Today's floor covering retailer has to be a chameleon. A healthy mix of both commercial and residential products is vital to survival in a volatile economy.

Today’s floor covering retailer has to be a professional chameleon. A healthy mix of both commercial and residential projects has become vital to survive a volatile economy. Retailers who historically maintained a combined customer mix were better prepared to weather the recession, but even so, there are lessons for the future to be learned from these last few years.

One good example is Rite-Loom Flooring in Anaheim, California. CEO George Lowe has always ascribed to a strong portfolio mix of commercial and residential work. “The last few years, commercial work has become even more important in sustaining and growing our business,” he said. “But residential work is important to ensure a continual cash flow, as jobs usually close within 30 days. Commercial projects, on the other hand, run longer and it can take 45 to 60 days to receive payment.”

Fortunately, Rite-Loom was already an established name in the commercial arena long before the recession hit. An industry leader for over 75 years, their Anaheim showroom has an extensive commercial library, with commercial specialists on site. The main showroom, though, is dedicated to high-end, unique, residential products.

Lowe shared a series of commercial projects they are currently working on requiring serious research. Senior living, without a doubt, is the fastest growing segment of the specialized housing market nationally. Aging Baby Boomers have catapulted this market segment into high gear, and that trend will continue through this decade and beyond.

According to the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry, the average occupancy rate for senior housing properties was 88.1% during the third quarter of 2011, up 0.2% from the previous quarter, showing that occupancy rates to continue to be on the rise. In fact, the senior housing average occupancy rate has risen in six consecutive quarters. This suggests a strong need for facilities to be built or refurbished to attract and accommodate the rising senior population.

Assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, and memory care/Alzheimer patient care facilities all fall under the “senior living” umbrella. And each has its own specific needs when it comes to flooring. It is important to note that senior living projects are not a part of “Main Street” commercial work. This is a highly specialized area of design and requires a complete understanding of each of the three distinct segments. It’s also a prerequisite to have skilled technicians on staff experienced in handling these types of installations.

Rite-Loom is under contract with an east coast management company to refurbish eight senior facilities this year. Their most recent project is Fullerton Gardens in Orange County, a memory care/Alzheimer patient facility. Tremendous research preceded the specification process for this project; Lowe and his designers did extensive homework to bring the right products to the client.

The designers discovered that large patterned carpets with dark backgrounds needed to be avoided. Senior patients perceive dark areas in a carpet as “black holes” and can cause a fear of falling. Patterns that are too bold or busy can make patients feel off-balance. And colors needed to be warm and inviting, but not overpowering.

The management company overseeing the project asked Rite Loom for a carpet with a minimum five- to 10-year lifespan. The commercial-grade broadloom needed to be able to neutralize odors and withstand frequent cleanings. Common areas and corridors required a floor covering that was wheelchair and walker-friendly. Any level changes between the flooring types needed to be seamless; smooth transitions are a necessity!

To meet those needs, Rite-Loom teamed up with Cambridge Carpets, a division of Beaulieu. Cambridge manufactures Avalar, a broadloom solution-dyed nylon carpet that can be ordered with a special backing. That backing is inherently moisture-resistant, and offers two huge benefits:  first, it is able to sustain frequent cleanings, and second, the backing will not absorb moisture, thus minimizing any odor or bacteria in the pad or carpet. In addition, there is an agent built into the yarn system that neutralizes odors, even ammonia, and keeps the carpet fresh.

Coordinating products from the Boylu commercial series were also chosen. Get Away and Structure, both small-scaled patterns constructed in a tight level-loop, were selected in a golden straw color with brown accents. Having already completed several projects successfully for the client, Rite-Loom honed in on what type of floor covering was best suited for corridors, dining rooms, and recreation areas. Luxury Vinyl Tile, with its durability, excellent clean-ability and wood-like aesthetic, was recommended.

Given the scope and budget requirements of the on-going projects, Rite-Loom selected Galleher Rewards LVT. Galleher offers a 20-mil product that met the basic criteria. But Rite-Loom was looking for something unique. They asked the manufacturer to work with them to custom design a Cherry Wood plank LVT with specific graining. Galleher came to the table and together, a prototype product was developed for Rite Loom to show the client.

The result was a pre-approved, exclusive product that is now the specification for all of the client’s refurbishment projects. Galleher plans to manufacture 40,000 square feet for these continuing projects.

This collaborative effort certainly shows our industry at its best. And the upside to the creative effort is the assurance of a long-term commitment on the part of all parties involved.

As this flat economy continues to evolve, it’s imperative that we all “think outside the box”. Finding ways to set your business apart is essential. Teaming with a manufacturer to secure an exclusive flooring solution is exceptional – definitely a creative approach for this large-scale project. But it takes continual research on your part as to what’s out there in product choices, what’s different, and what’s on the horizon, to net the best results in matching the right product to the right application, no matter the project size.