COLUMBIA — A husband and wife entered the Stieferman Wood Flooring booth Saturday afternoon at the Mid-Missouri Home and Lifestyle Expo. The booth was a showroom, with one wall painted burnt orange, a custom-made hardwood floor and an assortment of wood with sample finishes.
Kalen Stieferman, 46, the company’s owner, watched the couple from a plastic chair across the aisle from his booth.
What: Mid-Missouri Home and Lifestyle Expo
Where: Hearnes Center
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $5 adults, free for children 12 and younger
“Notice what they’re looking at,” Stieferman said. “They’re checking the thickness of the wood. He’s going to rub his hand over it in a minute and see how smooth it is.”
Stieferman explained his sales technique. He usually lingers a little longer before making his move, approaching browsing customers with a casual conversation starter.
“Something like, ‘Pretty interesting things in flooring today, isn’t there?’” Stieferman said.
Stieferman’s 10-by-10-foot booth is among more than 70 assembled in the cavernous Hearnes Center this weekend for the 52nd annual Mid-Missouri Home and Lifestyle Expo, which continues Sunday. Practical exhibits showing carpet cleaners, kitchen cabinets and window panes are mixed in with the unusual, such as a custom-made toilet with Kansas City Chiefs decals and an egg-shaped ceramic barbeque smoker.
One couple visiting the expo, Justin Reckner, 24, and Amanda Armistead, 22, looked around for home improvement ideas for their new house under contract near Lange Middle School in Columbia.
“We’re taking a look at insulation, carpet, cabinets, tile flooring,” Reckner said. “We need to find garage doors. The spring on the door broke.”
Vendor Mike Klinginsmith, 37, co-owns a power electronics repair company called PCS Electronics. He remembers coming to the expo as a kid in the early 1980s with his parents and two brothers.
“My parents always came looking for ideas to improve the home with a growing family,” Klinginsmith said. “I just remember the candies and trinkets.”
The expo had more vendors and larger crowds back then, Klinginsmith said. The types of vendors have shifted, too. There are more vendors focused on renewable energy than ever before, Klinginsmith said.
He remembers being mesmerized as a kid by a seemingly magical water faucet, suspended in mid-air and gushing water into a wooden barrel. The faucet is a fixture at Culligan of Mid-Missouri's booth. The water delivery and filtering company has been participating in the expo for many years.
Allen North has worked for Culligan since 1985 and has represented the company at the expo for the past 27 years. Like Klinginsmith, he said he’s seen crowds decrease.
“There was almost no one here yesterday,” North said. “Even today it’s not even as busy as it was, say, 10 years ago.”
Salesmen refer to interested customers at the expo as “leads.” The average number of leads has dropped in the past 10 years, North said.
Numbers haven’t been a problem for Stieferman. The only other time he worked the expo was in the early '90s. He landed enough jobs out of it to last seven or eight years, he said. This year, on Friday night alone, he sold a job that paid for the expense of his booth, and he met 20 solid leads.
Stieferman said he loves watching people and picking up on their tendencies. He goes as far as to strategically place particular types of hard candies in certain parts of his showroom.
“I’ve noticed people like cinnamon better than they do butterscotch,” Stieferman said. “So I put the cinnamon by the computer, so they have to see the presentation.”
Stieferman hates to make the comparison, but people are like deer when they shop, he said. He thinks being a laid-back salesperson increases customer interest.
“They are inquisitive, but they're shy; you've got to get them talking,” Stieferman said. “I put the scent on. People love the scent. They love to talk about themselves and their projects. And I’ve shot deer while eating cheese crackers and drinking a cup of coffee.”