April 13/20, 2015; Volume 29/Number 1
By Nadia Ramlakhan
The techniques retailers use to display products can oftentimes make or break a sale, especially when it comes to laminate. With the attention span of today’s consumers dwindling by the day, sales associates only have a few minutes to make an impression. It doesn’t matter how durable or scratch resistant laminate is—if a customer can’t visualize a product in her home right away, or if the display space is too cluttered and overwhelming, she’ll be on to the next one in no time.
“The whole objective is to simplify [the process],” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for the flooring division of RC Willey Home Furnishings with multiple locations throughout Utah, Nevada, California and Idaho. “It can get very confusing with the amount of choices customers have today. We have to narrow down the best products from quality [manufacturers] and make the shopping experience easier for customers.”
Most retailers recommend having large samples on display in the showroom, giving potential buyers a better and more realistic idea of how certain looks play out in a larger space, whereas with smaller samples it can be a challenge to picture a product covering an entire floor. However, because larger samples are difficult to handle, it is also a good idea to keep smaller swatches available.
“Customers like large samples because they give them the ability to visualize what it’s going to look like in their own homes,” Mondragon said. “But because they are so large, customers aren’t eager to take them home. It serves both purposes as far as visuals and keeping samples on the floor.”
Surprisingly, retailers who sell large amounts of laminate don’t position the category against hardwood. Instead, laminate usually makes up its own section on the floor within the hard surface area. One reason for this placement is consumers aren’t shopping based on materials or product types; they are typically looking for a particular style or appearance. “Consumers come in to find a certain visual,” Mondragon continued. “Then depending on their lifestyles we qualify them to a product we feel will fit their needs and give them options from there.”
Ron Rogers, founder of America’s Carpet Barn in Traverse City, Mich., believes “it’s a generational thing” and that customers either want hardwood or laminate—not both. “They are two totally different customers. The younger people want laminate, the older ones want hardwood, and since there aren’t many older people in the market the laminate outsells the hardwood by far.”
For some retailers the merchandising process begins before they even choose suppliers. Eric Langan, owner of Carpetland USA in Davenport, Iowa, carefully decides which companies to work with so that when it comes to displays, he doesn’t have to make the decisions. “We’re selective with who we partner with. But once we make that decision, each manufacturer has a good variety of samples on their displays. They do most of the work for you.”
Although manufacturer displays tend to offer a range of colors and sizes, other dealers take matters into their own hands and provide their own displays to complement them. Dawn Iversen, president and owner of Jerry’s Floor Store in Fridley, Minn., has a system of her own generic displays that carry entry level or value-based products. “We’ll fit a mixture of a couple styles of laminate, maybe a couple prefinished woods or a few tiles at a lower price point in there, and keep them primarily in the hard surface area.”
Mondragon said his custom displays are what make his business successful. Since real estate is limited in the 3,500-square-foot showroom space, he uses one merchandising system throughout the store in which each manufacturer makes custom samples to fit. The displays hold 15 large sample boards 20 to 25 inches wide by 31 inches in length, with seven on each side and one in the center.
“Typically any time you have a supplier’s full display unit out, 80% of it doesn’t get sold,” he noted. “I take the 20% that I normally would sell and put those in my displays.”
Each company has its own display (some have two) and makes a header to fit. After reviewing sales every few months, Mondragon and the manufacturer decide together which boards need to be replaced.
When a customer walks into America’s Carpet Barn, she immediately sees laminates lined along the entire 35-foot-long right side wall. This approach was inspired by a trip to Las Vegas during which Rogers saw a similar set up from a carpet mill. Since this kind of display wasn’t for sale, Rogers glues Velcro to the back of the boards and sticks them onto a carpeted wall. Using this method, customers can easily pull samples off the wall and set them down on the floor.
Rogers encourages retailers to use actual product as opposed to manufacturer samples, which do not show end joints, he said. By snapping a few boards together, customers can actually see the product installed with seams. Since beginning to display its laminate products on the wall three years ago, Carpet Barn’s category sales have increased three fold. “When people walk in they see this wall of laminates and say, ‘Wow! This is nice.’ They spend a lot of time looking instead of quickly browsing through.”
All of Rogers’ bases are covered with a 10-foot wide section of laminate also installed on the floor. He has customers walk on his best sellers while examining their options and when they are done they can peruse through four 4 x 8 tables with four types of laminate installed on each. “This section is meant to be used as a workshop; customers can snap and unsnap the boards. They love to feel it and look down at it because that’s the way they’re going to see it in their homes.”
Successful retailers emphasized that an important thing for fellow dealers to remember is a customer is not going to want to purchase something she cannot see. Langan, for example, suggests putting as many products on the floor as possible without creating clutter. “You give yourself a good advantage if you put as much as possible out on the floor. You want to give them as many options as you can.”