Think resilient manufacturers, and the names Armstrong, Mannington, Congoleum and Tarkett quickly come to mind. But those aren’t the only major players. Very quietly, or maybe not, over the last 15 years Metroflor has carved out more than its niche with LVT products by constantly innovating, whether in design or new technologies. For example, the launch of Konecto four years ago opened the floodgates for many manufacturers to introduce floating LVT systems in various formats. It is estimated that Metroflor now owns a sizeable share of the LVT market in North America. FCNews’ associate publisher and editorial director Steven Feldman recently sat down with Michael Raskin, president of Metroflor, to discuss the past, present and future.
Give us the CliffsNotes version of what Metroflor is all about.
My father formed the company in the 1970s because he believed there was a huge void in the marketplace. Domestically produced resilient products were being sold for a lot more money than they were worth, so he was the first to import resilient from overseas. He had a great sense of design, marketing and sales. He taught me that you are only as good as your source. Over the years I was able to bring better designs, which improved every year, and a higher quality floor. The idea was that the customer would benefit.
It’s been 15 years since you took over Metroflor following your dad’s passing. What have you learned in that time?
I have learned that success is more than making the greatest amount of money possible, or selling the most product. Success is defined by satisfying the consumer not only from a quality standpoint, but also from a color and design standpoint. I have learned that it’s a lot easier to market and design great packages with the benefit of a budget as opposed to when we had to work under a grassroots approach in the beginning.
A major turning point in Metroflor’s success was the alignment with Halstead. Is that what has afforded you greater resources to market and design products?
The alignment was actually a turning point for both companies. For me, the alignment offered a base to build my business. It also added stability at a time in my life when I was young. But equally important, Metroflor benefitted from aligning with Norman Stone, who is a legend in this industry. He taught me about paying attention to details. He taught me to be patient. He taught me how to understand the different cultures we do business with.
On the other hand, Halstead has benefitted from the designs and marketing expertise I bring, which they are able to use in their traditional home center channel. Over the last six or seven years, we have kept the two companies separate, offices included, to ensure all our customers are benefitting from a complete focus.
About four years ago you unveiled Konecto, which, like you said at the time, opened up an entirely new category. What are your thoughts on the landscape today with so many competitors?
It’s a compliment. It means we are doing something right, because if we weren’t so successful there wouldn’t be as much competition. The landscape is different today but it is still fertile. There is still room to grow. It will come down to the products that can actually walk the walk. Like any product, the first generation is not going to be as good as the third, fourth or fifth. And in our industry, the No. 1 goal [of any supplier] is to constantly improve the quality of the product.
What do you see as your competitive advantage?
We are a company that can grow and ship hundreds of containers per month. Our competition is just starting out and has a lot to learn in terms of quality control. We are a proven entity. There is a lot of talk in the industry about retailers and distributors taking on other products but our sales are still growing. Ultimately, it’s most important to have a history and show you are a company that stands behind its products and keeps improving.
You didn’t sit still with Konecto, introducing a bunch of floating LVT formats since that time. Can you talk about a few of them, their advantages, and their success?
We are the only company with five [LVT] brands. Aside from Konecto, we have a sister brand called Starloc along with m9, Hybrid and TekStone.
Starloc is a way to continue to build our product category with a new set of distribution without infringing on our existing network with no overlap of product. Territorial exclusivity is becoming less important. It is more important to have exclusivity with designs, pattern and brand.
m9 was introduced about two years ago. It’s a line at the forefront of design, catering to a market we are not currently in. It is targeted toward people who are more focused on cutting-edge designs and take a contemporary approach to flooring. The installation system is the same as Konecto, but m9 is not associated with either Konecto or Metroflor. We want it to stand on its own with the higher-end market. It is sold through higher-end retailers and is also presented to architects and designers. We have also tried to develop an Internet presence with this line because traditional distribution is not as focused on this market.
Hybrid combines a proven laminate installation system, Uniclic, with an LVT. We developed that product because we want to use multiple installation systems with an LVT surface. The consumer who buys this product is more of a laminate or wood customer and sees the apparent value in LVT. It’s all about offering the consumer a choice of products.
TekStone is the market’s first groutable floating LVT. We introduced it a few months ago. It’s a product that can be easily understood by a retailer and his customer. The biggest issues with ceramic are breakage, shipping, weight and installation. This product can be installed over most existing floors, so you have no mess, no thinset, no backerboard. It can be installed in half a day. Ceramic can take three days and is expensive and messy to install. We use an acrylic, stain resistant grout.
What’s the next big thing?
In response to the movement toward more environmentally friendly products, we are actually looking at an alternative to vinyl, which we are close to launching. From a green standpoint, the less vinyl content we use the better. Personally, I don’t believe recycled vinyl is the answer. I think it’s a double-edged sword. If you use recycled vinyl, you don’t always know where the vinyl content comes from.
The environmental agencies are targeting DOP, which is what makes vinyl flexible. The substitute is DINP, which has been approved. If you only use DINP, you cannot use recycled content.
Will glued-down LVT go the of the dinosaur, just like glued down laminate?
No, because glued down LVT is still viable. It’s a proven installation system that has a less than 1% claims rate if made by a quality manufacturer. There will always be a place for glued down on the commercial side, where labor costs are lower. Glued down is a better option in areas where extremely heavy load resistance is critical, such as in healthcare settings with hospital beds and Hilrom wheels.
You don’t just run Metroflor; you’re also involved in the design. Talk a little about where you get the inspiration.
It comes naturally. I’m attracted to good design and looking to set new trends. I try to put myself in places where I can be exposed to good design. Whether it’s in New York or traveling to Europe or Asia. I also try to surround myself with creative people and good ideas.
What else do you bring to Metroflor aside from your design expertise?
I have a good feel for hiring the right people, putting them in a position to succeed and let- ting them grow as people as well as in their job. I don’t consider myself a micro manager; I just try to guide the ship.
You have some of the best distributors in the country in your network. Yet in New York you go direct via your In-Daquor division. Talk about the reasoning behind the move.
We did it because we had no choice. We exhausted all viable distribution in the New York market. The No. 1 issue we had with all our distributors was a lack of inventory. So what we did was set up a small distribution company to sell our proprietary products in the New York market and beefed up our inventory.
How has that been working out?
One of the positives to come out of the move was that it has allowed us to better understand the challenges of distribution. We also use it as a test market for new ideas so we can talk to our distribution network from a real perspective.
Are we maximizing profitability in the area? No. We don’t have the sales force that a distributor would employ. If it were the only thing I was doing it would be 10 times more successful. Right now our goal is to be profitable enough to use it as a catalyst for new ideas that we can offer our distribution network, which will always be our focus.