By Reginald Tucker
What a difference a year makes. When American OEM announced the hard launch of its Raintree brand back in October 2019, it went head to head with a bevy of competing real wood veneer/rigid core hybrid products as well as traditional SPC/WPC offerings. Not only has the line held its own amid other floors in its class, but it has also exceeded the expectations of distributors who got on board with the product early on.
“It has been a year, and we’re really pleased with how it’s going,” said Michael Goria, hardwood product manager, T&A Supply, Kent, Wash. “We’re seeing some great improvement in the product, and we’re seeing continued growth every month.”
For Goria, Raintree represents the next level of waterproof wood. Early iterations of the product that came on the scene about five years ago, he noted, were lacking in the aesthetics department. “Some of the original iterations were milky in tone; they just didn’t have very good looks because the finish was so thick. As a result, some of our customers got a little turned off by waterproof hardwood.”
But Raintree helped change the perception, he noted. “Those retailers who once said no to waterproof hardwood are choosing the product because of the looks,” Goria said. “The visuals in Raintree are winning, and that’s what we’ve been really excited about.”
More telling is the fact that T&L Distributing is seeing brisk sales activity across the 14-SKU Raintree offering. But its No. 1 seller, according to Goria, is Old Hickory. “We feel like Raintree hit it out of the park with that particular product because of the veneers they’re choosing,” he explained. “It has a great calico look with its light and dark tones, and it’s exactly what people want when they’re looking for a natural hickory. It really draws people in.”
T&L is not alone in its positive experiences with the Raintree line. Southern Diversified Distributors, parent company of William M. Bird, previewed the Raintree line throughout its territories last October, followed by a full launch in January 2020. Despite a challenging year overall, the distributor said Raintree did not disappoint.
“Raintree has been well received by our retailers because it is truly a beautiful wood product,” said Gary Rudebeck, senior sales and product director for William M. Bird. “The fact that it is waterproof is almost secondary to the aesthetic. It really appeals to the consumer who wants all the durability of a waterproof product but is set on having real hardwood in her home.”
Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM, agreed, adding Raintree checks a lot of boxes for the consumer. “The first time I stood on a large section of Raintree I felt a sea change coming for wood flooring,” he said. “It has all the features of a beautiful wood floor plus the performance of SPC—beautiful, waterproof, plus scratch and dent resistance.”
Get ’em while they’re hot
Another measure of Raintree’s success, distributors say, is the rate of display orders and sample replenishment. “We’ve had to reorder displays several times, and we’ve been able to continue to get display placements even a year later,” T&L’s Goria told FCNews. “We’re also hearing from retailers who have heard about Raintree from other dealers and want to give this product a shot.”
Part of that word-of-mouth comes from retailers who are generating interest in the product by conducting demonstrations that illustrate its highly touted performance attributes. “We have one salesperson in particular, down in the Portland, Ore., market, who does a special presentation where he uses a Sharpie marker on the floor, spills nail polish on it and then he lights it on fire,” Goria recalled. “Then he cleans it up, and it is just as it was before. He also uses the back side of a hammer on the plank to demonstrate the product’s durability and to get buy-in from the customer.”
Distributors are also employing creative techniques to generate more buzz around Raintree. For instance, William M. Bird took its launch a step further by promoting Raintree on its consumer-facing website, Twenty & Oak. The objective was to deliver samples to consumers and then pass on those leads to its retail partners.
“What makes Twenty & Oak so valuable is the ability to order flooring samples from a range of product types and manufacturers all on one site, including Raintree,” Rudebeck stated. “We are able to get product in the hands of consumers at a much faster rate, which directly helps our flooring retail customers. In fact, there have been instances when consumer interest prompted a retailer to add the Raintree display to their store.”
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Raintree provides distributors and retailers with a product that enables them to make better margins—especially in an era where the industry is seeing aggressive price competition on hot product categories. “Raintree represents a great mid-range product with some really high selling features,” Goria stated. “It’s a product line that has a lot of potential growth for the future.”
Finkell said he also likes the future prospects for Raintree. “We have seen great success in our first full year of Raintree, and we appreciate the support of our distributors and their retailers. The best is yet to come.”