August 19/26, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 5
By Steven Feldman
Ft. Worth, Texas—When Leggett & Platt captured FCNews’ Award of Excellence in the cushion/underlayment category this year, in essence ending Carpenter’s three-year streak, the victory was eye- opening. After no more than 25 votes separated the two companies for three years—a statistical anomaly indeed—Leggett’s victory this year was sizeable.
So what changed?
Not much, according to Erik Kempf, president of Leggett & Platt’s flooring division, which operates 13 plants around the country. “We have always aimed to service our customers,” he said. “Not much has changed in our 130 years of doing business. We have a very wide product assortment, and I believe we are under hard surface a little bit more than most other carpet cushion companies. That has helped us as the LVT category has grown.”
According to Kempf, who took over as division president nine months ago, Leggett & Platt strives to be the easiest people to do business with. “We work very hard every day to make it as easy as possible on all our customers. When they win, we win. Our customers need to know we really see this as a partnership.”
Customers like Kyle Hynden, president of KW Flooring in Cincinnati, can attest. “We’ve been with Leggett & Platt for more than 10 years. The key to our relationship is really the people—how they work with our team and how responsive they are to our needs. When the product and delivery go perfectly everyone is happy, but I think when a relationship really shines is when issues come up, which come up all the time in any aspect of business. [Leggett & Platt’s] ability to respond to our team and provide a solution quickly and fairly gives us more confidence that we can do the amount of business we do with them and know we’ll be taken care of.”
Tina Tomei, president and CEO of Homesite Services, San Ramone, Calif., concurs. “We’ve been selling Leggett & Platt for nearly 15 years. It’s been a real nice partnership—one that doesn’t give me headaches. The service Leggett & Platt provides is like shop- ping at Nordstrom’s. They go above and beyond. We only sell their products—that’s how much confidence we have in the company.”
Leggett & Platt’s winning formula essentially boils down to three points:
1. Convenience. “We try to make it as easy as possible for our customers to order as many things as we offer,” Kempf explained.
Jerry Hosko, president and CEO of Redi Carpet, Houston, has been one of those satisfied customers for 20 years. “Along with having good quality products, they have especially excelled in keeping loyal customers supplied when shortages have occurred,” he said. “This has been a very important attribute for us as we are committed to next-day installation to our customers in the apartment sector. They have outstanding sales representatives and a management team that listens to our needs and actually delivers solutions.”
2. Create opportunities for profit. Offering underlayment for rigid core/waterproof flooring, the hottest category, for example. “If you sell a piece of carpet, you sell cushion and installation,” said Chris Palmer, vice president of Leggett & Platt. “When you sell LVT, if you’re taking out that underlayment part you may not be making the type of money you need to on the install.”
Kempf agreed, adding, “Acoustically, you need to have it, you need to get a better foundation under the product. A lot of people weren’t doing that—they missed this opportunity to sell another product as they were selling LVT. They lost a category of product, and frankly they’ve probably sold down from carpet. So this was an opportunity to gain some of that back.”
With retailers selling it for $0.79 to $0.89 a foot, retailers can sell it for double what they paid, Kempf noted.
3. Provide a quality product. Whisper Step, which was in development for 18 months, can go under LVT, wood or laminate. “It has great sound qualities, but we wanted the densest product out there and one that’s easy to install,” Kempf said.
Flexibility is also a hallmark as the product can be double glued, single glued or loose laid. “It’s such a dense, heavy product that when the installer kicks it out, it doesn’t curl up. Just the ease of the product going down has been the best feedback we’ve gotten.”
Whisper Step is not the cheapest product on the market, but unlike some imports it will maintain its state, whether it’s down six months or 10 years, according to Kempf. “Our ratings aren’t going to change. I think a lot of people are recognizing that our product is better because it provides the sound quality they want and it’s going to remain that way for as long as it’s down.”
While underlayment is a growing part of Leggett & Platt’s flooring division, it represents less than 10% of the overall business. Carpet cushion is still the cash cow. “Over the last 10 years we have seen a migration toward better carpet cushion, and I think we’ve done a good job of educating people as to why you want a better carpet cushion—like the one that has the PetProtect-type moisture films on it, and brand names like Stainmaster and Scotchgard,” Kempf said. “We try to provide those values where a retailer can sell a better product.”
The art of trading up
Leggett & Platt goes the extra mile to help the retailer explain to the consumer the value of better carpet cushion by demonstrating the difference in comfort and durability. The company recommends retailers start with the best cushion, which incidentally carries a 3X profit margin for the dealer.
High-end cushion is not for every customer—it’s hard to convince someone who just purchased an FHA carpet to spend a buck per foot on cushion that may cost more than the carpet itself. But if somebody’s willing to spend on a higher-end carpet the purchase makes sense because the carpet will last longer. “If you have this wonderful cushion that’s being sold as part of the package, they’re never going to say, ‘Well, let’s do a basic installation with a lesser cushion,’” Kempf explained. “Nobody’s going to want to downgrade themselves, right?”
Simplicity is the key to selling, Kempf said. “Talk about the benefits. We’re big believers in antimicrobial in cushion, so explain those benefits. But more importantly, just put it under a piece of carpet and have them walk on it.”
DuraPlush is Leggett & Platt’s premier product line, but the company also markets a Stainmaster- and Scotchgard-branded cushion within the DuraPlush collection. “Stainmaster’s big thing is a breathable moisture barrier, breathe,” Kempf said. “Scotchgard is a repellent, so it helps bead the water. They’re both antimicrobial treated, and they’re both powerful brands.”
Kempf touted DuraPlush for two reasons: comfort and durability. “No other product in the marketplace walks like it, so the comfort is there. And you have to back that up with durability, so even under stairs and hallways, we offer a lifetime warranty. So you have an extremely nice walk, but it’s also going to last as long as you want it to.”
Carrie Patterson, vice president of Carpet World Carpet One in Lexington, Ky., is a big fan. “DuraPlush is a great product for us because we sell a lot of higher-end goods such as natural fiber wool and sisal. We like DuraPlush because it’s a virgin product and it’s a lower-profile thickness so it can go under a lot of lower-profile carpet and allow for better seaming. We’re the only specialty retailer in the central Kentucky area that’s selling that pad, so that’s an advantage for us.”
Going forward, Leggett & Platt will continue to build on everything that has been set in motion over the past six or seven years. That doesn’t mean the company won’t adapt with the times.
“Erik’s willingness to change is one of his big attributes,” Palmer said. “We’re going to be here for a long time. We look at what’s next and how can we do things differently and better.”