirka Abrasives. Lots of folks go for months—or years!—at a time without sanding a thing, so chances are they won’t have “just the right abrasive” labeled in a bin on a well-organized workbench at home.

“While a production shop normally has the abrasives needed to complete its work, an individual rarely has the needed supplies for a painting project,” said Gulley. “It’s common for someone to think about the obvious items such as paint, brushes, rollers, and masking tape, but abrasives are commonly overlooked. It’s natural for someone to think about completing the project but overlook the preparation.” That’s where abrasives get left behind, which means a special trip that no one at the time thinks is very special.

Some of these less glamorous sundries might need an extra push to get out the door. “POP displays, posters, or similar items that emphasize the importance of what is needed for a job can not only ensure that the customer has these items, but possibly increase sales by reminding them what they should have,” said Gulley.

Of course, it can’t hurt to know something about the products you’re selling, be it sandpaper at the back or Aunt Harriet’s chili-powder in the fishbowl up front. Remember, says Gulley, you’ll probably be considered the face of that product. Even though someone else makes it, you’re the one who sold it and took money for it. “You will be trusted to provide accurate information to your customers so they can best complete their project,” Gulley reminds us. “Questions they’ll ask can include what grits to use in what step, what types of abrasives, the use of dust extraction, etc. It’s important to provide accurate information to help customers achieve the best results.”


Perfecting Their Perceptions

Along with fighting the perception that the boxes are cheaper, you’re probably fighting some ignorance about the product. Sandpaper is sandpaper, so let’s get the cheap stuff! Hmmm it doesn’t work, why did you buy the cheap stuff? “Unfortunately, it’s common for most DIYers to view everything except paint as a cheap commodity—even brushes and rollers,” Gulley pointed out. “Make sure to emphasize the importance of how the quality of tools used in the job affects the final result.” Sure they might save money now, but they’ll deal with the karma of spending longer hours to come up with lower quality results.

If your customers are buying the cheaper abrasives, this means your good quality stuff is gathering dust (which is one thing we don’t want abrasives to do). Gulely suggests a little self-reflection before sending them back to the manufacturer. “Are the products displayed properly so the customer understands the application and why they should be used?” he asks. “If a product is not moving, perhaps the customer doesn’t know it exists or what it’s for.”