In an ambitious effort to increase its presence at retail, on the web and, most importantly, in the minds of consumers, Armstrong said it is embarking on a multi-faceted brand building effort. Included will be major expansion and re-positioning of its Hartco Wood flooring line, a doubling of Armstrong's consumer ad budget, a redesign of its website and a plan to beginning selling its interactive "Design my Room" CD to retailers for use as a sales tool.

In announcing the new marketing and merchandising initiatives, Armstrong stressed that each has a distinct upside for independent retailers whether in the form of more product options or a more effective means of drawing consumers to the store. The timing of the announcements coincides with the start of spring, a time when many consumers undertake home improvements.

The initiatives outlined by Armstrong include these:

Wood Flooring: "Choices across the spectrum"

Armstrong's commitment to wood flooring is being dramatically expanded to capitalize on a segment that it estimates to have grown by 20 percent over the past two years. Its Hartco Quality Wood Flooring line has been renamed Armstrong Hardwood Flooring by Hartco and will use a logo that gives greater prominence to the Armstrong name. The collection will see the addition of 128 new entries across 11 collections in mid-2005. Products will include new 3/4-inch solid hardwoods in 3 1/4-inch solid plank and 2 1/2-inch strip, two stylish lines of 3/8-inch engineered plank (both offering Red Oak), a new collection of distressed hardwood in 3/8-inch planks and the first 5/16-inch solid hardwood for the Hartco Brand.

Armstrong's vice president, product management-hardwood, Patrick Barnds noted that one of the most compelling features of the line will be the breath of selection. "This is good news for consumers because the new line will deliver more choices across the spectrum-from premium hardwood floors to more affordable, high-quality floors to help those pinched by higher costs." He added that engineered floors available in the line will be particularly appealing to consumers who are remodeling because they can be installed over existing floors and are backed by extended warranties.

In addition to the changes in the Hartco line, the company will continue to market its Bruce Hardwood Flooring line.

Advertising: "More eyeballs than ever"

In the hope of establishing a preference for Armstrong among consumers, the company plans to double its print ad budget this year. Plans call for ads in at least 60 mass circulation magazines including those that target black and Hispanic consumers and younger buyers. The stepped up initiative began in February with a four-page gatefold spread showcasing three floors, including two from Hartco. The tagline for the ad, "Your Ideas Become Reality," will be used throughout the year.

The company's vice president, marketing and new product development, Laurie Israel-Cubell noted that the objective is to build awareness while reaching a larger audience. "Our goal is to educate consumers and drive traffic to retailers," she said. "Basically, a broader audience and more eyeballs than we've ever had before." "No site is better"

The company said a redesign of its web site will "attract, inform and inspire more consumers-including an emphasis on Spanish speaking consumers-and ultimately, drive them to local retailers." While Armstrong says the draws more visitors than that of any other flooring manufacturer, the improvements are aimed at guiding consumers to a specific store. In addition to an improved "store locator," beginning in May '05, stores will be able to feature Armstrong web tools on their own store websites by including a link. (Instructions will be available through the portal.)

The store locator will also offer preferred placement to those stores offering certified installation. According to Joe Guarino, gm, distribution channel-residential, the company is eager to promote certified installations. "They greatly improve customer satisfaction and can reduce callbacks by a factor of four or more," he said. "So we are encouraging installers to become professionally trained through our widely respected certification program."

Other features, including the Shop by Room section and the Design a Room, viewer are designed to help consumers make product selections right for their tastes and budgets. A Design my Room feature, which can be downloaded from the site, is also being made available on a CD (see information below).

"The idea behind this redesign was to capture what we've learned about what consumers and our retailers want -and guide consumers so they can confidently narrow their selection," said Armstrong's gm for eMarketing, Jesse Engle. "We believe no site is better at inspiring, educating and guiding customers from the idea to the retailer's front door than"

Design my Room: Now for sale

The interactive room makeover tool, Design my Room, is being offer to retailers as a CD for about $90 for a 10 pack that ready to display. A more personalized version of the Design a Room feature, Design my Room enables the consumer to load a digital photo of a room, choose products that match their taste and budget, and immediately see an image of the room's transformation. The program also lets the user share the image with others via-e-mail and can create a shopping list base on the final selections made by the consumer.

"Design my room will be a particularly useful sales tool for working with customers who insist on taking home samples," said Engle. "They can confirm their decisions this way and retailers can save time and more quickly close deals."