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Multistore Category: Carls Patio, Coconut Creek, Fla.

Multistore Category: Carls Patio, Coconut Creek, Fla.

Despite earning multiple Apollo Award nominations over the years, Gary Ecoff, president of Carls Patio, admits customer service is one of the toughest areas of retail.

“Our salespeople are compensated by commissions, so you're walking both sides of the fence when you're asking them to be in the game when it comes to service,” Ecoff said. “Their compensation comes from new sales, not old.”

To overcome that hurdle, Ecoff and his management team instill in his staff the idea that sales come to them through good word-of-mouth and referrals, which can be driven by good customer service. Although Carls has a dedicated service department, he said he wants his sales team to handle initial service inquiries.

“If there's something they can rectify verbally with customers instead of passing them on to the service department, we want them to handle it,” Ecoff said.

Mildew, he said, is a perfect example. Carls Patio has 11 patio showrooms in South Florida, where mildew is a major issue in that subtropical climate. Often, product warranties don't cover it.

“That's where a salesperson comes in to educate customers and give them suggestions on how to clean and get rid of mildew,” he said.

Ecoff said the business is also utilizing technology to stay in touch with customers, who are e-mailed regularly and invited to send digital photos of any item they may be having issues with at home. If there is a problem, Ecoff has set up a system that delivers prompt solutions.

“We utilize a combination of in-house service technicians and contracted service technicians so our customers can have access to service in a relatively quick timeframe,” Ecoff said.

These services have created a loyal customer base and prove that, despite how challenging customer service may seem to Ecoff, his stores do a good job of delivering it.

Lyle and Gary Ecoff and Paul Otowchits

The retailer has 11 cross-merchandised showrooms in South Florida.

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