The art of upselling laminates

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It is not uncommon for retail salespeople to shy away from upgrading consumers to higher quality laminate floors. Some may feel compelled to show customers natural materials, such as ceramic and hardwood, which can be had for a few dollars more per square foot and offer higher margins. Others are afraid to risk losing a sale by showing pricier items that stretch a customer’s disposable income to the limit.

Consumers shopping for laminates have different needs and tastes. Developing a rapport with the customer and asking the right questions to understand her design needs are two essential elements of the selling process, industry members say. By qualifying the customer, a salesperson can recommend a product that best suits her needs.

“There are certain applications where laminate is the best product for the job,” noted Darren Braunstein, vice president, Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings, Edison, N.J. “It’s the easiest product to install for the do it yourselfer, the most practical and durable for active households with pets, spills, etc.” Laminate flooring is marketed as one of the most durable and easy-care floors available. But not all floors offer the same features and warranties. There are distinct differences in product construction that impact performance and design clarity.

“We’ll talk to customers about all the brands we sell, then stress the realism of laminates and explain what you get for a lower vs. higher-end product,” said Ed Keller, general manager, Bob’s Carpet Mart, Clearwater, Fla. Salespeople will initially show laminate shoppers higher-end goods, which start at about $3.99 per square foot and emphasize the value proposition.

While its high performance is a major selling point, laminate floors are not indestructible nor bullet proof. Asphalt, sand and other abrasive materials tracked into the home can scratch the surface. Product warranties covering areas such as wear, stain and fade resistance vary, depending on the product and/or application.

“We go over the durability factor and ease of installation, and people like the idea that laminates are not susceptible to scratching as much as hardwood,” said Butch Fields, general manager, Carpet Fair, which operates six locations in central Maryland.

Upgrading customers to higher quality materials is not a major challenge for salespeople, Fields said, because the price jump is not that steep. “For about 20% more, they can get so much more value,” he said.

While nearly all laminates are available in oak, maple and dark wood looks, products differ according to color, species, pattern and quality. “We show the customer how the higher-end products have a much more realistic and attractive visual,” Worldwide’s Braunstein said. “Our top-of-the-line products are thicker, nicer looking, have the widest array of exotic colors to choose from and have a higher gloss level, which brings out the depth and realism of the grain.”

Indeed, salespeople should know about durability, maintenance and fashion characteristics, and which products are applicable for certain areas. This information can help them recommend appropriate patterns and colors to coordinate with the existing room décor. The key is knowing those differences, especially as it relates to comparing low-end and premium floors, so they can be conveyed to the customer.

“We are fortunate enough to be well trained by our manufacturers,” said Gary Cissell, director of flooring at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Omaha, Neb. “It has given us the knowledge that allows us to convey information to consumers so they can make a more informed purchasing decision.”

Consumers want products that will enhance the look of their room. Retailers say if consumers are exposed to quality merchandise and quoted price that reflects good value, they will be encouraged to step up and buy a more expensive floor.

“It took us a long time to sell $3.99 laminates,” said Bob’s Carpet Mart’s Keller. “We understand the value of higher- end laminates vs. woods. We’re able to sell faux woods based on their realism and try not to compare them to real wood.”

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