August 22/29, 2016; Volume 31, Number 5
By Jana Pollack
Underlayment is a crucial component of a floor covering installation. It provides an acoustic barrier, insulation underfoot and sound reduction, among other attributes. And yet, many shoppers don’t give it much thought.
All this present a golden opportunity for retailers who are in a unique position to educate the consumer on the various attributes of underlayments while padding the sale by offering the complete package.
For starters, underlayment experts say sales associates need to understand why the product is so important. Next is conveying those attributes to the shopper. According to Jim Wink, vice president of sales and marketing at Foam Products, the inclusion of underlayment depends on the flooring. For example, laminate, WPC and vinyl wood composite materials have a tendency to create a hollow, “clicking” sound in situations where people are walking on the floor wearing hard soles or high-heel shoes.
“By putting a good quality underlayment down it makes the flooring solid—it sounds like ¾-inch hardwood,” he explained. Likewise, in a multi-story setting, the underlayment keeps noise from passing through the floor and disturbing other tenants.
Jack Boesch, president of MP Global, agreed. “I believe the two biggest benefits for certain upgrade underlayments are protection from moisture over a concrete subfloor and the acoustic benefits—especially in multi-family housing to inhibit the transfer of noise into the residence below.”
Then there’s the additional practical benefits that underlayments provide. “What we’re selling is comfort underfoot,” said Rob Heuay, senior vice resident, Carpenter. Peace of mind, too, especially as it pertains to absorption when accidents occur. For instance, Carpenter makes products that have a probiotic treatment that absorb the protein from urine or other spills. “The carpet still needs to be cleaned, but the protein in the spills of wine or other products like that will actually be eaten by these natural enzymes on top of the carpet cushion,” he explained.
More importantly, underlayments prolong the life of the product installed above it. “The correct underlayment under a laminate or LVT will help extend the life of that floor by absorbing and transferring energy,” noted Dale Asp, business development manager, Sound Seal Impacta.
Underlayments also play a critical role when installing tile. “Without an uncoupling membrane, your tiles will eventually crack due to the natural movements and stresses on the substrate,” said Julia Vozza, marketing manager for Loxcreen Flooring Group. “Uncoupling membranes like our Prova-Flex help create a separation layer between the tile and substrate which acts as a neutralizer for stress caused by natural lateral movement.”
Underlayment manufacturers encourage RSAs to glean as much information from the customer as possible in order to recommend the right cushion for her needs. This, they say, goes a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction with the job.
“Although the underlayment is the unseen component of the package, it carries a strong weight in the final performance of the purchased package,” said Jeffrey Castor, vice president of sales at Diversified Industries.
Suppliers agree that simply talking about the ways an underlayment can improve a flooring experience is not enough. In order to really drive the point home, the consumer needs to see it—and feel it—for herself. “To merely show a key ring of various underlayment products does not clearly tell the story to the end user,” Castor stated.
Wink agreed, citing one of Foam Products’ merchandising units that allow for a product demonstration. “We have a capping display that is small and can be put on a countertop that will show the difference in sound when using an inferior plastic underlayment compared to our high-density foam underlayment. That little tapping display is just incredibly effective when a consumer hears it. She can hear the difference immediately.”
Carpenter’s Heuay noted that it’s important for the consumer to walk on carpet cushion to help her make a purchase. “Just like if you buy a bed, you’re going to want to lie on it; you don’t go in and squeeze it with your fingers and spend $2,000 on a mattress. Same thing is true with a carpet cushion.”
In addition to using physical tools, the way the salesperson speaks about underlayment is key. However, there are conflicting opinions about the optimal way to present underlayment options. Heuay, for instance, believes retailers should not present consumers with good, better, best options. “They should take what they feel is their best carpet cushion, and that should be the standard.”
Others beg to differ. “There is always a good, better, best solution within the underlayment category, so depending how much a consumer wants to spend relative to her individual needs is how an associate should be presenting underlayment,” Loxcreen’s Vozza explained. And Asp added: “I would recommend retailers sell it as a complete package, but with options from A to Z, good-better-best depending on the situation.”
The influence of the retail sales associate is important, but retailers also need to promote underlayments throughout their stores, experts advise.
“Point of purchase displays adjacent to the laminate flooring SKUs are the perfect reminder to attach a sale of underlayment to the sale of laminate flooring,” MP Global’s Boesch stated. “It should be an automatic reflex for the salesperson.”