Michelle Anderson is Western Washington’s go-to source for commercial carpeting. A rising sales star within Bentley Mills, she’s also a rockstar out in the field, known for her creativity, design savvy and passion for making connections and building relationships. Sure, Michelle’s approach is avant-garde—you’ll find her on the streets of Seattle in her retired ambulance turned mobile showroom—but it’s also full of excitement and energy. By engaging her customers in new, different and unexpected ways, she’s making carpet and design personal, tangible and fun, things we’re all craving more of in today’s interesting times.
We recently talked to Michelle about her approach to relationships, and her love for carpet, design and Seattle. Here’s what she had to say.
You describe your career in sales as “non-traditional.” How so?
With a strong military background, the flooring industry was new to me. I joined the Bentley team after spending a year and a half at the flooring dealer level. During that time, I observed other sales representatives and studied how they were presenting their products. I learned from these professionals and decided I would approach the market differently. I was going to make carpet FUN. Using social media to communicate with the younger clients, I created an Instagram page called @Carpet_Party_Seattle to highlight products and feature local project installations.
In-person, I hosted fashion shows, took clients to a shooting range, and tried to think of unique ways to connect. One of my favorite examples is the ‘zucchini experience.’ At the end of a lunch presentation, I asked the designers a few trivia questions and said there would be a prize. The winner was expecting a gift card or a branded coffee cup; instead, I handed over a large gift-wrapped package. Inside was a massive zucchini with a Bentley sticker on it. It was so unexpected and funny that we still talk about it to this day. I consider this type of approach non-traditional; I’m all about creating an experience, not closing the transaction. If you build the connections, sales will naturally follow.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you connect with customers?
Because everybody is working from home now and everything is forced into digital overload, I wanted to allow our customers to step away from the virtual setting. While we have plenty of beautiful, high-resolution images of our carpets, a photo can’t beat seeing and feeling the product in person. I’ve been participating in trunk shows every Tuesday with two other local industry representatives to make this tactile experience possible. This allows customers to pick and order samples in a safe and convenient setting; we make sure everyone wears masks and social distances. For so many, this is an opportunity to leave the house and do something fun yet productive, which everyone needs in a time like this.
Recently, I purchased a retired ambulance and have since converted it into a mobile showroom. An ambulance was the perfect vehicle selection considering my past medical experience with the military and the vast amount of storage already built in. I picked it up on a Friday and used it for a trunk show the following workday. I can now serve my clients better by having everything I need within arm’s reach. 2020 has been difficult to navigate and pivoting to a mobile format while everyone works from home was the clear solution.
What advice would you give a young person pursuing a career in sales?
You will be significantly more successful if you have a few close friends in the same industry. I was a solo sales rep and knew my success would be slower if I tried to do everything myself. I immediately started looking for my tribe; colleagues that I could do presentations with and bounce ideas off. We filled each other’s schedules, shared industry information and split the entertainment check. Clients love the team approach, and our time together makes the day fun.
The second thing I would suggest is to identify someone who has strengths/skills you wish you had. Observe them, but don’t mimic. Build on what they’re doing to make it more efficient and effective for you. Keep learning, growing and discovering new things. It makes for interesting conversations with clients. People always ask, ‘what have you been up to?’ or ‘how was your weekend?’ Start your Monday with something interesting to share so you can keep the conversation going.
What’s your approach to social media? What impact has social media had on your success? What impact has it had on the A+D industry as a whole?
Prior to Covid-19, I was posting random content that was happening in real-time such as event images or funny things I ran into while downtown. While we were stuck at home, I had more time to refine my approach and think about what I wanted my page to look like. I started a Quarantine Color of the Day to provide structure to posting and shared a calendar for others to join in with the theme. That was a successful idea, and it lasted for about 8 weeks. I made quite a few new friends through that experiment, including other industry professionals. Now, my social media approach has been to maintain a posting theme so followers can expect rhythm to the content. There are rotating images of shoes on carpet, ambulance updates, project installations and people/industry events.
By posting consistently, I was able to connect with designers quickly and give the illusion of being everywhere at once. Back then, Bentley was an emerging brand in the market and it skyrocketed my efforts. Today, most design firms and designers have an IG account so it’s easier to share content and tag others. This platform is here to stay, especially while we continue to work from home.
What do you love most about Seattle?
Selecting one thing is difficult since there are so many wonderful features in Seattle. Between the fresh seafood, local wines, craft beers, handcrafted chocolates and coffee, it’s a food lover’s dream. We also have a ferry system that you can either bike or drive onto and explore the surrounding islands. I don’t mind the gray rainy days, but nothing beats a beautiful summer day in Seattle.
What do you like most about working at Bentley Mills?
This is an easy one. I greatly appreciate the support and trust that I receive from management. Not all companies are supportive with creative selling, but Bentley has allowed me to build my own brand within their brand. Being highly independent, their hands-off approach has allowed me to thrive and grow in an otherwise flat industry. Take the ambulance purchase for example. Bentley didn’t know this was happening until I posted it on Instagram. Their response? “This is amazing Michelle, let us know how we can help.” That level of support motivates me to work hard so we can all be successful. I think there’s probably a lesson here for everyone: don’t stifle creativity.