The best commercial products will combine great new looks, an easy-to-understand warranty and can be installed relatively easily by a well-trained installer. Photo of Masland Contract’s new Zone product, part of the ENeRGy collection and  quick-ship program. Courtesy Masland Contract.

Success in business by measurement of sales, profit, and reputation may well hinge on how well you pick product lines and your installation expertise. A poor product expertly installed will still fail and a good product improperly installed will fail. Both will damage the reputation of all concerned. Choosing new commercial product lines will add excitement & boost your marketing success if done properly.

In picking a commercial product winner, first look carefully at the product segment and your intended client list. Where will you sell this great new idea? Do you have experience in that area, whether property management, healthcare, the design community or local government. Does the product match up with the basic uses in that market?

For instance, a new, high performance loop carpet would make sense for institutional clients, but be boring and unsuitable for most condo common area renovations or a hotel where a hospitality design is usually desired.  

It is likely that you will end up with a class of products with several styles rather than a single item, and this is certainly safer. It is foolhardy to tie your success to one item of limited appeal, no matter how well presented, priced or installed. A well-coordinated product line can complement your overall presentation. If possible, have something for everyone in visual appeal and price points. Not everyone can afford upscale.

After you’ve narrowed your product selection, spend some time doing test marketing. Products may look terrific and have lots of appeal when presented by a well-trained mill rep, but be a real dud with some clients. Nothing beats showing off your intended new product line and getting feedback. Ask questions like, “Do you see value in this product; how do you feel about the range of colors or texture; if this product were priced at $$$ per yard or square foot, would you buy it for your next project?”

One question I always liked to ask of the mill rep was this: “How idiot-proof is the product to install; is this a temperamental product to install, are esoteric requirements needed for floor prep, or unusual, particularly difficult or rigid methods for a successful installation?”

We have all seen beautiful, high-performance products that were virtually impossible to install, even with the best installation practices. I once experienced this firsthand with a new patterned carpet; no matter what our experienced lead installer did, we had challenges. So, the mill sent in their senior tech rep with 35 years of installation experience. With two journeyman installers, he did a credible job of installing 50 yards during an eight-hour day. Yes, he proved it could be installed, but at what cost? Such an experienced team should have been able to install a minimum of 200+ yards, not 50 yards.

What are the characteristics of a real winner? Perhaps it is a new look or a cutting-edge design, an unusual performance claim, a new or time-saving method of installation, superior wear under extremely heavy traffic conditions, or some combination of any of these factors. The best situation is when you have a blend of all of these: A great new look that is tough to duplicate by the competition, an easy-to-understand performance warranty, and a product relatively easy to install by a well-trained journeyman installer.

With a new product make sure to do a test install. Get a small amount of the product from a willing mill rep and have one of your better installers do the install; watch him while he does it or have him fill out a detailed report that will showcase any abnormalities.

Perhaps you can do a favor for a deserving client by giving a “no charge” installed product and have him observe the product over a stated period of time. Most manufacturers are more than willing to provide a small amount of product for testing and/or for a worthy cause.

Once you’ve nailed down what you hope will be a winner, then it’s time to look at its sales appeal. There are plenty of products that will wear like iron, but flunk the visual appeal or likeability test. Everyone agrees that it will wear until it is thrown out because “we just need a new look.”

I’ve seen products that were boring or were just like 50 other items with similar color lines. Sales appeal not only refers to a visual but a visceral appeal, something hard to describe but very real. As any designer will tell you, it’s the type of product that will just “pop” and add synergy to the rest of the overall design concept.

What about the profit potential for you and your team? An outstanding product with dynamite sales appeal, but one being sold by all of your competitors, or with a poor pricing structure does not bode well as a product winner. Ideally, the manufacturer should offer you a period of exclusivity or limited distribution and a pricing structure that will provide above average profit for you. If you don’t have an edge, how can you possibly justify the expense of the campaign to promote a new product winner?

Make sure you have a written understanding or some record of the agreement between you and the mill. Each of you will be taking a chance. The mill will want to make sure you are up to the task of giving their product the proper promotion, and you want to make sure the mill will support you with the right pricing, promotional or advertising allowances, train your installers, and deliver a high-quality product on time so as to make you credible.  

Where do you find these winners? First, develop the habit of always looking for something new and exciting. Perhaps you’re taking a walk through the local mall with your spouse and see a new store opening. Take a few moments to look at the overall design, blend of colors, and flooring choices. See anything unusual, or a different way products are being used together? Does the design make sense, or does it look thrown together? When thinking about the store and its primary product, does the blend of flooring products enhance and support this?

Attend regional trade shows or special product showings from your suppliers. An outstanding annual trade show opportunity is Surfaces; here, you’ll have a wonderful array of the very latest, greatest, best and brightest ideas for covering the floor. Along with new products are ways to accomplish installation in record time with minimal disruption for your client.

Read all of the trade publications to see the latest new product introductions; read the advertisements, announcements and articles featuring the newest styles, designs, and color lines. Often, you will see something exciting that can spark a new idea well before your mill rep comes by to do a product introduction.

New installation methods may also provide a winner, too. Perhaps your newest winner came about because of the frustration of handling carpet installation in the occupied office environment. There is nothing more daunting than having a willing client ready to buy new carpet, and finding out that several hundred modular workstations are sitting on the old, existing carpet. A system for lifting modular furniture was designed to avoid moving and lifting the furniture, while speeding the new carpet installation.

In another case, a flooring contractor found that he could install new carpet over old carpet that had been previously direct glued to va tile and avoid, at least temporarily, asbestos abatement. By careful use of the right adhesive sheeting to adhere the new carpet, the client was able to avoid having to shut the premises down. This opened the door for a high-security project that could not afford a complete shutdown and gave him an additional sales tool in a variety of markets.

A new service offering like asset maintenance, including carpet and hard surface cleaning, water damage restoration or other emergency services can also provide a winning addition to your product line. This service segment may also have the added advantage of using your existing client list and targeting your marketing to satisfied clients. The easiest sale you can make is an add-on to the sale you just made.

One company found it relatively easy to increase their bottom line through a small charge for waste disposal; heretofore they had just absorbed the landfill or waste collection fees. When they were able to promote a dual initiative of handling waste through recycling and waste to energy, they found their clients more receptive to a small increased cost.

Be open to new ideas. The right one can make your year and extend your dominance in the commercial sector.