Industry Q&A: Steve Ehrlich, VP Sales and Marketing, Novalis
Novalis Innovative Flooring announced that industry veteran Steve Ehrlich has joined its North American operations as vice president of sales and marketing. Ehrlich was most recently with Invista, where he directed new business activity for the Stainmaster brand in the hard surfaces flooring category. Prior to his post at Invista, Ehrlich has held executive positions with The Home Depot, where he was merchandiser for hard surfaces, and Hoboken Floors, where he held the position as senior vice president of sales and marketing and has an extensive background in all hard surface manufacturing and marketing.
We sat down with Ehrlich at Surfaces to learn more about his new position with Novalis and the possibilities for the luxury vinyl tile (LVT) category.
FT: Congratulations on your new position. What are your goals for the first year?
Ehrlich: Initial priorities: we are launching the Serenbe line through Nova Floor, which is the new SPC line. Also, it’s our 30th year anniversary. Novalis was the first company to ship LVT out of China in the mid-80s, so steering and looking at the direction of the industry, which is moving at light speed.
FT: What’s exciting about this role?
Ehrlich: I’ve been in the industry a little over 30 years, and this has been the fastest growing category. I’ve been involved with some categories like bamboo or Brazilian cherry or exotics or digital printing for ceramics, but nothing is moving as fast as LVT. The technology, the coatings, the styling, the constructions, the buying habits — the distributors, retailers and consumers are just totally confused, so trying to help with the marketing aspects where LVT fits in.
The industry focuses on locking systems and densities of cores, and that’s not what the consumer thinks about. When the consumer comes in, they think about style, fashion and design, and let someone else worry about installing it. Even if it’s a DIY product, they really don’t want to know about the installation technique. They figure that’s all been figured out. A lot of my background has been in merchandising and marketing with companies in the past — Home Depot, Hoboken Floors, ceramic tile companies, wood companies — so I have been in all facets of the industry: merchandising, marketing, distribution, manufacturing and direct-to-consumer. I sort of look at these things holistically versus one-dimensionally.
My second job was with Home Depot, and, really, it set me up when I was there. I started thinking when I was there, “what would I need to do to learn the whole industry?” It helped me with my career. Look at all the different components versus being single-minded, such as the cost of a product. I don’t look at the cost. I worry about how much it would sell for. So, when I was in manufacturing, I wasn’t worried about operation expenses; I was worried about how much it would make based on the market conditions.
FT: How did you decide to join Novalis?
Ehrlich: My last position was with Invista, the Stainmaster brand, developing hard surfaces—the innovation side and the R&D side—so I worked with John Wu, the owner of Novalis, on both sides of the fence.
They were licensing the Stainmaster brand, and we were also a customer, so when I decided to resign in December and move on to some other things, I started consulting, and John found out and gave me a shout. I ended up here.
FT: What excites you about the LVT category?
Ehrlich: Novalis has been in a steady growth projection for quite some time. This product satisfies all needs, not just one need. I was there when laminate started; but laminate never became a commercial product because, whether it was transitions, or moisture or locking systems, it never had the capability to transcend all the markets. Vinyl, and whatever it is going to become, has the attributes to transcend each different channel, segment, installation type, and it has a lot of things it could be used for. People are saying it’s waterproof, which is not such a big deal on the floor. If you had a flood in your house, you have to replace the flooring anyway. The insurance companies won’t even let you keep it if you had a flood because mold could grow on it.
But what about showers? Why do we need ceramic tile on walls when you could put something that’s waterproof on the wall, like our Serenbe, that’s grouted and you can’t tell it’s not ceramic? Why do you need to spend an extra $8 [per square foot] on installation? This category has the opportunity to transcend all channels, segments and markets like no other product ever has. Right now, it’s not outdoors, but who says they can’t make it for a three-season room? There’s a lot more technology that could be put into this product. Digital technology is not being used yet. Who’s to say you can’t send in a design and you have your flooring?
Flooring has been relegated for 10, 20, 30 years as lifetime products, but we are all moving so quickly. Why aren’t you going to change your living room floor like you did paint?
There are more creative ways and cycles. Everyone is concerned about the hard surface cycle. Carpet has a short cycle, so you can market continuously to that consumer, whereas with LVT or ceramic, you are looking at 12, 15 years, or when people move. Most people won’t ever replace ceramic in their house. People live with 4x4-inch tiles for 30 years because people don’t want to rip out that bathroom. You have electric, plumbing, code requirements — major renovations — but with this, it could go over Durock. Put it on your bathroom wall, and five years later, you change it like you change a shower curtain.
It’s getting to the point where the visuals are so beautiful. We have operations in Europe, America and six other countries. We are seeing what’s going on all over the world and using that as guidance.
FT: Tell us about the launch of Serenbe.
Ehrlich: Serenbe is the new SPC [stone polymer composite] core. We call it HDC [high density core]. Serenbe is the best of both worlds. It comes with or without an attached pad. It is EIR, embossed in register, and Novalis has brought together some of the most beautiful patterns. It has our NovaClick locking system and our NovaShield coating, which is the best in the industry. Our R&D department has some long-term, very talented people who have been in the industry 30 or 35 years and are experts in coatings and products and have taken coatings to the next level.
I’ve been telling people for years that you don’t walk on floors, you walk on the coating. We’ve taken the chemicals, refined them to create the most clarity, the most durability. A lot of companies will claim they have the hardest, the most scratch-resistant or the most dent-resistant, but it’s really only one of those things. They haven’t formulated it in the right way to be good at everything. You have to have the right chemistry for all of it.
FT: What else is Novalis looking forward to this year?
Ehrlich: Novalis celebrates 30 years on 8-8-18. They started it 30 years ago and started shipping containers, and the company has constantly innovated. It’s a family focus.