Mannington Commercial’s Workplace visualization tool.

The array of technologies available to flooring retailers, architects and designers is growing at a quick pace. Along with retailer and B2B software (see February 2010 NFT), new tools are launching with the aim to help business owners find product information quickly and interact more with their customers.

However, with so much new technology available, business owners may also end up feeling overwhelmed, according to Pam Bowe, executive director of Floor Covering Business To Business (fcB2B). “What retailers want is business; they want somebody to come in and buy some flooring,” she said. “I think a lot of these retailers are going to ask whether these new tools are going to equate to more business.”

According to Bowe, the best place for retailers to invest in technology is a professional overhaul of their store website. “A lot of people still have their kids whip up their website. In the long run, it does them no good. Consumers are using the Internet to research information on your store. Make sure they have a good impression of you from your website.”

Many manufacturers and associations – including Shaw, Mohawk, the World Floor Covering Association and the National Wood Flooring Association – offer website services to dealers. Shaw recently unveiled Shaw Web Studio, a program that offers retailers websites in two tiers. Tier one is a flooring website with customizable features and ready-to-use content. Tier two comprises a fully functioning catalog of images and data from Shaw that is automatically updated, according to the company.

“Our goal is to expand on the success of and allow retailers to capitalize on this success with positive and educational web experiences, driving the consumer in-store to purchase,” said Misty Hodge, Shaw’s web services manager.

Mohawk also offers a website program to dealers, called Mohawk Dealer Website Services, with three levels of increasing participation. Michael Cheek, Mohawk’s director, Internet technology, said keeping websites up-to-date is critical for retailers. “Research shows that more than 70 percent of initial meaningful contact between a company and its customers now comes through its website,” he noted.

Mohawk’s Dealer Website Services include customized design and site management, integrated search engine optimization and access to flooring product updates.

The Shaw/Pro in-store credit kiosk, from Shaw Industries.

In-store technology

In-store technology is a range of tools designed to help retailers make a sale. They can include things like in-store credit kiosks and room visualization tools that can be accessed in the dealer’s showroom (or at the customer’s location).

Mannington Commercial’s Workplace, a visualization tool available online and on CD-ROM, is designed to help retailers and their customers coordinate various Mannington hard and soft surface flooring products and wall base.

“It allows consumers to pick from a coordinated offering, and click and drag it into a variety of settings,” said Natalie Jones, Mannington’s vp commercial brand development. “The beauty is the Workplace visualizer ties back to our display system, coordination boards, architectural folders, and the retailer’s existing Mannington display and products.”

Zack Zehner, Mannington’s vp commercial hard surface, said the Workplace system has received great feedback from users. “It’s a great way for the retailer to work with the customer, and another exciting way to tell our bundling story – that we have products that work together, both in hard and soft surface categories.”

Alliance Flooring (which includes CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Carpetland USA, Floorco and Color Tile Outlet stores) recently unveiled Design Touch, a touch screen display in the showroom. “Design Touch is a very cool interactive tool,” noted Ryan Dunn, Alliance Flooring’s vp sales. “It lets the consumer visualize her room scenes, browse product types, and plan her budget.”

In-store credit kiosks can also be helpful to retailers, according to Susan Hahn, Mohawk’s director, brand extensions. Her company offers a kiosk through financial partners GE, Chase Paymentech and Versatile. “The secure kiosk can provide credit line information, and encourages shoppers to look beyond their purchase intent,” she said. Retailers who use the kiosk can see credit applications increase by 20 percent and average sales tickets by 30 percent, she added.

Shaw offers the Shaw/Pro in-store credit kiosk, which is designed to drive traffic by using prize barcodes on print and electronic direct mail to get consumers into the store, the company said. The kiosk also stores consumer’s contact information and streamlines the credit application process, according to Shaw.

Tandus Flooring’s latest product portfolios include a barcode that can be scanned by mobile phones, and will take users to the company’s website.

Mobile phone applications

The latest mobile phone applications are designed to help retailers, designers and consumers. Mannington Commercial recently launched Choices that Work, a mobile phone application that allows designers to scan a barcode on a Mannington sample book with their mobile phones. The barcode brings designers to a website where they can see coordinating patterns and colors in both hard and soft surface products, and also allows designers to order samples.

Using Microsoft Tag technology, Tandus Flooring recently unveiled a sustainable product portfolio system for architects and designers that includes a barcode which can be scanned by mobile phones. Once scanned, the barcode will take users directly to

“The Tag technology offers our clients the opportunity to get more information on a product, feature or service of Tandus Flooring instantly,” noted Tom Ellis, Tandus Flooring’s vp marketing.

Shaw Industries also recently launched a mobile phone application, called Carpet Stain Center, which is designed to help retailers and consumers find carpet stain solutions. The Carpet Stain Center application offers concise carpet stain removal procedures for a range of household stains, and is a free download from the iPhone app store.

Earlier this year, Mohawk unveiled Mohawk ME!, a free iPhone application designed to engage consumers by placing a photo of their faces below various Mohawk hairstyles. While the benefits of such an application may seem intangible to retailers, Cheek said the application can help bring the Mohawk brand to a younger audience.

“There are more than 50 million people with an iTunes store compatible device. More than 6.3 million iPhone apps are downloaded every day, and people have downloaded more than 2 billion total apps. Those are staggering numbers, and with its iPhone app the Mohawk brand can be introduced to a new, younger generation at virtually no cost,” he said.

Mohawk Industries' Mohawk ME! iPhone application.

Social media

Manufacturers, retailers and designers industry-wide are setting up profiles on popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with customers. Rob Boland, Alliance Flooring’s director of technology, said his company encourages its members to join Facebook and stay in touch with customers.

“Our members are using Facebook with great success; they’re getting sales and referrals off of it,” he said. “When our members show how enthusiastic they are about their store and their job, it gets people energized. It shows people that this isn’t a soulless business, it’s a store with a person behind it.”

Mannington Commercial has also found success with its tx:style site for designers. The website encourages designers to interact with each other, and through the board Mannington holds its annual Tx:Style Design Contest. The second annual contest is asking designers to vote on entries from their peers, with the winning ideas to be used in upcoming hard and soft surface collections.

“We’re harnessing the knowledge and talent from the design community and letting designers become a part of the product development process,” Jones said. “The designers comment and engage with each other, and it gives us a lot of insight into product development trends as well.”

No matter what option a retailer, designer or architect chooses for technology, Bowe said it is important to take the time to get to learn it. “Every type of technology requires you to spend some time on it; there is always a learning curve,” she noted. “Before you adopt it, make sure it’s something you want to wrap your arms around.”