August 22/29, 2016; Volume 31, Number 5
By Reginald Tucker
The benefits and performance attributes of cork are well documented: The product provides comfort underfoot, sound/noise reduction and impact resistance. Plus, its reputation as a renewable resource makes it an environmentally friendly product category. However, the product cannot sell itself; it requires product knowledge, creativity and a consultative sales approach. Following are some tips from cork manufacturers.
“The most successful dealers are the ones who are more educated about the product,” said Ann Wicander, president of WE Cork. The more RSAs know about cork, she said, the more they can recommend the product to fulfill a customer’s specific needs. “Those who have the most success selling cork are the ones who don’t wait for people to ask for the product; they offer cork as part of their repertoire as part of a solution.”
To that end, Wicander advises RSAs to look for certain “clues” from shoppers when they walk into the store and ask about product attributes and how those features fit their design needs and functional requirements. “Whether consumers are looking specifically for wood, or if in conversation the shopper mentions that her kids have allergies, or if she is looking to replace the flooring in her kitchen and she’s worried about cold, uncomfortable floors—all those are clues for the salesperson to offer cork as a solution. RSAs who wait for consumers to ask for cork are only going to sell it a half dozen times a year and that’s it.”
Other cork experts recommend retailers position the product in close proximity to other “green” flooring options, namely bamboo. “We advise combining the cork and bamboo together because they are two renewable resources,” said Philippe Erramuzpe, COO of USFloors. “In order to facilitate this for the retailer, we put them in the same display, which we call Sustainable Living. This strategy appeals to the consumer who wants to save the world, so to speak.”
Product positioning is key, Erramuzpe notes, given the strong competition from other hard surfaces on the showroom floor. “The cork category is under a little bit of stress right now due to the fact that LVT specifically is taking more share. That’s because of the specific type of applications where cork used to be prevalent, namely kitchens, are increasingly using LVT; for some LVT is a better solution because it’s waterproof.”
In light of this trend, Erramuzpe suggests retailers expand the opportunities for cork by recommending it for areas beyond the kitchen. “The applications we are pushing today are playrooms for kids, a study in the home or even basements—as long as you insulate the floor from the subfloor by using a moisture barrier. We also see great opportunity in the bedroom because the trend is moving toward less and less carpet.”
Some manufacturers believe the most effective means of selling cork entails a consultative approach. Sometimes, however, this requires that salespeople shift their focus away from price. “I think it really comes down to retailers understanding their sales force,” said Zach Adams, director of U.S. operations, for Amorim, which makes the Hydrocork brand. “We advise retailers to talk about the features/benefits as they look to provide solutions for the customer. But they have to be trained in that regard.”
Part of that training, Adams said, is contingent upon how specific product lines are structured. “For example, in taking the consultative approach, I would put our Hydrocork and our cork visual lines together and then sell the customer on the underlying CorkTech technology. But if a retailer’s sales force is more reliant on the price and product differentiation, then I would separate the Hydrocork into the WPC/LVT areas and then put our cork visuals into the wood or specialty wood sections. It really all depends on how the retailers train their sales forces.”
This is where effective sales aids come in. Amorim, for instance, providers a two-page flyer and brochure that provides quick and simple benefits of CorkTech technology. It also provides a “demo board” that allows consumers to see hear and feel how cork differs from other categories. “This turns it into a more sensory type of sales approach,” Adams said. “When people hear how great a product is it becomes numb to them because everybody says their product is the greatest. The demo board delves specifically into CorkTech technology.”
Another option, experts say, is to complement wing displays with installed product underfoot right on the showroom floor. As WE Cork’s Wicander states: “When selling cork you’re primarily focusing on the features and benefits. Well, there’s no better way to convey that message than having a display floor down.”
Sometimes space limitations won’t allow for that. “Seeing the floors laid out is always a good selling point, but it’s difficult in this day and age because a lot of times people don’t have the room in their stores to do that given all the products they are inundated with,” Adams said.
In those situations, experts advise strategic placement of sample boards on wing rack displays. “If you’re dealing with limited space on the floor, then the cork display needs to be near wood,” Wicander said. However, that might not work for everyone. “Technically—and categorically—cork really falls under the resilient heading. But it really identifies more with wood because, like wood, you’re going to care for it using the same maintenance methods and the price point is going to be closer to wood. Take our digitally printed Serenity Collection, for example; for the customer who likes the performance attributes of cork but not necessarily the natural cork visuals, this gives them a great solution because the [screen] visuals mimic natural wood.”
At the end of the day, experts say the best approach is to keep it simple. “If you can train your salespeople into becoming solution providers and fill the void in terms of what people need, that will deliver results,” Adams said. “Don’t inundate the customer with too many products and avoid lumping cork in with commodity type products.”
Perhaps the biggest incentive for salespeople to sell cork is to focus on the profit opportunity. “Cork is perceived by the general public to be a higher-end product that’s more expensive than today’s laminate and even LVT,” Erramuzpe explained. “Cork would be an upsell from the LVT category. Cork is certainly a category where the retailer can make a good margin.”
Quick facts about cork
Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree. It’s harvested by hand when the tree is 25 years old and occurs every nine years from then on leaving the tree undamaged and able to regrow new bark.
Cork is ideal in terms of the ever-increasing demand for conservation of natural resources. It has unique qualities and characteristics that make it suitable for both residential and commercial applications. It’s made of millions of cells resembling a honeycomb structure that protects the tree from sharp weather temperature changes. Each cell functions as a miniature natural thermal insulator and also provides above average sound insulation and shock-absorbing properties.
Through technological development and investments in innovation and research, new applications using cork are increasingly being discovered. Architects and designers are increasingly turning to natural and ecological materials and finding new discoveries and applications. This usage ranges from special effects in action films to high tech accessories in various industries.