Can you identify the hot decorator colors for ’09? Do you know how to assemble a ‘complementary color scheme?’ Do you even own a color wheel? One of the most important, and neglected, selling tools in flooring is the ever expanding palette of colors available. Learning how to use it is a lot easier than you might think!

Why is it that one of the genders (dare I say which one?) seems to shut down and don a glazed look when the subject of color comes up? Given this well-established phenomenon, I implore you to NOT quickly turn the page, but to “man-up” and grit your way through this column on color.  It’s painless, it’s timely, and (most important) it’s crucial to your business.  I can already hear your answer:  “Who cares about ‘new’ colors when the consumer wants beige anyway?”  I would beg to differ.  I submit that YOU want your customer to request beige because it’s “safe” and it’s easier for you to sell, because you think you cannot go wrong. Think again.

That thinking is wrong on so many levels; I hardly know where to begin.  But let me say this: Every beige item among your samples (and that includes carpet tile and even hardwood) has an underlying foundation color. Is it brown-based beige? Yellow-based? Pink? Green?  See what I mean? Beige doesn’t mean what it used to. You still have to have a discerning and analytical eye to coordinate the right beige for your customers. In other words, your beige safety net is officially gone. So why not expose you customer to other options?

The second all-too-familiar reason I hear from salespeople who cling to beige is that it helps make a house more “sellable.”  Wake-up call: The days of people bouncing from house to house are over. In this economy people are more prone to stay put. They redecorate to suit their tastes for many years to come-another reason to give them any color they want.

The carpet makers are expanding their color palettes for good reason.  (No-they are not trying to make your life more difficult.) They are giving you the tools to create a personalized interior design for your customer. I realize color coordination can be very intimidating, so I’m going to share a secret with you. There are two tools that will make you look like the seasoned pro I know you are.  The first is a color wheel (available at any art supply store). Every student of design invests in one of these nifty wheels. With just a bit of practice, you can use it to create a complementary color scheme (opposites on the color wheel); or an analogous color scheme (adjacent colors on the wheel); or some really funky combinations that will fall under split-complementary or even tetrad color schemes. I know it sounds like a foreign language, but a quick study of the wheel will make you comfortable making color recommendations for the customer.

The other “tool” of the color trade is readily available: A reputable paint company’s fan deck of colors. Remember those tricky beiges I wrote about in the opening paragraphs? All you have to do (in natural light) is match the beige you are trying to analyze against the appropriate beige in the fan deck.  Once you’ve zeroed in on that, you can determine the underlying color. That entire page in the fan deck is built around one underlying color. Close to the top of the page will be the beige you’ve matched. As you progress down the page, the real color will become vividly apparent.  With this tool you can match anything your customer may throw your way (fabric swatch, sofa pillow, their pet Yorkie…) Now that ought to inspire you. These paint fan decks are available at most paint stores.

Now that you have a sense of how to work with color and use it as a selling tool, I’m happy to introduce the rising color “stars” for 2009 and 2010 (based on my affiliation and research with Color Marketing Group International). There is no single descriptive word for this palette, because the colors are so eclectic. There are several nature-based neutrals, but for the most part, the colors are bolder, brighter and cleaner than anything we’ve seen in recent years. Usually color trends reflect what’s going on socially, politically and economically in our country, and given that insight, these new colors make perfect sense. 

This emerging color scheme bounces from light to dark, from warm tones to cool tones, and from soft intensities to very bold. This, perhaps, mirrors the extremes we see today on Wall Street and in the political arena. The boldness of the colors interprets to Americans wanting to stand up for themselves. We want change-especially some economic relief, and most of all, we want political leaders to do what they’ve promised to get us on more stable ground. 

Armed with these emerging colors, consider yourself ahead of the trend curve now. Keep beige in your back pocket (just in case the customer really does ask for it), but have fun selling from a colorful new perspective.