by Matthew Spieler
In recent years, manufacturing has gotten to the point where some low-end products have a high-end look and feel. This is especially true in laminate. In fact, there are products that if brought back in time to just 10 years ago, they would qualify as mid- to high-end goods. So what’s a retailer to do to show consumers the differences between a quality product and one constructed not to perform very well?
Many companies say it begins with the name it bears. “It is important to have confidence in the product and where it comes from,” explained Milton Goodwin, Armstrong’s vice president of hardwood and laminate. “Is it a reputable brand, like Armstrong, which has a 150-year history of providing quality products? Products that come from major companies like Armstrong use only the best materials, resources and equipment which is why our products look better, sound better and, overall, perform better than a product where you don’t know where it came from.”
Kevin Thompson, Shaw’s hardwood and laminate manager, agreed, noting, major, well-known companies invest heavily in research and technology to ensure their products look and perform beyond the run-of-the-mill goods. For example, “We are backwards integrated in paper and overlay saturation and production, and developed several proprietary wearlayer enhancements, like OptiGuard in 2010.”
Having a superior attribute is one thing, but helping retailers promote it to consumers is another key area in which reputable companies separate themselves, he added. In the case of OptiGuard, for example, “We installed panels at our laminate plant and drove a forklift over them as it went from one part of the plant to another. The demo was not only shown at Shaw’s biennial dealer convention and annual winter markets, “we developed a video and display board showing new product compared to material used in the demonstration.”
Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing for Unilin (Quick•Step and Mohawk), not-ed, “We provide several demonstration tools that make showing-off our products’ quality aspects easy. One example is Quick•Step’s Standing Water Test Demo. The easy-to-do test illustrates the superiority of our Uniclic locking system when compared to competitors’ products.”
Because quality can mean different things to different people, Dan Natkin, Mannington’s director of laminate and hardwood business, said the company “strives for quality at all levels—including third party verification.”
And most of this comes from using the most technologically advanced equipment available. For example, “We use a high precision electronic SmartScope, which allows us to keep a much tighter and consistent tolerance on our profile than those using projector methods. Also, we use a laser-guided registration process for embossed in register designs for added precision and realism.”
Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Formica, said, “Quality is an attribute we expect our customers to take for granted.” A brand like Formica establishes quality and “allows a salesperson to sell with confidence.” Why? “The product will be consistent in appearance. It will go together easily. And it will stay beautiful and be a low maintenance floor for many years. If a product does not perform to these standards and has a retailer making apologies or excuses, it will not enjoy the promotion it needs to be successful.”
Speaking of standards, Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), said people should look for the NALFA Certification Seal as “it represents quality. These are solid, nationally recognized standards that give a clear reference point on minimum performance qualities. Everything but visual is defined in NALFA’s standards.”
While the better products tend to have the most realistic visuals, he noted looks are more subjective than objective and, therefore, are more part of the selling process. “But visual is critical because you can have every performance attribute measured to be the best but if it is an ugly representation it will not sell.”
Dearing noted NALFA’s standards also allow consumers and dealers to transparently see the standards companies tested to as all this information is listed on the association’s website, nalfa.com.
With many types of products, quality and price go together—the higher the quality, the higher the price. But with laminate, that is not necessarily the case.
“A high quality product does not have to be expensive as quality is not engineered into different levels of products,” Bass noted.
Farabee added, “It is through effective use of proprietary technology and cutting-edge innovations we are able to offer quality products featuring stunning visuals, while still keeping the price within most consumers’ budgets.”
But, as Armstrong’s Goodwin said, if one product is priced dramatically less than another, then “buyer beware. You should question why is that product so cheap.”
Dearing pointed to the NALFA seal being on variety of price points, “so from a performance side it doesn’t have to be expensive; it could be a host of other things to make the price higher.”
As Bass said, “Quality should be assumed—added features and benefits are what determine the price a consumer is willing to pay.”