Successful flooring retailers not only tend to be at the top when it comes to professionalism, they understand the advantages of differentiating themselves with products no one else in the local market carries. This creates a unique selling proposition, one that cannot be shopped around.
These dealers still carry many of the big name, branded products consumers know of, but they also mix in floors from a number of smaller suppliers knowing this will give them something their competition lacks. In this sense, few flooring categories offer more choices of product and supplier than wood.
From U.S. based suppliers to those with extensive distribution facilities and networks, the category is speckled with small to medium suppliers. While many have built successful businesses servicing niche markets, others have gained favor by developing national programs that still give exclusivity to local dealers.
“Retailers who feature smaller companies in their assortment understand they will face less direct competition, since most smaller suppliers tend to open only a limited number of dealers in any specific geography,” explained Peter Spirer, marketing director of Max Windsor. “This makes it more difficult for consumers to comparative shop, and generally yields higher profit margins for dealers.”
Flexibility and speed are also two attributes smaller players bring to the table. “As a smaller player,” noted Gary Keeble, marketing manager for USFloors. “We can offer more responsive service and are more accessible than larger companies with an extensive bureaucracy in place.”
Mitch Tagle, co-owner of DuChateau, added, “Owners are very much hands-on and quite approachable. This means on a regular basis, important business decisions can be expedited rather than being delayed in a quagmire of red tape.”
Reacting to specific requests and needs from customers is easier for a smaller mill, noted Jason Webb, wood flooring product manager for Harris Wood. “This is especially true in regard to custom product needs and special requests for products.“ Furthermore, there is a greater willingness to look at various opportunities that may not be enough volume for larger companies to consider. [For instance] there is often a greater opportunity for partnering to create more niche lines that meet areas of particular need for the distributors and dealers.”
Beyond quickness, flexibility, exclusive partnerships and so on, each supplier offers its own set of competitive advantages for retailers to consider when looking to expand their wood offerings.
“We pride ourselves on not only offering the marketplace the finest wide plank hardwood flooring produced in the Old European way,” Tagle said, “we are committed to having customer service nonpareil. Every order, large or small, is treated as if were the most important order ever to come through the company. Larger and more impersonal firms simply cannot offer this kind of stellar customer treatment.”
Creating floors that are different is one thing, he said having them properly displayed to make it easy for salespeople and consumers is another. As such “we have invested a sizable chunk of R&D dollars to subsequently offer our retailers the finest and most professional, upscale merchandising tools. [These are] merchandising tools that don’t fight with our products for attention, but rather, complement and further describe them in detail. It is our mindset that beautiful and unique flooring must have beautiful and unique in-showroom merchandising items.”
To learn more about DuChateau’s products, call Tagle at 619.793.5899.
With parent company Q.E.P. Co., a worldwide manufacturer, marketer and distributor of a comprehensive line of more than 3,000 hardwood flooring, flooring installation tools, adhesives and flooring related products, Webb said Harris is “able to provide the flexibility and adaptability of a small company, yet with the overall support of a larger company.”
As a result, he explained, “we have the ability to provide the best of both worlds. Our customer service and technical service representation is all by people who are on site where the products are made and each with 10 to 30-plus years of experience in the wood flooring industry.
“It is also important to note,” he continued, “that over 90% of our products are made in the U.S. and utilize well managed sustainable domestic woods for production.” Webb pointed out Harris has actually been manufacturing wood products and flooring for more than 110 years, with its history dating back to 1898 in Johnson City, Tenn.
To learn more about Harris, call 800.842.7816.
“Innovative merchandising, extraordinary value and consistently outstanding quality have made us a favorite of major retailers and flooring contractors,” Spirer said. “Max Windsor stays ahead of the curve with new products and colors, giving its dealers the benefit of showing fresh looks before their competitors.”
The company has taken the direct sale approach, servicing its customers from its distribution centers in California and Georgia. “Because Max Windsor is owned by the factory that supplies it, it has great influence on quality standards, environmental concerns and product development direction,” he explained.
These attributes will be on display at Surfaces, Spirer added, as the company will introduce a product utilizing a new technology the company believes to be “the most important break-through in hardwood flooring of the millennium.”
He noted the combination of strategically located distribution centers and direct ownership allows Max Windsor to maintain large inventories “of a broad range of hard- woods and laminates. This relieves dealers of the burden and expense of keeping stock on hand.”
As with others, the company recognizes the need to create merchandising that is both appealing and easy to use. “Our Vertical Tower display not only houses the top 30 SKUs in our line, it offers consumers and salespeople a graphic presentation of product and installation features; care and maintenance tips, and environmental compliance information.”
For more on Max Windsor, dealers on the eastern side of the U.S. should contact Spirer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those on the western side can contact Fernando Ornelas at email@example.com.
“We are the only cork and bamboo supplier with manufacturing facilities in the U.S.,” Keeble said. “You will be unlikely to find a large company that would have the selection that a smaller company like USFloors has in cork, bamboo, or oil-finished wood flooring.” Along with domestic manufacturing, he added, the company has “extensive sourcing capabilities in China to provide our customers exceptional values for more commodity type products that can help retailers drive traffic to their showrooms.”
The result, Keeble said, is a company that is an “expert in the categories that we service.” And, “As a smaller player, we can be more innovative in our product development, such as our narrow plank Almada cork collection or our Corboo, hybrid strand woven bamboo and cork floor. Products such as these help retailers to stand out in their local marketplace.”
USFloors utilizes its own sales force to service retailers, he said. Combined with a focused assortment of sustainable flooring products “our salespeople are experts because these products are most important to them, and in turn, impart that knowledge on the retailers that they service.”
Keeble said having a domestic facility is more than a manufacturing initiative. “USFloors is creating jobs and helping to keep our local work force employed in a region of Georgia with the highest unemployment rate in the state. Our solar initiatives contribute to this as well. And that’s where ‘Made in America’ is important to consumers. They want to know that their purchase is helping Americans in the economy we are in. I’m a firm believer that ‘Made in America’ is making a comeback with the American consumer.”
For more on USFloors, call Sam Ruble, national sales manger, at 800.404.2675.