Armstrong seeks to go where others can’t

Home News Armstrong seeks to go where others can’t

LANCASTER, PA.—As the economy shows signs of improving and retailers report more consumers walking through their doors, manufacturers are scrambling to find ways to differentiate themselves. The best way to do this is to capitalize on strengths the competition may have a hard time matching. One company that sub- scribes to this theory is Armstrong.

“We are constantly asking ourselves what we have and can do that others can’t,” said Paul Murfin, vice president of sales and distribution.

Arguably the biggest differentiator for Armstrong, he noted, is brand equity—the association people have with a brand, one for which they will pay more or demand. Consumers are loyal to brands, and brands help bring consumers into stores. They also suggest assurance and help add to the retailer’s credibility.

“Brand recognition is an important piece of the puzzle, and Armstrong certainly enjoys that in the consumer’s mind,” said Sam Roberts, Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, Houston. In illustration, according to a Millward Brown study, the Armstrong brand has 97% aided consumer awareness.

While a strong brand goes a long way in driving sales, that is just a part of the equation. A manufacturer must do its part to activate consumers to purchase. And that goes to advertising. Armstrong reaches 66 million women annually through print and TV campaigns.

“Armstrong drives more consumers to retail stores than any manufacturer in the industry,” Murfin said. “We do that with three times more consumer advertising than our next closest competitor. In fact, in the last three years when the economy was down, we did not pull back our ad investment one penny.”

Advertising is a big part of driving consumers into retail showrooms, but often there is a stop along the way: the Internet. Armstrong’s advertising also drives consumers to its Web site so they become more educated on all the available and suitable products for their needs.

“Armstrong’s education, for both the consumer and retailer, is what sets the company apart,” said Crystal Scroggy, Rusmur Floors Carpet One, Springboro, Ohio.

Armstrong research reveled that near- ly half of all consumers shopping for hard surface flooring use armstrong.com. The site attracts more than 750,000 unique visitors each month, and over 80,000 online shoppers use the dealer locator each month.

“We are continuing to develop the best Web presence in the industry,” Murfin said. “First, when someone goes on Google or another search engine and searches for ‘floors’ or ‘flooring,’ we consistently rank in the No. 1 position. That’s not easy to do; you have to work to do that.

“Then, when the consumer goes on our Web site, we not only make it inspirational and educational, we also provide the tools to get them to Armstrong locations and get them to support what they’ve already experienced on the Web site. So the consumer walks into the retail store predisposed to look at an Armstrong floor, and they get to see what we selfishly feel are the best products in every category in which we participate.”

Speaking of which, investment in product development is another factor that can distance manufacturers from the competition. Armstrong in the last few years has invested millions of dollars in developing products like StrataMax, Luxe, Alterna and Grand Illusions, Murfin said, not to mention multiple new looks in hardwood flooring and green solutions for vinyl tile. “So when the consumer gets to the store, we feel she is greeted with the best product portfolio of any manufacturer in the industry. Products that are innovative, on-trend and display design leadership.”

As an example, Scott Rozmus, president, FlorStar Sales in Illinois, was singing the praises of Alterna. “Our customers have already told us Alterna’s visuals are superior to anything currently in the marketplace. We sold several truckloads before we had samples. Nothing can say more about retailer confidence in the Armstrong brand.”

Products must be more than good-looking; they have to be made well. And a manufacturer must stand behind each and every floor. “We have a track record that very few people can match,” Murfin said. In addition, he said a manufacturer must develop a complete offering around the product, including underlayment, molding and adhesives. “You can be sure we will give you the complete system. You can also be sure we will test that product and be comfortable with its ability to perform in every environment within North America. Our testing facilities and methodology are unparalleled within the industry. And then, in the unlikely situation that something could go wrong, Armstrong will stand behind it. And that’s something you will hear from our customers and distributors.”

That level of service extends to Armstrong’s distribution network, considered the best in North America. “First, they are the best financed, so even in an environment like the past few years, they have the wherewithal to maintain inventory levels that deliver materials to people in a timely basis,” Murfin said. “This comes into play because in this environment, if a retailer gets a sale, the last thing you want is to lose it because you can’t get material.

“If you look at the totality of those things and they way we do that, it’s the combination that makes us far and above best suited to support retailers’ success,” he concluded.

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