Bamboo Hardwoods: Not your run-of-the-mill supplier

Bamboo Hardwoods: Not your run-of-the-mill supplier
June 03, 2013

by Steven Feldman

Seattle—Floor covering retailers have a litany of options when it comes to deciding which bamboo brands to display in their showrooms. It is often difficult to sift through every supplier’s rhetoric as it relates to style and design, product quality, etc.

Bamboo Hardwoods may not be the most widely recognized player in the segment, but the company is one that backs up its claims with cold, hard facts.

According to David Keegan, COO, choosing to take on the Bamboo Hardwoods line is a wise choice for any retailer. “First, we have a pedigree in this industry; we understand all facets of bamboo—from growth and production to finishing and styling, to importing, selling and marketing. Second, when a retailer does business with Bamboo Hardwoods, he is partnering with a company dedicated to innovation and providing high quality products. We are building our brand around trust.”

The Bamboo Hardwoods story begins with a refrain familiar in the real estate world: location, location, location. In this case, location is all about where the bamboo is grown. The company sources its product from Zhejiang Province in central China, which lies on a similar latitude as Northern California. Thus, the climate is seasonal, which is most conducive to growing bamboo and provides a competitive advantage.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 2.10.51 PM“Many competitors source from the hotter areas in the tropical regions,” Keegan said. “So when the bamboo starts to grow, the energy shoots from the root system. Every single rising bamboo pole can be miles apart from each other but from the same root system. If they shoot really quickly in those tropical regions the cell structure is different, resulting in softer material. With the moisture and warmer temperatures, a blade of grass will reach its full height too quickly. And if it grows too fast, the cells are stretched out.”

Conversely, Keegan said, bamboo growing in the Zhejiang Province will shoot over several months as opposed to just a couple of months. Thus, “the cell structure is tighter, resulting in a stronger, denser, more durable product.”

Not only is the sourcing climate a competitive advantage, so is the consistency of the factories that manufacture the product. “We have long-term relationships with them,” Keegan said. “The advantage is the same a retailer would have with a customer. If they like you and trust you, you will get better service, better pricing. You have helped build his business. So your successes are intertwined.”

Pedigree of longevity

It can also be argued that Bamboo Hardwoods has as good a pulse on retailer dynamics as any supplier. That’s because the company has its origins in retail, owning and operating six stores throughout the Pacific Northwest when it first started sourcing bamboo. “We chose to go this route because we were doing more than flooring,” Keegan said. “It was an ‘everything bamboo’ philosophy; bamboo poles, curtains, placemats, carvings, custom furniture, cabinets, etc. But 85% to 90% of the revenue came from selling and installing bamboo flooring —even before bamboo flooring was in vogue. So we decided to just focus on that. We rode that wave until it became clear that we were at the apex.”

Because of its retail background, Bamboo Hardwoods appreciates what retailers face every single day. “We understand the entire sales cycle—when the decision gets made, who makes it and why, the reasons bamboo is chosen over carpet,” Keegan said. “We have a better understanding of the shopping experience. That cycle takes forever. We are about helping to shorten that process. As retailers we learned some lessons. We made sure to manage customers’ expectations. We are able to help determine what floor is best for them.”

How is Bamboo Hardwoods doing this? In a word, information. “We are arming all distributor and retail salespeople with the right information. We know what the customer wants. So we give them that knowledge before the consumer asks, whether it be in the sales manual, in our marketing literature, in our samples, etc.” This is also done to protect the salespeople, he said. “We understand the liability of being a floor covering retailer and installer. So we know the importance of setting the proper expectations from the start. Between samples, distributor training and retail salesperson training, we help that retailer manage the customers’ expectations.”

These advantages are not lost on Bob Eady, senior vice president, sales and marketing, T&L Distributing, Houston. “Bamboo Hardwoods’ years as an actual retailer was a big reason we initially chose to partner them,” he said. “When you have a manufacturer that can supply and support you with that retail perspective, it’s quite unique and appreciated.”

Another appealing factor is the company’s innovative style and design, Keegan said. “We are always willing to do something new, cutting edge and different. We have always been sort of risk takers.”  An example is a line it calls “Hybrid” with impregnated color lines on the face, where the bamboo is dyed before it is pressed rather than stained afterward.

In total, Bamboo Hardwoods offers five lines, three of which are strand woven, for a total of 35 SKUs. A complete range of styles are offered including traditional bamboo looks in various colors; assorted textures such as distressed, rustic and wire brushed; selections with micro-beveled edges, and even a French bleed.

Plank widths range from 3½ to 6 inches and most products are engineered. Price points range from $2.99 to $11.99, which would be the 100% Pure FSC bamboo. The company also supplies matching bamboo transitions, stair treads and moldings for just about every one of its floors. “We stock more than 700 moldings and transitions,” Keegan said. “Other bamboo suppliers don’t do this. Our distributors say we are the most complete line they have bought in several years.”

Bamboo Hardwood’s distributors include B.R. Funsten, T&L, Cronin, Horizon and R.A. Siegel.

Environmental attributes

While bamboo is arguably one of the most environmentally friendly flooring options, Bamboo Hardwoods offers a few points of differentiation from other bamboo suppliers:

While bamboo is arguably one of the most environmentally friendly flooring options, Bamboo Hardwoods offers a few points of differentiation from other bamboo suppliers:

1. The FSC chain of custody is offered on almost every line it brings to market.

2. All adhesives and finishes contain low VOCs.

3. All products meet CARB 1 and CARB 2 regulations.

In conclusion, Keegan said retailers have the ability to make money with Bamboo Hardwoods. “We put money into marketing. When the brand is stronger, retailers can charge more for it. We are not greedy nor are we trying to make a killing. We seek to gain market share by selling a high quality product at a reasonable price. We also try to make it easy to do business with us, whether with supply, communication or pricing.”

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