CMO interview: Bringing digital innovation and customer personalisation to Carpet Court

Recently installed chief marketing officer speaks about her digital and customer insights plans

If there’s one thing Carpet Court’s new CMO, Kara Norris, has learnt about marketing and digital innovation in a franchise-based business, it’s that you need to take people along the journey with you.

“It’s very important in a franchise environment that we don’t make rapid changes,” she tells CMO. “We do things slowly and try and communicate as much as possible, so there are no surprises. If you wave the big stick, you won’t get anywhere. We’ve seen that with other competitors who try to tell, rather than show. For us, it’s about showing the path and leading.

“That’s the cheat sheet to franchise: You have to earn respect, be at the coalface, and be in-store and understand store owners to get that information across.”

Norris is no stranger to the franchise model, having spent the past 10 years working at sleeping furniture retailer, Forty Winks, in marketing, category management and product roles. She’s also built her career in retail, starting in the family furniture business in South Africa before relocating to Australia in 2000. With a degree in marketing, she worked to earn her stripes on the supply and operations side of the bedding industry and held a product management position at Sealy, before joining Forty Winks to oversee both product and marketing.

“The key message from the Forty Winks CEO then had been to align the path between marketing and product, as they were operating in silos and weren’t talking to each other,” Norris recalls. “It was about making things and processes more transparent and clear, so everyone knew what was happening, from product development to the floor of the store.”

Kara Norris
Kara Norris

A big milestone during this time was the relaunch of the Forty Winks brand in 2012, which resulted in a multimillion dollar increase to sales turnover. “It gave the brand back its sense of pride – we had many internal stakeholders in our franchisees, and it delivered massive growth,” she says.

Key to success was working collaboratively with agency partners and a committee of key stakeholders in the Forty Winks business to bring them on the journey, Norris says.

“Getting into the hearts and minds of store owners, and understanding the customer, was a real collaboration,” she says. Her other achievement during this time was developing and implementing a fully integrated ecommerce system.

“We never thought you’d sell mattresses and beds online in 2007, but now a large percentage are done digitally,” she says.

Tackling digital at Carpet Court

It’s this digital emphasis Norris is now bringing to Carpet Court, having been appointed CMO in April. An immediate red flag and priority is the retailer’s website, and a project is underway to relaunch its online properties by January next year.

“The website was built a few years ago and not much more has been done on user experience, how customers research the product, what content they want served up to them, and so on,” she says.

And although Carpet Court has some ecommerce functionality, it’s limited to selling rugs and represents a tiny percentage of the business, making this another digital opportunity.

“The whole distribution process is clunky and needs to be refined, and there’s some work to be done on the supply chain side as well,” Norris says.

Carpet Court also has a number of customer-facing apps that are being overhauled. An example is a 3D design app that allows customers to drop their floor into an image to see how new materials will look in their home. These are being assessed for relevancy and ways to optimise the user experience, Norris says.

There’s a shift going in media spend and around insights research towards digital, too. Over the past eight months, Carpet Court has upped the percentage of spend on digital and there are plans to lift this further.

“Traditionally, TV has been the drug of choice when it comes to retail – you’d go on TV with an ad and see a spike straight away and retailers love that,” Norris comments. “What’s great about digital and being able to funnel spend in digital is you can test and measure, and turn things on and off quickly. You get results straight away and it’s cost effective. There are lots of mediums we are playing with, testing and learning right now.”

Longer-term priorities for Norris revolve around brand strategy and implementation. She notes Carpet Court’s new CEO, James Hayward, is also her former chief at Forty Winks, and as a result, some of the initiatives the pair implemented in that business will be revived at Carpet Court.

Carpet Court has close to 200 member stores, all of which are franchised. Norris notes many of these SMB owners are highly entrepreneurial and have some great ideas. Part of her role is to tie in the brand messaging and support members where possible.

“We want to being them new ideas and hopefully excite them,” she continues. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done around consumer and customer experience.”

This thinking also extends to how Carpet Court unites digital with the in-store experience and Norris points to innovation around pressure point mapping in bedding as one of the ways it brought digital technology into the in-store space at Forty Winks. In flooring or blinds, this could translate to dropping products into plans of a customer’s house, with 3D imaging or virtual walkthroughs.

But while such ideas are being “thrown around”, Norris warns anything that’s considered needs to gain the support of franchisees first.

“As a franchise, stores can choose not to take things on. We want to ensure 99 per cent uptake when we do put something forward,” she says.

Customer insights and data

Core to getting franchisees on-board and customers engaged will be the work around data and consumer insights. One of the issues Norris faces – and it’s one she also had at Forty Winks – is that there is no centralised point-of-sale system, meaning Carpet Court’s head office doesn’t know what its stores sell every day.

“It’s a real challenge around what products are doing well, and what resonates with consumers in real time,” she admits. “We can see after the fact – we get purchase information every day, but it might not relate to stock sold that day, or it could be for a sale in five weeks’ time. We have some ways of working through this.”

The bigger insights work will be research around customer journey and user experience to understand how customers shop. The take outs will guide the retailer’s views on what is expected by customers in-store digitally and how it assists customers make a selection, as well as its more targeted communication and marketing efforts.

Norris says Carpet Court is currently working to categorise all stores with Roy Morgan’s Helix Personas using psychographic and demographic data of customer segments. These will be extended to its centralised customer database.

“Traditionally with media, we’d have a scattergun approach and send the same message out. By understanding these personas, can group stores into similar groups and send a more relatable message to those consumers,” she explains. “For example, some people like coupons, some read catalogues, and we need to understand how they consume media and what information they want to hear from us. Then we can tailor our marketing messages to these different segment groups.”

Unlike fast-moving consumer goods, one of the customer retention and advocacy challenges for Carpet Court is the time between transaction and engagement opportunities. With consumers replacing flooring an average of two or three times in their lifetime, it’s a very considered, irregular purchase. How to stay relevant is the big question Norris is looking to answer and again, sees customer insights as vital to this.

“Understanding what surprises and delights these customers is important,” she says. “Once we know that, we can talk in a way that’s relevant between purchases. We need to find these avenues to communicate effectively.

“We as marketers need to find ways to communicate with consumers inbetween the purchase cycle.”

Content plays a big role, and Norris says she’s looking at what the right content is for the Carpet Court brand to invest in. She also sees social as a strong vehicle for advocacy, and plans to put a “healthy amount of money” towards this space over the next year.

Already, the retailer has started engaging with networks of mothers on social channels as well as young families with small businesses, not only advertising to them but assisting with content, running competitions, and sharing tips and tricks. Carpet Court also works with two brand ambassadors – TV host, Shelley Craft and The Block judge and interior designer, Darren Palmer – who are engaging with community groups, such as the Mumpreneurs Networking Club.

Through all of this, keeping the member’s mentality front of mind is important, and Norris is also looking at ways to better inspire franchisees through knowledge sharing opportunities. Alongside having conversations about helix personas, Carpet Court is now working to provide stores with like-minded members more networking opportunities, rather than just on a regional basis.

“That’s a real shift in an innovation sense, in the way we share information,” Norris says. “We’re looking at things differently, and having different conversations. I’m also having conversations around purpose and brand pillars, and planning a strategy session with retail specialists for the next 3-5 years.”

The CMO role

Given all of these priorities, it’s not surprising Norris sees the main KPI for CMOs today as their ability to grow sales and the network. She also highlights owning the brand and being the brand champion as another vital component of being a modern marketing leader.

“Customer engagement and digital are very important to having an understanding of what is going on and being on top of what’s best practice,” she says. “There’s a big piece around sentiment of the brand too in a social sense. Product reviews are one of the challenges of franchises – if we were company owned network we’d just fix the problem. This is an area of ongoing focus for us.”

While the to-do list is extensive, Norris says she’s excited by the chance to revamp the way Carpet Court is perceived in the market, as well as perceives itself as a brand.

“It’s not come into a business that is broken, it’s about trying to have different conversations, refining things and making sure we’re putting that customer first and try and engage on a real level that makes it relevant to them,” she concludes.

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