August 4/11, 2014; Volume 28/Number 4
By Ken Ryan
There was a time not long ago when many flooring retailers, perhaps looking to tout the environmental attributes of bamboo flooring, merchandised the category in its own “green” area on the showroom floor. USFloors, for example, even created a “Green Island” display for that very purpose.
But times have changed; bamboo is still green as ever, but the term has become so mainstream, executives said, that it has lost some of its marketing clout. Today, you are just as likely to see bamboo displayed in its own section in a showroom or within hardwood—and still in some cases a green area—as dealers have any number of choices in how to position bamboo.
Not surprisingly, industry manufacturers and retailers offered different views on how best to position bamboo. For example, Bruce Boulden, national flooring sales director at Bamboo Hardwoods, believes bamboo should be positioned among other hard surfaces. So, too, does Mike Boshart, president of Teragren, who is also of the opinion that selling green no longer offers the competitive edge it once did because everyone claims to have green products.
However, Ryan Bechtold, operations manager at Contract Furnishings Mart, Beaverton, Ore., believes bamboo is a large enough category to merit its own section on the showroom floor.
What everyone does agree on is that while positioning is important, a trained and educated sales staff is the most critical factor when selling bamboo. “How you differentiate your product offering from the mass market, i.e. Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators, is the challenge independent retailers face,” said Sean O’Rourke, vice president of hard surfaces at Avalon Flooring in Cherry Hill, N.J. “Strand bamboo [the most popular choice today] in any format pretty much looks like the next strand bamboo whether there is a quality difference or not, and nothing but sales professionalism and great product knowledge will separate you from a low-cost option available down the street.”
O’Rourke said recent developments of strand on an HDF core make the product viable again in a click-float format; he noted that Teragren is returning to more offerings in a traditional tongue and groove that makes sense, especially if a customer wants to cover a large area without transitions.
As an alternative hardwood product, bamboo is both a challenge for dealers as to where to display it, as well as an opportunity for them to sell something different.
Contract Furnishings Mart (CFM), with 11 stores in Oregon and Washington State, was cited as being one of the best retailers in merchandising and selling bamboo. Its showrooms vary in size, and the way in which bamboo is merchandised is at the discretion of the store manager. In general, Bechtold said, CFM has been successful selling bamboo in its own space, generally between 200 and 350 square feet, displayed near hardwood.
“Many consumers don’t think of bamboo as an option, but it may be the look they are looking for,” Bechtold said. CFM’s sales associates are trained to engage customers in conversation to better define their flooring needs. “As the conversation unfolds, often we may say, ‘Have you considered bamboo?’ It is a viable category and we do well with it.”
Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing at Wellmade Performance Flooring, said he thinks many retailers are missing a great opportunity to highlight a portion of their showrooms to green products, including bamboo, cork and FSC-certified hardwood. “A beautiful showroom floor, coupled with room scenes, props and green attributes, can go a long way to stimulating the consumer’s imagination,” he explained.
“In the case of Wellmade, our bamboo is FloorScore certified for indoor air quality, rapidly renewable, ultra-low in VOC emissions and qualifies for LEED points. And with all the recent price increases in hardwood flooring, we’ve maintained very attractive pricing, and that is another great selling point.”
Some flooring executives said the term “green” has lost some of its luster as a marketing strategy. “Green has reached parity in the marketplace,” Boshart said. “Everyone is promoting the fact they are green—whether it is how the product is manufactured, proximity to the market, how it is disposed of, etc., and they are totally legitimate cases. But by segregating green products, you’re doing customers a disservice and not representing those products as they might be. With green evolving, it makes more of a case to display with other hardwoods.”
Gary Keeble, product and marketing manager at USFloors, agreed that green is not the differentiator it once was. He said the Green Island display for its cork and bamboo products was a good idea in 2008 but is not as effective in today’s market.
“We look at bamboo as an alternative product to hardwood, and we believe for retailers to have success, bamboo should be in the hardwood area,” Keeble said. “We’ve moved away from the term green; we talk more about sustainability, the overall environmental impact.”
Boulden said there is a movement afoot among retailers to move bamboo products to the hardwood section. He suggests retailers place bamboo “just as they would another hardwood product, as aligned within the current display structure, or as one of similarly priced products, such as a hand-scrapped option within that section; or simply by species if that is what works for that retailer. Bottom line: Integrate bamboo as you would any other hardwood species; just don’t segregate it.”
Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery in Louisville, Ky., said his stores have used many versions of bamboo over the years with differing success. “Our most consistent luck has been with the stranded products, and our current best seller is the group from USFloors. They have a stranded veneer on a high density core over a cork base. So far this combination has given us the durability of strand, with a stable product that still sounded like a real floor to walk on.”
Both dealers and manufacturers said there is no magical way bamboo should be displayed. What’s most important is there are adequate samples; bamboo should be installed on the floor for consumers to walk on and for it to be shown in the proper light. “It’s incumbent upon the professionals to be able to say to the customer, ‘Here is another option—bamboo,’” Boulden said. “Education is extremely important because not all bamboos are created equal. We may be biased but we see bamboo as another hardwood, a product that offers different visuals—smooth, distressed, brushed, French bleed.”