By K.J. Quinn
It can be a lucrative business and provide a bit of a buffer against fluctuations in the bellwether residential replacement and new home construction arenas. But truth be told, the Main Street market—sort of a hybrid between specified commercial and small-scale remodel—is a different animal. It not only requires the right portfolio of products to meet the diverse needs of small local businesses such as shops, salons, doctors’ offices and the like, but it also requires a separate focus, a dedicated mindset and the requisite knowledge to be successful.
To that end, some of the industry’s major suppliers have put together a package of programs, products and tools to put independent specialty retailers in a better position to succeed in their Main Street marketing efforts. Case in point is Philadelphia Commercial, which earlier this year announced a number of new developments aimed at, among other things, helping dealers capitalize on opportunities within the Main Street sector. For example, Mainstreet by Philadelphia introduced Pivotal carpet fiber, offering technological advances and design at a desirable price point through two collections: In The Press, a modular carpet tile, and All Business, a commercial broadloom carpet. According to Amy Tucker, senior marketing manager, its UNLimited! Random-Mergeable products eliminate the worry about dye-lot issues, installation limitations due to color variation and remnant loss. Lastly, the StrataWorx carpet tile backing was designed following an intense study that revealed Main Street market’s demand for modular flooring to fit diverse, space-driven needs.
“Philadelphia Commercial’s products enable retailers to meet the needs of small businesses within their communities, whether a dentist’s office, church, school, bakery or boutique,” Tucker said. “When we design a product, we think through the customer’s perspective, about where the product will be used, how the flooring relates to the purpose of the space, what the traffic in the space will be like, etc. We want to help our customers better serve small businesses without compromise.”
One challenge for independent specialty retailers and contractors when it comes to servicing the Main Street market is finding high-quality products that also deliver great value for money. After all, many bona fide commercial products are either too expensive or lack the quality and design appeal clients require. To that end, companies like Engineered Floors has developed programs aimed at helping dealers overcome these challenges.
“We provide a broad range of products and price points in both modular and broadloom that use our enhanced Nexus or PremierBac Plus backing systems,” said Adrian Massiah, regional commercial specialist with Engineered Floors. “We offer three different yarn systems to suit customer needs—olefin, Apex solution-dyed polyester and Encore solution-dyed nylon. We offer a very robust quick-ship program covering a large portion of our collection.”
Engineered Floors also helps dealers present the offering to potential Main Street clients via a user-friendly (and affordable) retail display platform along with architect folders of all its products, Massiah explained. In addition, the company offers a tool called the EF EYE Visualizer, which helps dealers promote Pentz Main Street carpet by allowing their customers to see what the product is going to look like in advance of a purchase.
Other major mills, including Mannington, are also working hard to make life easier for retailers looking to expand into the Main Street realm. For Brack Dukes, the company’s manager of Main Street and commercial sundries, it all begins with the right training. “Having well-developed relationships within the local community can be a challenge for some retailers,” he said. “We offer world-class customer support, sales teams and training programs to assist retailers with technical issues they may encounter.”
For starters, Mannington makes sure its retailer partners have access to a broad portfolio of hard surface aesthetics to meet the unique design needs of the Main Street customer base. “Additionally, we offer some of the most advanced performance technologies, a knowledgeable and dedicated sales team to support them, along with a comprehensive distributor network giving them quick access to inventory,” Dukes explained. “As an added benefit, if the dealer is part of our One Mannington program, their Main Street business has access to rebates, promotions and pricing advantages.”
And like Engineered Floors and Philadelphia, Mannington offers flexible merchandising programs. “With options to cover different market specific product needs, space constraints and extensive product lines, Mannington gives retailers the opportunity to service virtually any Main Street need,” Dukes said. “The Mannington program offers endless product choices that position them to be well ahead of their competitors far faster than attempting to build a program from scratch.”Creativity is king
While some manufacturers offer defined, structured pro- grams to help retailers get into the Main Street game, other suppliers believe their retailer partners can succeed by developing a better grasp on the overarching factors that go into specifying flooring products for light-commercial applications.
Case in point is Armstrong Flooring, which transitioned to its distributor partners certain merchandising and marketing responsibilities—including those that were formerly part of the company’s popular Main Street “Elevate” program. Nonetheless, Armstrong Flooring continues to support retailers as they look to expand into Main Street.
“Servicing Main Street needs offers flooring retailers an opportunity to grow their business by expanding their expertise into new markets,” said Meredith Hafer, channel marketing manager at Armstrong Flooring. “While this can involve challenges, such as becoming familiar with commercial market specifications and requirements, there are also factors that play in retailers’ favor.”
Chief among those factors, according to Hafer, is the importance of spotting how flooring is being used in the grand scheme of a project. “There’s an ongoing design trend for commercial spaces to adopt a more residential look,” she explained. “This ranges from designing offices that are warm and welcoming to healthcare spaces that make patients feel more at home.”
Second, while commercial projects may have more stringent requirements, the basic attributes are similar to what residential consumers are looking for in flooring—great-looking designs, durability to stand up to high traffic and everyday wear-and-tear, and easy installation and maintenance.
Third, there’s a blurring of lines between products that are considered strictly residential or commercial. One case in point is LVT and rigid core flooring, which are increasingly gaining traction in light commercial environments on Main Street.
“These products bring authentic wood looks to spaces and are designed to maintain their beauty, even under high traffic, high moisture and high impact,” Hafer noted. “It’s important for retailers to consider how their Main Street customer’s space will be used. Although LVT and rigid core that’s primarily used in homes can be installed in some light commercial applications, projects with high traffic will require flooring that’s commercial grade. It’s also important to modify installation based on the type of environment and expected use.”