PORTLAND, ORE.—Avaire, the revolutionary floating porcelain tile system, is poised for exponential growth. Over the past few months, the company has launched five major distributors, giving it coverage across more than 90% of North America.
The most recent quintet to sign on were J.J. Haines in the Mid-Atlantic region, Belknap White in New England, Buckwold Western in western Canada, StevensOmni in eastern Canada and Wanke Cascade in the Pacific Northwest. The commonality is that all have found retailer reaction to be positive.
“We kicked off Buckwold Western [in mid-August] in western Canada,” said Rob Tarver, Avaire’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We closed almost every retail account in the six cities we went through.”
Why the high success rate? Tarver refers to Avaire as a solution-based product, a whole new segment of flooring. Specifically, the solutions involve installation time, complexity and overall cost, the same issues addressed by floating systems in the laminate, hardwood and LVT categories.
Tarver noted if you can reduce the labor expense, you add value to the consumer. As an example, he told Wanke distributor reps that in the Northwest, labor costs can be between $6 and $7 a foot for a traditional tile installation and more than $10 for intricate installations, like a pinwheel. But the installation cost for Avaire is about the same as laminate, $2 to $2.50, including grout.
Jim Johnson, president of Wanke Cascade, attested to Avaire’s advantages over traditional ceramic tile. “The labor component [with traditional ceramic] is huge, not only the cost but also finding qualified labor. Plus, the bits and pieces are complicated— underlayments, thinsets, crack suppressants, grouting options. Consumers are choosing other products because of the complexity, the time, the cost, the subfloor prep, etc. As an example, I just put in $300 worth of material in my home and it cost $1,300 to install it. That included removal, prep, underlayment, thinset. The installer had to make three trips— one to install the tile, one to grout and another to seal the grout.”
Johnson, who kicked off Avaire in late August, is investing in the product for a few reasons. First, it’s a unique, innovative product his dealers haven’t seen. “That gives us a competitive advantage over the competition.” Second, the fact it is domestically supported will help Wanke work on tighter margins and higher turns. Third, and most important, Avaire gives retailers a chance to make money in the category. “Depending on the retailer, margins can be 35% to 50%. They can sell an installed cost of $9.99, which includes an installation cost of $2 to $2.50 with grout. Price points to the dealer will start at $4.89.”
Dealers in the past had a hard time making this type of money on ceramic jobs, Johnson said. “In this market, there is also a lot of channel conflict. You have the traditional ceramic wholetailer selling the tile contractor, specialty flooring retailer and end user.”
Johnson also sees “tremendous” opportunity in condos, both new and replacement work, because of an IIC sound rating of 58, which is a measurement of footfall from the floor above down to the ceiling. Most require an acoustical rating of 50. “Traditional tile has an IIC of 30,” Johnson said, “which means you need a cork underlayment or sound membrane.”
While Johnson believes his retailers will see the value in Avaire, Wanke Cascade is not seeking market saturation. “I’d like to see us flush out at 250 to 300 displays,” he said. “I’d rather have fewer committed retailers. We have about 700 storefronts in our footprint that are candidates. I think a lot of thoughtful retailers will see the opportunity, the same way the industry saw it a decade ago with glueless laminates, glassbacked vinyl, floating hardwood and, more recently, LVT. ”
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