Retailers’ Guide to Stone: Conveying the features and benefits of different types of stone

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August 4/11, 2014; Volume 28/Number 4

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

Sponsored by Emser Tile

Natural stone has more selling points, more features and benefits, than perhaps any other flooring product. Its beauty, uniqueness, durability and vast array of applications make it a compelling story to tell on the retail sales floor.

Conversely, it is also arguably the most difficult category to properly articulate to customers, requiring experience and expertise on the part of retailers to recommend the right stone for a specific application. “There is much more to talk about with stone,” said Bryan Caton, owner of Midland Marble & Granite Flooring America, Summit, Mo., who has been talking about the product for 30 years.

Conveying the many features and benefits of natural stone—while at the same time educating customers on care and maintenance issues—can be a time-consuming task.

Even experienced retailers like Midland Marble spend at least two days a month training staff on the latest developments in esoteric segments such as epoxy and grout—all important pieces in the overall sale and installation of natural stone.

Caton said the first order of business is no different than any other flooring sale, albeit the conversation may be a tad long. “We sit down with the customer and qualify her, find out what she is looking for, what her project is,” he said. “If it is

a million-dollar home [in Missouri] she is not going to look for porcelain. She will look for something like travertine. But you don’t want travertine if you have kids because it will scratch.”

Stone offers a seemingly endless array of possibilities: basalt, sandstone, marble, quartzite, granite, slate, limestone and travertine, among others. Rod Sigman, business development manager in charge of technical installation and care systems for Seal Beach, Calif.-based Custom Building Products, said each of these segments offers different performance characteristics.

Sigman provided these product-specific benefits and important details that dealers need to convey to their customers:

Marble: This stone varies in color and veining from stone to stone. The naturally occurring variations contribute to its distinctive appeal, Sigman said. Polishing achieves a glossy finish enhancing the colors. While it can be used anywhere in the home, including floors, it is a calcium-based stone; as such, marble is susceptible to scratching and etching, and is more suitable for less-trafficked, formal areas.

Granite: Visually striking with an almost impenetrable surface, granite is a popular choice for countertops and floors due to its high durability and aesthetic qualities. From a durability standpoint, granite is one of the best natural stones, Sigman said. However, he said dealers need to be clear that what they are selling is granite and not some off-shoot, such as a Chinese basalt, which is often grouped with granite and will stain when exposed to oil and other highly pigmented liquids (true granite will not).

Travertine: The distinctive character of travertine makes it a popular flooring choice and is likely to be the one stone surface that independent dealers will stock. Travertine flooring tends to work best in households without kids or pets because it is hard to maintain. With its neutral color tones, travertine’s rough hewn look adds texture and a striking appeal to floors.

Sigman noted that travertine is a solid stone, but directly underneath the surface are areas vulnerable to certain pressure points, such as heeled shoes, that can potentially damage the floor.

Quartzite: Primarily used for commercial applications, such as patios and walkways, quartzite’s natural non-skid texture makes it ideal for areas with heavy traffic and exposure to elements.

Overall, the main benefits of natural stone are its timeless, unique appearance, perceived value, durability and the fact it can be repolished if scratched.

In his conversations with customers, Caton often cites the product’s durability. “You may have to change your carpet three times in 20 years while your stone product—if cared for—will look like new. You may pay more upfront for stone but will save in the end.”

Adding value to the home is another key benefit. “Stone is specifically sought-after because of its higher performance and better aesthetics,” said Liz Hyma, sales manager of Coles Fine Flooring, a seven-store operation in Southern California. “It is one of only a few floors that will increase the value of your home.”

Among the other features and benefits Coles conveys to customers:

•Natural base: Stone is superior to ceramic because, unlike red- and white-bodied tiles, the color is consistent through the entire tile. Instead of manufactured wood and tile floors, consumers can have slab-style pieces of real stones.

•Added beauty: Users can add light tones with most travertine and some marbles, or dark tones with slate and most marble, or be more creative and design their own combinations. “With natural stone you can have the home all your neighbors talk about,” Hyma said.

Because understanding the nuances and intricacies of stone can be confusing and complex, consumers often pick up misinformation on the Internet, according to retailers. “With all the Internet research they do, customers get partial knowledge and sometimes it does more harm than good,” Caton said. “They may be correct about one thing, but not another. We have to sit down and talk to them because they really don’t know the difference between limestone, travertine, granite, etc. Our sales team goes back over every step with them and sets them straight.”

To that point, imparting knowledge is an added-value benefit for retailers when selling stone. “We look at it as an opportunity,” Caton said. “We take the time to walk them through the process to see what they want. Along the way we can say, ‘This is what will work for you and here is why.’”

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