I’m on a crusade. I want to encourage people in the flooring industry to look at a tremendous opportunity that is consistently ignored: floor care and maintenance. It is a simple yet complex area that is seldom talked about. If done correctly, these products can reinforce your position as a flooring expert while also generating a consistent stream of revenue. My goal is to excite, educate and motivate floor covering pros who are missing this huge opportunity. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s …(well you know the rest).
The fact is the flooring industry has never excelled in promoting branded floor care and maintenance products to the end user. In fact, after a bit of investigation it became painfully clear that most links in the supply chain know little about these very products and how they can provide a consistent, ongoing business far beyond a one-time installation.
Most major residential manufacturers have devoted many dollars developing their floor care and maintenance products. It is not enough that they leave the floor shiny and spotless (almost any cleaning product applied with a little elbow grease can do that). These products must not degrade the surface of the flooring and they can not compromise slip resistance. Also, they cannot leave any residue that may attract dust/soil. And forget harsh chemicals. Manufacturers know they must deliver all these key qualities without threat to pets or infants who may come in contact with the floor’s surface regularly. The engineers in the lab do their part; the sales force, apparently, is another matter.
Yes, occasionally a manufacturer will attempt to make its products desirable to retailers by creating an eye catching in-store display, usually with easy-to-understand selling points. They also will offer incredible spiffs for their distributors as an incentive to place these displays. After the initial blitz fades and months pass, the displays soon become storage shelves. If they are still on the showroom floor they now include competing products. In some cases, the display has been picked over to the point where it is just an eyesore better suited to the museum of obsolete and abandoned displays. That’s not just the retailer’s doing. After the initial interest, good luck trying to find someone at the manufacturer who still spends time promoting these products through the distributor network.
Remember distributors are vital to the floor covering supply chain. They assure that inventory is available and they set the terms. Most important it is they that deliver to the retailer’s door on a weekly schedule. Without distributors, most flooring specialists would not exist. Even the biggest among them seldom places an order sufficient to warrant the manufacturer’s attention. Yet while the advantages and benefits of working with a distributor are indisputable, I must say most fall short when it comes to inventorying, selling and delivering floor care products.
A line of branded floor care products typically includes three skus. Seldom will you find a distributor with a dependable inventory of all three. Opened cartons in the warehouse collect dust to the point where labels are unrecognizable, backorders are elusive and undamaged deliveries are rare. Usually, the customer service staff has little or no knowledge about these products – they cannot find them in the ordering system – and will express frustration even as they attempt to accommodate the retailer. Distributors will tell you it is always a struggle to find someone who can take charge of their efforts to sell cleaning and maintenance items.
It is truly a shame that flooring retailers are missing out on this, because the category is such an obvious fit for them. Specialty stores have always been the hub of flooring. Why? Installation! Without the expert installation, flooring is not a finished product. It’s not a car where consumers can fall in love with a product and drive it home. The process is complicated, even for the most seasoned retailer. Consumers exhaust retailers’ resources with the shopping process, product selection and of course the installation. Most retailers are understaffed, struggling with daily business challenges and are pressured to sell, sell, sell - and sell big when they sell. Selling floor care after an installation does not rank high on the retailer’s priority list.
Then, of course, there is the consumer. Again and again our research shows that people who call a manufacturer seeking information regarding their flooring care and maintenance did not bother to read the maintenance and warranty information. In fact, their call is usually prompted by a bad spill, flooding or some other unexpected experience. They now expect the manufacturer to solve their problem. Those on the receiving end of these calls will tell you that many consumers are simply looking for an easy fix like an inexpensive grocery store product or a homemade concoction. Some are searching for a miracle that eliminates the need for regular maintenance.
Manufacturers tend to stand their ground. Their reps will carefully explain that all cleaning and maintenance products that carry their logo are specifically formulated for their floor. If used correctly and regularly they will ensure maximum performance and longevity. More often than not, the caller will challenge this and insist that a generic brand is just as good. Yes, the manufacturer will say, it’s true that many products perform well, but we can only assure the quality of ours. Venturing to other products may be risky both from a performance and warranty standpoint.
Selling floor care products marketed by the same manufacturers that make the flooring is a sure way to fatten your bottom line, increase customer satisfaction and most importantly reduce claims. That is the dirty truth about these products. Retailers confronting this challenging environment would be well advised to explore the opportunities this lost segment can bring.