by Steven Feldman
Nashville, Tenn.—You can’t sell flooring if there aren’t any customers in your store. With that tenet as the backdrop, Mohawk is focusing on driving traffic through its aligned dealer showrooms via an array of initiatives, many of which were introduced at its Solutions convention held earlier this month. And once those consumers have set foot in the store, Mohawk is providing its retailers with innovative, differentiated products which translate into higher margins.
“There are multiple pieces we are doing to drive a single strategy: Connect with home improvement enthusiasts in multiple ways and direct them to our aligned retail stores,” said David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing. One piece is a recently signed agreement between Mohawk and Better TV, a syndicated morning show that reaches 1 million viewers. It airs weekdays between 8 a.m. and noon in 150 syndicated markets, primarily on broadcast networks. Mohawk logo’d carpet adorns the set, and every celebrity that appears on the show walks across the “Mohawk Red Carpet.” In addition, Better TV will air at least six integrated, five-to-seven-minute features throughout the year on Mohawk carpet that will include design tips, spilling and cleaning, etc.
The show consistently promotes its Facebook page, which has tens of thousands of fans, Duncan said. Mohawk is the featured flooring brand on the page with the capability for consumers to get more information on Mohawk products. “They type in their information, and that lead will go directly to the aligned retailer closest to that consumer.”
Mohawk is also driving traffic through its extensive national advertising in shelter magazines like House Beautiful, Traditional Home and HGTV magazine. The campaign continues to be build around its “Don’t Worry It’s SmartStand” theme. “We receive thousands of inquiries from our national ad campaign, which we direct to aligned dealers,” Duncan said.
Mohawk is also partnering with a media network that represents about 25 endemic home improvement sites that feature design tips, flooring ideas, etc., that collectively reach about 25 million unique consumers annually. Along with that, Mohawk gives its aligned dealers the opportunity to receive leads from the vendors with which it does business, such as GE, Dow, DuPont and Sprint.
The best part? Everything is measurable as all leads are funneled into a single online tool. “What we provide to the retailer is 24/7 visibility of the number of consumers we have exposed their store to and the number of actual leads we directed to them specifically,” Duncan said. “They can actually download those leads and contact the consumers themselves. This is more targeted and measurable than anything else out there.”
But driving traffic is only half the battle. Differentiated products are what close the deal, and Mohawk has stepped up to the plate big time with its 2012 introductions. “It’s all about bringing value to the consumer through innovation,” Duncan said.
The most exciting innovation for 2012 is SmartStrand Silk, an enhancement to Mohawk’s SmartStrand franchise, where the level of softness has been upped multiple degrees. “We already had the softest carpet in SmartStrand Sorona,” Duncan said. “Today we leap-frogged ourselves three to five years. Competitors have been chasing SmartStrand’s softness for years. Everyone else is just getting close to where we already were.”
Tom Lape, president of Mohawk’s residential and commercial businesses, acknowledged the company had the top of the pyramid on softness for the last five years, but the rest of the industry is catching up. “Silk represents a technical marvel. It is truly the next generation in softness and maintains its stain and fade residence and durability attributes. We think this product is breakthrough, and when the customer walks in your store and puts her hand to it, it will be a separator.”
Silk will carry a slight premium to the current Sorona platform. It hits the streets in March with four styles and 40 colors. Tonals and LCLs will be introduced in the second quarter. “This will be will top-of-pyramid in style, performance and softness,” Lape said. “It will be priced competitively and fair for its best-in-class position.”
Mohawk is not abandoning its existing SmartStrand lineup by any stretch, refreshing it with six highly styled products. As well, the collection is being given a unique, differentiated brand called SmartStrand Sorona Ultra, which will not be available in the home center channel. “Ultra is also backed by a comprehensive warranty program that addresses the needs of today’s consumer,” Lape said. That includes a full pet warranty, stairs and transferability where the warranty is valid if the home is sold. This is also exclusive to the specialty retailer. “We can get some incremental hand and bulk to some of the newer yarn systems in Ultra, which enables us to provide better values in the existing color wall.”
Aligned dealers not only raved about Silk, but the entire SmartStrand Sorona platform. “Silk is the most innovative product since Mohawk came out with SmartStrand; it is truly as soft as silk,” said Rick Rollinson, Rollinson’s Home Center, Salem, Ill. “I think it will be a big hit. It will be more expensive, which means the margins will be better.”
For Rollinson’s customers, seeing in believing. “SmartStrand is a product people come into my store asking for. My SmartStrand display is next to a piece of nylon. It’s very nice, plush and thick. But the customer touches the nylon, then she touches the SmartStrand and it sells instantly. Plus, I’ve had it on my floor for four years in the highest trafficked area, and it still looks brand new.”
SmartStrand Silk was not the only big news on the carpet side. Seeking to invigorate its Scotchgard carpets, Mohawk has enlisted somewhat of a spokesperson for the brand, someone who personifies the problem Scotchgard is trying to solve. And that person is none other than Pigpen.
“We have the best brand in Scotchgard, but we needed something to energize it with our retail customers and sales associates,” Duncan said. “Who personifies messy kids and dirty households better than Pigpen? And because it’s a Peanuts character, we can leverage that icon in store with our customers.”
Pigpen will be a major focus for Mohawk and the Scotchgard brand in 2012. It will create PR events, direct mail, in-store signage and will be a big part of its digital strategy. “The idea is that brands work,” Duncan said. “And when they stand for something meaningful, they can become profit makers for you. That’s value you can’t get from anyone else.”
Mitch Culbreath, marketing manager, 3M Scotchgard, believes Pigpen will help reinvigorate the Scotchgard brand in this category. “We were looking to find a marketing position we could build some strength around beyond repellency and stain resistance, which are areas where our competition plays. So we decided on soiling. No one has gone after that as an attribute. Let’s talk about that in a new, fresh way. We could have used dirty kids, but there was no equity there. There was synergy with Pigpen.”
Culbreath said Phase I of the program will be to connect Pigpen and Mohawk. “I would love to see him as a spokesperson for three to five years to allow us to build a marketing campaign, build new technology and help retailers make more money.
Initially, we will work with Mohawk to make sure the best message we can put together about Pigpen gets out there.”
He believes this is “the most exciting thing we have done with a partner customer in quite some time. What we are going after is the combination of a dirty little boy, parents with kids, an icon that has been around for ages and the Scotchgard brand. These things all work well together.”
The Scotchgard story extends to the hard surface side. The idea is to emphasize it across all product categories so consumers see it as a Mohawk brand. Congoleum also expanded its Scotchgard range with five products in sheet and tile. “We are taking more of a ‘family’ approach with that technology because the story is so strong,” said Roger Farabee, vice president, Mohawk Hard Surfaces. “Consumers are not spending that much money, so they want value and performance out of the products they buy.”
New hard surface products
Mohawk has been investing in technology that allows it to manufacture products like handscraped wood in the U.S. “In the past, you had to buy from Asia or use expensive labor,” Farabee said.
Branson is a 5-inch-wide plank that is being offered in both tongue and groove and Uniclic constructions. Seven colors and three species–maple, hickory and walnut—are available.
Mohawk also previewed Huntsville, an engineered product featuring a soft scrape with chatter. “This is for those who want a less aggressive scrape but still want character,” Farabee said. Huntsville is a 5-inch plank available in hickory, tongue and groove only. “We envision that product being popular in new construction.”
Laminate: Building on the GenuEdge technology that has been so successful for Mohawk in 2011, the company is not only enhancing the two existing lines but also introducing a new grouping, Joslin, that sports exotic looks. Eight designs and four species are available: amendoim, strand bamboo, mesquite and jatoba. “We are getting phenomenal feedback on Joslin,” Farabee said. “We took our best selling colors in strand woven bamboo and brought it to laminate. This may turn out to be one of the best launches we ever had in laminate.”
GenuEdge replicates hardwood in that the design rolls over the edges. “No one has done anything similar because of the advanced technology,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Farabee added that Joslin, along with almost everything Mohawk is introducing on the hard surface size, falls in the “better” category. “We are designing great product to hit mid-level price points.”
This is something that has not been lost on dealers. “Mohawk has brought out new laminate products that look like wood, feel like wood and are very reasonably priced,” Rollinson said. “This is something they did not have before. And the wood products have improved tremendously. The finish is better, the look is better, and it is reasonably priced.”
Ceramic: Two new products using Reveal technology were introduced at the low and high ends. Marciano is a wood-inspired look that will retail for under $4.99. Two plank sizes–6 x 24 and 3¼ x 24–can be mixed or used individually. “We’ve had a few wood looks on the Dal-Tile side that have done well,” Farabee said.
Perrero glazed porcelain was also unveiled, but at the other end of the spectrum. Farabee said Mohawk has been able to scale the technology to the point where it can make less expensive products. Perrero, which comes in three colors and a 13 x 13, 20 x 20 and 3 x 3 mosaic, retails for under $1.99.
LVT: Mohawk is getting in on the click craze with the launch of Noblesse, a 14-SKU collection of 6 x 49 planks. Noblesse is 4mm but Farabee said it will still have “excellent” performance characteristics. Visuals include oak, chestnut, barnwood (distressed look), walnut and jatoba.
“We felt we needed to have a Uniclic glueless LVT option,” Farabee said. “This is a third generation click. There were issues with the first generation and this is refined beyond the second generation. We anticipate no issues with gapping or buckling, which were inherent in some of the other systems. We did have some input in developing this locking system, otherwise we wouldn’t have put the Uniclic name on it.”