Checking in: Random ramblings from the road

Home Editorials Checking in: Random ramblings from the road

by Steve Feldman

With the summer almost over, I’ve been in a reflective mood lately. So here is what the little voices inside my head have been talking about.

First, I really have to hand it to these flooring manufacturers. Despite a landscape that has been anything but stellar, many if not most have been actively innovating and/or enhancing, putting more ammo in retailers’ arsenals. Cases in point: Mannington’s LockSolid technology pairs a proven, patented laminate locking system with LVT, making for the first adhesive-free floating LVT. Congoleum just enhanced its hallmark DuraCeramic with Scotchgard Protector, adding one of this country’s 10 most recognized brands to an already popular product. Tarkett is stepping up its environmental efforts, too many to mention. Beaulieu is ramping up its Bliss franchise while proving Magic Fresh’s uniqueness with in-store demonstrations. Mohawk has added bamboo. Shaw is developing quick response technology that may be scanned by a Blackberry or iPhone into its point-of-purchase materials. And again, that’s just scratching the surface.

Next, I’ve been thinking a lot about the demise of Wilsonart Flooring. I’ve been thinking how the company was never willing to move away from the cost prohibitive HPL technology. I wonder what would have happened if the company would have been open to finding a strong sourcing partner for DPL. I also wonder what would have happened if the company chose a different marketing approach. It was never big into trade advertising except in the early years. And I can tell you: Companies that do not advertise to the retailers when their competition is stepping it up are doomed to fail. Wilsonart also pulled out of Surfaces. Many who have taken this route have returned. Armstrong, Congoleum, Pergo. What does that tell you? When things got tough and companies began bringing in less expensive laminate from overseas, not to mention comparably priced hardwood, sales started spiraling downward. The company lost more than 70% of its business from its peak. Flooring went from 11% of the overall Wilsonart business to 4%.

But more so than that, I’ve been thinking about all those trips to Temple, Tex., over the years. I remember the love- him-or-hate-him CEO Bill Reeb, who could have shown us a country club but instead chose one of the best hole in the wall BBQ joints I’ve ever frequented. I remember the charismatic Curt Thompson, the consummate multi-tasker who would practice his putting in his office while fielding my questions for an interview. I think of some real good guys who were there til the end, like Russ Rogg, who I hope are able to slide over to the surfacing side or find new flooring positions quickly. And I think about the distributors who are left to find other opportunities.

On a more positive note, I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at Saratoga Racecourse with Team Beaulieu and a bunch of their retailers. Despite some wet weather, it was one of the best times I had this summer.

Final thought, which may be taken the wrong way, but it is only meant as a positive. One of the first floor covering columnists I ever dealt with in this industry was Sonna Calandrino. She was talented and helped many retailers. She played a major role in the launch of Mohawk’s Floorscapes concept. She defied the naysayers by launching a consumer flooring magazine. Most important, she was a nice, generous human being and a friend to many.

There was a recent tribute to Sonna in Dalton. See the story on page one for complete details. Here’s the part I don’t get: So many industry greats have passed on, but to the best of my knowledge an honor of this magnitude was never bestowed on any of them. Why not? Sonna was deserved of this type of honor, and so will many others in the future. Hopefully this type of event is not a one-shot deal.

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