Web presence is part of today’s new normal, identified as an essential component of the cost of doing business. In this industry, a website can be considered a landing page for the consumer to learn about products, programs and ways to improve her home, though that paradigm is shifting with the proliferation of social media platforms; particularly Facebook with its more than 750 million active users.
Today’s websites favored by Google and Yahoo search engines have fresh and unique content, so many companies are focused on updating and differentiating what draws consumers to their sites. Additionally, search engines filter duplicate content, so the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) was careful to add features that made it one-of-a-kind when its spiders crawl through site content.
“WFCA’s site has a state and city definer that is crawlable by seach engines,” said John Simonson of Webstream Dynamics, a web design and SEO optimization firm specializing in the floor covering industry. “The WFCA page ranks as No. 5 but now that we have new content, when people do a search that will take them to our links.”
Recently there has been an increase in local inquiries on Google—they account for 25% of all searches— which works in the favor of driving consumers to first
the right website, then to the local store to purchase. “Google patented a link popularity algorithm years ago, like a vote,” Simonson explained. “If you have more votes than the other guy, the more Google place listings show up and those listings are showing up more today.”
Educating the consumer
What happens once the consumer gets to WFCA’s site? According to the association’s president and CEO, Chris Davis, the site has a variety of interactive tests and a virtual room designer that allows consumers to try out a variety of options prior to ever setting foot in a store. “It also gives unbiased information on the pros and cons of various types of floor coverings to arm consumers with information before heading into a store,” he added.
Consumers can also learn about flooring through the WFCA blog, Floor Talk, accessible through wfca.org. “It contains postings from interior design professionals as well as interior design journalists, discussing any topic they find of interest,” Davis said, to bring the industry into the realm of fashion in the eyes of the consumer.
With her interest in flooring piqued, the consumer is likely to move on to other flooring related sites, most likely those that educate her and personalize her space. To exemplify this, Armstrong has dedicated a section of Armstrong.com to educating the end user called “Flooring 101.”
“We think education is important because in our research talking with consumers, this was an activity she doesn’t perform regularly, only about once every five years,” said Richard Milliron, director of eMarketing. “Even if she did do it a year ago, she will still have questions and concerns about that experience and how to make it as effective as possible.”
In addition to informative articles and videos, the mill’s site also features a Floor Finder tool, which matches her needs to the appropriate floor. “She answers a few simple questions and is given content to find the floor that best fits the project,” Milliron said. “If she decides she wants something else, the site lays out pros and cons for that choice.”
In addition to information, she can also engage through room visualizers and floor galleries, as a well as a feature called My Project, which Milliron said was designed around the consumer wanting the information she needs on a project in one space. “As well as picking product swatches and choosing flooring retailers, it uploads inspirational photos, such as a sofa she likes or an image of a piece of furniture in a magazine,” he said. “She can also design a room through the visualizer or take one of ours and put it in there.” A unique hybrid of an electric design board and a shopping cart, it sparks inspired purchasing on her own terms.
The lifestyle format is also a powerful tool, one which has generated success for Beaulieu of America with BlissFlooring.com. Visitors to the site first see “Miss Bliss,” who walks from room to room as her lifestyle dictates. “Any situation will dictate the flooring,” said Mike McAllister, vice president of marketing information systems. “First, she picks a lifestyle, then products are next.” To do so, she can pick a color family or construction, save pages in a folder with all her research, and look at her favored products in room settings. Most importantly, she can go into a dealer locator, to find a dealer near her home, referenced by the products they have in stock.
“What we want to do is not give all textures and loops,” McAllister said. “We are identifying the needs for her family, what she is concerned about. We’re trying to get into the consumer’s head, instead of letting her figure out what she needs: We’ll lead her by the hand a little.”
Another point that serves Beaulieu is to avoid flooding the consumer with information. Therefore, each of Beaulieu’s lines is not featured the on site, keeping mainly the styles that would appeal to families. “The old site was very technical, featuring saxonies and flecks, and consumers would call us overwhelmed,” McAllister confessed. “We are showing fewer products and people are staying on the site longer than they did on the site with more products. We think it is in the presentation.”
Effective websites also educate those within the industry as well, keeping business owners and sales associates up-to-date. “We are trying to help the dealer be better,” said Mike Zoellner, vice president of marketing services for Mohawk. “If we help educate the retail sales associate, he or she will feel better about selling a Mohawk product, though our training is good for any product they sell.”
Well known for its training through Mohawk University, the mill is making an effort to flip the learning experience from face-to-face to over the web. “Strategically, we are taking that approach because dealers don’t have time to come to training and leave their stores,” Zoellner said. “This is true in small business across America so we’ve got to find a new way to deliver training.”
Mohawk has increased its offering of regularly scheduled Webinars and increasing the ability to see sessions on your own time. “Everything we do is recorded, so if you are not available at the scheduled time for a live session, you can check it out on the weekend, or whenever you have free time,” Zoellner told FCNews, revealing that the retrieval method for its training is growing in popularity. “You can view any Webinar—on demand—from the last 12 months: We have a library of seminars and training sessions.”
Among the topics in its educational arsenal are product knowledge, selling skills and sessions from renowned leadership experts like Franklin Covey and the Blanchard Group. “Everything the consumer sees on the website is what we try to teach the retail sales associate to sell,” explained Zoellner. “Other than the very general sense where we talk about fiber construction, all the lessons have a long shelf life. Training skills will last your selling career.”
Social networking uses websites too Beyond a website with sticky content—information that keeps the viewer on the pages of your sight for a considerable amount of time—many of today’s premier players are integrating multiple sites to keep consumers traveling a-long their web channels, which ultimately lead them to your stores.
“You have to be in places were people can give feedback,” McAllister said. “We get it from our website but it’s more formal. Demographically, the younger group between 32 and 55 is embracing social media like Facebook and Twitter.”
Companies across the flooring industry are taking this information to heart and really embracing the opportunity to influence a new group of consumers. For example, at press time Shaw Floors’ Facebook page boasted 30,503 likes.
“Helping illustrate how times change, our interactive marketing activity is no longer limited to our own site,” said Todd Callaway, manager of residential marketing at Shaw Industries. “It’s about reaching consumers where they are, and we know many of them are on their social networks on a daily basis.”
With this in mind, the company launched its 30 Days of HGTV promotion to tie the shawfloors.com website and the Shaw Floors Facebook page together. However, what makes this promotion different is the Facebook page is the destination. “It was a natural fit because social media was such a vital part of the promotion,” Callaway explained. Content was driven by a team of 10 influential bloggers who created rooms using HGTV Home Flooring by Shaw, and now consumers can vote for their favorite room through the end of September. “And all of this social activity is designed to introduce the consumer to the local retailer in their area that carries HGTV Home Flooring by Shaw,” Callaway finished.
In all it is about keeping your site new and exciting, something that invites visitors to your page and to stay on to learn. That was the idea when Tarkett introduced its RoomVue feature at Surfaces in 2010. “Tarkett Residential’s RoomVue online flooring visualizer makes it easy for consumers to select new flooring within the comfort of their own homes,” said Gary Finseth, residential marketing director.
Through Tarkett’s website, consumers can select a room from the site’s photo gallery or upload digital photos of their own room and choose a floor style and pattern, from its laminate collection, to NAFCO luxury vinyl flooring, to Consumers Digest rated FiberFloor. She can also test her preferences against wall colors and flooring accessories.
“It allows the end user to make a decision on her new flooring designs and mix and match with choices of wall color, baseboards and flooring transitions all with her busy lifestyle in mind,” Finseth explained.
That was also the idea with Congoleum’s most recent website revamp. “In order to generate more excitement about your site, the site must continually evolve,” said Doreen Trager, director of creative services. “The recent improvements and changes to our RoomVision design program and ImageMapper are only the beginning of the changes we will be making to the site in the future.”
In addition to a virtual fitting room for the home, the site also features a sample shopping cart, something retailers like Amazon and Overstock.com have been featuring with great success. “Providing an easy to use, consumer and retailer- friendly website is what we strive for,” she finished.