Mannington, Armstrong gear up for 2015

Home Inside FCNews Mannington, Armstrong gear up for 2015

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

Last year Mannington’s Ed Duncan and Armstrong’s Joseph Bondi took the reins of their respective residential flooring divisions. Bondi came from outside the flooring industry, most recently as vice president and general manager of the North American Pipe Corp. division of North American Specialty Products, while Duncan had headed up marketing efforts at Mannington for quite some time. However, marketing at Mannington is a broad role that involves management of the individual businesses—like vinyl, wood and laminate—from a P&L and product management standpoint, so he was well prepared to come into a broader management role. FCNews recently spoke to the leaders of the industry’s top hard surface-only manufacturers to get their views on their respective companies and the industry in general.

How do you see your company’s role in the industry today and going forward?

Duncan: I think in many ways Mannington’s role is a continuation of the role we have played for a long time in this industry: leadership, styling and innovation. We are a company that listens to its customers. We are a company that is committed to excellence in all aspects of the business. And we are committed to all the categories in which we participate. We are an adaptive company that is committed to learning. That translates into new and better product. We as a company have changed a lot over the last 25 years, and we will continue to change based on the landscape of the marketplace.

Bondi: At Armstrong, our goal is to be our customers’ preferred choice and achieve that by delivering residential hard surface flooring with superior value through innovation, design and service leadership. And connected with that is a commitment to quality, our employees and the communities in which we operate our business. We have to be driven to improve our service, listening to our customers and being responsive to their needs. We will invest in innovation, design, our plants and our people to ensure we retain and attract the best talent.

Talk about the recent changes in distribution and the strategy going forward.

Duncan: We are still committed to independent distributors and specialty flooring retailers. The only areas in which we have gone direct are where we had no other option.

Bondi: Distribution is the core component of our go-to-market strategy, and we are taking steps to improve our partnerships to ensure we have alignment on our goals. A change was recently made in the Northeast to better align our business segments with distribution. Belknap White will now serve the residential market while Apollo remains a great partner on the commercial side.

How do you see the company differentiating itself in the marketplace?

Duncan: Differentiation is our lifeblood. We create it through aesthetics first and foremost, and developing the technologies to create these unique aesthetics, which requires a large investment on our part in product intros. We also work hard at differentiation through product performance and quality, and this year specifically we are differentiating ourselves with service. Our ability to decrease turnaround times out of a domestic manufacturing facility helps create differentiation for our customers who have large projects and quick response needs.

Bondi: The objective is to be our customers’ preferred choice in all product categories. We launched a number of products in 2014. We will be unveiling more at Surfaces. We made investments in manufacturing capabilities to improve service and drive that differentiation and leadership in 2015. We really have a much sharper focus on the customer. We are making sure we are creating value for our customers. We are doing that through improved merchandising systems and integrated marketing concepts that can pull through demand.

Where will the company focus its efforts in 2015 and beyond?

Duncan: From a category and segment standpoint, we continue to be committed to all the categories in which we are playing now. But certainly the area in which we are making the greatest investment has been LVT. That’s understandable based on LVT’s growth as a category as well as our legacy position within LVT. We are the leader on the commercial side of the business and at retail with our Adura brand. We have aggressive plans moving forward within the LVT category to fully leverage the investments we are making in Georgia.

Bondi: We have made investments in LVT and wood, particularly domestic production and have a commitment to bringing jobs onshore. From a sales perspective, we recently realigned ourselves by channel and are focused on partners who have a shared commitment to drive business through innovation, design and service. We are making sure we are doing that with a much stronger and direct voice from the customer so we understand what their needs are and how we can best service and support their business.

What will the new and/or expanded LVT facilities do for the company and flooring retailers?

Duncan: We will be able to develop products faster, and we will also be able to respond to large customer requirements very quickly—a five-to-10 day turnaround as opposed to 16 weeks with products coming out of China. We have the ability to control our own destiny to create differentiated product out of our own facility. Over time we will be able to leverage our styling, technology and expertise into that facility. The long-term goal is to have all products domestically manufactured.

Bondi: This is a great opportunity to differentiate ourselves, in addition to giving us accelerated product development. It will give us cost and margin improvement and allows us to be more responsive in servicing key market segments. There will also be more customer engagement in what we are bringing to market. As it relates to our strategy, which is to be the market leader, we are making investments so we can develop capabilities to accomplish that objective.

How can you help specialty retailers make money with laminate?

Duncan: Mannington only offers an upper-end, highly styled, differentiated product line that is not commodity based. Our retailers have had more success making money with our product line because of that positioning. When you take a look at our product vs. a commodity product, it ends up being an easy sell when the customer can discern the superiority of the visual, finish, length, thickness, etc. It’s not a difficult proposition.

Bondi: Armstrong has a very compelling offering that is based on leading style and design attributes. We believe there is a place for the premium laminate segment that can differentiate the specialty retailer from the big box. The emphasis is on driving consumers to premium products. Armstrong launched some great products in 2014 and have a bunch more for 2015 that focus on on-trend looks like reclaimed wood visuals that have incredible realism.

How will the company differentiate its marketing in 2015?

Duncan: We are refreshing all our point-of-sale tools and displays. We continue to refine how we tell our stories at point of sale. It blends into our online retailer training programs. We are working to be even better at creating very clear, simple, hard-hitting messages at retail. Keep things simple and easy to understand for retailers and consumers.

Bondi: Armstrong has always been a strong brand with consumers, retailers, builders, etc. The focus will be on continuing to develop the brand. We will also be launching an advertising and promotion center with tools to help retailers get an edge. Finally, we will be introducing our new modular merchandising system with flexible displays that provide consistent design and a strong branding message.

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