October 13/20, 2014; Volume 28/Number 9
By Louis Iannaco
Five years ago, FreeFit luxury vinyl tile (LVT) was introduced into the U.S. market. A glueless loose-lay product, it was billed as having the “best-in-class wear layer” along with the “best warranty in the LVT market.” But with all the benefits and attributes attached to what many believe to be a truly innovative product, it still has to be installed properly for said benefits to be realized.
By investing in and launching an installation certification program for retailers and their installers, FreeFit saw this process would be just as solid as the product itself. And it looks like its efforts are paying off.
When FreeFit was first introduced, the concept was that no tape was needed along the perimeter, noted Ray Pina, FreeFit’s vice president of sales and marketing, and the executive charged with educating installers and retailers on how best to install the company’s product. With FreeFit you don’t need tapes or glue for it to hold itself in place, “but you do need to secure the product on the perimeter.
“Originally,” he explained, “the instructions were that you had to place it tight against the wall, and that held it in place. However, installers insisted on leaving an expansion gap because that’s what they are familiar with regarding wood and laminate. They wouldn’t place it tight against the wall. That would open up everything and release the pressure.”
Also, very few walls are truly square, Pina noted, “so if you push the floor against the wall, your two planks won’t be square; one will be sticking out a bit. When you install the next row, there is a gap, and if you multiply that by every row, there will be space.”
To rectify what was happening in the field, FreeFit invested $50,000 last fall so it could educate those interested on how best to install the product. “There’s a large variety of glues out there,” he said. “Most residences can be loose laid with FreeFit—you just have to secure the perimeter with Gecko Tape, Gecko Glue or other approved LVT adhesives, so there was a learning curve.
“For the past year my job has been to educate,” Pina said. “In some ways, talking with new distributors of the product is better because I’m giving them up-to-date information. The difficult part is going to those who have had the product longer, received the original message and now are being trained on a new message. And many installers don’t want to hear what you have to say. They think, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time.’”
If it’s a new distributor, Pina said, “they are bringing in all of their biggest customers and we’ll get them educated on a new product. If it’s an existing account, it can be someone who may have had a problem with FreeFit. Here’s an opportunity for them to be face to face with the manufacturer. Nine times out of 10, by the time I’m done they realize, ‘Oh, I didn’t acclimate it’ or, ‘That makes sense, I used the wrong glue.’ Where they came in accusatory, they wind up leaving educated.”
Each distributor promotes the program before Pina hits town, “then it’s a week-long event where I travel to different branches. In the morning, I’m doing the presentation for retail owners or large contractors,” covering everything from acclimation to using the correct adhesives.
Then, in the afternoon, as the installers are returning from their jobs, another event will be presented. “When it comes to training,” he concluded, “we go to them. If they’re willing to give us the time, we love it, because an educated customer is a happy customer, and there are fewer, if no, problems.”