January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16
By Steven Feldman
San Diego—Cali Brands, the company formerly known as Cali Bamboo, is growing faster than a weed after a rain shower on a sunny day. The company continues to evolve its product portfolio, adding vinyl, rigid core wood and engineered European hardwood to the mix while staying true to its sustainability mission and “green to the core’’ roots.
Bamboo is still an important part of the business, according to Doug Jackson, president and CEO. “We grew 40% last year with Cali Bamboo and Cali Vinyl. We have no interest in losing that business. We’re the largest importer of bamboo in the country, more than Home Depot, Lumber Liquidators, Floor & Décor, etc. People don’t realize that about us because we’ve got a wide reach across an omnichannel platform.”
Constantly appearing on Inc. magazine’s “5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies” listing (2018 was its 10th consecutive year as it checked in at No. 2370), Cali now boasts sales well north of $100 million and in 2018 increased its sales into the specialty retail channel sevenfold—quite impressive given its selective distribution strategy.
“We have about 1,100 actively purchasing dealers,” Jackson said. “In a perfect world we’ll have around 1,000 in the right 1,000 marketplaces that have the ability to make money with our products and allow us to drive those end users into their stores. We’re looking for the cream of the crop—close partners who want and are able to grow with us.”
With 30 years in the business under his belt, Jackson knows the “right people,” many of whom are in the National Floorcovering Alliance, to which Cali became a core vendor in 2018. “We gave them a handful of exclusives, and they will have a year to see if that works for them,” he said.
As the company evolves, it seems more retailers are interested in taking on Cali than Cali is in taking on retailers. In fact, it doesn’t seek too much exposure. “We’re not going to be on the show floor at Surfaces,” he said. “We’re going to call people up, go see them, catch up with them, find out if we’re a good fit, and if we are we’ll move forward. So far everybody we’ve talked to has gladly taken us on.”
In illustration, at the last NFA meeting in Napa, Calif., Cali was showing its brand spanking new Meritage collection, its first foray into the long and wide French oak hardwood arena pioneered by companies like DuChâteau. The line is aggressively priced at a price point where the retailer can make a healthy margin.
“Companies like DuChâteau, Provenza and Urbanfloor are doing a good job here offering a similar product where the consumer may pay $20,” Jackson said. “But a dealer might make 20% or 30% if they’re lucky because everybody in town can get it. We’re going to sell our 800 to 1,000 dealers and be happy about it.” The line debuts in the first quarter in eight SKUs that are 9½ inches wide, 72 inches long on a sustainable acacia core.
A fresh approach
Jackson uses the word “disruptive” to describe Cali’s approach. “We’re going to come in and say we only sell [Retailer X] in a particular area. They can make a great margin and a consumer can’t shop it. If they want to call us direct, fine, but we’re going to sell it for the same price. It’s much like that Apple phone. It doesn’t matter where you buy it, it’s just what level of service you want. Most folks would not know how to put this floor down. Ultimately, they are going to say, ‘Who is going to move my furniture? Who is going to measure? Who is going to install it?’ Buy from us and we will put it on your doorstep but we’re not going to lay it down. That’s where we get a chance to refer that consumer to our dealer partners. And for a product like this, nine out of 10 times she is going to say she needs someone local to measure, move the furniture, put it down, all those things.”
Another new product for Cali Hardwood this year is Odyssey, an engineered hardwood collection in European oak, American maple and American hickory. The line launches in 5½- and 7½-inch widths and 11 colors on an engineered, plantation birch foundation, illustrating Cali’s commitment to remaining “green to the core.” Plantation birch is grown with the intention of being cut. It’s a fast-growing, renewable, sustainable tree. The birch comprises more than 80% of the product, topped by a 2mm veneer that’s sourced from responsibly managed forests.
Cali Hardwood is also launching the second generation of GeoWood, its revolutionary engineered hardwood layering real timber over GeoCore, a flexible and waterproof limestone composite. The first generation, launched last year, was a 3-foot plank in bamboo, “which was really who we were as a company,” said Alex Brodkin, Cali’s new product introduction manager. “But we wanted to make sure the next generation really matched where we’re going.”
GeoWood 2.0 is a 6-foot-long, 5-inch-wide plank with a 1.2mm real oak veneer and comes with an attached 2mm pad. The pad helps with noise mitigation, one of the issues surrounding some SPCs. “For a DIY consumer who has done a vinyl install this is only marginally more challenging,” said Mike Belprez, director of innovation/product management. As an added advantage, the core of the product is coordinated to the wood. “So if you ever dent, ding, or scratch the surface and expose a bit of the SPC core, it will not stand out.”
Last but not least, Cali is taking its sustainability story to area rugs. “We all know when someone buys a wood floor, within a month on goes a rug,” Jackson said. “We’ve got that covered, too, with 100% sustainable rugs shipped directly to your house.” The rugs are handwoven from natural jute fiber, wool and upcycled denim and cotton.
“If you look at what we are doing and where we are going, it is all about options,” Jackson stated. “We talk to consumers every day to determine the best floor for their lifestyle. Where do we fit into their world? You can go vinyl, waterproof wood flooring or take a step up and have the best-looking woods on the market. We ask how long they plan to keep the house, what their cost expectations are, etc. We are going to provide a range of options for her lifestyle and budget.”
Five years from now, Jackson admitted the product mix might be different, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to how. “As we evolve the consumer is going to determine our product mix. I’d love to say my perfect plan is to be 50% this or 60% that, but because we’re asset light, we’re going to deliver what the market wants. You see what’s happening with WPC and rigid core. That can continue to grow strong or it could take a shift. We saw what happened with laminate. What we do know is we want to be mid to high end, we want to be affordably elegant, and we want to find voids in the marketplace where other people won’t, or can’t, make the products we can deliver.”