While many independent flooring dealers are scrambling to figure out how to leverage the internet to find new customers, San Diego-based Cali Bamboo is delivering customers who are ready to buy directly to independent dealers.
Cali Bamboo is a rapidly growing, omnichannel flooring and decking home improvement platform circling $150 million in annual sales. The company offers an expanding range of highly-engineered, eco-friendly products including: bamboo, eucalyptus, luxury vinyl, and engineered flooring, composite decking, fencing, plywood, and other products. Unique among flooring suppliers, Cali leverages the power of an efficient, internet-driven direct-to-consumer model to build brand and product awareness amongst an increasingly online savvy remodeling consumer universe.
Founded in 2004 and recognized as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company for nine consecutive years, Cali Bamboo models how individuals, businesses, and communities can implement modern design along with structural strength and environmental integrity. Products are available directly from Cali Bamboo or through Lowe’s and top building materials dealers across the country.
“I see Cali Bamboo accomplishing today what a lot of people in flooring and, frankly, many other industries have been trying to figure out without much success,” said Doug Jackson, president, who brings more than 20 years of experience from Shaw where he most recently directed the Tuftex division, a premier residential carpet brand. Under his management, Tuftex saw substantial EBITDA growth through a combination of marketing, pricing science, and cost-cutting measures. He is known for facilitating strategic, long term business relationships with customers in the dealer, national account, and trade channels—three arenas where Cali Bamboo is positioned for considerable further growth.
“I think we are leading the transformation of this enormous industry, and it’s very exciting to be on the front side of that disruption,” he said.
The company markets in four ways: direct to consumer; through the trades, such as flooring contractors, property managers or A&D specifiers; big boxes; and specialty retailers, such as independent flooring retailers, hardware stores and lumberyards. They do not sell through Amazon or other ecommerce sites because it takes a level of expertise to sell and deliver flooring successfully, Jackson said.
Cali drives business through strategic media buys and pay-per-click campaigns. About 10,000 unique visitors go to calibamboo.com each day, and 6oo to 800 of those visitors will ask for samples, sign up for ongoing communications or promotions.
“We take those bodies and hold their hand through a pretty big purchase,” Jackson said.
Cali customer service reps will talk to customers on the phone, ask about their project, vision, and concerns. If it’s an experienced DIYer or contractor, the company will sell and ship flooring anywhere in the country—from a high rise in New York City to a farm in Montana to a barge in Alaska. For customers who need more assistance, they will be referred to a retailer in their local market.
“We do a nice job of bringing them further down the purchase path, and then if it makes sense, hand them off to a dealer; it’s a gift-wrapped customer at that point,” said Tom Hume, vice president of marketing.
The independent dealer business is a huge growth area for Cali, guided by Mike Belprez, national sales manager, dealers, who also joined the company from Shaw. Belprez launched the expansion by recruiting members of the National Floorcovering Alliance—40 have signed so far. An algorithm and a map allow the Cali team to put a protective bubble around a zip code that directs any leads to the dealer in that area.
“The key part of that program is distribution—it’s always a hot button,” Belprez said. “How important is any dealer to the market? This is a unique opportunity to offer very selective distribution.”
“We are gaining leads—not a lot—but the great thing is, they are highly qualified leads,” said Blake Powell, director of digital for Indianapolis-based NFA dealer ICC Floors, who has sold Cali products for three years. “By the time the lead gets to ICC, the potential client already has a great idea of what they are looking for and it really is as simple as scheduling a measure and giving them the estimate.”
Cali is not using the traditional rep model to service its dealer customers. Instead, dealers have access to Cali service reps on the phone who can address questions, and they’ll see new product introductions and leadership at conferences twice a year.
“With them being in California and us in Indiana, one might think that it would be hard to get good service, let alone build positive relationships. That is not the case here,” Powell said. “Whether that be flying out to give our sales team a face-to-face training, expediting samples, or finding a specific room scene so a client can see what the product looks like, they deliver.”
Since the company doesn’t expect dealers to buy large displays, Cali spends more time and energy on sample packages, which are artfully presented with marketing collateral that tells the brand story and suggest additional products.
Jackson says the company’s secret sauce is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Cali’s model is the same as the Apple brand, which charges the same amount for products through any channel.
“If you want your hand held and you want someone to measure it and you have to take up an old floor, and you aren’t comfortable with that project—and a lot of people aren’t—Mike’s team will refer you to a dealer.”
Norberto Rivera, owner of LaValle Flooring in North Dakota, has carried Cali’s flooring, decking and plywood products for a year.
“Companies such as Cali Bamboo have valued our business more so than some of the titans in our industry,” Rivera said. “We started with their hardwood display in our 200-square-foot office at a time when most manufacturer’s reps wouldn’t give us the time of day. They took the time to educate us on all aspects of their products. They don’t have the greatest variety of colors, but the colors they do carry beat 85% of the stuff put out by the big names in our industry. Their social media presence lends credibility to our brand when we tag them in our posts.”
Not only does Cali offer sustainable building materials, it uses the same materials throughout its modern, airy headquarters. Cali is a pet-friendly company, and team members are encouraged to bring their furry friends to work every day. Take a stroll through the open-concept offices and you could be greeted by up to 40 four-legged friends on any given day carrying toys, sleeping under desks, or running through the large roll-up door to romp in the grassy backyard.
“From the get go, the company culture was established to be a very comfortable environment,” said Laura Nieto, marketing manager. “As the company has grown, we’ve tried to maintain that casual environment with flip-flops, T-shirts, dogs and people playing basketball.”
That environment encourages one-to-one collaboration and encourages employees to connect with customers and retail partners more authentically.
“My first week here, this Labrador walks in with a tennis ball in his mouth and he sticks it in my lap,” Jackson said. “It was one of those ice breakers for me; I knew this was going to work.”
The culture makes for happy, healthy employees, and this joy rubs off on their approach to service through all channels.
“We are blazing a different trail,” Jackson said. “The rest of the industry talks about delivering leads; we deliver customers.”