In the first installment of this two-part report,National Floor Trendssurveyed retailers and contractors nationwide to gauge their outlook on the residential and commercial floor covering markets. This installment details what’s really important in selecting suppliers; how suppliers rate; areas earmarked for investment; and most important industry issues.

Important Factors in Selecting Manufacturer/Distributor Suppliers. Survey participants rated their suppliers in 14 areas. The top five areas with an 80 percent or higher rating of being important to respondents were: scheduling and on-time delivery; complaints/service issues handled by reps; competitive pricing; Accessibility of reps; and optimum product selection. The least import factor for retailers when selecting manufacturers/distributors was a consumer advertising program. (Charts 1&2)

Manufacturer/Distributor Ratings. Retailers rated their area rug; carpet; ceramic; laminate floors; vinyl floors; and wood floors’ manufacturers/distributors in the same 14 areas ranked in selecting manufacturer/distributor suppliers. (Charts 3&4) A consistent weakness of manufacturers and distributors across all product categories was the lack of an effective co-op advertising program and inability to generate ideas for increasing business. Consumer advertising programs also received consistent low marks from dealers.

The three most important areas for area rug manufacturers/distributors were: scheduling and on-time delivery; complaint/service issues handled by reps and optimum product selection. Definite areas of weakness and concern by retailers were shortcomings in providing consumer insight and knowledge; installation specifications; effective promotions/merchandising displays; and store-level training.

Scheduling and on-time delivery; accessibility of reps; competitive pricing; optimum product selection; and product guarantees/warranties were the most important factors in ratingcarpet manufacturers/distributors.

Optimum product selection, accessibility of reps, competitive pricing and scheduling and on-time delivery were the top four rated areas for ceramic manufacturers/distributors. Areas rated poor by at least 20% of retailers were: store level training, and effective sales incentives.

Laminate manufacturers/distributors excel in accessibility of reps; scheduling and on-time delivery; and product guarantees/warranties.

Strengths ofvinyl manufacturers/distributorsas ranked by dealers were: scheduling and on-time delivery; optimum product selection; accessibility of reps; and product guarantees/warranties.

Accessibility of reps; scheduling and on-time delivery; optimum product selection; and complaints/service issues handled by reps were the top rated areas for wood manufacturers/distributors. Effective sales incentives is an area needing upgrading as mentioned by retailers.

Areas of Increased Business Investment Within the Next Two Years. Computers and software are at the top of most retailer expenditure wish lists followed by showroom design, training and education, and marketing and advertising. Mentioned also are expanded investments to in-house installation services and expanding/adding locations. (Chart 5)

Most Important Issues Facing Retailers/Contractors. The top three responses were: competent, qualified, caring installers; the economy; and competition from the big-box stores.

Editor’s Note: National Floor Trends commissioned another in our ongoing series of market studies to help flooring retailers/contractors enhance the success and profitability of their businesses. Identifying current product/sales trends and projecting the industry’s future direction is imperative to making strategic decisions that ensure growth and prosperity.

Our 2003 Market Trends Study findings are based on responses from a sample of 1,000 active qualified flooring dealers/contractors selected on an Nth name basis from the domestic circulation list of NFT subscribers. The participants represent a cross-section of dollar sales volumes for 2002 ranging from less than $500,000 (10%) to $5 million and more (18%).

A 25% response rate by specialty floor covering retailers/contractors to a recent Market Trends Survey provides the data for this study presented in two parts, in this and the April issue of NFT. The study was designed and conducted by the market research staff of Business News Publishing Co., in conjunction with the editorial staff of National Floor Trends.

The complete 2003 Market Trends Study is available for $295 each and $275 for multiple copies.