Retailers find profits popping with cork

April 05, 2010

Cork, in addition to being an environmentally friendly product, is quite popular right now. While it has been around for decades, in recent years applications for the product Torly's cork flooringhave soared, as have sales. How are retailers selling cork these days? The key seems to be education—not only about its green story but also its benefits once installed.

“In today’s marketplace those who are looking for a floor are looking for a product that is kind to the environment and/or provides a value,” said Ann Wicander, president of WE Cork. “Nobody disputes the green factor of cork, but often the value is not recognized. What floor provides the durability of hard surface, quiet and comfort underfoot, and thermal insulation while being hypoallergenic, anti-static and beautiful? Only cork flooring can tout those characteristics.”

Wicander said she often encounters dealers who have cork samples but are unsuccessful selling the product because they don’t fully understand the features and benefits to tell the cork story. “Then they want to be sure to show the full variety of looks cork flooring now has to offer. We have come a long way from the old bulletin board look.”

She added a well-told story will highlight the value of cork. “The dealer will find himself with a sale that started as basic wood but became a more profitable cork floor.”

According to John Kocemba, vice president of marketing, Torlys, cork flooring can significantly improve dealer profits. “Many consumers have not considered cork as an option. The dealer who takes time to educate the interested consumer often ends up with a sale that generates above-average hard surface margins.”

Some of cork’s selling points center around the fact the population is aging and seeking both comfort and style. “In addition, cork is a very forgiving floor that is warm, comfortable, natural, easy to clean, hypoallergenic and provides very good acoustics.”

Gary Keeble, marketing manager for USFloors, also attests to cork’s profit potential. “Cork offers the dealer a way to differentiate his or her store from the competition.”

He suggests dealers position cork as an alternative to hardwood. “Move it away from non-natural floors such as resilient and laminate. Sell it as a ‘best of both worlds’ floor—the warmth and comfort of carpet combined with the durability and ease of maintenance of a hard surface floor. Make sure all of the store’s sales personnel have been USFloors' cork flooringthrough a product knowledge session with their cork rep, so they are comfortable selling cork and won’t turn a customer to another, less profitable category because they lack knowledge of cork’s unique benefits.”

Typically, Keeble noted, profit margins on cork are greater than other flooring categories. “Many consumers looking for cork only want to buy cork and price is not the primary determining factor. With glueless locking systems pretty much standard on most residential cork floors, it also offers the dealer a chance to sell up from a laminate floor, which is very price competitive.”

Paulo Nogueira, managing director for Amorim Flooring, maker of the Wicander brand, said cork flooring is becoming more mainstream because it is the most environmentally friendly product on the market, not only as a raw material, but also in the manufacturing process. “Designers and architects love it for all its benefits, and being the influencers for many consumers who are renovating and building their homes (i.e. HGTV), it is an easier sell than it used to be.”

Nogueira believes dealers should not only tell the green story, but talk about the visuals. For instance, Wicander’s cork comes in large tiles with stone visuals as well as narrow-beveled planks that give it a wood floor look with the benefits of cork. “It’s a fashion-forward solution that is durable, attractive and easy to maintain.”

Because cork represents a fraction of the entire flooring market, there has historically been less pricing pressure due to the limited volumes sold in the U.S. and Canada, and the limited number of competitors. “Dealers who romance cork and sell its many benefits can make above- average hard surface margins,” Torly’s Kocemba said. “Many people who come in looking for cork have either seen it down somewhere. We’ve found that consumers who have fallen in love with the product come into a dealer to buy that product, hence there would be less pressure on price.”

Deal them in

According to Sean O’Rourke, vice president of hard surfaces for Avalon Carpet Tile & Flooring in Cherry Hill, N.J., cork is a “feel good” purchase for customers, and by offering a diverse selection that fits customers’ decorating needs, a dealer can capitalize on a sale that may normally go to another product. “Having the right type of display vehicle is WeCork tower displayimportant.”

Patricia Walters, owner of Linoleum City/Cork America in Los Angeles and one of the growing number of dealers who has taken advantage of cork’s popularity, believes having a knowledgeable sales staff is the most important selling tool for cork floors. “The customer needs to be informed of how the product is installed, how it wears, and the characteristics that make it different from other floors. Also, offering multiple cork brands, qualities and styles helps the customer narrow down her product choice. And, stocking cork products helps because the customer can take what she needs and go. There are no ordering lead times.”

John Hill, owner of Interstate Flooring in Portland, Ore., is also a believer. “Even though cork is a product that has been around for years, it is viewed as a new development by the public. Cork can add sales by creating what the consumer sees as a category that didn’t exist before, thereby giving the retailer a different grouping of products to sell.”

For Hill, green is the way to go when it comes to selling cork. “We position cork as one of the most sustainable floors on the market today. We don’t really sell against other types of flooring. We just point out the positives and negatives of the various products. Cork just happens to have more—and larger—positives than other floors out there.

“In the store we show 12 lines of cork. Not only is there very little crossover between the lines, it gives the customer the sense that there is no need to shop elsewhere,” he concluded.

-Louis Iannaco

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