Posted on

From industry to consumer, websites command attention

The Internet is an essential element of any business. With a staggering 80% of consumers researching online before ever entering a store, businesses without a strong, updated website are doing themselves a great disservice if not part of that process. If your company is not part of her floor covering education, you will most likely not be part of her purchasing process either.

“We’ve learned the Internet is the most commonly used tool to learn about our floors and to find a retailer that carries our products,” said Richard Milliron, director of eMarketing at Armstrong. “We believe a website should be an aid to help flooring representatives in making sales [and] must employ usability best practices to keep a visitor and guide her through the purchase cycle. Website visitors know they can abandon the site at the first feeling of frustration and visit another website to meet their needs.”

Access is a key component at the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) with no less than seven websites ranging from consumer-focused to member-focused to industry- focused. Specifically aimed at one of the largest categories of floor covering, NWFA’s sites promote wood products to provide a greater educational experience for its users, especially with tools like its Design a Room, in which visitors can try out different wood species in different rooms throughout the home, said Anita Howard, communications director.

The NWFA’s tactics are working. Woodfloors.org generated more than 3,000 visits per day in July, totaling 101,256 that month, Howard said.

Targeted at the consumer

Some companies are aiming their sites at the green; the consumer. Tarkett recently re-vamped its website to make it more consumer friendly, said Gary Finseth, residential marketing director, with what he described as an overall decorating tool for the home. Roomvue allows the end user to make a decision on her new flooring designs and mix and match with choices of wall color, baseboards and flooring transitions all with her busy lifestyle in mind.

“Tarkett Residential’s roomvue online flooring visualizer makes it easy for consumers to select new flooring within the comfort of their own homes,” Finseth explained. Through Tarkett’s website, consumers can select a room from the site’s photo gallery or upload digital photos of their own room and choose a floor style and pattern from its laminate collection to NAFCO luxury vinyl flooring, to Consumers Digest rated FiberFloor resilient. She can also test her preferences against wall colors and flooring accessories.

Feature benefits extend to the retailer as well. For retailers who open roomvue on their in- store computer, they’ll see great selling features like the ability to shop flooring designs that can be added to a consumer’s wish list cart, flooring choices illustrated in a multi-room format, as well as a complete 360 degree view of the floor.

To familiarize yourself with roomvue, visit tarkettna.com.

Resulting from a realization that hardwood flooring is just one element in the overall design of a space, Mullican decided to incorporate a Designer’s Oasis in its website. According to Tressa Samdal, marketing coordinator, the feature gives users an opportunity to explore color and design options that are most appropriate for their flooring project.

“Many people feel clueless about their sense of style,” she explained. “Individuals usually have a tendency to be attracted to more than one design style, so the quiz gives consumers direction and more self-awareness when it comes to style. [Design Oasis] also means consumers will have a better understanding of hardwood flooring when visiting their local dealer, which in turn, should result in a smoother, more efficient buying experience.”

Keeping the educational portion of shopping was of great importance at Mullican so products can be browsed by color, collection (solid or engineered flooring) or species. “As industry professionals, it is important for us to remember that not all consumers are familiar with hardwood flooring,” Samdal said. “By providing consumers a variety of methods for browsing our extensive product offering, they can familiarize themselves with our products in a manner that is most comfortable to them.”

Along those lines, Columbia kept organization for ease of shopping a top priority with its Interactive Color Palette. Learning that customers prefer to shop by color, the mill developed the feature to further illustrate the depth of products in order from light to dark. To achieve this, Columbia uses some of the largest product swatches online in the industry at 550 x 340 pixels, said Paij Thorn-Brooks, senior director of marketing. This highlights product intricacies and detailing before the shopper ever sets foot in a store.

“We have found the Columbia website is a critical part of the initial stages in the customer’s shopping process,” Thorn-Brooks said. “Customers use the products and information they find on the website as a starting point or reference to narrow down selections before walking into our retailer showrooms.

Shaw is also helping its buyers find their comfort zone while shopping for floor covering with its Try On A Floor room visualizer. Consumers can upload a photo from their own home to virtually redecorate it with new Shaw carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile and stone, or area rugs and can even change the color of the walls or other surfaces in the rooms.

“We know consumers are researching their flooring purchase online, often before ever going into the store,” said Todd Callaway, interactive marketing manager. “We want to provide the tools, information and inspiration that can help move consumers toward their own goals for their home with Shaw floors.”

Thinking ahead, the manufacturer planned to spread the knowledge gained through its website development to its retailers. Shaw Web Studio is the culmination of those efforts. According to Callaway, retailers are able to create a new website, add a Shaw product catalog to an existing website, or get an automated data and image feed if they already have their own online catalog. (Read the Web Studio story for more information.)

Mohawk is also providing individualized sites for its retailers with Mohawk Dealer Website Services (DWS). Nicki Osborn, marketing coordinator, said the program takes a comprehensive approach to online presence with three major advantages: custom design and site management, integrated search engine optimization, and flooring content with updates. “If a store has an existing website and wants to incorporate Mohawk content into it, there is also a ‘select’ option,” she added.

How effective is the program for retailers? “Consider the example of Jaime’s Flooring Center, a ColorCenter retailer in Fresno, Calif.,” Osborn said. The store’s site launched in beta form in the first quarter of 2009 and did not exist online as of April 1. “By Oct. 1—just six months later—Jaime’s site ranked on 163 words with 58 of those on the first page.”

(Editor’s note: to learn about search engine optimization, see FCNews’ Guide to Using Social Media in Business.)

Making connections

Another company with a handful of industry websites is Hanley Wood, the force behind Surfaces. The event site at surfaces.com is filled with unique features aimed at making one of the largest industry events manageable and more successful for everyone involved.

Perhaps one of the most unique features is hmail, a component of Hanley Wood’s proprietary social networking tool that allows exhibitors and attendees to communicate with each other before, during and after the event, said Kelly Cooper, marketing manager.

Found in Hanley Wood’s Connect portal system, hmail gives users access to historical data, contact info, session handouts, blogs, industry news and more. Exhibitors can schedule appointments with attendees and can also find new industry members. Cooper said hmail users can run searches based on product interest and location, stretching networking capabilities further than in the past.

Access comes with registration and is available up to eight weeks before and after the show.

“The websites have been completely redesigned and redeveloped over the course of the past few years to incorporate the latest technology, social media marketing tools and dynamic content,” Cooper said. “Gone are the days of the trade show website that ramps up 20 weeks before the event and falls off right after. Even bigger plans are in store for 2011 to bring a virtual look, feel and functionality to the site, further perpetuating the year-round experience and bringing as much value as we can to our customers.”

Also, within the industry, the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) provides its members with a host of contractors across all categories, but it doesn’t stop there. It is the go-to source for installer jobs from quality-conscious consumers, major contractors, dealers and other industry figures.

It also matches the right installer for the right job, at the viewer’s discretion, said Jill Sheets, CFI’s Internet committee advisor. “Installers are listed according to the certification they have earned,” she explained. “Selecting an installer who has not passed the required categories may present a problem and the organization stresses the importance of understanding the various levels.” An abundance of information is available to clear up any confusion for its users.

Carving new avenues in the business, roomsalive.com is a unique educational experience and marketing tool in the flooring industry. With a consumer site featuring predominantly visual tutorials, it is preparing to launch a B2B site to help industry players capture the sales generated from the consumer site in much of the same fashion.

“We designed our B2B site to show—not tell—dealers about roomsalive and how we expect to enhance their business,” said Mark Lorberbaum, president. “We invested in professionally produced tutorial-style videos to illustrate how our selling tools will help dealers connect with and engage customers.”

He said the site addresses a multi-faceted Internet marketing program, including a consumer website, dealer websites with interactive features such as a virtual design studio, live chats and shop-at-home pro- gram, as well as an in-store kiosk. “With a varied menu of participation for dealers, we felt the site needed to be comprehensive and easy to follow,” Lorberbaum said.

-Emily Hooper