Volume 27/Number 21; March 3/10, 2014
By Ken Ryan
The lifeblood of any flooring retailer’s success consists of uniquely different products that provide an opportunity to make money. Fortunately for many dealers, 2013 was a good year in that regard, as distinctive products across all flooring surfaces sparked consumers’ interest and generated greater selling opportunities.
FCNews spoke with several retailers about some of their top-selling products in 2013.
Jim Mudd, president of Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring in Louisville, Ky., did not hesitate in choosing a product that stood out in his showroom in 2013: Armstrong’s American Scrape hardwood, which is available in solid and engineered, was the clear winner. “It is a beautiful scraped hardwood in both oak and hickory,” he said.
What surprised Mudd was that in a solid hardwood market like Kentucky, the engineered product would outsell solid by a 5 to 1 margin. “I believe the success of this product was due to the fact that it is made in America. It also doesn’t hurt that it is manufactured right here in Kentucky.”
FreeFit’s Hi-Definition Carpet Tile
FreeFit—Hi-Definition Carpet Tile
Originally shown at Surfaces 2012, demand for FreeFit Hi-Definition Carpet Tile didn’t manifest until 2013. Dealers and contractors realized the savings they could pass on to their property management and assisted living clients by installing LVT HDCT instead of traditional carpet, which has to be changed with each exiting tenant.
Steve Saliba, owner of Saliba’s Rug Sales in Bangor, Maine, said FreeFit does a great job replicating visuals; so much so that it can fool customers. “We were doing a job at Acadia Hospital up here and the head of facilities wanted something different, something that looked like carpet,” Saliba said. “So we were ripping up the old carpet and installing FreeFit HDCT, and two nurses stopped us. They were adamant about wanting all the carpet out. We had to make them touch the product for them to realize it wasn’t carpet.”
In addition to realistic visuals, Saliba said, HDCT is easy to maintain. The product does not require polishing, waxing or buffing, and replacing a damaged tile means merely lifting it up and replacing it with a new one. “Even though it is adhered to the floor, it does not allow for side to side movement,” he said. “It won’t budge. It does not expand or contract with the change in temperatures like other products. It is one of our mainstay products in hard surfaces.”
Pete Harman, president of Harman Floors in Rochester, N.Y., heard about the merits of Hallmark’s Alta Vista engineered hardwood not from his customers, but from the crews installing the floor.
“Installers are the litmus test,” Harman noted. “You can have all the colors and styles and bells and whistles and bows on the product you like, but when the guys who work with it every day come back and say, ‘Wow, this was a well-made product. Can we install this floor again?’ you know you have something good.”
That was a scenario that played out often in 2013 for Harman Floors. The installation mechanics continually cited Alta Vista’s precise milling, extensive wearlayer, oil finish and long lengths.
“This was the engineered product we have been looking for,” Harman said. “We could have 30 or 40 different products in our showroom but people would inevitably be drawn to Alta Vista. Sales have taken off.”
Harman said he makes a reasonable profit on Alta Vista, while at the same time consumers get good value for the floor.
When Star Flooring advertised its one-day Stainmaster PetProtect promotion in November, the retailer expected a good turnout. However, nothing could have prepared the store for the masses that would descend on the Wichita, Kan., location, according to Allen Clouse, director of retail sales.
“It was amazing how many people walked into our store holding the mailer we sent out with the dog on it and said, ‘Show me the pet carpet.’ It was literally a frenzy in the PetProtect aisle. You couldn’t even get into the area because people were digging in for the samples.”
PetProtect was not a one-day wonder either, Clouse said. “We’ve had an extraordinary year with it. It’s been well received by our customers; it is differentiated from other products on the floor.”
Invista helped the effort with what Clouse termed “great multisensory point-of-sale demonstration items.” He added, “We’ve been able to sell the solution-dye story really well. The price points on PetProtect are good, and the product offers just the right amount of softness. Simply put, we are very happy with the product.”
Louisville, Ky.-based Flooring Gallery’s fastest-growing category in 2013 was luxury vinyl tile/luxury vinyl plank, and president Nick Freadreacea said Mannington led the way with its Adura line.
“Adura seems to be the leader in style and design for luxury vinyl tile and our designers and sales force go to those patterns first,” he said. “They also try to support Mannington whenever possible because if they spec it on a project you do not have to worry about it being undersold in the home centers.”
Before becoming the owner of Carpets With A Twist in Middletown, N.J., Craig Knox worked for many years as an installer, where he grew to recognize and appreciate good craftsmanship in hardwood flooring.
Knox said he identifies this attribute in Mirage’s Imagine line. “Mirage is the Cadillac of wood. The workmanship that goes into their products, the way it is designed, the quality—it’s the best made.”
The installer-turned-dealer added that he is impressed with the distressed visual in the Imagine collection. “I know trends come and go in this industry, but this distressed look that Mirage has is a trend that I think will stick around for awhile.”
Furthermore, Knox’s customers are drawn to the wirebrushing that distinguishes Imagine. “I can’t think of a time when I sold Mirage to a customer that wasn’t happy,” he concluded. “I don’t ever worry when I am selling a Mirage product.”
According to Flooring Gallery’s Freadreacea, while many brand names have lost their luster—and profitability—as a result of selling though home centers, Mohawk continues to stand tall with products like SmartStrand Silk, a premium soft carpet with built-in stain and soil protection.
“Mohawk has done a very good job of keeping Silk in more fashion-forward products and at a premium price,” he said. “I believe this has helped keep retailers profitable as well.”
Freadreacea said Smart- Strand already was Flooring Gallery’s No. 1 selling item for the past four years. And then came Silk. “The super softness of Silk has had a striking impact on the selling floor. Showing Silk is like watching a fireworks show; you let the consumer touch it and stand back and wait for the ‘oohs and ahhhs.’ This fiber has the lowest service issue of any item we sell.”
This praise of Silk was not unique. Sam O’Krent, owner and president of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio, said Silk created the “most buzz” in his showroom in 2013. “Soft is certainly where the carpet industry went last year and Silk led the way for us.”
Mark Carr, owner of Color Interiors in Conroe, Texas, said there is something about Anso Caress that stays with customers. “People will be in our store and feel the softness of Caress. Then they will try out some other similar products, but they always come back to Caress.”
While the feel of Caress is a terrific selling point for Color Interiors, there is still the issue of price. Caress is a high-end product, and Carr said his customers have to be willing to pay more for it.
“Our salespeople push customers in that direction because we have a higher-end showroom and we do sell luxury. Even though Caress is more money than people intended to spend, it is a feel they can’t get out of their minds.”
Sales have been strong since the launch. “We expected big results, we got big results; we knew it would be a big seller,” Carr concluded.
Kenny Peak, owner of Carpet Country in Port St. Joe, Fla., said COREtec Plus—his store’s No. 1 selling product in 2013—performs exceptionally well in the high humidity of the Florida Gulf Coast.
Peak noted that owners of rental homes and beach houses in his market typically like to open the windows on a nice day to let in fresh air, which also lets in the humidity.
“But what’s great about COREtec is the product does not contract or expand,” Peak said. “The difference between this and another LVT product is the core structure, which, in COREtec’s case, is constructed with a waterproof, extruded core board. The COREtec product has a lot more forgiveness in the core, and the sound barrier works especially well thanks to the attached cork underlayment. This product has really filled a niche for us.”