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Underlayments: Educating the customer

As any successful retailer or salesperson knows, selling flooring is never only about just selling, well, flooring. There’s more to it than that. As far as underlayment executives are concerned, the buying process for today’s consumer is not the total experience it should be without what lies underneath. There is an art to adding value and underlayments can provide a critical revenue stream to dealers currently operating businesses in such a difficult economic climate.

As Duane Reimer, technical director for MP Global Products said, “The customer needs to understand that what lies beneath the surface affects the overall performance of—and ultimate satisfaction with—a new floor. For customers buying a quality floor, carry-through with quality underlayment is important.

“A sales associate should inform customers that installing high-performing underlayment matched to the floor will bolster performance and durability of the [entire] floor system,” he explained, “whether solid wood, engineered wood, laminate or tile.”

Bob Cummings, marketing manager for Pak-Lite believes if you’re selling the floor and not the underlayment, “you’re missing out on the potential whole sale, and losing out on profits.”

Knowledge is as critical to the underlayment selling process as it is to any other product. As Reimer noted, the specifications and characteristics of an underlayment can affect sound transmission between floors, walking comfort, the perceived warmth or coldness of the floor, the ability to handle moisture emanating from the subfloor, and the flatness of the finished floor surface. “Therefore, sales associates should not be short-sighted and rush to close a sale by throwing in a generic—and possibly underperforming—underlayment. That’s missing an opportunity to upsell. Once a floor is installed, it’s too late to change an under- performing underlayment.”

Ray Rodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates agreed with Reimer, noting, most people hate to be sold, but love to buy. The easiest way to sell the finest underlayments available is to just include them with the floor. “A brief explanation of the difference a particular underlayment will make to the completed floor project will be sufficient for most buyers. More information should only be provided if the buyer asks.”

There’s that word again…

Cummings believes a successful underlayment sales strategy always starts with education, i.e., product knowledge. “If you can combine that knowledge with pertinent qualifying questions, then the strategy and a successful conclusion are almost guaranteed. Whether the sale is to a do-it-yourselfer, architect or installer, you need to ask pertinent questions regarding installation. Those questions will ultimately lead to sales success and customer satisfaction.”

According to Randy Dye, product manager for Leggett & Platt, cushion is the most over- looked aspect of today’s carpet industry. “Because most retail sales associates (RSAs) worry most about whether they will get the sale, they tend to avoid adding what they perceive as additional cost by discussing broadloom cushion options.

This is a major disservice to the consumer, and part of the reason nobody thinks about the product. Cushion provides the foundation by which a carpet performs as it is intended. An RSA’s job is to not only educate the consumer on the type of broadloom best suited for her needs, but to help her decide on the proper cushion so her carpet is comfortable and retains its appearance.”

As Rodriguez noted, Star-line’s upgraded product Silent Blue should be included with middle to higher end floating floor products, while its base grade underlayment is for budget minded people buying very inexpensive laminate floors.

“My suggestion for salespeople is to simply include the appropriate product with the floor and give the buyer one price including everything necessary to complete the job in the best way possible. Give a brief explanation of how the best materials are being used, including an underlayment that protects the floor from moisture and keeps it quiet as well.”

Reimer suggested, to help ensure the sales associate picks the right premium underlayment to accompany a flooring choice, he should be already familiar with the “talking points” of MP Global’s various products. “Each one carries specific value-adding benefits and attributes engineered in to enhance the specific types of flooring—engineered wood, laminate, glued-down hardwood, or tile— for which it is suitable.

“For example,” he noted, “when a sale associate sells laminate or floating wood flooring to an eco-minded customer, he could introduce QuietWalk, a premium green, sound-suppressing, insulating underlayment for these types of floors with a combination of benefits and attributes that makes important contributions to a flooring install.”

As Cummings noted, a good sales strategy is a result of product knowledge and good probing questions that automatically will help you with what products are needed. The product knowledge part is up to you. “Here are a few qualifying questions that may be of value to you in your determining what underlayment best suits the customer’s needs. Obviously, the idea is to obtain information that allows you to recommend products that will make the customer satisfied for years to come.”

  • Is the installation in the basement or below grade? If below, an underlayment with moisture barrier attached is needed (most come this way now)
  • Is the installation above a lower room and is it important to limit sound transmission to that room? If so, then an acoustic grade underlay is needed.
  • Have you ever purchased a laminate or engineered hardwood floor? This can lead you into a secondary question as to whether reflective sound is important to them. The goal here is to avoid customer dissatisfaction as a result of a clicky sounding floor.
  • Are you doing the installation yourself? Some underlays are more DIY friendlier than others. Once again, product knowledge dictates the correct solution.

Dye believes today’s salespeople must educate the consumer as to the “whole system” of carpet selection. “With the whole system—carpet and the cushion— carpet dictates which type of cushion is required. It’s most beneficial to discuss cushion as early as possible during the selling process. A ‘walk test’ should be administered during carpet selection to show the customer the performance level of each combination of carpet and cushion. Dealers should also reiterate the fact cushion, not as much as carpet, provides the actual comfort they enjoy.” Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice, makers of Sound Solution, believes in using a threefold strategy when selling underlayment. “First, define the primary floor covering, subfloor type, and installation method for the project. The type of underlayment that can be used will be dictated by these three elements.

“Second, discover what the customer’s needs are beyond the style of the primary floor covering. Everyone has different needs and discovering what they are will lead to a successful buying experience and most likely yield a returning customer.

“Third, direct them to the best underlayment that meets their criteria,” he explained. “Most often this means upgrading the customer to a premium acoustical underlayment that has benefits far beyond sound control, like Sound Solution.”

-Louis Iannaco