Retailers’ Guide to Stone: Mother Nature inspires renewed interest in stone

Home Inside FCNews Retailers' Guide to Stone: Mother Nature inspires renewed interest in stone

Volume 27/Number 19; January 20/27, 2014

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a 10-part series on introducing flooring retailers to stone and the opportunities the category presents.)

Sponsored by Emser Tile

Natural beauty. Toughness and durability. The ability to be custom cut to almost any size and shape. These are among the many attributes driving stone as a popular flooring choice for homeowners, industry members said.

“We are seeing a big upswing with all natural stones for residential and commercial use,” said Jim Farrell, president, Mercer Carpet One Floor & Home, Westminster, Md. “We are seeing sales across the spectrum of all of the natural stones—tumbled, honed and polished.”

Natural stone flooring is made from large pieces of mountain-born stone, cut down to smaller, more manageable tiles to fit into any space. Among the most popular options for use in homes are granite, limestone, sandstone, slate and flagstone, observers said. Each piece maintains its own unique veining, coloring and natural characteristics.

“Stone floors are natural, green and always stylish,” said Joyce Bartosewcz, account manager, CAP Carpet, Wichita, Kan. “We’re seeing people use it on both the floor and backsplashes.”

The green movement is the primary driver steering consumer preferences toward materials made of or replicating natural materials. New HD technologies allow the latest luxury vinyl tile, ceramic and laminate to closely mimic the texture and look of stone. None- theless, there is a growing number of consumers who prefer upgrading to the real thing.

Why? “Consumers understand porcelain that looks like a travertine or marble will never perform, feel or develop the characteristics over time like real stone,” said Bob Baldocchi, director of marketing, Emser Tile. The Los Angeles-based company designs and markets tile and natural stone.

Further fueling sales growth for products like marble, vein-cut travertine and limestone is the popularity of white, gray and warmer color palettes, larger-tile formats, and linear lines, industry watchers reported. “There are many more [stone options] to choose from today,” Farrell said. “They are now available in all of the shapes and sizes that we need to complete the total project for our clients.”

Consumers are also mixing and matching different natural materials to create unique floor patterns, retailers said. Designs might include a combination of porcelain floors and stone walls or decorative accents blended together. “Stone comes in a variety of designs and its versatility makes it applicable for any part of the home,” explained Dorothy Rockett, account manager, CAP Carpet. “We are mixing stone with other flooring materials such as wood and cork to create a natural look and feel.”

Selling and merchandising

For years, most retailers would shy away from selling stone, as it was perceived as a high-end product with limited clientele. While stone remains among the most expensive flooring options—granite can retail for $30 or more per square foot—prices have come down in recent years, making it now more affordable to mainstream shoppers. And when the price is amortized over the life of the floor, experts say the cost looks even more reasonable.

“The ease of showing and using the product helps with increasing the comfort level of my design and sales teams,” Farrell said. “Natural looks and feel are the driving forces for the client.”

The potential stone carries makes it imperative for retail salespeople to inform consumers about the value of stone in comparison to other floor coverings. “We work with many retailers to help them educate their staff and merchandise the category, enabling an easy selling process,” Baldocchi noted. “The results are higher-ticket sales and higher consumer satisfaction and loyalty.”

Stone is often sold as a premium upgrade over products such as ceramic tile, high-end faux stones and even certain woods. Inside the showroom, stone is shown in a variety of ways, from traditional display floors and vignettes to installation photos and large sample sizes.”

Tony Greco, vice president, CAP Carpet, noted the number of sources for stone have increased over the years. The end result is additional flooring options, styles and price points for consumers. “There is an expanded assortment from suppliers,” he said.

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