Wood/laminate: What’s in a name? Not much and everything

May 17, 2016

Jury is split on influence of branding in selection process

May 9/16, 2016; Volume 30, Number 23

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.10.04 AMWhen it comes to narrowing down the selection process between the many hardwood and laminate flooring brands available today, the decision-making process can be a bit tricky, to say the least. While many retail advertisements—and, by extension, merchandising systems—seek to leverage a particular brand name, at the end of the day most consumers are primarily influenced by color, style and/or product performance, many RSAs report. At times, throwing a few private-label brands into the mix can add another wrinkle.

On the other side of the coin, retailers say most consumers in the market for flooring materials for their big-ticket renovation projects ultimately want to buy products they trust will perform—and last—according to expectations. At the same time, shoppers are looking for the best value.

In the face of these seemingly mixed messages, many RSAs often resort to promoting the products, brands and categories with which they are most comfortable. And while it may seem counterintuitive, the purchasing decision doesn’t always come down to the strength of the label alone.

“We find promoting ourselves, our store and our story carries more weight with customers than simply a brand name,” said Ted Gregerson, owner of Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor with two locations in the Birmingham, Ala., area. “’Many flooring companies believe their brand names are well known, but they are not as renowned as they would like to think. And even if the customer does know [the name], we find consumers are not demanding a certain brand at the point of sale.”

That’s why Gregerson chooses to take the private-label approach. As an Abbey group member, his hardwood and laminate flooring products are marketed under the Alexander Smith private label or simply “Abbey.” The goal, he said, is two-fold: prevent potential buyers from “shopping” a heavily advertised national brand only to ultimately place the order with a dealer who’s offering the lowest price for the same product; and to further differentiate itself from the neighborhood big box stores.

“When we are quoting a customer a price, we know we can make the margin we want and not be afraid she is going to go across the street,” Gregerson said. “That’s the biggest advantage.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t make room for some of the big, well-known national brands on his show floor. Ultimately, Gregerson said, it comes down to pushing those products that offer the greatest return—and the fastest “turn” on inventory—while recommending the product that’s best suited for the consumer’s needs and tastes.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.10.12 AM“As long as you are able to educate her about the product you are showing, the brand itself does not make a difference if the customer feels like she is getting a quality product and that we, as the retailer, are going to stand behind it,” Gregerson explained. “And with the warranties we offer—especially on our private-label products—many times those guarantees are a lot better than what the manufacturers are offering.”

Other retail buying group members tout the benefits of supporting privately labeled products over independent brands. Todd Ramsey, for example, co-owner of 3 Kings CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Fort Wayne, Ind., cited the benefits of the group’s new Destination program, which is designed to offer members exclusive products that can’t be shopped around. Not only do the hardwood flooring textures and colors allow for higher-margin opportunities, but they also help differentiate his store from competing groups. “This program will put us on the cutting edge of development, technology and fashion,” he told FCNews.

 

Not mutually exclusive

While many experts agree consumers place a heavy emphasis on the expertise of the retail salesperson and trust in the dealer when contemplating a flooring purchase, some observers—especially manufacturing executives—contend there are shoppers who also attach a high level of trust to a particular brand. These are considerations, they say, that are not mutually exclusive.

This is especially true with laminate and hardwood flooring products, given the fierce level of competition that exists within each respective category. That puts the onus on manufacturers to not only develop products that meet or exceed consumer expectations but also stand out from the pack. “Customers have recognized the benefits that come with a reputable and lasting brand: quality, performance and service, to name a few,” said Brian Parker, director, product management, residential, Armstrong Floors.

Because flooring is not a purchase people make often, many consumers experience a great deal of uncertainty and tentativeness when shopping for flooring for their homes, explained Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Mohawk Hard Surfaces, which also markets the Quick-Step, Pergo and Columbia laminate brands as well as the Mohawk, Q-Wood, Pergo, Columbia and Century hardwood lines. “Achieving enhanced consumer confidence—through trust in the brand and guidance from the retailer—goes a long way in facilitating the flooring purchase. Established standalone brands sold through specialty retail flooring stores are the right mix to create this needed consumer confidence.”

According to Farabee, American consumers have a comfort level “trusting brands” they have heard of before. Even if they don’t know specifics about a brand, he said, the fact they have some familiarity with a brand name gives most Americans an entry-level of trust in a product. These well-known brands, he notes, tend to put a tremendous amount of marketing resources into creating consumer awareness, whereas private-labels most often do not have this history of promotion.

What’s more, today’s consumers spend a tremendous amount of time researching online before they ever step foot inside a brick-and-mortar retailer to shop. “The savvy standalone brands not only provide quality products, but wrap these offerings in comprehensive merchandising programs to make the purchasing process easier and fun for the consumer, putting great emphasis on digital marketing,” Farabee stated. “These individual names outpace private-label brands when it comes to information and cutting-edge shopping tools available to consumers digitally.

And that presents a golden opportunity for companies like Mohawk. “Retailers prefer to carry multiple brands in their showrooms, so we have produced our multi-brand collections of residential flooring to successfully function as the core of every flooring retailer’s laminate and hardwood programs,” Farabee explained. “With our family of brands as their base, flooring retailers possess a strong ‘something-for-everyone’ toolbox that enables them to collectively capture more of their overall market than they would otherwise.”

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