Streamlining Store Communications — From the C-Suite to the Store Associate With LL Flooring

Virtual Future Stores 2022

February 2, 2022

At the Future Stores Virtual Event this week, we joined countless conversations with industry changemakers who are focused on creating a seamless customer experience. 

As omni-channel retail continues to build momentum, retailers have to provide a distinctive but consistent experience to get consumers to their stores, make them comfortable, and encourage purchases.

At Zipline, we’re best to represent some of the best innovators in the retail business. And at Virtual Future Stores, representing one of those brands, was Pam Riker, the VP of Store Operations and Support at LL Flooring. Pam manages everything from store budget, event management, and anything the company wants to implement across their 400+ stores in North America. 

Zipline’s Head of Content, Emily Lane, sat down with Pam to explore how Pam engages the fleet through communications, from HQ all the way to front-line employees. 

We’re really excited to talk to you today about how manage and engage your fleet. I’ll kick it off with a broad question. How do you view the store team at LL Flooring as a part of the customer journey?

In our stores, the associate is actually the most important part of the customer journey.  Most retail customers have never purchased a floor before and can be overwhelmed by all of the options and things to consider.  

We have over 500 different floors, ranging from hardwood to vinyl. Even trying to figure out which category you want to purchase is the first step of the journey. After the type of flooring, it’s “what are the benefits that I need from my floors  Do I need it to be waterproof, to be able to withstand wear and tear, or scratch resistance?”

There is just a lot to know and absorb from a customer’s perspective. While many people start searching online – almost all of them come into our store to complete the process. Our associates take them through their personalized customer journey to find the best floor for their project and for their needs.

On the flip side, our Pro customers generally know what they need, and want their experience to be as quick as possible.  Our associates work in partnership with those Pros to help make sure their projects, and their business.

That sounds like the ultimate omnichannel experience. Obviously, your store associates have to have an immense amount of product knowledge, they have to be up-to-date about what you guys are selling, so it’s important to get the right information from HQ down to those field teams. How were you managing store communication and task management before Zipline?

I think people would be shocked. Previously, all our communications were done through email, and larger files were stored on an Intranet site. So basically, email and SharePoint were the key communication vehicles for our nearly 400 stores at the time.  It was very difficult to ensure stores got the information they needed – and only the info they needed vs what their neighboring store might need. 

We were struggling with customized communications.  How do we make sure that the right message goes to the stores that need it? We would have a basic message that was provided, and we would have different links for each store document that they needed, and we hoped stores knew which link was for them – because all stores had access to all the links. 

And for task management… we didn’t have anything. We just had the hope that stores did what they needed to do. The Regional Manager, who oversees multiple stores, was responsible for ensuring that execution occurred. So, it was a little cumbersome.

It sounds like a very manual, time-consuming process, and like you were relying on people to be very deliberate and double-check everything. But there is no extra time in retail when every labor dollar counts and customer interactions come first. So, what was the turning point for you – when did you decide you needed a better solution to do this, and what attracted you to Zipline in particular?

We knew we needed a task management tool, and we knew there was a better way. It just so happened that we had a project manager who came back from a conference and said –  Hey – I met this person with a company called Zipline.  I think they can help with our communication problems! 

When we saw their ability to easily craft customized messages that can be targeted to specific stores, and the strength of the search – it was a win.

And for us – the ability to control information within Zipline (we were using SharePoint so anyone forward information or put stuff on SharePoint, and there was no way to manage all of that documentation), we can limit the access so that the right people can get the right information to the field. There’s only one version of the truth in Zipline.

Can you talk a little bit about what the roll-out process was like?

Honestly, it was really easy for us.  We did a pilot with about 25 stores to ensure there wasn’t anything we were missing. They reviewed the training materials, they were able to log on successfully, all of the basics. 

Then there were two big work efforts. First – What do we want in zipline?  We had to review all of our material to determine – does this move to zipline, stay in SharePoint, or purge.   For us – Zipline is a store-facing system.  This isn’t the primary communication vehicle for corporate.  So some policies needed to stay in our intranet. 

And because we did a pilot – there was a little duplication of work for that time period for my team.  We were creating and sending information via email and using Zipline.  However, we had planned to pilot this for a couple of months.  And after a month our Head of Stores said, “let’s roll it out for everyone!” And it was smooth. 

 The only big learning we experienced was when we launched Zipline before our biggest sale of the year. And because we send out information in advance of the sale, some stores struggled to find it.  Stores weren’t willing to rely on the search feature. But then we worked with Zipline to put all of the content into a Bulletin so information was right there on the Dashboard– and that has worked seamlessly. 

One of the things that we see at Zipline when it comes to enabling communication is that it’s as much the best practices as it is the technology. We really do try to work with our partners to find those techniques and best practices, the way that you put content into the system, or the days and times that you publish, that means something just as important as the technology itself. If you put old processes in the new system, it is just going to get you the new results. So you rolled out Zipline a month early, what was the initial response in the field, and what is the impact the implementation has had on your business over the years?

I mean, tremendous. Within 6 months, probably even sooner, stores were asking for everything in Zipline. Our non-tech-savvy associates were easily able to adapt

I personally could not have imagined how we would have been able to manage the multitude of COVID communications that vary by unique locality without Zipline. It has been a game-changer for us. 

I hadn’t published my first message until COVID. Things were happening at all hours of the day, late at night, and this store is being closed, and this store is reopening, and this store is converting into a warehouse, and which stores have mask mandates… but it was a dream to manage with Zipline. 

When it comes to COVID, that’s not going away, and it always requires targeted communication because what you say to one store might not apply to the store down the street. Having a system in place to manage those communications is table stakes, for sure.

One of the things we see beyond COVID is that brands are investing in store experience. Brands are so omni-channel and retailers are really focused on making sure the brand shows up in a consistent way, whether that is online, home delivery, or in stores. The theme of consistency and consistent execution is showing up again and again.  Why is consistent execution so important to LL Flooring’s retail strategy, and what role does Zipline currently play in driving that consistency today?

We have a lot of customers who will shop multiple stores. Whether it be a Pro who is going to the store closest to their current job site, or a homeowner who is stopping in at a store closer to their work or picking up from one close to their home, we want them to have the same experience. Having consistent execution in the field was a little bit new for LL Flooring. We were Lumber Liquidators, and we prided ourselves on the entrepreneurial spirit and unique aspects of every single store. Over the last couple of years, our brand has transitioned and we launched as LL FLooring with a new brand name and new brand vision. Zipline has allowed us to direct messages to stores to create a consistent approach. 

What advice do you have for retailers starting their journey? 

For our approach, keeping the number of publishers low, having a gatekeeper, is key for us. That ensures that stores don’t get drowned in a sea of other notes and tasks. We are able to plan out communications and ensure they aren’t overwhelmed on a certain day or week.

It also allows your messages to have a consistent “personality.” The primary author of most information is in line with the demographic of store teams, and creates communication that is fun and easy to digest. 

Changing to Zipline is a great opportunity to update internal processes to ensure that communications are functioning at a high level.  It allowed us to rethink everything a department is asking on our field – to ensure we’re not overwhelming the same store teams.

Our store teams are small, and they cover all shifts of the day, so there aren’t extra hours lying around, so we wanted to trim the amount of work that they are doing. Then it gives us the ability to count how many hours our team is spending doing that work. 

And of course, it is an opportunity to clean up all of that outdated content.  Our SharePoint site had turned into what we call our grandparents’ garage of 15 years of nick-nacks. It was outdated, and now everything we have is current in Zipline, building in processes to review those resources periodically. Stores really gained a trust that what they found in Zipline was the most current, correct information. And if they can’t find it in Zipline, we probably haven’t created it for them and they know to ask. 

Want to catch the full conversation? Watch the Webinar!

Zipline was built to solve the unique challenges of communication in retail organizations. Reach out to learn more about how your stores can remain a vital part of the retail experience!

Omicron is here, and it’s proving that there’s no end in sight to Covid-19. That means it might be time to trade in the mishmash of email, employee apps, and intranet messages you stood up in a hurry two years ago for something more scalable.

Join Zipline CTO and Co-Founder Jeremy Baker, and Ziplne’s Head of Customer Success, Corbin Eilander, as they discuss “Dealing with Omicron: What Retailers need to focus on in 2022.”

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