The assessment was dead on: “We can’t cut or save our way out of a recession,” said Manny Llerena, Mohawk’s vp retail marketing during a meeting with the press last month at the company’s Floorscapes convention. He maintained that a much better approach is to inspire consumers and tap into the passion they feel for their homes. People are staying in (or cocooning). Also, thanks in large part to the bevy of home improvement shows now seen on cable TV, they are far more aware of their interior design options. Marry those two unmistakable trends and a savvy retailer can move to higher ground. The focus shifts from cutting prices to creating someone’s dream house.

This is where Taniya Nayak comes in. An accomplished designer who can be seen on the HGTV showDesigned to Sell, Taniya is one of the many talented TV personalities who are reminding consumers what’s possible in the home. Mohawk recruited her to promote a new store-within-a-store boutique concept built around the reintroduction of its CustomWeave line. The idea is to use about 350 sq. ft. of showroom space to shine a spotlight on premium product (which is literally true given the dramatic new lighting scheme). The concept, described by Mohawk as “livable luxury,” is designed to capitalize on the relative strength of the higher end at a time of slumping sales. Mohawk calculated that if just one consumer a week moves up to CustomWeave, the dealer’s annual bottom line increases by $41,600.

The use of pinpoint figures like that one was a constant at the mid-December meeting, which marked the 10th anniversary of the Floorscapes retail program. The theme adopted said it all:“Solutions: Today’s Challenges. Tomorrow’s Success.”For Mohawk’s top brass, the meeting was a delicate balancing act: address the gravity of a global economic crisis and the changes needed; and at the same time reinforce the strength and vitality of a powerhouse retail group as it enters its second decade. Their task was to celebrate success while confronting a bitter reality.

Mohawk CEO Jeff Lorberbaum’s presentation did just that. It began with a bit of stagecraft to capture the somber mood. There was no introduction; only an eerily dark stage. Mock headlines chronicling all manner of economic gloom were flashed on screens. Finally, a fog machine sent misty clouds swirling as the sound of a heartbeat filled the silent ballroom. When Lorberbaum emerged from the shadows he spoke with confidence and compassion in a reassuring yet urgent tone. His message to the 347 retailers assembled before him: you are not facing these tough times alone.  

“Even Superman needed help with Kryptonite,” said Lorberbaum with a slight smile. After carefully explaining the causes and effects of a lousy economy, he said, “We in flooring have to act.” Recalling that the Floorscapes program was launched 10 years ago amid concern that big box retailers would overwhelm the smaller showrooms, he reminded retailers they have stared down adversaries before.

  Lorberbaum assured the dealers that help would go well beyond the CustomWeave effort. The product lines this year will boast more colors, softer fibers, advanced Scotchgard protection, and unbelievably realistic looking laminates. On top of that, a new easy-to-navigate web site is aimed at driving store traffic. Additionally, an in-store kiosk lets people get instant credit as easily (and privately) as withdrawing money from an ATM. It is all backed by a high profile consumer ad effort. 

Then of course there’s Taniya: a friendly face that women can relate to. It is a marketing tact that has worked well in the past. Perhaps most notably, Kathy Ireland has put a warm and friendly face on products marketed by Shaw for a number of years. Similarly, Taniya’s mission is to emphasize value over cost. She reminds consumers that flooring is a personal decision that should reflect their taste and lifestyle as well as their dreams. Naturally this message is lost on people struggling to pay their bills. But realistically, those consumers are not about to buy any type of flooring in this environment.

Even those dealers not aligned with Floorscapes would do well to take a cue from Mohawk and its new spokeswoman. Granted there are few of us who can duplicate Taniya Nayak’s winning smile and interior design savvy, so let’s all of us in flooring be glad she’s on our team as we mount our comeback.