By Reginald Tucker It’s no secret that hardwood flooring has lost precious market share to competing flooring categories such as SPC and LVT/P and, more recently, laminate. With all the hoopla surrounding waterproof protection, particularly with respect to the growing array of resilient offerings, it has become more challenging for hardwood to compete with these products head to head.
But hardwood flooring suppliers and specialty wood distributors are not caving in to the pressure. Beyond making performance enhancements designed to improve hardwood flooring’s performance in the home, suppliers and distributors are also applying their creative juices by employing various branding and marketing initiatives. The goal, they say, is to get retailers and end users excited about selling hardwood—a premium product category with a host of tangible benefits.
One recent example of this creativity at work is the marketing program that Southern Diversified Distributors—the parent company of top 20 distributor William M. Bird—put in place to promote both its supplier-branded hardwood flooring offerings as well as its private-label lines. (These include Somerset, Raintree and Palmetto Road.) In the old days, the task of consumer marketing in the flooring business has largely been placed on the manufacturer. However, Southern Diversified Distributors has been employing an alternative method to reach and influence the consumer in her flooring purchasing decision by leveraging (wait for it) its consumer-facing Twenty & Oak online marketing platform.
Twenty & Oak is a website that features a virtual showroom to reach consumers in the market for floor covering. But instead of selling direct to the consumer, any leads generated are forwarded along to the appropriate retail partner for follow up. “In recent years, we really started seeing the rise of the e-retailer and how that was affecting our locally owned, independent flooring retailers,” said Sharon Higgins, senior marketing strategist for Southern Diversified. “Many times they would see pricing online that undercut what they were selling.”
While Southern Diversified Distributors had long observed an internet pricing policy designed to protect its core brands and suppliers, the company realized it still needed to find a way to have a presence in the online space without hurting brick-and-mortar dealers. “Twenty & Oak really came out of that thought process,” Higgins explained. “For our independent retailers, it’s about being able to compete online but in a way that truly reflects who they are. Twenty & Oak helps retailers achieve that.”
At the core of this marketing strategy is social media. Twenty & Oak has partnered with four leading home influencers to tell the story of Twenty & Oak, the brand and the retailer, and to showcase the floor buying process from start to finish. Twenty & Oak kicked off its influencer program with a partnership with Traci (goes by first name only) from Beneath My Heart, providing her with Biscuit engineered hardwood flooring from Palmetto Road’s Chalmer’s Collection for her home.
Next, the company partnered with Lindsay Jackman at White Buffalo Styling Co., providing her with Cottonfield hardwood flooring from Veranda by Palmetto Road’s Charleston Collection for her residence. Then Twenty & Oak teamed up with Laura Janning of Duke Manor Farm, providing her with Crevasse 100% waterproof hardwood flooring from Raintree Floors. Lastly, the company partnered with Kim Wilson from Sand & Sisal, providing her with more than 1,500 square feet of Nola hardwood flooring from Palmetto Road’s Tuscany collection.
The influencers were provided with the flooring of their choice in exchange for four weeks of coverage, including original blog posts, social amplification, video and high-quality, high-resolution images that can be used for future marketing and/or branding purposes. To support each campaign, the influencers were given a branded URL along with a consumer code for ordering free samples.
“We found these partners to be a great way to share their journey of buying new floors from start to finish,” Higgins said. “Appealing directly to flooring shoppers and driving consumers into a store to ask for the flooring brands showcased was a big deal compared to the traditional distributor role, which is to bring in displays and put all the local marketing on the store.”
And if this results in retailers selling more wood flooring, then it’s all worth the effort. Influencer Janning of Duke Manor Farm partnered with Loganville, Ga.-based Albright’s Flooring, and Sand & Sisal’s Wilson teamed up with Chesapeake, Va.-based Esprit Decor Home Furnishings on the effort. The retailers were involved in the process from the beginning of each campaign with in-store product selection and installing the flooring. Influencers were able to order samples, and Twenty & Oak matched the influencer with their nearest retailer. Next, the influencer was encouraged to visit their retailer to view larger sample boards to aid in their selection process. Designers and flooring specialists at the retailer were also able to assist the influencer and answer questions. The entire journey was chronicled for the influencer’s loyal readers and following.
“It was a very pleasant experience,” said Kris Creekmore, manager of the floor covering department at Espirit Décor Flooring. “Everybody was very professional and very courteous of our time and resources. It went very well.”
More importantly, Espirit Décor Flooring received leads that they might not have had access to otherwise, had they not participated in the Twenty & Oak influencer marketing initiative. “I’ve gotten emails where people have requested some samples to be sent to them, and I’ve reached out to them and introduced myself,” Creekmore told FCNews. Now, it’s just a matter of converting those leads into sales.
Other suppliers are utilizing star power to target consumers who might soon be in the market for hardwood flooring. Such is the case with the newly launched tmbr brand of hardwood from AHF Products. In support of the new brand, AHF enlisted the services of Seth and Tori Bolt, owners of Bolt Farm Treehouse. The millennial lifestyle couple builds highly sought-after B&B homes that provide a nature-immersive travel experience.
“We feel deeply aligned with tmbr as the brand, like ours, artfully showcases the natural beauty of the great outdoors,” Tori Bolt stated.
Prior to its partnership with the Bolts, AHF successfully collaborated on a co-branding initiative involving Mark Bowe, host of the cable TV show “Barnwood Builders.” Bowe, a skilled craftsman, historian and the founder of Antique Cabins and Barns, based in Beverly, W. Va., teamed up to introduce the Barnwood Living collection—a line of American-made solid hardwood flooring that conveys the authentic look of a reclaimed, time-worn floor.
“This collection brings this authentic look to the mass market, allowing consumers to capitalize on this look with the quality they have come to expect from the Bruce brand,” said Wendy Booker, vice president, marketing and product development, AHF Products.