Ever eager to help, my wife recently pointed to a modest little shack of a flooring store in our neighborhood and offered a suggestion. “Why don’t you do a story on them? They’re right near us.” I glanced over at this little standalone store. It had a pitched roof, a wood shingle exterior and all the charm of a tool shed. It was adorned with hand-painted signs hawking low, low prices on brand name flooring. There are dozens just like it in the Los Angeles area where we live. “They’re not NFT material,” I sniffed. My wife, Nancy, was perplexed, “I don’t understand. They sell flooring don’t they?”

Indeed they do. So do a lot of people. But navigating through a cluttered, musty little store with a tiny selection does nothing to inspire the consumer. Like a “retailer” who sits in the customer’s living room with a sample book, or sells flooring on the internet, they can only scratch the surface of what our industry has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum, Home Depot and other big box stores may sell tons of flooring, but that’s only because they treat our industry’s products like a commodity. Customer service and professional installation simply are not priorities for them-and never will be.

            So now, as Home Depot once again makes a move to expand its presence in the flooring business, it’s a good time to reinforce why flooring specialty stores are truly special. Simply put: There is no substitute for a genuine showroom that is comfortable, tasteful and staffed with real pros who know flooring. Real specialty stores-the ones that embrace flooring as a fashionable and functional element of home décor, will always be the backbone of our industry. This is the environment where consumers are likely to find flooring solutions to fit their taste, lifestyle and budget. The people running these stores have taken the time to learn about product attributes, installation and maintenance. They are the shining gems of our business. And they are, by the way, exactly who NFT is tailored for.

Understandably, Home Depot’s management sees the volume our retailers do, and they want in. Less than a year after pulling out of the specialty flooring store business the big box retailer plans to open “Design Center” stores; beginning with one in Charlotte, N.C. and another in Concord, Calif. The 90,000 sq. ft. units will reportedly use soft lighting and a warmer, more upscale motif in a bid to lure women. It’s a good bet the strategy was influenced by the six Home Depot Floor Stores that were closed in February. This just looks like the same approach, only with a much wider net. Truth is, they can lower the lights, add fresh flowers and play soft jazz all they want; it won’t make them any more of a credible source for flooring.

Like any mass merchant, the Home Depot business model is to keep costs low. That makes it nearly impossible to find and retain staff members who can match the expertise found in a real flooring specialty store. This is why the H.D. Floor Stores were a flop and why the “Design Center” concept will likely meet the same fate. In the meantime, it will be one more thing for the real flooring pros to contend with.

We realize, of course, that our industry’s top-notch retailers are no strangers to competition. Whether it be an ill-equipped discount “store-let” like the one in our neighborhood, a big box retailer flexing its muscles, a shop-at-home service or internet operation, there are a multitude of places to buy flooring. Too often, the sale goes to whoever makes the most noise, has the biggest ad or simply promises to undercut everyone else on price. When that happens, the consumer misses the chance to consult with a real flooring expert and move closer to realizing her dream home. The good news is the more people know about our industry, the more likely they are to call on a true flooring retail specialist.

So, to the people who operate honest-to-goodness floor covering specialty stores, you have our undying respect and admiration. Rest assured, your expertise and your commitment to our industry will always win out. And keep reading NFT, where we know what a real flooring specialty retailer looks like.