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Coverings 2019: Premier tile and stone event going strong after 30 years

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Steven Feldman

 

Orlando, Fla.—Against the backdrop of a slowing ceramic tile market, a sold-out Coverings celebrated its 30th anniversary here April 9-12 with 1,100 exhibitors from more than 40 countries showing their latest and greatest in response to a variety of trends.

At 480,000 square feet, Coverings is ranked as the 35th largest trade show in the U.S., according to Trade Show magazine. That’s up 3% from 2018, said Jennifer Hoff, whose company, Taffy Event Strategies, has been managing the show for the past three years. To put that in perspective, Surfaces, the flooring industry’s premier event, is ranked 42nd in terms of exhibit space. The good news is Coverings continues to grow despite U.S. ceramic tile consumption more or less stalling in 2018, increasing just 1.5% to 3.11 billion square feet, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). Consumption increased at least 5.1% in each of the three prior years.

Eric Astrachan, executive director, TCNA, pegged the U.S. ceramic tile industry at $3.69 billion, up just 0.4% from 2017. Imports grew as a portion of the market from 68.8% to 70.7%, an increase of 4.7%. On a dollar basis, Italy remained the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2018, comprising 30.9% of U.S. imports. China was second with a 27.3% share and Spain was third with a 15.6% share. In terms of square footage, China remained the largest exporter of ceramic tile to the U.S. with a 31.5% share. Next is Mexico with a 17.3% share, its lowest percentage since 2006. This despite the peso’s significant decline vs. the U.S. dollar over the last five years, losing nearly half of its value. Italy was the third-largest exporter of tile to the U.S. in 2018, making up 16.4% of U.S. imports.

What is impacting ceramic tile in the U.S.? For one, acronyms, namely LVT, WPC and SPC. The waterproof/rigid core revolution has impacted every category of flooring, and ceramic is not immune to that competitive pressure.

But it’s more than just the competition from LVT. Donato Grosser, consultant for Ceramic Tiles of Italy, acknowledged that Italian imports of ceramic tile to the U.S. in 2018 was down about 7% in dollars and square footage. “Ceramic tile in general has been down,” he said. “As for Italian tile, there is a lot of com- petition from Chinese, Spanish and Brazilian manufacturers, particularly the Spanish over the last couple of years; for some reason their FOB prices went down from $15 per square meter to $12 per square meter. We don’t know how this can happen so abruptly, but you have a situation where their products are cheaper than even the Chinese.”

Grosser also identified large companies like MSI, Bedrosians and Emser—all of which are very heavily invested in China. “They also import from other countries, but they buy mostly from China. And they offer good service, the product they sell is good and comparable to everything. So the price is not the only thing; otherwise, Brazil would have a much larger share of the market.”

Despite all of this, Hoff noted that Coverings attendance was trending ahead of last year with the hope that 26,000 people would make the trip to Orlando. Attendees run the gamut from architects and designers to fabricators and contractors to distributors and retailers.

Following are some of the key trends FCNews spotted at Coverings:

Classic polished marbles, sometimes mixed with retro elements
Matt Kahny with Ideology from American Olean.

Reflective tiles
Vetri collection from Refin

Patchwork tiles Opus collection from Casalgrande Pagana

Wood-look tile for indoor/ outdoor applications
Primewood from Sant’Agostino

Ceramic wallpaper by virtue of high-resolution digital printing technology
Kontinua collection from Casalgrande Pagana

More refined wood looks
Coby McDougal, director of non-slab sales, MSI, showcasing Caldera.

Geometric-inspired looks
Rhombix, Hexagono and Georama from MSI

Black and white retro looks Retro Revival from MSI

AT THE TILE OF SPAIN PAVILION...

Color is back in a huge way; pink was especially prevalent at many Tile of Spain booths.

Art deco and art nouveau, both geometrics and florals and organics both in small, repetitive patterns and super-size graphics.

Marble looks feature more aggressive veining with greater variation.

Squares are coming back, both on their own and in pairings with rectangles.

 

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Retail Education: Top merchandising tips to make a lasting impression

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Properly merchandising product can assist flooring dealers and RSAs in selling their best products while also instilling confidence in the consumer. For example, flooring displayed at the front of a store is guaranteed to catch the consumer’s eyes while a product in the back corner may never get any attention.

Following are several merchandising tips from top flooring retailers across the United States.

Keep your showroom up to date. Savvy retailers say a good-looking showroom with various styles can help build a customer’s trust and push her to see the store as both fashionable and knowledgeable.

“Having a uniform showroom is often a challenge in our industry,” said Missy Montgomery, showroom manager, Montgomery’s CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Venice, Fla. “We can carry many different products, but the key is to not saturate the showroom. We have our showroom laid out in sections such as wood, carpet, tile, LVP, area rugs, commercial, etc.”

Display the right products. As new flooring continues to enter the market, determining which products to display can be taxing. “Every square inch is money,” Montgomeryexplained. “Go through your showroom on a minimum of a semi-annual basis and allocate the dollars to the racks. Not moving the product? It is time to switch it up.”

Nick Freadreacea, president, The Flooring Gallery, Louisville, Ky., urges dealers to remember that in most cases less is more. “The first thing most stores need to do is eliminate all the displays and sampling that are not producing sales for them. Each year, we measure every product and display for their return per square foot. If something is not performing, we move it out. Larger aisles and a comfortable shopping environment are more important than having non-producing displays.”

How these products are displayed are also important. For example, Carlton Billingsley, owner, Floors & More, Benton, Ark., suggested higher-end products should reflect and demand a higher price in merchandising. “FCA Network has cherry wood displays for our higher end products, black metal frames for the mid-level products and stacker/white boards for the builder business,” he explained. “Showcase the product you want to sell in larger samples, room scenes, photos of finished projects, etc., so the consumer knows this product is important to you and maybe it should be to them, too.”

Once a dealer has selected a product and the ideal display vehicle, now it’s time to consider showroom placement. Most dealers suggest focusing on the most important items by featuring them more prominently. “Give those items the largest sample possible and place them in the most visible areas,” Freadreacea said. “Picture your showroom as a store in a mall, and they always put the items they want to feature on endcaps or in the best lighting.”

At Carpet Gallery of Akron and Quality Carpet & Flooring, higher-end products are the stars of the retail floor—and it shows. “Place some of your best products right by the front door so [customers] can see them when they first enter,” said Robert Gaither, owner. “We then like to mix in some better products with the mid-range and economy products after that. I don’t like to lead people to the far corner of the showroom to show them the economy material. Doing that might embarrass them if that is all they can afford.”

Solicit employee input. Beyond stocking stellar product, it’s important to get the opinions of different team members. “A great idea is always developed by a team member who works the floor daily,” Billingsley stated. Designers who frequent the showroom also provide valuable feedback. “We will ask their opinion of a certain merchandise product.”

Join a buying group. Several flooring dealers tout the many benefits of aligning with a buying group—one of which includes assistance with merchandising. “Joining [FCA Network] and listening to them makes merchandising easy and gives me the time to concentrate on other aspects of running the business such as selling, advertising and managing the staff,” said Bill Graybeal, owner, Graybeal’s Carpet Plus, Logansport, Ind.

The ability to private label in a buying group also helps with merchandising. “This helps us to look more uniform and professional,” Montgomery stated. “They see the quality from the moment they enter the door—from the products on the floor, displays a clean showroom and the knowledge and friendliness of the salesperson. If you can give them all those things, they see the value of doing business with you.”

Partner with the right supplier. For many dealers, manufacturers and their sales representatives can help make crucial decisions about what products to display and how they should be merchandised on the floor. “Merchandising products is picking the right manufacturers and using their expertise and choosing their displays,” Graybeal said. “FCA [Network] is also a great resource in helping us merchandise the different categories effectively. Their core product displays also make it easy.”

Retailers believe it’s also crucial to have manufacturers that will stand behind a dealer if a circumstance arises. “You need the best behind you, and if they are not get rid of the product,” Montgomery stated. “Another key is having the sales representatives on your side. I personally invest time and have relationships with them because it takes both of us to sell a product. This can also help when it comes time to order a rack and negotiate a price for the rack.”

Aim high. When it comes to showing a customer product, some retailers it makes sense to accentuate their most expensive flooring options first. “You will never insult anyone by showing them the best,” Carpet Gallery of Akron and Quality Carpet & Floorings’ Gaither said. “By exposing her to the best and explaining why they are the best, the customer may want to upgrade by herself. During our showroom tour she will be exposed to the other products as well and can usually see the difference in the quality/price relationship.”

Visit the competition.Beyond looking at their own showrooms, dealers should take a moment to explore neighboring flooring stores. This way you can see how you stack up against competitors. As Billingsley explains: “Be open to being different and not the same flooring store. If you go to five stores 30 miles from your location, do they all look the same? How will the customer remember your showroom?”

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Carpet: Suppliers extol soft surfaces’ healthy attributes

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Ken Ryan

 

Google the question “Is carpet healthy?” and one of the first entries is attributed to the American Lung Association, which states: “Carpets may trap pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, cockroach allergens, particle pollution, lead, mold spores, pesticides, dirt and dust. Chemicals used in some new carpets, carpet pads and the adhesives used to install them can harm your health.”

This is not the kind of testimonial the carpet industry wants to see at a time when it is losing share
to hard surfaces. However, mills, retailers and groups such as the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) are fighting back with their own research that show today’s carpet isn’t unhealthy at all—especially when properly maintained. In fact, published research shows well-maintained carpet can actually reduce airborne allergens, thereby contributing to healthier indoor air quality.

Carpet mill executives are touting the healthy side of car- pet at a time when the concept of a healthier home is not just a marketing tool but a selling advantage as well. “We have all heard the opinions that carpet is not healthy because it harbors dust and allergens,” said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division, The Dixie Group. “On the other hand, there are opposing views that recognize carpet as a very good filter.”

Most of the carpets The Dixie Group manufactures uses nylon 66 as a building block. This fiber is known for durability and resiliency, and together with its stain- and soil-resistant treatments, provides exceptional cleanability as well. “With regular vacuuming and hot water extraction every 18 months, nylon 66 carpets stay great looking for a very long time,” Nuckols explained. “Nylon 66 carpets that look fresh and new for many years are a sign of a clean and healthy home.”

Although there have been—and continue to be—unwarranted negative claims made related to soft flooring, the reality is carpet can be a great option for people concerned about health issues. “Carpet actually has a very positive effect on improved indoor air quality, which is a huge health benefit for many people today,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president of sales and chief marketing officer, Southwind. “It traps dust, pollen and pet and insect dander, and then when the carpets are cleaned and vacuumed properly, it helps keep us from breathing those particles.”

Luanne Holloway, head of product development for Southwind, added, “Not only does carpet add beauty and make a style statement for your living space, but it actually has health benefits as well that make it a right choice for your home.”

Carpet mills are investing in R&D to back up their claims that today’s carpet is healthier. Earlier this year Engineered Floors and The Dixie Group stated they are no longer using perfluorocarbons (PFCs) in any of their new offerings. As Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing for Engineered Floors, explained, “We have never used the chemical on our PureColor products, which includes the entire portfolio of residential styles; and since 2018 J+J and EF Contract are PFC free as well.”

Sanderson said PFCs are a human-made chemical that does not break down rapidly in nature and causes long-term negative impacts on the environment. “Just like with our environmental accomplishments in manufacturing—30% less energy, 42% less greenhouse emissions and 87% less water—0% PFCs speaks to EF’s commitment to our stewardship for the health of our planet as well as the consumer.”

According to Carrie Edwards Isaac, vice president of residential marketing and consumer strategy, who oversees the Shaw Floors and Anderson Tuftex brands, material health is top of mind for many of today’s consumers. “The food we eat, the product we bring into our home, the chemistry that goes into the materials, the clothes we wear all play a role,” she explained. “We have rigid guidelines as to how we source. When it comes to our products, we want them to be safe and healthy for people using them, whether it is the commercial space or the residential space or even B2B—we want people to understand we are a company that stands behind our products. We are asking deeper questions than some others might, because we know the requirements when it comes to material health.”

On the soft surface side, Shaw Floors/Anderson Tuftex offers two solutions—LifeGuard protection and R2X, a topical treatment. “It becomes a system that is virtually indestructible,” Edwards Isaac said. Anderson Tuftex sells Stainmaster PetProtect, which repels pet hair that can be vacuumed up easier. “We have you covered in every regard when it comes to healthy homes,” she added.

Mohawk’s Unified Soft Flooring introduction, Air.o, helped usher in a new era of hypoallergenic flooring. Since its launch, Air.o’s hypoallergenic and VOC-free properties have resonated with consumers. “Studies have consistently shown that carpet is actually more beneficial than hard surface floors for those with breathing difficulty, because it traps dust/dirt vs. hard surfaces,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of residential carpet product development, Mohawk. “Like any household item, you need to have a regular cleaning cycle.”

Phenix Flooring has championed the healthier home trend for several years. Its latest product launch, Modern Contours, is a collection of soft surface styles protected with Microban’s antimicrobial technology—a special treatment that will not wash off or wear away. It also protects against bacteria, mold and mildew. “While Modern Contours is also stain, spill and soil resistant, Microban’s technology takes cleanliness to the next level by fighting against any bacterial growth underneath the surface,” said Jason Surratt, senior vice president of product and design.

Foss Floors’ solution-dyed carpets are 100% PET and feature the company’s Dura-Lock fused-core fiber lock system, which is latex and VOC free and is made from recyclable material.

Mills are collaborating with their dealers to convey the healthy carpet story to consumers, as many continue to harbor long-held doubts about soft surface. In-store demonstrations, in particular, are critical to dispelling myths. “We’re changing the pitch from just being about beauty to form and function as a critical component,” Edwards Isaac said. “You want to hit on those things and help them on their journey through demonstration or storytelling.”

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Congoleum’s Cleo brand pulls out all the stops in 2019

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Lindsay Baillie

 

The new Cleo Home Collection display, with its linear design, is slightly smaller than the Cleo Home Studio display.

Congoleum first previewed its standalone Cleo Home brand during The International Surface Event in Las Vegas in 2018. One year later, the brand is making a name for itself in the saturated resilient market.

“While Congoleum has a long and proud history of innovation in flooring that spans more than 135 years, that success has been almost exclusively in PVC-based products,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. “Cleo is so different from anything else in the market, including our own Congoleum portfolio. We thought it was important to have clear differentiation to avoid confusion.”
Cleo’s unique, eco-forward construction eliminates PVC, plasticizers, chloro-chemicals and

VOCs. Its 100% waterproof base is a CulturedSTONE mineral composite core that is 85% locally sourced limestone. What’s more, the product’s wear layer features the UltraCLEAR high-performance, ultra-low VOC coating system, which is further enhanced with Scotchgard protectant.

Cleo’s imaging is created through Congoleum’s ChromaTRU high-fidelity digital imaging process, which features direct-to-base printing. “The visuals created through the digital imaging process are worlds apart from rotogravure,” Denman explained. “Nearly eliminating repeats combined with the subtle shading available creates depth and richness that simply cannot be achieved by other processes.”

Cleo is currently available in 55 individual designs across two tile shapes (12 x 24 inches and 24 x 24 inches) and two plank shapes (7 x 48 inches and 9 x 60 inches). All of these products can be installed either edge to edge or fully grouted.

The road less traveled

Creating an entirely new cate- gory of flooring has its challenges, according to Congoleum. In fact, the company’s R&D team worked for several years to create the right construction in terms of performance. “The design team had to wrap their heads around the nearly unlimited possibilities of digital imaging as opposed to the inherent limitations of rotogravure and PVC-based print films,” Denman told FCNews. “And the marketing team had to dive in deep to really understand the value proposition and create the right tools and resources to help everyone in the selling cycle understand the uniqueness and the industry-leading benefits of the Cleo platform.”

All of that hard work did not go unnoticed by distributors such as Tri-State Wholesale Flooring, Sioux Falls, S.D. The company’s president, Joe Gasper, toured Congoleum’s facility when the supplier was working on Cleo’s design and merchandising concepts prior to Surfaces 2018. “While on the tour we could see there was a significant amount of work that was going into the design palette of this line,” he explained. “We also had the chance to see just the amount of thought they were putting into the merchandising system they were putting into place.”

To assist in telling the entire Cleo story, the brand now has its own dedicated website (cleoflooring.com). While the company is still working out some of the bugs on the site, Denman said it “promises to be an incredible resource for consumers to find inspiration, learn about design styles and, of course, experience the incredible benefits of the Cleo construction with its jaw-dropping visuals.”

Hitting the streets

At the end of 2018 Cleo displays officially made their way into retail locations. According to Denman, the company’s current display demand is well beyond its immediate capacity to ship. However, it is shipping more than 100 Cleo Home Studio displays each month.

Building off of the demand for Cleo Home Studio, Congoleum has developed a slightly smaller display called Cleo Home Collection. Whereas the Studio display offers flexibility in how a retailer can configure the display—including in a straight line, back to back in the center of store or in a corner—the Cleo Home Collection display is one piece that is linear. “It has all of the features of the larger display with the exception of lighting,” Denman explained.

Cleo uses high-fidelity digital imaging to create unique designs with minimal repeats.

The company started shipping the new display in April and will bring its capacity to around 200 displays per month.

Cleo distributors and retailers alike are singing the praises of the new display. “Retailers are drawn to the merchandising system,” Tri-State’s Gasper said. “I mean it’s hard to ignore it. It’s a beautiful display and it really does show off the designs well. The other thing we’re really finding is the dealers want it on the floor. They want people to see how deep these designs go, how large the pattern is. They want to be able to show that off because it’s not something that’s present in our industry to this extent outside of a natural-made product which you would have with a stone or a natural wood.”

Matt Ketterman, owner of Got You Floored in Greensboro, N.C., is one of those retailers who has installed Cleo in his stores. In fact, he built a new 15,000-square-foot building and installed Cleo in the showroom and common areas and bathroom—roughly 3,000 square feet in all. “We have a wood product down in the common areas and we put a real antique looking ceramic look in our bathroom,” he explained. “It looks beautiful.”

Cleo’s earth-friendly story and digitally printed visuals make it a home run, according to Ketterman. “Cleo is an exciting new product that sets Congoleum apart in the marketplace. We had a VIP event for all the big developers of apartment communities and investors, and they loved it; the reaction was fantastic. With the display we’re

able to show the multitude of offerings and colors, and they just loved all the different selections.”

While the displays continue to receive retailer praise, Tri-State Wholesale Flooring is also noticing dealers are stepping up and buying deep into the designs. “They’re seeing opportunities that just aren’t available to them elsewhere,” Gasper said. “And I think that is a result of a variety of things, but largely it’s the design palette they’re seeing. Especially when you align it with a company that has been around for an excess of 130 years. I think they’re extremely comfortable with diving into this.”

Gasper believes Cleo is going to give the dealers the opportunity to leverage who they are and what they are successful at, “which is providing cutting-edge designs in a high-quality, very fashion-forward type of floor as opposed to something that comes from the box store.”

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Wood: State of the industry—Key sectors fuel greater buying activity

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Reginald Tucker

 

Like other hard surface sectors facing intense competition from the likes of LVT/WPC/SPC, hardwood flooring also felt pressure in terms of both market share and profit margins. But thanks to strong end-use activity in 2018, the category continued to post respectable numbers despite the onslaught of so many wood look-alike products.

It’s not just the widely held belief that real hardwood remains the most aspirational product category today— although some ultra-high-end offerings are admittedly out of reach for many consumers. What’s also working in wood’s favor is the health of several key end-use market sectors.

“Hardwood flooring consumption is being driven primarily by a combination of single- family new construction and residential replacement,” said Michael Bell, COO of AHF Products, the former wood division of Armstrong Flooring that was purchased by American Industrial Partners (AIP) last year. “We have enjoyed steady overall growth for the past 10 years, but housing starts slowed a bit during the winter months, especially with the extreme weather conditions this year.”

AHF Products is not alone in its assessment of the market. Key bellwether sectors also drove hardwood sales at Mannington. “Residential replacement continues to be the primary driver of hardwood consumption,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. “New construction would be the next biggest sector—primarily single family. At the core, consumers still have a desire for hardwood flooring. It is the only flooring type that has been proven to add value to the home.”

But within these end-use sectors, observers cite some product stratification. “In single family you’re still seeing less expensive wood,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk. “At the same time, you’re definitely seeing more products such as rigid and LVT and even products like RevWood doing well in single family. But when you get into multifamily it’s a different story; carpet continues to do well there, although we have seen the desire of end users to switch to hard surface in that environment as well. When you look at the upper-end multifamily market, particularly in the major metro areas like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we still see wood as a desirable option at that price point.”

Let’s not forget about non-residential applications. For some suppliers, this sector accounted for the greatest sales growth in terms of a percentage increase. “We have experienced growth across several major sectors, but I would say we’re much more involved in the commercial arena, especially with our engineered lines,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president, U.S. sales, Wickham Hardwood Flooring. “It’s still a predominantly solid market for us, but clearly engineered is gaining more market share every month.”

The commercial contract market is also driving sales at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. In fact, according to Mario St-Pierre, the company’s director of marketing, it’s the second strongest sector behind single-family construction.

Another upside for those companies that do a healthy commercial business is the type of products generally specified for those segments often hit higher price points—and, thus, provide much better margins. “Entry-level products in the 3⁄8- to 1⁄2-inch thickness with a 2mm wear layer are driven, as always, by the new construction sector,” noted Mitch Tagle, founder and CEO of DuChâteau. “But as we move to higher-end specifications, we are seeing more style-driven projects hit the market, especially in the hospitality sector.”

Fierce competition

One of the factors that has put increasing pressure on the hardwood category and stolen market share in some end-use sectors is the competition from LVT/WPC products—many of which are designed to mimic not only the visual depth of genuine hardwood, but also the texture.

“There is no question that wood flooring—along with most floor covering categories—has been significantly impacted by the rise of waterproof products in the marketplace,” said Don Finkell, CEO and founder, American OEM.

Mannington’s Natkin agreed. “Without a doubt, these categories are exerting tremendous pressure on the lower end of the wood category. We have seen significant cannibalization within the category as vinyl- based products continue to take share. However, the mid to upper ends of the segment remain stronger and less prone to impact from the look-alike products.”

Companies like Wickham, which specializes in wood, are really feeling the heat. “There’s no doubt about it—WPC/LVT has gained market share, and some of our customers have looked at investing in some of those products,” Rezuke stated. “But we have been able to offset that impact with our growth in other areas where we haven’t had a presence—namely engineered.”

The onslaught of LVT/WPC reminds Rezuke of a time when laminate flooring was in its hey- day. “Everyone was predicting that category was going to replace hardwood,” he recalled. “Well, that hasn’t happened.”

Other major hardwood flooring suppliers are responding to the threat of LVT/WPC by coming out with their own rigid core products. American OEM is one of them. “For this reason we are introducing our Raintree product line, which is a real wood veneer on a waterproof SPC core,” Finkell explained. “We are also planning to introduce a water-resistant, six-surface coating system on our premium products at the NWFA convention in May. This enhancement will allow our traditional veneer core wood floors to be warranted for certain wet mopping maintenance systems. We think this is a significant improvement to most wood floor warranties offered today which disclaim any type of wet maintenance. This real wood floor will be warranted to withstand being totally submerged in water for up to 24 hours.”

Other suppliers, including Shaw Floors, are stepping into the hybrid arena as well. At Surfaces earlier this year, the company took the wraps off a water-resistant wood line, Repel Hardwood, as well as Floorté Hardwood, which is billed as waterproof. In addition, there’s COREtec Wood from its USFloors division. As Herb Upton, vice president of hard surfaces, explained, “On the Floorté hardwood side, it’s a traditional SPC core with a real wood veneer; on the COREtec side, we’re coming out with a mineral-based board core attached to a wood veneer top. We see this as the best of both worlds. You have the authenticity and beauty of real wood in these products, because it is real wood veneer available in multiple species and different finishing applications and other textures, but it’s on a core that is high performance that makes it waterproof and reliable.”

Those flooring companies that participate in multiple product categories believe the advent of LVT/WPC/SPC as well as so-called hybrid offerings has forced real hardwood to emphasize what makes it special and unique to the customers. “Hardwood at the upper end—I’m talking about the better, best and premium category—still remains a viable option because there’s less com- petition there,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “There’s a lot of new products in the hardwood category as well as others that are making it a dynamic market. At the end of the day we welcome the competition; it ultimately forces the stronger players to adapt and innovate, and it gives consumers more choices as well.”

Traditional hardwood flooring enthusiasts, however, are not budging. “Surely the LVT category has taken its toll on the wood market, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting our products as much as it is at the lower-end type products,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of U.S. sales, Mercier. “We are finding the real wood buyer is considering better goods and they understand the added value to their homes.”

Boa-Franc’s St-Pierre concurred, adding that it’s mostly lower-end, entry-level hardwood that’s feeling the pinch. And that’s not an area where Mirage plays. “For consumers who want to add value to their home, hardwood floor remains their preferred choice. It’s our responsibility to promote the benefits of hardwood over look-alike products.”

AHF Product’s Bell embraces a similar philosophy as a strictly hardwood flooring manufacturer. He believes hardwood consumption will remain strong due to the authenticity of natural products. “Hardwood flooring continues to be desired by homeowners as the ultimate complement to any design, style and taste, and is the flooring of choice because of its natural beauty, enduring quality, warmth and natural durability,” he explained. “This is an investment that lasts for years and offers timeless style.”

The benefits of real wood don’t end there, proponents say.

While a challenge comes from faux wood-look products, many argue there is nothing that can truly compete with genuine hardwood from either a visual, prestige or value equation. “It’s organic, natural and renewable,” Bell added. “What’s more, hardwood flooring comes from a natural resource that can be maintained and regrown—which is perfect for people who are sensitive to allergens. These sustainable factors cannot be overlooked and play a particularly important role with buyers.

“Simply put, at the end of the day, consumers really don’t want imposters; they want the real thing and we are innovating to bring them real hardwood that also addresses performance needs, such as resistance to moisture, dents, scratches and stains.”

Impact of hybrid products

As the hardwood flooring sector has evolved, the industry certainly is seeing more “hybrid” products emerge. For example, more suppliers are using real hardwood veneers (albeit much thinner ones) over traditional rigid cores, HDF cores and, now, magnesium-oxide based core boards. The jury remains mixed on whether these hybrid products negatively impact the viability of the hardwood flooring category with respect to traditional 3⁄4-inch solid and 3⁄8-inch (and thicker) engineered hardwood products.

For some it’s nothing new. “These types of products have been around for years,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “Originally on HDF cores and now evolving to vinyl or stone based. The latest twist is the marketing of products as waterproof—that claim is somewhat dubious and its impact has yet to be determined.”

Others don’t see hybrids as an immediate threat. “It hasn’t had an impact on our business,” Wickham’s Rezuke said “First of all, as a Canadian supplier, we have to manufacture to certain specifications so we can ship our real hardwood products into the U.S. What we are finding is more and more customers are interested in our 3⁄4-inch platforms with 4mm, 5.5mm and 6mm veneers.”

Others are taking a more cautious approach when it comes to hybrid products. As Mohawk’s Ward explained, “Products like this have the potential to be good; we’re obviously monitoring the products that are coming out and looking at how can we offer a superior option. While we don’t have one of those cores out yet, we want to make sure what we believe customers want in a hardwood is real, authentic product. And the visual of a real wood product is vastly superior to others and is valuable to the consumer who’s buying it. If we can marry that with some of the benefits—such as a water-resistant or waterproof option—that makes it all the more valuable to a certain subset of customers.”

Shaw Floors’ Upton expects to see greater acceptance of these types of products as the platforms commercialize and become more mainstream. “We’ve seen that in builder where they may have been initially hesitant or slow at some point to adopt WPC and SPC products, but now they are currently specifying those products. nationally.”

By and large, suppliers welcome the competition. “We think it is awesome that companies have been innovating with wood products, and we hope that we never stop trying to find the next great opportunity in wood flooring,” Mercier’s Bondrowski stated. But he offered this caveat: “I would ask, isn’t wood supposed to be a sustainable environmentally friendly floor that has the least adverse health effects with a true green footprint?”

Like Bondrowski, AHF Products’ Bell embraces the development and evolution of core structures. He believes this will ensure the hardwood customer has relevant options based on their particular needs. “It is our job to innovate and lead in the development of such products so we are considered as a dependable solution provider for our channel partners.”

DuChâteau’s Tagle follows that same logic—to a point. “There is certainly a market for new hybrid products; some consumers do get excited about advances in technology, and the idea of a low-cost, low-maintenance floor with real wood is appealing,” he explained. “However, at the higher end of the market, we believe there will continue to be a growing demand for engineered hardwood floors, since consumers love the depth, richness, durability and variation they provide.”

Raw materials pricing

Another factor that impacted the hardwood flooring sector last year—and briefly at the start of 2019—is the availability of popular wood species. “Definitely in 2018 we saw fluctuations especially in white oak,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “There continues to be a trend toward wider widths in natural white washed colors, and white oak works best for that. So, naturally, there’s a lot of competition for that species. The fluctuations that we saw in 2018 have moderated so far in 2019. We haven’t really seen prices come down a lot, but at the same time you’re not seeing a lot of variation in price. We’re just now starting to get into the logging season so we’ll see how that goes. But so far we’re seeing pretty steady pricing.”

Some suppliers are still feeling the sting from last year’s fluctuations. In 2018 Shaw announced an increase on solid hardwoods. While lumber prices have modestly fallen since then, it’s all relative compared to the fluctuations experienced during the first half of 2018, according to Upton. “Prices have leveled off somewhat, but you have to remember we’re coming off a pretty high peak. Then you have the usual supply and demand issue when you have bad weather and you can’t pull trees out of the forest.”

Another issue impacting pricing is the capacity generated by the major sawmills, Upton added. Combined with demand from the other users of wood—such as mat timbers and other businesses that use lumber for industrial purposes—this can cause major disruptions in the supply chain.

For now, though, things seem to have normalized. “We can take a half of breath now compared to what it was this time last year,” Upton stated. “But it’s certainly not what it was 24 months ago.”

So much depends of where manufacturers source their lumber. For example, Mercier has seen prices on red oak and maple stabilize in recent months. But that’s not the case for AHF Products. “We have seen increases in all species, with red oak being the most volatile,” Bell explained. “We have also experienced significant inflation in freight and packaging costs.”

Tariffs take a toll

Beyond raw material price fluctuations, suppliers had to con- tend with the fallout from another issue: newly imposed tariffs on hardwood flooring imports from China. “The tariffs/duties are creating a lot of uncertainty for many manufacturers’ forecasts for 2019,” AHF Products’ Bell said. “The political and economic tensions between the U.S. and China have heightened the need to diversify the supply chain and reduce dependence on hard- wood products from China.”

Even those companies that don’t import directly from China were nonetheless impacted by the repercussions. “For us the imposition of tariffs has been a negative because all of our customers import competitive products affected by duties and tariffs,” American OEM’s Finkell said. “As a result, there has been significant hoarding to beat the imposition of tariffs, which has squeezed available cash supply to buy our products.”

DuChâteau’s Tagle is seeing the same. “We have noticed an increase in prices to the trade, even on products not finished or sourced from regions affected by the tariffs. Many U.S. suppliers have also ramped up their inventory to beat tariff deadlines in an effort to insulate their dealers as much as possible. The good news for the industry is the trade issue seems to be moving toward a resolution.”

 

 

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Coverings celebrates 30 years in style

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Megan Salzano

 

Coverings 2019, the largest tile and stone event in North America, will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a host of new initiatives. These include a range of commemorative displays showcasing the history of Coverings with interactive opportunities for attendees to create and share their own memories.

For example, the south lobby of the Orlando County Convention Center will host a timeline with highlights from Coverings’ heritage and a 30th anniversary-branded photo booth where attendees can win anniversary T-shirts by sharing photos to social media. A DJ in the lobby reception area will incorporate music from 1989 as a nod to Coverings’ launch year. Exhibitors who have participated for 30 years will also be recognized.

“Coverings’ 30th anniversary is a testament to the success and growth of the tile and stone industry, which continues to dedicate time and resources to annually spotlight the best in product innovations, installation techniques and industry expertise,” said Jennifer Hoff, president of Taffy Event Strategies, the management company for Coverings. “We look forward to celebrating three decades of success and those who continue to make the show possible.”

The show itself will include more than 1,100 exhibitors from more than 40 countries and feature the latest in innovations, trends and live demonstrations. “Coverings is proud to provide free access to top industry experts and products from around the globe,” said Alena Capra, Coverings industry ambassador. “As we continue our annual showcase of the latest in tile and stone materials, installation techniques and design trends, we’re excited to welcome industry professionals of all backgrounds with robust new programming and product introductions.”

Experiences
New this year, Coverings will introduce an online planner to help attendees maximize their time at the show by previewing key exhibitor introductions through the new product showcase, which launched in February. Guests will be able to explore innovative tools and products debuting at Coverings in advance and plan their visit by marking must-see exhibits within the Coverings mobile app to create a roadmap for their Coverings 2019 discoveries.

The Installation
& Design Experience
will expand its presence in 2019 with
live, interactive showcases of the best
tile installation techniques. Qualified,
trained and certified
tile installers will host demonstrations and conversations within the space, offering insights on common installation challenges and the use of trending materials.

For 2019, three vignettes will anchor the experience, designed by local designers and architects. The first will include Reginald Dunlap Interior Design; Welch Tile & Marble; and Estima Ceramica. The second is Interstruct; C.C. Owen Tile Co.; and Crossville. The third will be HHCP; Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co. installation; and Ceramics of Italy.

The Installation & Design Experience will also host daily happy hours for further networking and learning opportunities.

Education
Attendees will have the chance to attend free education sessions, many offering CEUs, with planned topics such as: taxes and tariffs, project case studies, economic forecasts, industry trends, labor shortages and solutions, installation demos and cross-segment collaboration. The seminars are designed with architects, builders, remodelers, contractor, installers, designers, distributors, fabricators and retailers in mind.

In addition to the educational seminars, many of the longstanding networking and learning opportunities will return. Those opportunities include “byte-size” sessions with short, digitally focused educational seminars at the Coverings Connect lounge, located on the show floor, which also features recharge stations and free WiFi. The Live Installation Demo Stage will also return, featuring “how-to” classes with an in-person look at tile installation solutions for challenging projects from leading professional contractors. In addition, the Stone Fabricators Alliance will present ongoing demonstrations and educational how-to topics for fabricators and installers in The Stone Zone. On top of that, the Art Tile Courtyard will feature handcrafted tile and tiled dog houses provided by Tile Council of North America members.

What’s trending
Attendees will, of course, have the opportunity to also view new product lines from hundreds of exhibitors touting the latest looks and on-trend designs.

“With so many shapes, sizes, patterns, textures and colors available, tile offers an aesthetic for nearly any space,” Capra explained. “For 2019, we’re seeing a trend toward eye-catching styles with patterned and mirrored tile as well as large-format tile and gauged porcelain tile slabs, which lend themselves to a sleeker look. A favorite trend of mine is sophisticated dark marble looks on porcelain, which are beginning to gain momentum. Industry leaders, such as Tile of Spain, The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and Ceramics of Italy are showing more dark marble-inspired tile that can be used as ‘new neutrals’ as alternatives to the white, gray veined marble tiles that have reigned in recent years.”

The Italian Pavilion will be home to 81 booths with 140 Ceramics of Italy member companies. Visitors can expect to see thousands of innovative new products, ranging from a new 12mm-thick tile for kitchen countertops and bathroom vanities to 20mm-thick porcelain pavers. In addition, among the thousands of designs, the organization said some of the standout trends in tile and stone will include hyper-realistic natural looks, unconventional installation patterns and ceramic wallpapers.

Tile of Spain will also have a large presence at the show with 98 Spanish ceramic and stone manufacturers exhibiting. The Spanish pavilion will also be home to educational seminars and video presentations. According to the organization, trending designs at the show will include geometric prints, patterns, bold hues and black and white looks.

In addition to browsing the latest tile designs, including a wide array of artisan tiles, visitors to the TCNA pavilion will see the newest installation materials, tools and design solutions. Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet with experts from the industry’s leading organizations co-exhibiting with TCNA, including Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, International Masonry Institute, National Tile Contractors Association, Tile Contractors Association of America and Tile Heritage Foundation.

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Sheet: Original waterproof flooring proves it has staying power

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Ken Ryan

 

With so much attention focused on the LVT category and its growing WPC/SPC sub-segments, the sheet vinyl segment has managed to fly under the radar as perhaps the most multi-functional, economical, waterproof floor in the industry today.

Once deemed a commodity—and a substitute for other flooring options—sheet vinyl has elevated its stature on the strength of improved visuals and construction. Some flooring observers call sheet the best value of any flooring product on the market today, citing its versatility, eco-friendly properties and price.

“Sheet vinyl is an amazing product—it is the pioneer of waterproof flooring,” said Mary Katherine Dyczko-Riglin, product manager, residential sheet vinyl and sundries, Mannington. “Sheet provides a seamless installation in many residential settings, creates stunning visuals in the home and has outstanding performance and superior comfort underfoot. And it does all of that while typically being much more budget friendly than a WPC/SPC competitor.”

Angela Duke, director of brand marketing, Mohawk, added, “Waterproof is one of the hottest buzzwords in the flooring market right now, and many consumers have always known that [sheet] vinyl is the original waterproof flooring made right here in the United States.”

Sheet vinyl has gained traction over the past few years in many different segments of the industry. Sheet continues to be an especially popular resilient choice in the builder and property management channels despite the continued growth of LVT.

“The opportunity for sheet is definitely apparent in builder, where entry glass is making a stand,” Dyczko-Riglin said. “Another market demographic we continue to see opportunity with is the millennials. With less exposure to sheet vinyl in the past, they don’t have a negative connotation of ‘Grandma’s floor.’”

Kieren Corcoran, director of performance markets, Patcraft, a commercial brand of Shaw Industries, said sheet vinyl products are typically installed within certain areas of healthcare settings mitigated against concerns regarding infection control. Sheet products can be welded at the seams, and homogeneous sheet can also be repaired. Even in applications where sheet was often left out, new opportunities are emerging as more realistic designs and expanded visual capabilities are developed.

“Small retail spaces and certain areas within hospitality are finding this material to be a great solution due to the updated aesthetics and ease of maintenance,” said Ben Korman, senior product manager, Tarkett.

While sheet vinyl is not growing anywhere near the rate of WPC/SPC, it is nonetheless experiencing modest low- to mid-single-digit growth across both residential and commercial settings, with the greatest growth potential in commercial, observers say.

Latest innovations
Rejuvenations with Diamond 10 technology is Armstrong Flooring’s latest sheet launch. The product merges commercial and residential aesthetics, offering numerous color and texture choices for applications ranging from healthcare to retail. For residential sheet, Armstrong is launching a number of new wood and stone designs in its premium Diamond 10 CushionStep and Duality collections for independent retail. Design highlights include Ceruse oak, a multi-width ceramic- and wood-look plank in a variety of colors. Hillborn Run, a 5 x 27 stone plank design, and Venetian Marble, a modern hexagon tile design in two attractive colors, are other new intros.

Beauflor’s Blacktex HD has been developed and designed based on the demand of today’s consumer. Blacktex HD utilizes the TexStyle backing system to assist in ease of installation which will also provide attributes such as additional comfort underfoot and added sound reduction. “Blacktex HD not only delivers superior quality but is at the forefront with the most up-to-date and realistic visuals,” said Tami Stahl, senior marketing manager, Beauflor USA.

Mannington has gained a well-earned reputation over the years for pushing the boundaries in style and design, and that expertise carries over into sheet vinyl. Morocco, one of the new patterns in its Revive collection, features a 6-inch encaustic tile pattern in a variety of decorative motifs that create the look of a custom tile installation with the design filling the entire width of the sheet without repeating. “However, from a practical standpoint, the economy match on the pattern is simply one of those 6-inch tiles, making the entire sheet usable without creating excessive waste in smaller or more complex installations,” Dyczko-Riglin explained.

Mohawk is looking to change the conversation surrounding 
sheet vinyl with the 
launch of its
 VersaTech collections of more than
 50 new waterproof 
styles that feature
next-level stone 
and tile design and
 refocused merchandising to 
enhance the consumer experience.
 The new products encompass wood 
and tile styles in a
 variety of weights so consumers can choose the option that best suits their room, including basements and high-moisture areas.

Coordinating VersaTech merchandising displays will showcase the VersaTech, VersaTech Plus and VersaTech Ultra collections’ trade-up story around product weight and warranties. “Our retailers can use the VersaTech collections and trade-up strategies to completely change the way sheet vinyl is presented to residential consumers,” Duke said. “It is not the vinyl of 20 years ago.”
The EcoSystem collection is Patcraft’s first PVC-free resilient style, an important breakthrough in the specified commercial market. Within the collection, Enrich is available in coordinating sheet and plank in classic and modern wood visuals.

Tarkett’s most recent launch of Performa heterogeneous sheet combines strength, visuals and value in one comprehensive solution for commercial interiors. Performa includes a polyurethane coating and 25-mil wear layer. It is available in both 6- and 12-foot rolls for added speed and flexibility during installation.

Congoleum’s AirStep collections feature 16 new SKUs across the three quality levels—Plus (good), Evolution (better), Advantage (best). In addition, ArmorCore added eight new SKUs across all five constructions.

“Recognizing that even the best-performing product categories won’t stand a chance in today’s competitive marketplace without exceptional design, we made signification changes to the designs in both our residential remodel AirStep product as well as in our ArmorCore,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales. “In an effort to best-in-class presentation at retail for the AirStep line, we also introduced a new display that features mounted samples, including inspired room scenes to help consumers envision the designs in their space.”

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Laminate: Distributors go high ‘TEK’ with Quick-Step rebrand

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

Quick-Step sellers will be pleased to learn the Reclaime collection will still be available despite the changeover to NatureTEK.

Mohawk first hit a home run with last year’s breakthrough RevWood collection, an engineered flooring product designed to go toe-to-toe with other waterproof offerings such as WPC and SPC. Now it’s Quick-Step’s turn at bat as the similarly constructed NatureTEK line looks to win favor among stocking distributors.

Built on the same platform as RevWood—which is based on melamine overlay coupled with a high-resolution decorative image supported by an HDF core that has been enhanced with features that significantly boost the product’s resistance to moisture—the Quick-Step NatureTEK line aims to offer consumers all the visual attributes of a wood floor with- out the shortcomings.

Available in three platforms—NatureTEK, NatureTEK Plus and NatureTEK Select—the collections aim to provide retailers with a multi-tiered product offering that allows trade-up opportunities while giving consumers a range of options from which to choose. The NatureTEK Plus and Select offerings, which retail at about $3 and $3.50 per square foot, respectively, are imbued with waterproof attributes.

“We refer to NatureTEK—what essentially used to be our laminate platform—as ‘wood perfected,’” said Paul Murfin, senior vice president of distribution at Mohawk Industries. “It combines cutting-edge technology with the latest in design trends to deliver beautiful floors with unparalleled resistance to scratches and stains.”

Like RevWood, NatureTEK Plus and Select lines owe their waterproof qualities to Mohawk’s complete installation system. It all starts with the Uniclic locking technology, which ensures an extremely tight connection between the planks—the product’s first line of defense against moisture incursion. The analogy Murfin likes to use is when you try to put a size 10 foot into a size 9 shoe. “It’s going to be a very snug fit,” he explained.

The next critical component is Mohawk’s GenuEdge technology, which applies the decorative paper all the way to the edge of the board so there’s no exposed HDF core in the middle of the plank. For additional moisture protection, Mohawk
applies its signature
HydroSeal, which
essentially coats the
outside of the planks
to prevent moisture
from penetrating the product. For good measure, Mohawk recommends installers apply a silicone bead around the perimeter of the installation as an additional layer of protection.

“The whole idea of NatureTEK Plus and Select is to keep moisture on the perimeter of the product and prevent it from penetrating into the floor,” Murfin explained.

Longtime Quick-Step distributors said they like what they’re seeing in the newly reborn NatureTEK line. “The methodology behind the program is sound,” said Aaron Stred, vice president of hardwood, NRF Distributors, a top 20 wholesaler servicing eight states in the New England region. “The TEK programming ties up a lot of proverbial loose ends for Quick-Step. What once seemed fractured is now easily digestible by the retailer.”

While the waterproof attributes of NatureTEK Plus and Select are a big draw, the main allure is the aesthetic appeal. As Stred explains, “Quick-Step has left the more traditional laminate visuals behind in lieu of some very forward-thinking products. The products don’t go out onto limbs that are the ‘color of the moment,’ but rather they hit a medium in color, sheen and texture that has been pretty crowd pleasing within an array of collections.”

Other top 20 distributors such as Owings Mills, Md.-based Elias Wilf are also singing NatureTEK’s praises. Jeff Striegel, president, believes it’s just what the segment needed. “The laminate category has taken a pretty good hit over the past few years; WPC and rigid core floors certainly haven’t helped that. But the relaunch of Quick-Step in the form of NatureTEK just goes to demonstrate that if you keep a product current, fashionable and in line with the attributes that consumers are actually interested in and looking for, it still has a meaningful place on the floor both in the retail space and at the builder level.”

Striegel is particularly impressed with the combined technologies utilized within NatureTEK Plus and Select that render the products waterproof. He not only views it as a game changer but also a playing field leveler. “I think Quick-Step has established a meaningful parity with the WPC category in terms of the waterproof aspect,” he explained. “And when you take a look at the things that are inherent within this laminate product (it’s substantially more stain resistant than WPC, eight times more scratch resistant and has a higher psi, which gives much better dent resistance than any of the WPC products) it provides a real point of differentiation.”

NatureTEK’s eye-catching visuals are equally impressive. “When Mohawk introduced NatureTEK, they did it with phenomenal styling,” Striegel said. “If you were to put that product right next to wood, it looks more like wood than real wood. It is the most authentic replication of hardwood that you’ll find in the industry today.”

Nothing but upside
While it has only been a year since NatureTEK’s official rollout, Mohawk believes the product’s potential is unlimited. In fact, when viewed through the prism of a category unto itself (waterproof laminate), the company believes its growth will outpace that of WPC.

“In a world where everybody is being bombarded by rigid LVT, it’s really refreshing to have a different product category to talk about,” Murfin stated. “I would argue that this category of flooring is actually the fastest growing category in the industry today, growing faster than SPC or WPC. We are potentially looking at high-double or potentially triple-digit growth for this type of product. I’m telling distributors to think big with this product.”

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Beauflor prospers via product plus personality

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Megan Salzano

 

Beauflor may not be a decades-old manufacturer, but since its founding in 2016 the company has hit the ground running. Entering the market with a strong belief in listening to its customers, Beauflor today boasts a host of product lines and programs developed to help those customers succeed.

The mission, so far, has been a success, as the company’s customer base has grown dramatically, according to David Griffin, territory manager. “We attribute that to great communication, an interactive sales team and a great set of product offerings at various price points and manufactured with different constructions to meet diverse needs.”

Beauflor’s customers agreed with Griffin’s assertion. Heather Glenn, co-owner of Premier Flooring in Searcy, Ark., said her store’s sales rep has been instrumental in growing the company’s assortment of Beauflor products. “Our rep is very personable but also comes with a lot of background experience and knowledge,” she explained. “He really pushes the limits and has personally [tested product lines] to see how they’re performing. When you have someone who is confident in their products, you are going to be more likely to bring them in and try them yourself.”

Speaking of product, the company has remained focused on creating a broad portfolio of lines that are high quality and on-trend but focused enough not to overwhelm its customers. For example, this year the company relaunched its popular sheet vinyl collection, Blacktex, as Blacktex HD, which features new designs, enhanced visuals and added durability. “Blacktex to me is an awesome product,” said Joey Albright, owner of Albright’s Floor Covering in Loganville, Ga. “In fact, we have Blacktex in part of our carpet showroom; it’s about a quarter of the room in a hardwood look.”

Beauflor also launched two laminate lines—Trendline Pro and Eternity Hydroplus. At Premier Flooring, Trendline Pro became an unexpected addition to the showroom. “We are pretty diehard against laminate—we did too many water disasters 20 years ago,” Glenn explained. “That said, we have enough faith in what we have seen in their products, and because of our relationship with our rep, that we are going against our gut reaction to give it a try. It looked great. They did a good job with their color lines just like they did with all of their vinyl. I’m excited to put it down, we’ve already got an order for it.”

More in store
Beauflor is already working on new collections for late 2019 and early 2020 in an effort to keep up with the changing trends its retail partners are seeing.

In addition to on-trend product lines and a nationwide field team available to answer questions and provide guidance, the company will continue to offer a number of services to help its retailers succeed, including partnerships with regional distributors and merchandising support.

All this has incited trust and loyalty among retailers. “I feel confident in everything Beauflor has—and if they feel confident in it, we’re going to push it and see where it goes,” Glenn said.

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Marketing online: Manage your digital reputation—or else

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Lindsay Baillie

 

By now most everyone knows that in order to continue growing a business, a company must have an online presence. After all, in this digital age, a website is the new storefront; it allows consumers to learn about a business before even stepping foot inside the store.

However, simply having a website is not enough. Experts say businesses must also grow— and stay on top of—their online reviews. While traditional word-of-mouth marketing is still a great way for flooring dealers to grow their referral business, online reviews provide that same word of mouth on a much greater scale. What’s more, consumers are now trending toward reading—as well as trusting— online reviews prior to making big ticket purchases.

According to a study by Business 2 Community, 92% of consumers now read online reviews. Furthermore, 94% of consumers surveyed said they would use a business with a four-star rating. As the online shopping arena continues to grow, dealers of all sizes should be conscious of how many reviews they have as well as the quality of each review.

“Over the past five years, consumers’ buying patterns have drastically changed,” said Luke Salisbury, flooring account executive at Podium, a company that specializes in helping businesses communicate and interact with their customers to get reviews and feedback. “If you aren’t proactive in maintaining a positive and up-to-date Google and Facebook reputation, the chances you will be found—let alone chosen—is drastically diminished and it will have a large impact on your business.”

Dealers looking to better manage their online reputation need to ask themselves a critical question: Why should a potential customer choose my store over the competition? That’s according to Jim Augustus Armstrong, FCNews columnist and president/founder of Flooring Success Systems, who has advised hundreds of retailers on this subject. “The first impression you’re going to make in answering that unspoken question is with reviews,” he explained.

In answering that question, reviews have the potential to bring the customer’s search to a close. “If you have a lot of positive reviews and some video testimonials, the customer is likely to stop her journey,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant. “If there are no reviews the customer either thinks that you don’t care about your business or that no one cares about you.”

For dealers with nonexistent or negative reviews, growing and managing this crucial part of business can seem like an overwhelming task—especially considering the number of review sites available to consumers today. Digital marketing experts suggest growing and managing reviews on Google first, then branching out to other platforms.

The first step in growing online reviews, experts concede, is for a dealer to claim his or her review sites, including Google My Business, Angie’s List and Houzz. Once a profile is claimed, the dealer can begin asking customers for reviews.

“If you want to have a positive reputation, everyone in your business should constantly be thinking, ‘How do we get customers to support us?’” Calandrino stated. “One way would be to start having events in your store. Partner with another business that doesn’t sell flooring and invite your potential customers. Right then and there ask them what they think about the store. When you’re just starting you want people to just make comments about you/your store. If you haven’t had a lot of people buy from you, don’t wait. Get reviews about your showroom.”

Calandrino also urges dealers to have installers take pictures and videos of consumers after an installation is complete. “Once you get the videos post them to your Facebook page,” she added.

But what if your objective is to address an unfavorable review that’s out there?

Digital marketing experts suggest targeting whatever sites have the bad reviews. “If it’s Google, get people to leave reviews on Google,” Armstrong explained. “Your scoring is an average of all the reviews, so as you get more four- and five-star reviews, it’ll push your negative reviews down. If you have negative reviews on several sites, focus on Google first—it is king.”

Google reviews should be top of mind for dealers because they play a big role in where a business’s page is placed on the search platform. The greater a store’s star rating, the more likely they’ll appear on the first page.

Another important step in converting a bad reputation into a positive one is finding those negative reviews and reaching out to those customers. “Make it right,” Armstrong stated. “After it is fixed, ask them if they’re happy and if they could update their review.”

Flooring dealers looking to either grow or fix their online reputation should also review and update their profile details for accuracy, according to Salisbury. He also recommends dealers include keywords in explaining the flooring products/services they offer as well as updating their hours of operations. In addition, retailers should make sure their business name, address and phone number match exactly on each online directory profile.

A helping hand
While most flooring dealers would agree that adding “ask for, check and manage reviews” to their list of daily tasks isn’t ideal, digital marketing experts advise keeping the process simple. This includes handing out business cards with a request to leave a review or asking an installer and capture a video testimonial after a job is done. If a dealer wants help in this venture, there are also several companies available to assist in requesting and managing consumer reviews.

“With the massive adoption of online research and messaging in the flooring industry, the easiest thing is to get an interaction platform to consolidate all of those tools in one place, like Podium,” Salisbury said. “The second key is to integrate your management platform with your interaction platform so they work as one solution. QFloors and RFMS have created management platforms that make this integration seamless, so there is no extra work and keeps everything simple.”

Dealers can also take advantage of the online reviews program available through Flooring Success Systems, which takes care of all review requests. “We reach out to the customer and politely ask for a review and feedback,” Armstrong explained. “The big advantage to this system is we ask for a rating first, which takes place inside of our software—not on the review site. If a customer is not happy and leaves a one-, two- or three-star review the dealer is notified and the customer is asked for feedback. This gives the dealer a chance to fix the problem before the consumer leaves a review online.”

If the consumer gives a four- or five-star rating, Flooring Success Systems will ask her to leave a review. What’s more, the company streams four- and five-star reviews to the dealer’s website and Facebook. It also creates professional flyers for dealers to hand out to walk-ins, a digital badge to put on the retailer’s website and an actual plaque to hang in store.