My take: The next big thing is more than a century old

March 31, 2017

March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMEveryone is always seeking “the next big thing.” It’s the way of the world. In the mid-’90s it was laminate. Years later it was Konecto and click LVT. Then came the soft carpet craze. More recently it was USFloors and WPC. These days everyone is trying to build a better WPC mousetrap, whether that means rigid core or some other take on the innovation.

But the next big thing may actually be an old thing—150 years old to be exact. That’s when Forbo introduced the world to an innovative product called linoleum, and today the company, which basically owns the U.S. healthcare and education segments with the product, is refocusing on the residential side for a number of solid reasons.

OK. I already know what you’re thinking. I’m insane. Possibly, but not in this case. You’re thinking linoleum has a bad connotation. People associate it with those outdated, inexpensive floors that hearken back to the days of sitting around your grandmother’s kitchen table. Yes, the word is lost in American vocabulary. Yes, the average flooring dealer defines linoleum as cheap vinyl with a felt or asphalt back. But I’m going to share with you a little secret that Denis Darragh, Forbo’s general manager of North America, told me recently: If someone invented linoleum today, people would think it’s one of the coolest products ever made. But because it was created 150 years ago, that is not the case. There are no plasticizers. It has been phthalate free for 150 years.

Many of the top retailers in the country are having success selling linoleum in 2017. These include members of the National Floorcovering Alliance. The secret: training retail sales associates on the benefits—and unique attributes—of linoleum and conveying those qualities to the consumer. Done successfully, this is a viable product with which store owners can make a healthy margin.

Most people understand linoleum as a sustainable product. And that has been a driver on the commercial side. But the question you need answered is, how does linoleum bring value residentially?

Forbo, which markets its linoleum as Marmoleum due to the aforementioned connotation, has a clear understanding of why consumers are buying, the result of extensive consumer research. The two main selling points:

  1. Color and design. If I walked into your showroom I would find a litany of gray and beige. Linoleum offers a whole lot more.
  2. Health. Linoleum is arguably the healthiest floor you can install, especially as it relates to children with allergies.

So what’s the problem? In a word, education. Tim Donohue, who heads up residential sales for Forbo, told me the key is helping dealers understand the difference between linoleum and LVT. Many people think they are interchangeable. But because retail salespeople don’t understand the differences, they have a hard time taking customers to a Marmoleum display; rather, they take that consumer to LVT because it is the path of least resistance.

So educating all of you will be a focus for Forbo this year. You will learn of linoleum’s durability; even commercially there is a 30-year wear warranty. Because, just like concrete, the product becomes more durable over time.

You will learn the many issues linoleum can solve for the consumer with respiratory issues or with small children who want to avoid some of the possible dangers with other types of products.

At the end of the day, it is the lack of knowledge that drives people away from linoleum. As Darragh said, “We know every sale we get is because the consumer wants it.”

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