RENO, NEV.—After focusing on extensive marketing, advertising and technology initiatives for the last few years, Abbey Carpet & Floor is positioning for the economic recovery by taking the wraps off a number of strong merchandising programs from many of the industry’s major players.
That’s not to say the group isn’t diverting from the trail it has been blazing since 2008, according to Steve Silverman, president and COO. However, he believes today product and merchandising has become more of a focus. “Manufacturers over the last few years pulled in the reins in terms of new introductions and sampling expense, and as a result the focus on product was diminished by the entire chain of distribution.”
Silverman said the programs Abbey is introducing this year will be front and center not only for the members but also for the consumer, who has been out of the marketplace for a number of years. “That pent-up demand, we think, will begin coming back into the market with business in 2011. So we think the timing is right.”
That sentiment was supported by Sam O’Krent, owner of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio. “We are only six weeks into 2011, but we are having a great year. Traffic is up, attitudes are up and people are opening their wallets again.”
The big news was the unveiling of Abbey’s first-ever private-label soft nylon brand, Softique by Alexander Smith. The proprietary collection combines softness and durability backed by a 60-day satisfaction guarantee and lifetime warranty against soil, stain and wear. It also offers Scotchgard Advanced Repel protection. “With 93% awareness, Scotchgard inspires confidence and the carpet lives up to consumer expectations, resulting in repeat business,” Silverman said.
The initial Softique offering consists of 20 products covering a broad array of constructions. Eleven products share the same color line. “If you look at the products and pricing, they compete very well against filament polyester products,” Silverman said. “But one of the dangers of polyester in comparison to nylon is [generally speaking] it will sell for much less. If everything went to polyester, the retailer would have to sell 25% more to make the same amount of dollars.”
Jeff Lorberbaum, president and CEO of Mohawk, said Softique will differentiate Abbey members from the competition. “It is made from the industry’s softest premium filament nylon. It offers the best styling and performance, all backed with the most comprehensive warranty program, so you can sell value rather than price.”
Brian Witkin, Mohawk’s senior vice president, national accounts, suggested the lineup was like a greatest hits collection. “Abbey management in conjunction with Mohawk’s product team selected from an array of Mohawk’s softest nylon products and came up with the ‘best of the best.’”
Softique debuts with its own display vehicle that incorporates a color wall. “We know the effectiveness of color walls in the retail environment today,” said David Hardy, executive vice president of merchandising and member services. “They are effective in getting the attention of the consumer. Then they offer the ability for the consumer to change style without changing color, so she can match what is already in the home.”
The display also contains two graphic panels that convey the line’s features and benefits. “The whole story can be told at point of sale,” Hardy said. “The features and benefits are so well displayed it will convince her Softique is truly a value in con- trast to other products on the floor.” In addition, room scenes inspire the consumer by showing what the carpet can do to a room once it is installed, he said.
Softique will be supported by national advertising along with a complete array of local advertising such as TV spots, newspaper ads and direct mail that convey Softique is the right choice for today’s lifestyles.
According to Barbara Wells, director of advertising, the print ads speak to women looking for beauty, durability and comfort. The ads also tout that Softique is exclusive to Abbey and drive her to the website, where she can find Abbey retailers through the dealer locator.
“That’s a very powerful tool— instilling in the mind of the consumer there is something so special out there that it is not available anyplace else,” Silverman said. “Exclusivity talks to the strength of the retailer in that market. It also gives the retailer pride of ownership having something no one else has.”
The ads also feature a coupon that will save the consumer $100 on any purchase of $999 or more at an Abbey retailer.
There will be multiple promotional opportunities for Softique beyond Abbey’s annual May and October sales. “This is not only to make sure you are telling the story to the consumer, but also that it is on sale,” Wells said. That speaks to value.
Development of this program took more than six months and could only have come about with the promise to Mohawk that Abbey members would support the pro- gram and displays, Silverman said. “We don’t think there will be an issue with any member. Will we get 100%? No. But overwhelmingly, our members will take the program, which will become the centerpiece for 2011.”
Abbey members were thrilled to have another private-label program. “We always look for exclusive products within each of our vendors’ lines,” O’Krent said. “With our store being 34,000 square feet, part of the theory is if the consumer can’t find it here, she can’t find it anywhere. So Softique will only add to that perception.”
He also believes these types of programs help unite the group. “This is something we as a group can rally behind, some- thing that will only bring in better profit dollars for all of us,” he said. “The products are styled right, colored right and, most importantly, are priced right.”
O’Krent is backing up his words with action. “We are going to dedicate one area of the store to Softique, and in addition to the rack we will put the entire product line in split samples. We will advertise it heavily, promote it heavily and spiff it with our salespeople.”
More proprietary products
Abbey members were also introduced to Legendary Beauty, a new, exclusive brand from Beaulieu featuring 20 of the industry’s softest polyester filament products. “The hand is unequaled,” Hardy said. “The colors and patterns are exceptional.” Benefits include Magic Fresh and Silver Release. All products are covered under Abbey’s exclusive lifetime warranty against soil, stain and wear and its 60-day satisfaction guarantee with retail price points ranging from $16 to $40.
Silverman noted both Softique and Legendary Beauty come with added incentives for members above and beyond the margins they receive from sales of these products.
Shaw came to the table with its own assortment of products and programs. Among them are an 18-product collection called American Studio, a line of soft items featuring ClearTouch. Price points range from $7 to $17 a yard.
Also new is the American Showcase Premier Stainmaster collection, nine products featuring Stainmaster Luxurelle soft fiber. The line also contains a new innovation from Shaw called “It’s Simply Fresh,” an ingredient that assures a cleaner, fresher environment.
Shaw showcased its debut into the resilient flooring category with a series of products: gluedown LVT, floating LVT (six visuals), groutable LVT (11 ceramic and stone visuals) and fiberglass (nine new products merchandised in a podium display).
Transitioning to Armstrong
The severing of ties between Abbey and Mannington last year has yielded an enhanced relationship with Armstrong. “Armstrong is arguably the third largest flooring manufacturer in the world,” Silverman told members. “The company produces a quality product. The management team is accessible and willing to work with us, and has been more than supportive of our efforts. This company has an extreme desire to do business with you.”
Silverman believes Abbey is a stronger group today because of the Armstrong relationship. “We have gained the comfort of knowing the accuracy in reporting is a non- issue with Armstrong. We don’t see anything but positive results.”
Silverman also noted that Abbey does not have any plans to pursue a direct selling arrangement similar to that which exists between Armstrong and CCA Global. “We are comfortable with the arrangement we have. They have worked out a lot of the issues that were present a year ago that centered around communication because you had the distributor involved. That’s been resolved by Armstrong hiring 28 reps that will be working with our key members and their distributors around the country.”
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to product and program. Brian Slingluff, Armstrong’s director of national accounts, cited the $25 million investment in the new fiberglass facility; 45 new handscraped and exotic SKUs in solid and engineered constructions in popular species and price points every consumer can get to; lower laminate prices and a new, entry-level laminate plank; and a new resilient merchandising system that makes product the star.