Mills debate whether there is still life in the middle-Part II

Home News Mills debate whether there is still life in the middle-Part II

Prior to the recession, sales of laminate were experiencing what many called an hourglass effect, meaning consumers were buying either a trend-setting high-end product or a low-end floor to get a cheap updated look to their home. As a result, sales of products in the mid point were getting squeezed out of existence.

With today’s consumer more price conscious and wanting products offering greater value, other industries have been seeing growth from the mid-level, “better” goods. Is this new consumer mindset affecting sales of laminate floors?

Jeff Katz, Tarkett’s residential director of laminate, said innovation and technology have helped changed the face of the category. “Features once offered exclusively in the upper tier have evolved into the middle price points.”

Along with technology playing a role in shifting the sales picture, Katz noted the re-emergence of the mid price point is largely attributed to the “new normal,” which has changed the way consumers value products. “We believe this is not a fad but rather a new value system. Even so, today’s consumer still wants a floor that makes her proud.”

For that to happen, Katz explained, the floor needs to have great design and also perform day in and day out. “The key will be to sell the product benefits the consumer values in mid-priced products—rather than just price at the entry level. If this can happen, everyone in the supply chain will benefit.”

Some companies do not pay attention to what “shape” the category’s sales may be taking. Russ Rogg, Wilsonart’s director of sales, called it irrelevant because “we don’t play at every price level. Wilsonart actually competes more with wood and high-end vinyl products.”

Nonetheless, he believes the middle is making a comeback because, “Our entry-level product—the Classic Collection— would probably be more in line with the middle tier for other manufacturers and it is our best-selling product grouping.”

Like others, Rogg feels the experience of the past few years has definitely impacted the way consumers buy. But when it comes to this new mindset, value is not just about price. “Despite a tough economy, many consumers still understand the relationship between price and performance and are willing to invest where they perceive strong benefits.”

Therefore, Rogg added, “it’s up to [mills] and retailers to educate them about these benefits.” When this is done, the higher price “becomes less of an issue.”

Milton Goodwin, Armstrong’s vice president, of laminate and ceramic, said like Wilsonart, “Our emphasis has been on premium products such as New England Long Plank which was introduced this year.” While consumers are “still looking for quality, performance and great looks for every dollar,” he said the company’s Illusions Collection from Armstrong and Chelsea Park from Bruce “were specifically designed for those who love the look of our premium Grand Illusions and Park Avenue, but want a more affordable alternative.”

Goodwin noted when Armstrong is adding products “we are clearly marketing the trade up and pricing for value… and [giving] our retailers something truly distinctive to sell.”

Similar to the others, Nancy Sweeney, Pergo’s specialty retail manager, said despite the economy, the company’s brand reputation has allowed it to “experience strong demand” for its mid- and upper-priced floors. “While consumers remain cautious with their spending, we have seen demand for our premium and value-branded products.”

She agreed with the others that consumers are searching for more value, but because of advancements products at the mid tier can now be made with benefits that were limited to just the high-end a few years ago.

As an example, she pointed to Pergo Accolade, which “offers premium benefits without the premium price tag.”

In the end, Sweeney concluded, this “creates brand-loyal customers” who eventually may buy a premium product.”

-Matthew Spieler

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