By Megan Salzano It’s no secret that flooring accessory pieces such as premium underlayments are often the hardest to sell for the retail sales associate. And, even more so, can sometimes be the hardest for the retail store owner to find value in selling due to that fact. However, premium underlayments are high-margin products that not only help boost the retailer’s bottom line, but they also support the overall success of the flooring project, ultimately leading to a happier—and potentially repeat—customer.
“If you’re a retail sales associate or a store owner, a premium underlayment is an opportunity to ‘sell the floor twice,’” said David Moore, senior director of accessories, Mohawk. “It’s always an upsell opportunity; a way to grow the ticket and make more money. And, from a consumer standpoint, for a relatively small price it’s a way to increase satisfaction with the floor, gain more confidence and, ultimately, be happier with the total installation.”
However, suppliers agree that it’s easier said than done. In order to successfully sell this sundry category, it’s important for RSAs to be aware of where premium underlayment makes an impact. It’s also of major importance to remember not to get bogged down by technical information when making the sale.
“[This is,] by far, one of the more challenging categories to be able to coherently and concisely explain the feature and benefits story,” Moore noted. “There are specifications that are standard, but they’re very hard for a consumer to understand. RSAs can easily get talked into a corner, and if that happens to an RSA multiple times they will eventually just stop trying. So, just center on tangible items that the consumer can understand.”
Sound, for example, can be a top concern for consumers today, especially as more people continue to work and learn from home. Ann Wicander, president, WE Cork, noted that ceramic tile and hardwoods, while they may look good, are very noisy. “Not only does footstep noise resonate in the room, but it also travels down the floor below,” she explained. “If this is a bedroom or office, those sounds are a nuisance. Ceramic tile or hardwood [underlayment] will dampen the footfall noise within the room as well a control the sound transmitting below. The RSA has a crucial part in pointing out the potential problem and offering a solution. In this scenario, the customer will be thankful and see the value in the addition of underlayment.”
Sound abatement also comes into account when considering the shift from soft to hard surface flooring that has happened in the market. “People understand why cushion is used with carpet, but many may not understand why underlayment is recommended under hard surface flooring,” said Chris Palmer, vice president of sales, Leggett & Platt. “Noise control is a top priority for any home improvement occurring right now. It is important for the RSA to bring up this point. And, with hard surface flooring, the customer likely will not be purchasing flooring again for several years. Recommending a premium underlayment adds to the retailer’s bottom line while also providing the customer a product that will truly add comfort and enjoyment to her new floor.”
Several more consumer pain points—including the growing focus on waterproof—can benefit from the addition of a premium underlayment. As such, several suppliers suggest RSAs focus on multi-solution options. “For a potentially negligible add-on cost, a multi-purpose underlayment could provide acoustical abatement, moisture control, raised subfloor level and compensate for a subfloor not being flat or clean of adhesive residue,” explained David Jackson, vice president, field technical services, DriTac Flooring Products. “Certain underlayments expand the floor covering options available to the end-user, allowing them to install the flooring they prefer without needing to compromise. They may also help to achieve a greater level of comfort underfoot, while keeping concerns of unwanted noise or moisture at bay. Not all underlayments offer this breadth of features, and the correct underlayment for the job must always be recommended accordingly.”
Rob Kuepfer, president, Vinyl Trends, agreed, noting that the best underlayments on the market perform a variety of functions depending on what flooring type they are supporting. “They can be critical to the long-term performance of the flooring,” he added. “Flooring underlayments provide height leveling, stability and support while at the same time offering comfortable feel to each footfall—and some of the many products out there actually manage heat/cold transfer. It is important to choose your underlayment wisely.”
There’s another hurdle that RSAs must overcome when it comes to the successful sale of a premium underlayment in 2021: attached padding. Today’s hard surface flooring has become a haven for attached pad and can make the need for an additional premium underlayment seem redundant to the average consumer. However, flooring and underlayment suppliers both agree they are anything but.
“As a retailer, add-on sales equal add-on profits; too much emphasis has been placed on pad-attached flooring for convenience, especially for the do-it-for-me consumer,” said Deanna Summers, marketing specialist, MP Global. “They are more interested in the end result than the ease of installation. As a general rule, a separate underlayment can achieve better performance than a pad-attached product.”
In addition to traditional premium underlayments, liquid-applied underlayments can help support the installation by prepping the subfloor. These types of underlayments tout lightning-fast dry times, self-leveling properties and more.
“The flooring market is moving to more hard surfaces as we see a higher percentage of larger, more rigid flooring installations,” said Greg Hunsicker, director of product development and strategy, Ardex. “For these kinds of jobs, the choice and quality of the underlayment become more vital to the finished product. In every successful installation, substrate preparation is the first step in the process and prepares the floor for the chosen floor covering.”
Arthur Mintie, senior technical services director, Laticrete, agreed, noting, “It’s the flooring system that is responsible for carrying the weight of the walls, roof, furniture and people inside. Before applying finished flooring, experienced installers know to start with a flat substrate and carefully consider the surface preparation. Because of this, underlayments and levelers are an ever important component of a successful floor installation.”
Following are the latest advances in underlayments from today’s top suppliers.
Ardex K40 Rapid
Ready to install flooring after just two hours, the rapid, high-flow, self-leveling K40 Rapid underlayment can be used to level and smooth interior concrete, terrazzo, ceramic and quarry tile, epoxy coating systems and non-water-soluble adhesive residue on concrete. It levels from 3mm up to 24mm-thick.
Centaur Floor Systems Sound Reducer
Centaur’s Sound Reducer is a flat, resilient underlayment made of vulcanized composition rubber that can be used directly under most floor finishes. Sound Reducer is available in 2mm, 5mm, 10mm and 12mm, and will assist in exceeding IIC requirements.
Foam Products Silencer LVT
The premium Silencer LVT is suitable for all LVT, SPC, WPC and EVP vinyl planks with or without pre-attached pads and for both glue-down or floating applications. The underlayment also offers the highest acoustical benefit for vinyl plank installations. The product eliminates the hollow, clacking sounds associated with most laminates and vinyl planks.
DriTac 8400 EnviroTread
DriTac’s 8400 EnviroTread is a high-performance line of rubber underlayment and acoustical barrier. It is ideal for glue-down and floating installations across categories. It is made from 100% post-consumer waste and is VOC compliant. EnviroTread can improve footfall sound performance and also offers DriTac’s Dual Force, Silent Fuse technology.
Healthier Choice OmniChoice
OmniChoice Acoustical underlayment finds popularity among retailers and specifiers due to its versatility—it works under multiple flooring types such as laminate, hardwood, rigid core, ceramic and stone. It has excellent acoustical properties at a great price point.
Laticrete Nxt Level Flow
Laticrete’s Nxt Level Flow is a dynamic, entry-level, self-leveling underlayment (SLU) that offers extended workability and longer heal times, which means better performance of the finished floor. It is a value-engineered SLU featuring pumpable, easy-to-use and high-flow benefits.
Leggett & Platt Whisper Step
Whisper Step continues to grow in popularity due to its extreme performance and ease of use. Whisper Step supports the flooring over the life of the installation and helps control sound while providing ultimate moisture control.
Mapei Novoplan HFL
Novoplan HFL is a self-leveling underlayment and repair mix for interior concrete and engineer-approved floors with high-flow characteristics. It allows contractors to pour the floor and leave with little to no need for finishing tools. It is suitable for use under carpet, resilient, wood and ceramic flooring.
Mohawk Performance Accessories Platinum
Performance Accessories Platinum is available for floating, engineered wood; and for rigid vinyl products. Both options can be used with or without pre-attached pads. It is also designed for Mohawk’s new WetProtect flooring, helping to create a watertight floor.
MP Global QuietWalk LV
QuietWalk LV was developed to help with full subfloor moisture control and sound-deadening. The company will also soon launch a new product called Sound Buffer Pro, which will be its complete commercial-grade underlayment for under vinyl planks.
Vinyl Trends Eternity
Eternity premium underlayment has zero VOCs and provides cushion for a comfortable walk. The product is highly rated for sound performance and moisture resistance. Eternity LVT aims to give a floor a softer, real-wood sound that customers are excited to hear from a non-wood floor.
WE Cork Silently LVT
WE Cork underlayments offer solutions for all flooring types—solutions the customer may not even realize she needs. We Cork’s WECU Silently LVT is designed for sound abatement and thermal insulation under resilient LVT products.