Main street: Keys to differentiation from other segments

Home Inside FCNews Main street: Keys to differentiation from other segments

May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4

By Ken Ryan

For opportunistic flooring retailers, Main Street commercial represents a new revenue path, one paved with potentially larger ticket orders and increased margin potential.

Flooring executives who work the Main Street channel offered the following advice to dealers who may want to expand their business.

What to know

Main Street is business typically handled by residential retailers that consist of smaller scale projects like a boutique, compared to the typical contract commercial project, such as a shopping mall. The difference between Main Street commercial and contract is how the products get to market; Main Street products are sold directly to smaller commercial entities via flooring retailers.

“Usually the Main Street retailers have relationships with the end users and that is how they secure that business,” said Keith Wiethe, Main Street channel manager for Mannington. “Architects and designers are typically not involved in these projects. The scope of projects can include the local church, smaller school or a small business professional’s office such as a lawyer or dentist.”

Main Street timelines are much shorter than contract projects, which typically follow a lengthy design, bid, build process.

Business benefits

Main Street offers a bevy of opportunities for the flooring dealer who has an educated sales staff and the resources (range of products and installation crews) that can handle many varied projects, some of them happening simultaneously. Benefits include:

  • Higher average net selling price, larger ticket orders and increased margin opportunities
  • High volume and low claims
  • Higher visibility for the store, which could lead to more referrals and new business
  • Opportunity to build long-term relationships with building owners and managers, which can turn into repeat business
  • Unlike other commercial projects, retailers don’t have to compete through a bidding process

Ken Leviner, director of business development for Aladdin Commercial, a division of Mohawk, said Main Street represents a valuable brand extension for flooring retailers. “Dealers that align themselves and diversify are in a healthier position than they were five years ago.”

Quentin Quathamer, commercial brand and marketing manager, Philadelphia Commercial, a unit of Shaw Industries, said Main Street projects “present an ideal opportunity for flooring retailers to diversify their customer base and meet the needs of local commercial customers.”

Separating fact from fiction

Fiction: Main Street is a low-end market featuring commodity products.

While there are some lower-end products in the space, the trend has been toward high-end options; in others words, a hospitality look on a Main Street budget. “We pride ourselves on very stylish, very performance oriented, value engineered products that will perform and meet expectations but be within the end user’s budget,” said Chris Post, director of sales operations for Aladdin.

Fiction: Main Street is too complicated for the average flooring dealer to grasp.

According to executives, this myth may have been perpetuated by members of the A&D community who wanted to siphon off business from flooring stores. “Dealers are proving they can be very proficient in presenting Main Street sales to the end user,” Post said. “It’s not as difficult as maybe the specified world would want the dealer world to think it is.”

Challenges

While it is, in fact, on a smaller scale than traditional commercial, selling Main Street isn’t the same as selling residential replacement. With Main Street there are building codes and inspectors to consider, so performance features such as flammability and slippage come into the equation. “It’s a little more complicated than a residential sale, but dealers are proving these things can be learned and improved,” Leviner noted.

It’s also a much longer selection process with Main Street customers. The challenges are having the doctor’s wife, for example, understand that not all products are created equal; there is a functionality concern, not just an aesthetic one. Larger commercial customers have product specified or have the experience to know what they want.

A dealer’s best weapon is a retail sales force that can articulate the features and benefits of all products and how they meet customer needs. RSAs also must know how to tell products’ environmental stories to customers, and how to make a product presentation that is creative, compelling and interesting.

What you need

Selling Main Street products requires a retailer to have a comprehensive section of commercial products to offer their customers as well as the necessary technical product knowledge to respond to queries about performance expectations and specifications. The good news is manufacturers often provide retailers with on-site education and training, POS displays and other support materials—the tools necessary to help dealers meet the needs of the Main Street customer.

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