August 19/26 2013; Volume 27/number 9
By Melissa McGuire
WARRANTY—n. An assurance, promise or guaranty by one party that a particular statement of fact is true and may be relied upon by the other party. Warranties can play a pivotal role in the flooring selection process. However, according to consumer research conducted by Invista comprising the responses of 1,500 consumers ready to purchase flooring (FCNews, July 22/29), warranties ranked No. 8 out of 10 on a list of important product attributes.
“Everyone talks about lifetime warranties, but the consumer knows the carpet will not last a lifetime, so we lose credibility when a manufacturer puts a lifetime warranty on a piece of carpet,” said Steve Griffith, chief marketing officer for Invista’s Stainmaster brand.
To further the point, when Lumber Liquidators came out with a 100-year warranty on its proprietary Bellawood brand in 2011, flooring executives were confounded, to say the least. “It’s a limited 100-year warranty,” said John Anderson, vice president of sales, BPI, Memphis, Tenn. “100 years? Get real. Read the disclaimer. I hope you don’t get the flu.”
The devil is in the detail, noted Milton Goodwin, vice president of product at Armstrong, who recommends retail salespeople educate the consumer on what is in the warranty and what she is truly buying. “You can say 100 years, but you must know the fine print. Lumber Liquidators has a 100-year transferable warranty, but you need to have the certificate of ownership. If you ever lose it, you void the warranty.”
Goodwin also explained the mega store offer only focuses on product credit—no protection on installation. “They basically warrant wear-through. You would get a store credit to purchase new materials to fix the issue.” In addition, the product’s warranty protects the consumer from a flawed product, not from any wear or damage the consumer, her family, pets or visitors inflicted after the floor was installed.
Which leaves the question: How credible are flooring warranties and are they even worth the paper on which they are printed?
“Regarding warranties, I’ve long held the opinion that they are overrated and misunderstood by most end users and are primarily marketing tools,” said Jeff Collum, vice president, resilient sales, UpoFloor. “In my experience, warranties started ramping up in the early 1990s with claims to give one manufacturer an advantage over the other, when in fact, the warranties were and are all very similar.”
Collum also stated that during that time, imported products used warranties “to sell the fact they believed they had a good product and needed to comfort a new market with overrated warranties.” This led to U.S. manufacturers matching the imported warranties and additionally increasing their own warranties.
“Having worked for several high quality manufacturers, they all stood behind their products regardless of the warranty situation,” Collum said. In fact, he explained there was rarely a warranty presented to any of the major brands he managed. “Only once in my 20+ years of management has a warranty claim even been presented except within a year of the initial installation.”
Carpet One was also affected by the change in manufacturer warranties. During an address to Carpet One members at this year’s summer convention, Eric Demaree, president, said, “When manufacturers upped their warranty claims, we were forced to look at our warranties and take action.” The buying group offers five tiers of warranties in the form of bronze, silver, gold, platinum and titanium in addition to its Beautiful Guarantee in which customers can change carpet style or color after installation, its No Questions Asked Replacement Guarantee and a limited wear and stain warranty.
“In my opinion, most U.S. manufacturers and most branded products imported are good commercial quality,” Collum said. He believes the warranty is not necessarily an issue except for print and marketing materials and, in theory, is never an issue for manufacturers to address long term.
Ten- and 15-year manufacturer warranties are marketing maneuvers, according to Kristine Scotto, public relations and marketing, Consolidated Carpet, one of the largest flooring contractors in the nation. “I have had several requests recently for ‘extended warranties’ and the manufacturers are happy to oblige. It’s totally a marketing ploy.” Most warranties must be properly followed to remain intact, she said. For example, if a warranty specifies a chair mat must be used under the casters of rolling chairs and a mat is not used, the warranty is void.
Scotto stated if correctly specified, installed and maintained, most carpets will not wear out after 10 years, explaining that the accumulation of dirt will lower the aesthetics and result in replacement, not failure of the product. “Also, most warranties, even if the materials are faulty, just cover the cost of replacement materials. So all the labor is usually on us—unless the problem is obvious and we notice it before or during the installation.” Consolidated provides any and all product warranties to the customer in a closeout package at the end of completed projects.
Many organizations are going out of their way to offer additional peace of mind for the end user. INSTALL (International Standards and Training Alliance) announced a warranty program at NeoCon 2013 guaranteeing the work of its certified contractors—a first for the industry. The warranty covers commercial and residential installations of carpet, resilient and hardwood and involves labor and management, i.e. the flooring contractor and the flooring installer.
“Improperly installed floor coverings are one of the biggest complaints in construction,” said Michel Vermette, senior vice president of international and commercial, Mohawk Industries. “The best product in the world is only as good as its installation. Mohawk believes this warranty program will minimize disruptions for end users, increase performance of the project lifecycle and create higher customer satisfaction.”
Vermette explained that as a major flooring manufacturer, Mohawk has a deep appreciation for the importance of quality installation, which leads to successful projects. “We applaud the INSTALL program and its leadership for having the diligence to develop a standardized curriculum for its thousands of installers, a certification process to test and then reward exceptional skills, and now providing a warranty program.”
In Lew Migliore’s August edition of the Commercial Flooring Report, he said the certification process that fuels the warranty is endorsed by virtually all floor covering mills, coast-to-coast. He further explains that INSTALL regularly meets with those in the flooring industry to review new technology and installation guidelines to train members’ installers and nationwide trainers. This is all done through a peer review of technical and education experts of INSTALL, partnering mills and manufacturers.