It seems like not so long ago, I remember being a much younger sales advisor at a retail floor covering store in Southern California. That was when our first manufacturer’s rep came to our location and presented Pergo to us. He explained this was a totally new category of flooring invented in Europe and it was also a floating floor.

We now had two new things we could be skeptical about. He proceeded to demonstrate with a few planks he had brought in. In those days, you could still smoke in public buildings, so he lit a cigarette, laid it on a plank, and we all watched until the cigarette burned out. Then he wiped off the butt and ashes and, to our surprise, it did not leave a mark.

Next, he took a rock and banged on the surface very hard. Again to our surprise—and amazement—there was no mark or damage done to the plank. At this point he had our attention and we hit him with a few questions about the floating aspect of the floor. “How do you put it down without nails, staples or glue?”

He then explained the planks had a tongue-and-grove on all four sides that were glued together. They were then either strapped or taped together until the glue dried. A thin cushion was put under it to allow the floor to float and keep it from rocking if the substrate was not perfectly flat. The rep then explained when the planks were combined they became a floating platform that was kept from moving because it was cut to fit in each room.

My next question was about the integrity of the European manufacturer. As the story was told, Pergo had been in production in Europe for many years before it was introduced in the U.S. In fact, the popularity was so big the manufacturer opened a plant in the tiny town of Perstorp, Sweden, to keep up with demand. That town was barely on the map until this manufacturer brought so many employees there to work and live.

Another lesson I learned was that European countries have a much lower supply of hardwood bearing trees than the U.S., or several other continents for that matter. So a lookalike product went over very well. Plus, as the story was told, a larger proportion of Europeans were renters not homeowners so they would put together approximately a 6 x 6-ft. foot platform for the living room floor and take it with them like an area rug when they moved.

Trying Something New

Even though his presentation was excellent and we were highly intrigued we decided not to take on the line. I’ve always stayed away from new products I would have to put my company’s name on. Such as when perimeter glue vinyl came out. I saw that as a mistake just waiting to happen and didn’t want to be the first to try it out on my customers.

In that case my instincts were spot on, but with Pergo our caution was soon overcome, because within a year we had so many customers asking for it we simply had to take a chance on it or loose that buyer.

That’s when our learning curve began. As it turned out our hardwood installers did a terrible job on the first several installs. The product installation was simply the opposite of what they were used to doing. At the time, we taught one of our carpet only installers to do it by the book. He did a much better job than the wood guys. In fact, I pitched in on the first job to help understand it myself. And I’m proud to say I did pretty well.

While I eventually got comfortable with this new flooring category, it was still a tough sell for my first time buyers who had not been introduced to it yet. In my mind, even though it was hard to scratch and burn resistant it still looked like a poor, fake imitation of wood. As I told a fellow sales advisor, “It looks like that fake wood paneling that has a paper finish on it.” Nonetheless we were still selling a pretty fair amount of it.

Because laminate was selling so well, other manufacturers started to copy the idea. Within about 10 years from when I was first introduced to Pergo I counted almost 50 companies that were producing some form of laminate flooring. If you can’t “beat ’em join ’em” was the modus operandi of that time period.

The best part about the competition was that there was a race to make the best, most realistic looking and the easiest new snap together planks. It was during this time I came to really love the product. I even put it in my home—including rentals—and I sold more laminate than I did hardwood.

Unfortunately, like in any product category, the big box stores caught on to it. Today you can buy some fairly decent looking laminates at the boxes for under a dollar a foot.

As specialty flooring stores you can’t compete with that. Plus, why would you want to? Making 30 cents a foot on low-end quality is no way to make a living.

Sell the better looking, better quality products. As one of the people who has truly come to love laminate flooring I sell $3 to $6 laminate qualities and get a ton of happy customers, along with DIY buyers and their referrals.

Last I checked, laminate held just over 6% of the total market dollar share in the U.S. If you had told me that when I first passed on Pergo, I would have laughed at you. Even with the newer LVT/LVP products moving in, I see laminate to be a strong seller in the future. Besides, I think the most updated, better quality LVP doesn’t look as real as the better end laminates. I’m sure that will change as LVP evolves.

In the long run you simply have to sell the products you like and believe in. That’s part about being trusted by your clients. Thanks for reading.

Based in Loveland, Colo., Kelly Kramer is an author, inventor and owner of Kelly’s Carpet Wagon. He is a 27-year veteran of the flooring industry, with 25 of those years as a retail sales advisor. To contact him with questions or to book him for public speaking engagements, call or email: (970) 622-0077