Underlayments: Protecting products from the bottom up

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By Megan Salzano

Flooring underlayments perform a myriad of jobs that all serve to uphold the success of the final product—a full flooring installation. From under a variety of flooring surfaces, underlayments play the part of moisture mitigator, sound absorber, comfort/crush protector and more.

These roles are the most sought-after attributes for consumers, and retailers would be remiss if they didn’t promote them while making the flooring sale—not only to boost the bottom line, but also to preserve the flooring installation from the bottom up.

“It is a great opportunity to upsell the sale, but it is even better to help sell a story of better performance and longevity and investment protection,” said Deanna Summers, marketing manager, MP Global Products.

Chris Palmer, vice president of sales, Leggett & Platt, also noted the dual benefits of the category. “With hard surface flooring, the customer likely will not be purchasing flooring again for several years. Offering an underlayment adds to the retailer’s bottom line while also providing the customer a product that will truly add comfort and enjoyment to their new floor.”

That’s not to say the upsell isn’t a key benefit to the dealer that should be considered when looking to onboard new underlayment products or grow an in-store assortment.

“Underlayments and adhesives make up a valuable sundries category that helps business owners increase overall profitability,” John Lio, vice president, marketing, DriTac Flooring Products, told FCNews. “These products could be offered as add-ons to larger orders, offsetting the increasing popularity of bargain-based internet shopping. To help consumers see the value of these add-ons, it’s important for retailers to explain that underlayment is a vital part of any flooring system that would fully meet customer requirements.”

Education as an aid

The highest priority when making a sale should always be choosing the correct product for the project at hand. At the same time, a major role of the retail sales associate is to educate the consumer on the products available in order to make that successful match between product and need. As such, RSAs should consider underlayment education a key component of making the sale.

“I’m convinced the average consumer perceives underlayment as an optional accessory due to a lack of knowledge,” said Andrew Stafford, marketing director, Healthier Choice. “When in reality…a successful flooring installation depends on whether or not a person makes the right underlayment choice. Retailers have a responsibility to provide accurate information about the importance of an underlayment. If not handled correctly, the flooring system could fail and damage the retailer’s reputation.” And in fact, Google queries for terms like what is subflooring and subfloor vs. underlayment can often surpass 700 monthly searches.

Pat Cunningham, technical service supervisor, Ardex Americas, agreed, noting, “To those without the knowledge of substrate preparation, this can be seen as an unnecessary, excessive cost. We must change that narrative by educating and setting expectations for the end users. Invariably, good news of a successful flooring installation travels slowly but builds a successful flooring business. Bad news travels much faster and will crush a flooring business in no time.”

Manufacturers agree, a skilled RSA will have no problem educating the consumer on the importance of underlayments and, therefore, increase store profitability and consumer satisfaction. “Independent retailers are great at promoting solutions the customer might not know she needs,” Ann Wicander, president, WeCork, explained. “Providing solutions for noisy and/or cold floors contributes to making a happy customer, and a happy customer will come back for the next floor and recommend the dealer to their friends. In addition to a happy customer, the dealer has increased his profit, making him happy, too.”

Matching flooring to underlayment

Important to note, manufacturers agreed, is that as flooring materials go in and out of favor (carpet has lost share to hard surface for several years running now), part of that education should include the customer’s underlayment needs based on the type of flooring she has chosen.

For example, when it comes to carpet, Jack McMahon, VP of sales, carpet cushion, Carpenter, said, “We recommend flooring retailers close each qualified carpet sale by offering the consumer a premium carpet cushion. Premium cushion should enhance a new carpet’s performance and improve the store’s profitability.”

The growing shift away from carpet, however, means RSAs will have to become keenly aware of how to replicate its benefits when working with hard surface. “With the evolution toward more resilient surfaces, consumers will be looking for ways to enhance the acoustical and comfort benefits of resilient flooring to mimic that of traditional soft surfaces,” said Bo Barber, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Ecore. “Underlayments are a simple way to achieve this.”

Jim Wink, vice president, sales and marketing, Foam Products, agreed, noting the increased demand for thinner 2mm–5mm vinyl plank flooring—especially SPC products—has increased the importance of noise reduction. In addition, he said hard surface flooring products provide a unique opportunity for RSAs not only to upsell the consumer, but to improve consumer satisfaction in the process.

“With the newer vinyl planks that include an attached pad, the consumer is led to believe that an additional underlayment is not needed,” he said. “This is very untrue. These 1mm attached pads are not dense enough to absorb much noise and too thin to eliminate the hollow, ‘clicky’ sounds due to subfloor irregularities.”

When it all comes together

However, for many retailers and their sales associates, the question of success with underlayments comes down to “when” (not if) it’s appropriate to discuss add-ons. For Leggett & Platt’s Palmer, it’s important to introduce the underlayment as part of a retailer’s premium installation package. “The consumer is looking for your recommendation,” he said. “Explain the benefits an underlayment brings to the consumer and how the floor will benefit. And, let the consumer know once the flooring is installed, it’s too late to add underlayment.”

Shane Jenkins, senior technical coordinator, Schönox, added that the consumer may already be keen to the purchase. “The end user is prepared for this add-on sale and retailers should make this part of their everyday conversations,” he said. “Customers who are investing in new floor covering appreciate it more when it exceeds the expectations.”

Following is a sampling of the best underlayment options currently on the market from today’s manufacturing leaders.

DriTac

DriTac 8301 Impact is a technologically advanced 1mm underlayment and acoustical barrier for successful glue-down or floating installations of a variety of resilient floors, including LVT/LVP, WPC, MLF and carpet tile.

Leggett & Platt

Whisper Step is excellent at improving overall enjoyment of the floor by reducing in-room and between-story noise. Whisper Step acts like a shock absorber for the flooring, thereby removing the harsh, uncomfortable feel, which is another common complaint of hard surface flooring.

MP Global Products

The QuietWalk family of underlayments are all upcycled from fibers otherwise destined for landfills. Boasting exceptional sound-deadening abilities, QuietWalk products also provide unmatched moisture protection to flooring with its exclusive Dri-Wick Technology and dense, “crush-proof” support for click together mechanisms.

Schönox

At a thickness of 1/8 of an inch, Schönox TS improves impact sound insulation by up to 17 decibels. Made of cork and recycled urethane granules, it provides additional thermal insulation, reduces the formation of walking lines of carpets and improves walking and living comfort in residential areas.

WeCork

Warm & Quiet has 200 million air cells per cubic inch, offering tremendous thermal insulation. Its closed cellular structure also makes for an excellent answer to footsteps that cause loud resonance within the room. In addition, it will not compress and lose its efficacy over time.

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Sept. 7, 2020

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