By Reginald Tucker
Amidst the sea of popular wide-plank, European-inspired, distressed oak flooring products floating around in the market today, one brand—HF Design—is utilizing a creative combination of technology, aesthetics, marketing and merchandising tools as a means to gain a competitive edge. The goal, according to the company, is to provide its partners with a portfolio that offers high sales potential.
“The value we bring to our partners is based on turnkey marketing and merchandising combined with fresh new styles in hardwood flooring to help retailers stay ahead of the trend curve,” said Alex Shaoulpour, president of New York-based HF Design. “We want to make sure we are always using the finest quality materials for our flooring products while being fashion-forward and eco-friendly.”
HF Design is looking to score points on all fronts. From sourcing top-grade raw materials from suppliers in Germany and France to applying a sophisticated thermal heat-treating process during production, the company is continually seeking to carve out a niche amongst the players in its field while still offering its customers something that will appeal to consumers with discerning tastes in both residential and commercial applications.
“In addition to thermal-treating a lot of these products—which improves dimensional stability—we also hand select planks that show variation and utilize an oil finish to bring out the natural character of the product,” Shaoulpour explained. In particular, he cited the company’s flagship Montage European oak collection as well as signature series such as Laurel, Baroque, Ferno and Portofino. “By treating our French oak differently than our competition, we have created a product category that is exclusive within the independent retail channel and is, therefore, very profitable and very desirable. For our retailers it’s a breath of fresh air because they don’t get beat up on margins from big box competition.”
The product is so exclusive, HF Design believes, distributors would be hard pressed to find a similar offering with the same attributes from another vendor. “None of the big box stores or big brand names in flooring—to my knowledge—produce a product that’s thermal treated and oil finished like ours,” said Jeff Garber, HF Design’s newly appointed vice president of sales and marketing. “That means there’s less competition for the independent retailer in this category.”
That affinity for exclusive, high-end, highly stylized product positioning is reflected in HF Design’s upscale merchandising vehicle, the Elite display system. Deviating from the industry’s ubiquitous “stacker” displays, the Elite merchandising system—which launched in 250 select retail showrooms in the first quarter of this year—encompasses all 20 colors and styles in the Montage line while conveying a high-end feel.
“It’s an easy sell for the consumer to understand and for the [retail sales associate] as well,” Garber said. “The Elite display also showcases the planks in a much longer format than traditional displays and features descriptions that accentuate the highlights of each product.”
Distributors who have placed orders for the display system attest to the attributes of the merchandising unit and the Montage product line in general. “We recently invested in HF Design’s Elite merchandising system which allows our dealers who have elected to carry all of [HF Design’s] product offerings [to use] one professional, workable selling system for the retail floor,” said Kirk Sandifer, executive vice president of Cain & Bultman. “Throughout the past three or four years, we have continually grown our business with their team and with the new product launches. HF Design provides some of our top product offerings and together we work to earn more market share in our region.”
This experience is not unique to Cain & Bultman. Top 20 distributor All Tile also praised HF Design’s marketing approach and product portfolio. “HF Design arrived at the point where it is today not by copying everyone else but by being innovative,” said Bob Weiss, president. He cited the Montage collection in particular, calling it a “great-looking floor. It has its points of differentiation and it’s a quality product.”
Not a company to rest on its laurels, HF Design is continuing to build upon its expanding offerings. In fact, the company has partnered with Germany’s largest laminate flooring producer to develop a new line on a private-label basis. The new offering, HF Design vows, will conform to the high standards customers have come to expect from the company.
“We saw a need in the market for a high-quality, aggressively priced laminate product that offers value to our distributors and dealers,” Garber explained. “Independent testing shows it is the safest indoor air quality laminate available, and the product has been tested and approved for use in more than 90 different countries around the world. Everyone we have shown the product to has offered positive feedback.”
Much like its hardwood flooring products, the HF Design laminate line will take a similar route in terms of merchandising and distribution. “Any product we design, develop and launch needs to stand alone for itself in the retail showroom,” Shaoulpour stated. “We put a lot of attention on the display fixture, the graphics, the highlights of the verbiage but also make sure the product itself stands out against others in the showroom.”
To say distributors are excited about the possibilities available with HF Design is an understatement. “[Shaoulpour] is a trusted guy; he’s got great marketing abilities and knows his products,” Weiss said. “He’s a leader in style and fashion, and he has built quite a substantial business over the years. It’s great to be a part of it all.”