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Floor covering distributors see 2010’s top sellers continuing to pay dividends in 2011

Today’s distributor is far more than the order taker and credit giver of its predecessors; it is a barometer for what is happening in a particular region.

This is true in multiple ways, from general business conditions to the latest in product trends and styles. In fact, when it comes to helping retailers decide which products make the most sense to carry, a distributor is a venerable weather bell of information.

While products that gain national attention may be tempting for a dealer to take on, a wholesaler can tell the store owner if a certain item is selling in the retailer’s market. By the same token, a distributor can tell a dealer of a product that may not necessarily be setting the world on fire but is doing well in the local market.

To that end, FCNews spoke with some of the industry’s leading wholesalers to get their take on the hottest products in 2010 throughout their regions and which they feel will continue to bring retailers strong returns in 2011. Distributors were asked to comment on items from tier one manufacturers as well as the top sellers from their smaller suppliers.

Hoy Lanning, CEO of CMH Space Flooring Products in Wadesboro, N.C., said the company has been “very aggressive in trying to find alternative products. We’ve invested a good deal of money and it is starting to pay off.” As an example, carpet. “We’ve never carried it. We kept getting calls from our customers asking for it so we started looking into it by comparing investment to risk and said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ So, we worked with Shaw to bring out the Salem brand for our dealers and it’s worked really well. In the last two months, we placed about 500 displays.”

When it came to specific best sellers, he cited a number of wood products by Anderson and Mullican. On the Anderson side, those with LusterLock, “a finish that is six times stronger than other floors,” are doing particularly well. Lanning noted much of that has to do with the selling tools the mill supplies. “They send you multiple pieces from different companies along with a scrubbing pad. You can barely see a scratch on the products with LusterLock, while the others are seriously scratched.”

For Mullican, he pointed to the Castillian collection of engineered wood as the hot seller. “The planks are extra wide, some over 6 inches, with a double staining application that’s literally like painting the floor— it’s a different look than what others have to offer.”

In vinyl, he mentioned AirStep, Congoleum’s alternative to the fiberglass-backed floors on the market. “The products are guaranteed not to buckle, whether they are glued down, loose laid or perimeter installed, so that is unique. Plus, they are made in the U.S. and have Congoleum’s Stain Defense System, making them super easy to clean.”

Overall, Lanning said, resilient as a category is “doing extremely well” and is CMH’s No. 1 category. “Base grade and luxury vinyl are what’s leading.”

Another area doing well for CMH is some of the distributor’s private-labeled brands. For instance, in laminate its Carolina Lifestyles collection, which comes from Lamett, “is a collection of shiny and scraped looks in extra wide (7 inches), extra long (7 foot) planks with an attached back.” Displayed in a simple but effective unit that showcases each style in a full plank, “It looks like a ski rack, which grabs the consumer’s attention.”

Luxe what’s selling

At FlorStar Sales in Chicago, Scott Rozmus, president, said Armstrong’s Luxe Plank and Alterna luxury vinyl tile (LVT) have been doing “tremendously well. They provide great looks at a great value. These are products I would recommend any retailer to carry.”

Why? “They’re not just hot products that have been tested by consumers; they put profits in your pocket without any headaches because they cause no problems once installed.”

Beyond these two resilient offerings from Armstrong, Rozmus said the company is seeing success in the tile category but not with a particular brand, rather a type of product: glass mosaics. “It could be a regional thing but they are very popular for us. We source this from different parts of the world so it is more the look [not the brand] that is selling.”

Glass mosaics are doing well in both the residential and commercial markets, he added, noting they are being used as part of a redecorating project because businesses and consumers are not purchasing new offices or homes but rather “tidying up their existing spaces. So they are using these for such things as a backsplash.”

What makes these products good for retailers, Rozmus added, is “they are not cheap. But customers will spend for them because it’s still less than buying a new house so incrementally they can really add up.”

In wood, he said FlorStar is seeing success by working with its suppliers to come up with packages that fit the different regions the company serves. This is where a distributor can be invaluable to retailers. “Each region is different and wood allows a distributor to put together offerings that fit each area. So, instead of just coming out with a blanket selection we ask retailers what they want to buy and see, analyze the specific market trends and then work with our vendors who have been more than willing to modify a product to help it sell in a particular area.”

This strategy, Rozmus explained, has allowed wood to remain popular in the company’s territory, “despite what is being said around the rest of the country.”

One general wood trend he is seeing is “exotics are not as popular right now. It could be because of illegal logging issues, the economy or something else. As a result, domestics are gaining share.” In terms of color, Rozmus said the chocolates and browns are strong while the reds have slipped. “Also, wider widths and such things as lighter textures are more popular. Consumers like rustic woods but not so much with the heavy scrape—they like the lighter refinements.”

Quick and Adura-ble

For NRF Distributors, Terry Gray, senior vice president of marketing, said “carpet is still a big deal for us—it’s our largest single category.” The distributor carries products from about a dozen manufacturers. “We never gave up on carpet. The key to success is service and selection: We deliver twice a week and have, in stock, about 90 products and their entire color lines. We can take up an entire store.”

When it comes to specific products, she said NRF has seen “great success” with the Veresque laminate collection from Quick•Step as well as Mannington’s Adura with its new LockSolid technology. With Veresque, Gray said it is more than just “new and stylish.” Using the collection’s Burnished Walnut Planks as an example, she noted, “when it is installed you cannot tell what it is—real wood or laminate.”

Add to that the product’s performance attributes and it should continue to do well this year, Gray added. “The average person out shopping is 40 or older and, most likely, has pets. Plus, we all drop things and people are worried about a wood floor denting.” Throw in the Uniclic locking system and “these floors are really easy to install; they look great and they perform.”

With Mannington’s Adura, Gray said LockSolid “is a revolutionary locking system. It’s easy to show, easy to install, and it’s got Mannington’s phenomenal styling, making for a product retailers can feel confident in selling.”

Despite NRF’s territory mainly being in the Northeast, the distributor is seeing success with tile, specifically products from American Marazzi. NRF offers five qualities with all colors and sizes in one rack “so it is ready for immediate shipment. Samples are full sheets that slide in and out in a compact 5-foot area.”

What makes the collection special, she said, is how each product is made. “Marazzi uses a computer-generated application for the glaze so there are less errors and the sample mirrors the real product. It’s a unique concept for tile.”

Steve Kurtz, president of Salesmaster Flooring Solutions, said the “whole family” of raised designer rubber tile and rubber stair treads from Roppe “is a strong suit; we’re selling a lot of it.”

He said color, design and quality of the product all come into play, as does the fact it is natural rubber. “Roppe is very involved in the green movement and this is a good example.”

Another area Salesmaster is seeing positive results is healthcare, specifically with Mannington’s branded Relay RE heterogeneous and BioSpec homogeneous products. “Healthcare of all sorts is thriving so we’re getting a lot of calls for these,” Kurtz noted. Soon to be released, he added, is a relaunch of BioSpec as Biospec MD which contains an anti-microbial, “so it will be that much better in operating rooms and medical offices.”

Also from Mannington is Nature’s Path vinyl tile that Kurtz said “is a great product for multi-family and assisted living facilities. Both of these areas are growing. “Especially where they want the look of wood but can’t afford it. We’re seeing more of that, especially in multi-family where they want a product that is also more durable and easier to maintain.” Nature’s Path is also a good choice for retail stores, he added.

-Matthew Spieler