St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., recently
installed 15,000 square feet of FreeFit.
January 6/13, 2014; Volume 27/Number 18
About five years ago the U.S. market was introduced to a new type of luxury vinyl tile: a true loose-lay product where no adhesive was required. The brand was FreeFit, and since its introduction others have rolled out competing products.
The company last year broke the mold once more when, in its search for a vice president of sales and marketing, it tapped Ray Pina, whose 13 years as a trade publication editor covering the resilient category gives him a unique perspective that an industry “insider” may lack. FCNews recently sat down with Pina to discuss FreeFit and some little known but important aspects of LVT.
First and foremost, what attracted you to FreeFit?
I’ve been asked to put together all types of product at trade shows over the years but FreeFit is the only floor I have ever dared to install on my own. It doesn’t require saws, tapping blocks or glues. I’m not very mechanically inclined but I have now done over a dozen FreeFit installations. If I can install these floors, anybody can. That’s something that attracted me to the product.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve come up against?
Educating the marketplace. Most residences can be loose laid with FreeFit—you just have to secure the perimeter with Gecko Tape, Gecko Glue or other approved LVT adhesives. But our product, like other LVTs, is still bound by the laws of physics. What FreeFit has going for it, though, is that its formulation is 100% pure vinyl. It’s consistent. I know how it reacts to various conditions.
Can you expound on that “laws of physics” statement?
All LVTs will expand and contract when exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit and above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the nature of vinyl flooring. Just like the nature of wood and laminate is to expand and contract when exposed to humidity and moisture. Installers need to know they have to secure areas impacted by heat sources, such as radiators, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and even the occasional large appliance or window. We accomplish this with our Gecko Tape or Gecko Glue.
Also, if there’s one thing people can take away from this interview, let it be this: Do not ever use carpet tile adhesive on LVT! It can cause a negative chemical reaction and jellify the backer of many LVTs.
How are you growing sales?
It really begins with education. I have the opportunity to represent a unique product—one that is really different from the commoditized clicks out there. More often than not, once the door has been opened, dealers see the advantages of FreeFit. There will always be some people weary of new technology and, unfortunately, in the past there were some nightmares where people used caustic adhesives, chemical abatements and even installed FreeFit with the non-skid backer facing up. But by going out and educating and certifying the entire chain, those who are willing to learn about our product are sold on it. In fact, many times they change specifications because they know they’ll make more money with FreeFit, the installation will look nicer and it will be easier to install and maintain. That’s why you see others adopting the concept now. Just like laminate, the time to make money on a revolutionary technology like this is before everyone else gets into the game.
Speaking of competition, what is FreeFit’s position on these new loose lay LVTs entering the market?
Imitation is the best form of flattery, but in actuality most of these products are only copying the patented concept. They’re not composed of pure vinyl. In fact, many consist of as much as 75% filler—what they call “recycled content.” You can put fiberglass in there, too, but even concrete still moves with rebar. So on one hand it helps to have household brands adopt our technology, but on the other hand when inferior products underperform we feel some of that pain, too. We recommend people have their product’s composition tested to see what they’re really paying for. And we advise competitors to familiarize themselves with our three published patents and understand there are also a host of unpublished extension patents.
Any surprises now that you’re on the other side of business?
Related to educating the market and even sales, I’ve discovered that bigger—in terms of distribution—isn’t always better. For instance, we have both Top 25 distributors and distributors I’d never heard of prior to joining FreeFit. But the smaller distributors focus exclusively on our product for their LVT needs. They have an intimate understanding of the product’s strengths and weaknesses and, thus, hardly any claims. Jeff Knowles at Alloray, our distributor in Toronto, had only three claims in four years and we’re the only LVT he sells.