Brands certainly aren't new, and brand management is not a new science. Marketers have long understood that brands facilitate the consumer purchase decision and that consumers develop a relationship -- and even a bond of trust -- with entrenched brands that meet their needs.
For several reasons, brands are a natural fit for the floor covering industry. First, flooring is a big-ticket purchase. Second, consumers are rarely educated on the performance aspects of the various floor covering products. Third, flooring is an infrequently purchased item for most people. And finally, the fear of making a mistake can delay or derail a consumers' purchasing decision.
Brands provide consumers with a level of name recognition and quality assurance that reinforces their purchase decisions. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that women, the target consumer for floor coverings, are even more inclined to long-term brand relationships and brand loyalty than men.
Brands are also good for flooring manufacturers and dealers. Typically, they drive sales of better merchandise and, thus, create better margins for the businesses involved. Without the benefit of a strong brand, it is much more likely that a salesperson will sell based on a commodity approach and the lowest common denominator -- price.
To take an example from another industry, Starbucks demonstrates a wonderful example of leveraging a brand to create value. Starbucks has been successful by extending its brand beyond its product, which you can order 19,000 different ways, to include the entire experience. The company's chairman refers to Starbucks as "the Third Place" (home is "First Place" and work is "Second Place"). Starbucks provides a sense of belonging and a few moments of serenity away from the hectic day.
The floor covering industry is all about "First Place" and can learn several lessons from the Starbucks example. Specifically, customers aspire for better goods and they want to trade up. Also, consumers want customized products, not mass-produced goods that do not cater to their individuality. And consumers will pay a premium when the experience is properly presented. A strong floor covering brand also can address these consumer wants.
The outcome of the debate on brands is important because it will shape the future of the floor covering industry. Which future is worth embracing -- a vibrant market where the brands generate more national advertising and consumer spending, as well as fuel innovation and better margins, or a commodity market where price is the driving force, communicating to consumers is not a priority, and both innovation and quality are compromised?
The case is clear, but retail is where the rubber meets the road to truly support brands and help consumers confidently achieve their dreams for the "First Place."