By Reginald Tucker When you have an ever-expanding product line that includes some of the most well-known hardwood flooring brands available—as well as both new and familiar LVT and SPC residential and commercial offerings—it’s vitally important to foster a go-to-market strategy that effectively supports those brands while adequately serving customers across the key channels and end-use markets.
That’s the approach AHF Products is taking as it continues to build on its growing product portfolio. For example, the company’s signature Bruce, Hartco and LM Flooring brands will be sold through traditional distribution channels—with the Hartco line exclusively distributed to independent specialty retailers—while the venerable Robbins brand will be marketed direct to retail, including members of the vaunted National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA). In an era of rapid change and evolution, it’s all about honoring the role that each channel partner plays while ensuring all partners can embrace a strategy that makes both economic and logistical sense.
“We listen to our customers,” said Brian Carson, president and CEO, AHF Products. “As a result, we work in tandem on the most advantageous go-to-market strategy for each channel. With our stable of brands, our product differentiation and merchandising, we’re able to keep these channels segmented. This portfolio of top brands allows us to bring our channel partners the right style, value, innovation and marketing to enable them to differentiate themselves and grow market share.”
In the last two years, AHF Products launched more than 1,000 new SKUs and placed more than 10,000 displays at retail—the vast majority of that activity, according to Carson, essentially facilitated through its distributors. Over that same timeframe, AHF introduced or reintroduced seven brands into the market. “We reintroduced two of our legacy brands, Hartco and Robbins, which have been in the market for a year now,” Carson explained. “Those two brands have more than 20 new collections in those brands. More importantly, those two brands alone have more than 200 years of combined brand equity in the marketplace—one is 75 years old; the other 125. So, when I say those are brands with a long legacy, they have endured over a long period of time.”
But that doesn’t mean AHF can rest on its laurels. When you have brands with such a rich, storied history, it’s important to ensure they remain relevant to a new consumer audience. “You have to keep them fresh, exciting and innovative,” said Wendy Booker, vice president of marketing and product development. “A lot of our innovations have really come out of our core brands. If you think about Hartco, Bruce and Robbins, the reason they’ve been around so long is because we’ve been able to keep them fresh and make sure we’re continuing to listen to customers and be responsive to their questions and needs as well as demands from their markets.”
For AHF Products, it’s all about creating value all the way through to the downstream customer, from the distributor to the retailer and, ultimately, the consumer. “If we’re not adding value for all three, something breaks down in the chain,” Carson explained. “One of the ways we do that is through open and constant dialog with our distributor and retail partners. We bring distributors ideas, but we also ask the distributors what they need to help service their customers—the flooring retailers and contractors. As a result, they bring us ideas, and we sort through that. And then we go back down in the engine room and see if we can provide a solution that creates value for them and for us.”
Getting into vinyl plank was an example of that exchange of ideas. “They gave us some wonderful ideas of how we could bring some things to them with product styling, branding and merchandising that could offer them something unique, something that they could call their own,” Carson said. “When we did that, we came back to them with our interpretation of their ideas. They just hit it out of the park, and we’re off to the races in a brand-new category for us today. That kind of collaborative partnership with our channel partners, whether it’s a retailer or a distributor, has served us well.”
Distributors applaud efforts
AHF Products’ distributor partners attested to the value of the relationship. “AHF Products does a great job working collaboratively with their distributors to maximize opportunity in, and service for, the market,” said Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of Romeoville, Ill.-based FlorStar Sales, the No. 13-ranked flooring distributor. “AHF also actively solicits input about product, both from a styling and performance standpoint, to ensure their offering is relevant nationally and regionally. AHF’s leadership team communicates regularly and consistently with their distributors about developments in the marketplace, not merely from a product standpoint, but also with respect to topics as diverse as raw material supply, domestic and international political issues that effect the supply chain, innovation, expansion and so on.”
Rozmus said AHF Products worked hard to maintain contact with its distributor partners during the onset of the pandemic and throughout. “They even spent time in the early part of 2020 providing virtual seminars, at their expense, to educate their distributors about COVID-19, PPP, shutdown laws and so on,” he added. “Almost all of the information AHF reviewed had little to no direct benefit to them, but it was informative and quite helpful to distributors and dealers. AHF works hard to ensure their paths to market are clear and clearly understood within the channel. This approach not only is highly ethical, but it allows everyone to invest in the business with confidence.”
FlorStar is not alone in its assessment of the value behind the relationship AHF Products maintains with its wholesaler customers. Carrollton, Texas-based Adleta Corp., another top 20 distributor, praised AHF’s efforts as well.
“AHF is very understanding of the value distribution adds and are doing a great job of communicating with us,” said John Sher, president. “We are using both of our strengths to service our mutual customers. A manufacturer can add all the expenses to do the same things we do—inventory, logistics, sales, credit—but our customers consistently say, ‘We can do it better.’ Our customers want to buy from Adleta, and AHF is capitalizing on that.”
As a result of the close collaboration with its distributor partners, AHF said it has improved service levels across the channels. That’s especially helpful in a time when supply chains have been disrupted amid a global pandemic. “It’s no secret we’re in extraordinary times right now in terms of demand from the customers,” Carson stated. “We’re in a very unique time where the demand has been so great and the supplies of materials—whether it’s freight, folks to make it or materials—has been so limited. It takes a ballet to keep the business serviced; it’s not easy to do. And we wouldn’t be doing it without the partnership with the distributors. I think that’s been for the benefit of everybody involved.”