Megan Salzano-Birch—When it comes to marketing campaigns, more than one industry insider will quote: “What the headline giveth, the fine print taketh away.” That couldn’t be truer, it seems, than when talking about waterproof flooring.
The truth about waterproof flooring is that suppliers and dealers alike tout the draw it provides and commend its ability to get shoppers in the door; however, they will also warn against overpromising and underdelivering. It’s a catch 22 that seems only remedied by responsible manufacturers and educated RSAs.
The fact remains, waterproof flooring—regardless of the hype—resonates deeply with consumers. “With so many available waterproof flooring options, having a waterproof floor has become a consumer norm and not the exception,” explained Jenne Ross, director of marketing, Karndean Designflooring. “Consumers expect their floor to be waterproof.”
Bo Perkins, general manager, Broadway Carpets & Flooring, Knoxville, Tenn., agreed, noting his own success with the category. “Waterproof flooring is almost always a guaranteed win for us when we are attracting customers and looking to initiate sales,” he explained. “Whether it’s carpet, hardwood or LVT, consumers are looking for some type of protection against water and spills or pet accidents. With our marketing and messaging, we have seen great success with any form of “proof”—splash-proof, pet-proof, kid-proof, etc.”
Suppliers support the sale
There’s no doubt waterproof flooring has its benefits—low-maintenance, worry-free floors that can survive kids and pets galore. Still, it begs the question, what does the supplier owe the dealer and their customer?
For Karndean’s Ross, manufacturers need to be straightforward and frank in their waterproof messaging. “Manufacturers need to clearly define and communicate a product’s waterproof capabilities and limitations, both in installation instructions and warranty documents, to set realistic expectations for retailers and end users,” she said. “With any product performance claim, marketing materials should showcase perceived benefits in a realistic manner and not overpromise or deceive the consumer.”
American OEM vice president Don Finkell agreed that heavy responsibility lies with the supplier. “Manufacturers have the primary responsibility for relaying what their products can and can’t do in regard to waterproof abilities,” he said. “The most important thing manufacturers can do to help dealers sell waterproof flooring is accurately describe the product’s attributes and then, of course, manufacture a product that lives up to those claims.”
For Shaw Industries, it’s all about proper training. “We educate retailers and RSAs on specific performance attributes through ongoing training and a myriad of resources found online, in-store and via QR codes on displays and product packaging,” said Herb Upton, vice president of residential product. “Consumers have access to many of these same resources, and we encourage RSAs to leverage them to set expectations during sales consultations and ensure a positive floor buying experience.”
Suppliers across the board agree RSAs should become intimately involved in the selling process when it comes to all flooring types, including the ins and outs of waterproof flooring. “RSAs should use consultative selling to help the consumer find the best product based upon their lifestyle,” said David Sheehan, vice president of residential hard surface, Mannington Mills. “Consumers are looking for the best looking, best performing product for their environment. If they have an extremely active household with kids and pets, a laminate product might be the most appropriate. That said, they might not care for the ambient noise and that may default them to a quieter, floating, waterproof LVT. If they have an environment that can be exposed to water but they prefer the look and feel of real wood, they may elect to have wood-hybrid or a high-performance waterproof wood.”
As waterproof flooring continues to dominate, suppliers will need to be keenly aware of their impact when marketing the inherent benefits of the category. Joel Tetreault, vice president of marketing and product development, resilient, Mohawk, summed it up this way: “We know that not all waterproof claims are the same across the market. Looking forward into 2022, you’re going to see the resilient business launch some great industry-leading waterproof technology that will give retailers and customers alike something to be very excited about.”
Dealers dive in
While flooring suppliers carry the burden of responsibly marketing waterproof flooring to the consumer, the effort doesn’t stop there. Flooring dealers agree they own much of the responsibility when it comes to finding the perfect flooring for each customer.
“The good thing about the vendors marketing waterproof so much is that it is bringing people into the market,” explained Jason O’Krent, director of sales, O’Krent Floors, San Antonio, Texas. “That is a strong, powerful word and it’s an attention grabber. But when [consumers] come in, we have to make sure they understand what they’re getting. I’ll even sometimes say, ‘I know it says waterproof on the display, but let’s see what it’s actually protecting against.’”
For Adam Joss, president, The Vertical Connection Carpet One, Columbia, Md., the responsibility on the side of the store owner and RSA is a no brainer. “I wouldn’t call anything ‘anything-proof,’” he said. “It’s important for a good sales rep and a good retailer to work with their client and explain what waterproof means—what protection they have and what protection they don’t have.”
Rachel Berlin, sales manager at Precision Floor & Décor, Plymouth, Wis., also said she always explains to her clients what they can expect from waterproof flooring. “I usually tell my clients that the floor is topically waterproof (LVP). In the case of water-resistant laminate, we try to be careful with how we word things. The biggest thing is asking questions. Waterproof floors are going to be great for the client who has a busy life with kids, pets and a messy husband. So, we just have to talk about what waterproof actually means.”
Broadway Carpets & Flooring’s Perkins agreed, citing the strong draw waterproof flooring still has. “Accidents are bound to happen, so we promote the extra protections that waterproof flooring provides our customers, increasing the longevity and durability of their investment.”