Volume 27/Number 25; April 14/21, 2014
(Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a 10-part series on introducing flooring retailers to stone and the opportunities the category presents.)
Sponsored by Emser Tile
Bob Baldocchi, director of marketing at Emser Tile, said some flooring retailers “fear” entering the stone category because they think they need large assortments.
However, Baldocchi said, that assumption is a misnomer. “A large assortment is not necessary to be ‘in’ the category,” he said. “To be a destination store you would need to have a large assortment. In that case, you would need to devote more real estate [to stone] and do more internal training.”
For retailers just starting out, Baldocchi recommends a basic assortment of travertine, in 16 x 16 and 18 x 18 dimensions, and tumbled stone (used primarily for backsplashes) in 3 x 6 formats.
“My advice is cover your basics from the beginning,” he said. “Travertine and slate and tumbled stone are basics; go on from there. Start collecting pieces and build up your selection based on what is good for your customers and what complements your line.”
Baldocchi likens building a stone assortment in a retail showroom to the construction of an onion—layer by layer. This method will help establish a presence. “It can be a very simple business or it can be a very complex business. The complexity is what keeps people from getting into it.”
The mistake some dealers make, Baldocchi noted, is “putting a bunch of product out there that your associates don’t know how to sell.” For example, a customer might go into a store asking for a multicolored slate for her shower.
“You can do that; slate has inherent value,” Baldocchi said. “However, it does not perform well in wet environments. It has a high iron content and will deteriorate over time, and may not be the very best application for the shower.”
According to Baldocchi, setting up, displaying and merchandising stone is the easy part; for retailers, the key is educating customers on the different characteristics of natural stone as well as the installation, maintenance and suitable applications. “That takes time and attention,” he said.
Slate, for example, can vary piece by piece and from lot to lot, which is part of the natural beauty of the product. Just like snowflakes, no two natural stone floors are the same. Each will exhibit its own unique coloring, veining and natural characteristics such as hardness and porosity.
Baldocchi also noted that slate is a sedimentary rock, composed of compressed layers of stone. It is a natural occurrence for slate to “peel” or flake, especially in freeze/thaw areas. Therefore, it is not recommended to allow water to stand on natural slate as it may cause corrosion due to the natural mineral components within the stone.
“Natural stone tiles differ from ceramic tiles in that natural stone is a product of nature, and ceramics are manmade,” Baldocchi said. Most manmade materials cannot compare in durability to natural substances. While damaged ceramic tiles usually need replacing, natural stone usually needs minimal restoration if stained or scratched.
Stone in the showroom
Baldocchi said the more stone a retailer plans to carry, the more educated the staff needs to be to understand and convey product differences—not just between ceramic and natural stone, but between the different stones, as well.
“Porcelain is pretty consistent, whereas how I care for natural stone can vary whether it is marble, granite, slate,” he noted. “They all have different requirements. Explaining how I would install and care for them is an educated sale.”
When Grigsby’s Carpet Tile & Rug Gallery in Tulsa, Okla., first got into the category 10 years ago, it initially carried travertine in 18 x 18 formats for flooring and tumbled marble pieces for kitchen backsplashes. Over time, Grigsby’s increased its presence by adding to travertine and taking on other natural stone products, including marble, limestone, granite and slate.
The retailer uses its website to educate customers on everything, including how stone is made, the different styles, what to know before you buy, understanding installation and maintenance. It even includes a glossary on stone terms.
“For us it was an easy line to take on,” said Penny Carnino, director of operations at Grigsby’s. “We know what people like in our market.”