Budgets and building brands are the buzzwords
by Emily J. Cappiello
Although hardwood is one of the most sought-after flooring products in the residential market, there are still challenges in commercial. From designing to meet the needs of a completely different market to building brands, the wood category is still seeking to develop itself as a staple on the commercial side.
“[The category is] still extremely competitive, which is one of the main challenges,” said Dan Natkin, Mannington’s director of wood and laminate business. “We spend a lot of time specifiying and then other companies come in at the last minute.”
Natalie Jones, vice president of commercial brand development for Mannington Commercial, agreed pricing is still an issue for contract projects that are looking for hardwood. “Budgets are still very constrained, and since the downturn, people are watching them very closely.”
Doug Leigh, vice president of sales and marketing for Triangulo, echoed her sentiment. “The hottest trends still seem to be price-conscious products.”
Allie Finkell, Shaw’s commercial hard surface marketing manager, said hardwood has always been a classic product and is still very much in demand. “Hardwood has always been popular in retail applications. As for trends, we are seeing extremes—very rustic in reclaimed, antiqued barn wood looks and then the opposite—very clean grain in traditional cherries and dark browns.”
In addition, Natkin said that some of the hottest hardwood trends in the commercial market involve different sizes and formats. “Earthly Elements has done really well for us in this segment because we can incorporate multiple planks.”
But, according to industry insiders, there are ways to create new opportunities in contract. For USFContract, Mark Brunelle, national sales director, said one of the ways it is creating growth is by developing cutting-edge products. “One of budding opportunities e-merging is the favorable response to oiled wood finishes rather than the traditional UV acrylic or aluminum oxide finishes. With the increasing use of wood in areas previously specified with other flooring, oiled floors offer a softer aesthetic due to the lower gloss level and ease of maintenance, which means no total refinishing is required.”
Natkin and Jones told FCNews that in order to create more opportunities for Mannington, the company created a portfolio of products and uses hardwood as part of a greater strategy and not a stand-alone piece. “We have a bundle that we put together for contract so you really have an option for every element,” Natkin said. Jones continued, “It allows us to really be able to work with the customer. For example, in Carrabba’s (Italian Grill), they were able to use our hardwood in the entryway and our porcelain in the bar area. It really enables us to give them solutions.”
Shaw also bundles products, Finkell said, to “add value for our customers since Shaw can supply hardwood as well as carpet and resilient.”
Building a brand
It’s not just design elements that lead to increased growth on the commercial side of the industry. Hardwood flooring manufacturers need to build a brand and establish themselves as leaders in the industry, which is one of the biggest challenges in the commercial sector. Thus, manufacturers are doing everything they can to create beautiful products that also showcase quality.
Triangulo’s Leigh said above all, it is the quality of the company’s goods that will allow it to create a brand for itself. “Once you have established yourself, the bar has been set. The benefit is that the customers’ expectations have been met time and time again. This reinforces the success of your brand as a product and a company.”
At a time where cost is king, Triangulo continues to stand firm in its philosophies. “No corners are ever cut in any of our processes. Since we own the entire supply chain, we rely on a stiff mandate that quality is of the utmost importance. This helps us manage our business because we don’t have to worry about recapturing lost profits due to claims payouts.”
Brunelle agreed that having control over the supply chain can bring contract hardwood to a better price point, thus increasing sales as well as helping to build a brand. “USFContract has a supply chain process to acquire product for better pricing, which allows us to ensure quality control and position the correct product in the most favorable applications. A thorough knowledge of the manufacturing and finishing really helps us position our products well. The majority of our bamboo and oak products are inventoried unfinished for the commercial market, which offers the design community product canvases rather than prefinished inventory. The ability to take these canvases and work along with the interior designer with custom colorations differentiates USFContract.”
Natkin pointed out the commercial market is different when it comes to building a brand, and it is everything from quality to style that helps you make inroads. “Successful commercial projects get other commercial projects. Design firms are usually working on multiple projects at a time, and when you have a client who is happy with the results, that person tends to want to continue to work with you and you end up building relationships.”
According to Shaw’s Finkell, building a commercial brand requires samples and marketing tailored to A&D. “You can’t rely on your residential materials to be successful. Having references from previous commercial jobs is one way to show the design community you are reputable. You have to have the right design and back it up with the right performance. Setting realistic expectations on performance is critical for designers and end users who are not always very familiar with hardwood and the limitations of using it in high traffic applications.”
She added that selecting styles and species that work well in higher traffic applications and a commercial grade aluminum oxide finish also help when it comes to building a brand in the contract sector.
All agree it comes down to quality. “Building a reputable brand in the market is very easy when you establish yourself as a quality manufacturer,” Triangulo’s Leigh said. “Provide the best service for the best products at the most competitive price— consistently.”