Ask a floor covering retailer about cleaners and other sundries and you are likely to hear two responses: Yes, they'll agree, the products bring in an impressive profit margin. But no, they'll admit sometimes a bit sheepishly, they do not do enough to promote the category in their store.
"I'd have to admit that my salespeople don't spend as much time as they should selling the cleaning supplies," acknowledges Mark Bisbee, the owner of Liberty Carpet One in a typical response from a sampling of retailers asked about the category. "I guess once they have sold a carpet they don't want to muddy up the deal by trying to throw in something extra."
But even while Bisbee is candid about the priorities of the staff in his Fairfax, Vir. store, he has also come up with a unique way to use cleaning products to draw business: He runs a small yellow pages ad in the "cleaning and other suppliers" category. This way, he says, people looking to clean their floorcovering may find their way to his store and end up buying a new carpet. If they don't, they may just buy a few cleaning products. "Either way," he says, "the ad pays for itself and it builds traffic in the store."
He noted that his store includes a display for Capture, a dry powder carpet cleaner from Milliken, partly because it is not widely available at other retailers. Mostly, he said, he stocks the product because it yields impressive results. "It is pretty amazing stuff," says Bisbee. "You just sprinkle it on the carpet and wipe away stains like you are cleaning a countertop. People come back for it because we're the only place around here where you can buy it."
While cleaning products will never play a leading role in stores devoted to selling flooring materials, there is a clear consensus among manufacturers and retailers that a selection of products can be a bright spot for a store. Apart from a mark up of 100 percent or more, the products can keep customers coming back while positioning the store as the definitive source for all flooring needs.
"Why not give them a couple of bottles of cleaner when they buy a carpet?" asks Mike Zoellner, vice president of marketing for Mohawk which offers a line called Mohawk Floor Essentials. "This way, when they use them up they will come back to your store. "Dealers have told us this is something that keeps bringing people back into their stores. They are not in the floor covering market just to sell floor covering."
In addition to a carpet cleaner, the Mohawk line includes a product for wood and hard surfaces as well as one for tile and grout. There is also an odor control product as well. The items are included in freestanding merchandising racks that occupy as little as two square feet of floor space.
Although he too notes that his store has not pushed floor care as aggressively as it should, Dan Hussey, president of B&L Flooring American in Prescott Valley, AZ, says that the products can play another important function. Consumers using products marketed by a floor covering manufacturer can be assured that the products will not harm the flooring material.
"It helps you protect the customer's warranty," says Hussey. "Warranties often state that certain cleaning products can void the warranty. If you are selling them the cleaning products they don't have to worry about misusing a product." Still, Hussey adds that his store puts a "minimal amount of effort" into the category. "It really is an untapped opportunity."