Chances are luxury vinyl products, in every configuration and construction you can think of, will drive as much as 40% or more of specialty retail sales for the next several years. I suspect it will be an even higher number, and I’m not the only one.
Talk to Piet Dossche, president, USFloors, and he’ll tell you it could be more than half of your future sales for the next several years. It’s no surprise then that we saw so many companies—even some that have had nothing to do with hard surfaces in the past—suddenly jockeying to get in on the action. And it’s not just manufacturers, all sorts of alternative retailers are now moving in even if they have no idea how to sell flooring: All they need to do is throw a palette of the stuff on the floor of their home center or hardware store or lumber yard—and guess what? It sells!
I liken this tsunami of LVT sales to when laminate first hit the U.S. market— consumers were excited by this new product and a lot of retailers I know put their kids through college selling laminate back in the early days. It will be the same with LVT.
Here’s the challenge as I see it: How do you cut through the confusion, the various construction formats and the alphabet soup of names that it is currently being sold under (LVT, LVP, SPC, WPC, MLF, rigid core, stone flooring, waterproof flooring etc.) as well as all the competing brand names and private labels?
Consumers are confused and they’re looking for answers. On my website, MyBeautifulFloor.com, the luxury vinyl posts (blog and social media posts) are the ones that garner the most attention—and the most questions.
Are your salespeople up on the latest? Can they distinguish between all the brands and explain the differences between them? Can they justify the added expense of WPC over SPC, or the performance characteristics of SPC over other formats? Inquiring minds want to know.
In an earlier column, I spoke about the need to distinguish your store. Here’s one way that has been the tried and true hallmark of specialty retailers all along: industry expertise.
Make sure your people are up on all the latest trends in this red-hot category, that they can readily explain the differences, that they can position your store’s offerings against the private label brands shoppers will encounter at home centers, and that they can convincingly tell the incredible luxury vinyl/waterproof flooring story.
The truth is that each of these formats has distinct advantages and some disadvantages. I know that salespeople are reluctant to talk about disadvantages but perhaps this product requires full disclosure.
My stepson has a beautiful LVT floor in his apartment. Truly impressive styling, and of course, great performance. But in truth, I’d much rather see a WPC in this space because of its more realistic visuals, better embossing and the fact that the floor in this case is in the living room, a feature space in the home. He doesn’t care so much; he’s a guy. It looks good, it performs; we’re good to go.
While the choice of floors was not his being that he lives in an apartment building, I’m not sure he could have been convinced of the logic of spending more for a different luxury vinyl floor even though it was for the living room.
My daughter, on the other hand, opted for WPC in her basement and she knows she paid more for it. For her, it was all about the style and the superior visuals that first attracted her and finally sold her on the higher price. Yes, it’s in the basement, but that basement has a spare bedroom, it’s where the kids play, and it’s where the family gathers regularly. The premium she paid for better quality WPC is well worth it and she feels good about her decision.
You just never know what matters more to a given consumer and what they’re willing to spend for it. Make sure you have the tools you need to help them make the right choice for their particular needs.
Think that monthly product knowledge trainings are too much? Think again. How many questions will your salespeople face this month? How many brands and other retail outlets are you competing against? Think of how many luxury vinyl sales you’ll make this month and next. You can never have enough product knowledge, especially in a product category that is expanding as fast as this one, that is as confusing to consumers, that is evolving as rapidly as the luxury vinyl category is.
And these changes go far beyond LVT. Not only are the technological advances in these new cores impacting luxury vinyl sales, now we’re seeing them come to hardwood, to laminate, even ceramic tile. Is outdoor decking and hardscape next? Probably. Think that in a few years many flooring stores will be carrying both? Again, probably.
I think it is safe to say that the incredible advances we’re seeing in core technologies will drive so much of the flooring industry for the next decade and more.
In a sea of confusion, your store can be the beacon that guides consumers to the right choices, the right product and for the right reasons. Your customers will not only love you for it, they’ll tell their friends.
The fact is that most home centers salespeople will be hard pressed to keep up with all these changes. Your people better keep up. After all, they have kids to put through college!