by Steven Feldman
Orlando, Fla.—Carpet One and Flooring America members have their first private-label wool program. Just Shorn is designed to help members further differentiate from the pack and create a new profit center given only a small fraction of membership is currently involved in the wool business.
Howard Brodsky, founder and CEO, CCA Global Partners, parent of Carpet One and Flooring America, couldn’t stress enough to members the enormity of this program. “To have a very differentiated product is critical for us.” He also believes Just Shorn comes with a story that will resonate with consumers. “Our members tell the story about wool’s sustainability, about style, about the wool farmers and our relationship with them. Consumers love stories, and this is a great story. Think Prius or Apple. People buy stories. Stories take relationships to another level.”
Theresa Fisher, senior vice president, visual merchandising, believes the story begins with the wool growers and the lives they lead. It continues with the authenticity of a natural product. “We have the Just Shorn brand with honesty, integrity, etc., supported with features and benefits.” Those include durability, stain resistance, softness, luxurious, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, easy to clean, non-flammable and natural insulation properties that absorb moisture throughout the year.
Cathy Buchanan, co-owner of Independent Carpet One, Westland, Mich., referred to the Just Shorn story as “outstanding. We have a wool collection in our store through Fabrica, but it doesn’t have a story line. This program definitely has a story to tell and I’m looking forward to sharing it with our consumers. I can really explain to them the importance of buying wool and what the benefits are. The price point is nothing to concern ourselves with. If you explain the story, it gives the product such a greater value.”
The program was 15 months in the making, according to Charlie Dilks, CCA Global’s chief product officer. “We wanted products that were superior, sustainable and natural and different, because that is where the opportunity is to earn above-average margins.”
It didn’t take long for him to realize superior product meant the wool had to be grown in New Zealand, he said. To illustrate that point, some of the country’s largest wool farmers attended the summer convention here to familiarize Carpet One members with the advantages of New Zealand wool.
One such farmer was Hamish de Lautour, owner of 3,500-acre Te Whangai Farm, home to as many as 20,000 sheep depending on the season. “New Zealand wool is without question the best wool in the world,” he said. “The breeds of sheep we raise lend themselves to growing the best wool. Our climate is perfect for bringing out that quality. Our sheep are well fed, so they grow good, strong wool. We have spent generations breeding quality into the wool.”
But one of the biggest differentiators between wool grown in New Zealand and other countries is the shearing, de Lautour said. He cited other countries that will shear “all the time” and end up with short staple. “In New Zealand, we shear at the optimum time, eight-to-12 months, which gives us a good length and good looks that last.”
Dilks also touted wool’s sustainable attributes as something with which more consumers are concerned. “Before the economy turned down, we talked a lot about consumers’ appetites for products made from sustainable resources. That died down a bit, but we are now hearing a lot more noise about consumers wanting to buy products that are natural and sustainable compared to their synthetic alternatives. We are doing that with wool. Wool is legitimately green, sustainable and natural. There’s a real story to tell here.”
He also furthered Brodsky’s point surrounding the importance of differentiation.
“You need to do things your competition is not doing. Home centers are not doing this. Empire is not doing this. Lumber Liquidators is not doing this. Wool has a small market share in U.S. Leveraging on that, we have a real opportunity to differentiate ourselves. That is the heart of our marketing strategy.”
Adam Joss, vice president of The Vertical Connection Carpet One in Columbia, Md., agreed Just Shorn is a great differentiator. “Even though it’s a little more expensive, if you’re in the right market, it’s a no-brainer. We certainly have the customer who will be attracted to this program. My customers will love the fact it’s wool, has hypo-allergenic qualities and the sustainable/green story. Mostly, I think our customers will love that it’s a natural fiber.”
The Just Shorn program debuts with 21 popular styles from two suppliers: Godfrey Hirst, the world’s largest manufacturer of wool carpet, and The Dixie Group, a key CCA vendor. “Godfrey is vertically integrated down to distribution in Adairsville, Ga.,” Dilks said. “It is the low-cost producer, with the logistics and transportation to get product into member stores. Dixie is a fashion-centric supplier to the group and has been using New Zealand wool, so it is a natural partner for us.”
A wing rack is the centerpiece of Just Shorn merchandising, supported by an optional blanket display system and tower unit. The wing rack has curved wings to echo the rolling hills of New Zealand and holds up to 24 products. The blanket display can be positioned back-to-back or side-by-side. The blankets all have color swatches. Finally, a rounded tower display holds 48 curved swatches and turns.
Affordability is something that will separate Just Shorn tufted wool from the woven wool lines on the market, Dilks said. “The prices are not a large leap from some of the synthetics members are currently selling.”
Jessica Correia, vice president of marketing, believes it will not be difficult to trade up the consumer to wool because CCA Global research revealed the demographics of the Just Shorn consumer is basically the same as the nylon consumer, except she has a slightly higher household income. Wool plays to her tastes because she is very health and environmentally conscious.
The question is how to reach her and Carpet One believes it has the answer. “You have to understand her media preferences. She listens to the radio and reads lots of magazines. She is also someone who consumes many local publications and reads Playbill.”
To that end, Carpet One wanted to combine beautiful creative and customize it to a local store. “We want to tell consumer Just Shorn is accessible locally and affordable locally,” explained Correia. Web banners, newspaper ads, radio spots, email and direct mail templates, and sponsorship advertising, like for a local Playbill, will be made available. “We will also provide a detailed media recommendation guide—for print and online—that will guide members on how to reach this consumer.”
Jim Katehakis, owner of K&Y Carpet One, Melbourne, Fla., was excited about the program. “With the price of nylon creeping up, you now have wool at the same price point. And Carpet One is basically bringing you the entire program.”
As a Karastan dealer, he knows something about wool. “It’s a very small percentage of what we sell, but more and more, I’m having customers come in with chemical sensitivities, kids with allergies, people who are wanting more sensitive flooring. Wool is a good solution. You have to understand why it’s better and explain that to your customer.”
He admits Just Shorn is not a high volume program but believes it will generate profits. “It’s a higher dollar item and you’re not going to sell it every week, but there’s definitely demand.”
Vertical Connection’s Joss was also excited because it’s more mainstreamed. “It caters to our customers perfectly. I’m taking on the entire program.” He believes it will take business primarily from nylon, “since nylon is starting at a higher price point than polyester. The marketing is a great story, it’s a great merchandising system, the samples are nice and I love the blankets. But to be successful, you’re going to have to set up the whole gallery.”