When Michel Vermette took the reins as president and CEO of Armstrong Flooring in the fall of 2019, he challenged the team to adopt a customer-first mindset in all facets of the operation—from manufacturing and product development to marketing and promotion.
The results of those efforts have manifested themselves in a new branding and go-to-market strategy designed to help Armstrong Flooring retailers and distributors better leverage one of the most well-known names in flooring. But this is not just a splashy new tagline or promo. It’s about reinventing the way product is sold by empowering distributors and retailers with the products, tools, services and, more importantly, the flexibility to drive sales of the hottest category.
For Armstrong Flooring, it’s much more than a name change. The new branding strategy ties into the overall transformation of the company. “We’re reinventing the business, and it was important to update the branding to match the story that we are putting forward,” Vermette explained. “First and foremost, we’re much more customer centric and people centric. We’ve been very much changing the business to tailor ourselves to each channel, each customer group. We’re making sure we are relevant to them and making their job easier in every way possible. Our branding was dated, and it was important for us to revamp that so they knew it was a different Armstrong—much more progressive, much more dynamic.”
When it comes to the new channel strategy, it entails creating a new brand for distributors (i.e., Armstrong Flooring Signature) and a separate brand for specialty retailers (Armstrong Flooring). While Armstrong has historically had one way of going to market, now it has created multiple paths. According to the company, it’s an approach that was crafted by listening to its retail customers on how they wanted to be serviced. “Some retailers want to be serviced directly from the manufacturer,” Vermette explained. “Now, we are doing that with the NFA, among others. And we will augment that over time. We now have the logistics to do that better, faster and more efficiently.” (See ‘A companion piece’ below for more on the new Signature brand and channel strategy.)
FCNews publisher, Steven Feldman, recently sat down with Vermette to discuss Armstrong Flooring’s new rebranding strategy. Following are excerpts of that discussion.
What has changed in the branding?
The logo has changed. The tagline has changed. It’s “Walk On, Walk Strong,” which is definitely a nod to the resiliency of the business and how we are reinventing ourselves. You think of what Armstrong has gone through for more than 150 years, all the turbulence that has happened during that time and, in particular, the last year; the company reinvented and re-engaged and recreated itself.
It’s not only a new brand, but there’s also a whole marketing campaign and positioning that will come with it. There will be different websites, different digital campaigns, different promotions. And you’ll see more unveiling over time.
We’ll invest where we need to and we’ll be selective in who we partner with in the marketplace. So, for the retailers who value branded offerings, who want to partner with companies that can drive leads, we’re going to invest in SEO to bring them those leads. That’ll be key. Also, we’ll bring some differentiated, value-added items to them—opportunities for them to margin up. And we’ll just help grow their presence as the leading retailer in the marketplace, having one of the best brands out there.
Once upon a time, Armstrong had the dominant brand. I won’t say necessarily in the industry, but certainly on the hard surface side. What do you do to get close to that again?
Well, the good thing is we still have strong brand recognition. If you look at brand studies, we still have the top awareness of any brand out there in hard surface. And that was built over years and years; that doesn’t erode overnight. So, we have to continue to invest in order to maintain that, and we’re doing that. We have ramped up our investments this year, which we started last year, and we will continue to do so going forward. We’re going to be selective in who we partner with and who we work with. But I think branding is a key aspect that we need to focus on going forward. There’s no doubt it is a key pillar of our business that we need to invest in both digitally and in co-op advertising with the right retailers. We need to make sure we have the right presence in home centers and make sure it’s front and center in everything we do.
Rigid core is a hot category. What’s your entry into the rigid core category?
We have a series of products, from Essentials to Vantage to Empower. We just launched Empower recently, which has been very successful and we’re augmenting that. We just completed our three-year review of what we want to do in residential, in particular. And you’ll see us have multiple waves of new product introductions, both through our distribution channel and our direct channel. We brought in a new head of design, a new leader in product management also, to make sure we are reinventing our product portfolio. The LVT category, for us, has more innovation, better design. Every step of the way, we’re making sure we have the best product possible for every category with a focus on innovation. Our product team is also reinventing our pipeline for innovation to make sure it’s relevant to the retailers, so we create better product for them.
What makes your rigid core better and/or different than some of the others out there?
There are so many variances. When it comes to visuals, I think we’re lucky to have one of the best designers in the industry with us right now in Di Anna Borders. I think she does a wonderful job. It’s a crowded space, and I think the nuances are very limited.
For performance, it’s about our Diamond 10 Technology. We believe it is unique and gives a better performance story for the retailers to sell for the long term—and you’ll see us add to it. The other thing, which we have both on the residential and commercial side, is our Made in USA QuickShip. We ship a lot of our products within five days for those quick opportunities. Supply chains are important, and that’s a big plus. You’ll also see us augment that over time.
It seems like there’s a handful of companies building rigid core plants in the U.S. right now. Do you have plans to make your own SPC in this country?
At the right time, but let’s face it—90% of the rigid core in this country is still sourced. So, there are a lot of opportunities to continue doing so.
A companion piece
Armstrong Flooring presents new opportunities for partners
By Ken Ryan
A big part of the thinking behind Armstrong Flooring’s new approach to servicing its customers was to provide its distributor and retailer partners with much more flexibility. While the company will continue to leverage the Armstrong Flooring brand, Michel Vermette, president and CEO of Armstrong Flooring, told FCNews it was also important that distributors had something of their own that they could rally behind and capitalize on.
The company’s newly launched Signature brand aims to do just that by allowing distributors to have their own grouping of products to offer retailers, builders or commercial contractors. “And it will be very clear that they are offering it in the marketplace,” he said. “They will control the pricing and the service promise to retailers and bundle it will their other offerings in the marketplace. Hopefully, they’ll use it to set themselves apart from others.”
Armstrong Flooring’s Signature and direct brands will have their own unique product strategies that will be tailored to each channel accordingly. The Signature line will include rigid core, flex as well as sheet products. “You’ll see every product offering tailored to each grouping to make sure it’s differentiated from the regular offering,” Vermette explained. “There will be some items that are common because of the go-to markets that are relevant, but I would say 85% will be different. We’ll have a good, better, best assortment as well.” He added that the assortment will operate across all price points so each brand has a winning portfolio.
Asked about potential competition within the marketplace between the Armstrong Flooring brand and the Signature brand, Vermette explained that competition shouldn’t be an issue. “One retailer might carry the Armstrong Flooring brand while another dealer nearby might carry the Signature brand,” he explained. “In addition, we expect that some retailers will carry both brands since they will include different product offerings. As long as it’s Armstrong, we’re good.”
So far, Vermette said the feedback from distributors has been very positive. “We tapped their insight and their input to create this,” he explained. “We’ve had different iterations and we’ve evolved the brand and its offering based on that. I think there will be nothing else in the industry that will beat it.”
Vermette added that distributors understand that for Armstrong to be successful over the long-term it has to have a direct model. “Let’s face it, that direct model has really grown in the last five to 10 years; it has prevailed,” he stated. “So, Armstrong has to have a competitive offering in that model.”
The first displays with updated branding began rolling out earlier this year, with sheet leading the charge. This will be followed by resilient LVT. The Signature brand will start rolling out in the second quarter. Then, the direct activities will evolve in the third and fourth quarters and all the way through 2021 and 2022.
Vermette emphasized the transformation is not a short-term journey, but rather a long-term initiative. “I think we will build something that’s meaningful for both groups over time,” he explained. “It’s just getting started. I think we can bring some really nice opportunities to market.”