May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4
By Amanda Haskin
When businesses were fighting their way out of the recession and housing crisis, many flooring retailers found a glimmer of hope in Main Street commercial work. Lying somewhere between residential and large-scale commercial jobs, Main Street continues to be a lucrative segment as the economy is picking up and small businesses are opening, reopening and remodeling.
“There’s more pressure to make your business look good,” said Mike Blanton, owner of Dalton Carpet One in Athens, Ga. “We’re coming out of the recession. People are starting to spend money and they want to feel good when they do so.”
As flooring retailers need to be diversified, it is inarguable that Main Street is an essential piece of the puzzle for businesses looking to grow. Not only does it provide stability in the face of a fluctuating economy, but it also provides retailers an opportunity to separate themselves from the competition, as there are dealers still not tapped into this market.
For many retailers the hardest part is getting started. Blanton believes Main Street should start off as a natural extension of residential business. “You do someone’s house and they happen to be a doctor or lawyer looking to redo their office,” he said. “Or maybe they’re on a committee for their church and they’ve had a good experience with you. It starts with doing a good job at retail.”
At the same time, he advises retailers to be aggressive and go out and find work within the community. “Like most things in life, just do it. Make some contacts—call all the purchasing guys at your local hospitals and find out where they’re buying their product. Find commercial installers you can work with. Start locally and go ask for it.”
Gary Mazza, president of Mazza’s Flooring America in Hammonton, N.J., agrees you have to put yourself out there. “You can’t just wait for people to come to you. You have to go out and knock on doors, and you can’t be afraid to travel outside your market. I take care of the whole state of New Jersey, and if I have to go into Manhattan or Pennsylvania, I will.”
Another aspect of excelling on Main Street is product knowledge. Retailers need to understand their products and how they perform, and they need to be able to provide the right recommendations.
“It’s not about selling [customers] something because they like the color; it has to be conducive to their needs and where they’re putting it,” said John Pape, owner of John Pape Floor Coverings in Pittsburgh.
Retailers said the products that seem to sell the best on Main Street are carpet tile, LVT and ceramic tile. Mazza uses primarily carpet tile, particularly with his work in many local schools, but has used LVT in nursing homes, grocery stores and even a bowling alley.
“It gives you a wood look or ceramic tile look with cheaper maintenance down the road and a warmer feeling,” he said. “If I used a hardwood, a woman’s high heels would create all those little indentation marks. With LVT, you don’t see that.”
Pape has found that floating floor products sell particularly well on Main Street. “I like USFloors’ COREtec products and Shaw’s Classico and Premio planks. We’ll also do some IVC products. [Customers] are looking for waterproof cores, products that are commercially rated and can go over imperfect subfloors.”
Blanton added that wood looks in ceramic tile are very popular right now, so he uses them for entryways, hallways and other areas that see a lot of traffic.
Major manufacturers understand the importance of Main Street commercial business, and have introduced products specifically designed for this segment. For example, Mannington Commercial has its Core Elements line created for CCA buying groups, Mohawk offers its Aladdin Commercial brand, and Shaw has 5th and Main resilient and Philadelphia Commercial.
Retailers also stress that installation becomes even more important for transitioning into more Main Street jobs. “You need to have good people around you for installation,” Pape noted. “We have all-star installers who can handle wood, carpet, ceramic, backsplashes, custom work, really anything. Having a good labor force behind you is definitely the key.”