When I attend Surfaces, Domotex or Domotex asia/ChinaFloor—or any show for that matter—the absolutely over the top find for me is coming across something new; discovering a new product; a clever, original idea or a concept nobody thought of before; offered something different; something that’s more efficient; better looking or singularly distinctive.

Walking the aisles of more than my fair share of trade shows I have to say that for the most part I don’t see an overabundance of “take your breath away” first-hand original ideas. But Surfaces 2015 was an exception with many new products and new ideas, with one in particular that caught my eye—it’s from The Flooring Marketplace.

The idea is a clever one because it exposes a wide selection of wood, bamboo and cork flooring inventory from an extensive range of member manufacturers to builders and developers as well as consumers. Consumer sales go through member retailers who have the linked-in inventory added to their individual websites. The Flooring Marketplace provides an abundance of product information on each listed product including name, species, size, grade, construction, milling information, finish and more, and then permits the buyer to get a quote and a sample.

We had an opportunity to talk with George Celtrick, partner at The Flooring Marketplace, at The International Surfaces Event (TISE) in Las Vegas where he filled in all the blanks on this new offering.

The following are some excerpts from this conversation that you may find interesting. You can find the complete interview by going to the archives of the TalkFloor website, located via the Floor Trends website at floortrendsmag.com/talkfloor.

TF: Outline The Flooring Marketplace for us and how it started.

Celtrick: The Flooring Marketplace is a web platform that permits dealers to sell product online. Originally we developed a site that permitted only industry members to view products and prices and detailed specifications of the wood, cork and bamboo, and we literally have hundreds of products listed. We were extremely pleased by the volume of information we were able to make available to retailers and by the fact the inventory, which is in our warehouses, all over the country along with prices that are live.

TF: Originally the idea was to make these products available to retailers and then the availability was extended to consumers. Talk about that decision.

Celtrick: One of the members of our group suggested that we put the information on retailers’ websites and that’s what we did. All the products are now listed on the websites of member retailers. The retailer adds his own margins while we take care of the delivery and the dealer is able to show homeowners literally millions of square feet of flooring for sale and the products have no branding associated with them.

TF: How does the inventory appear on a retailer’s website?

Celtrick: It’s very easy and it takes less than 20 minutes to set up. Either we go in the backdoor of the retailer’s website or the retailer’s developer can add a little snippet of code.

The dealers can call the addition to their site anything they want: Online Specials or Special Deals. It’s all their products, because there’s no branding.

The samples and order fulfillment is provided by The Flooring Marketplace [but] the price is set by the retailer. The dealer decides how he wants to service the order and any additional information the retailer wants to convey to the consumer can be included in the entry as well.

When samples are ordered and when an order is placed the retailer is notified. The retailer really just has to wait to be notified of an order.

TF: Run through the sequence of a typical order.

Celtrick: A consumer would typically buy a sample online. The dealer is notified of that sale and the specifics of the sale. When the consumer is ready to place an order for the floor, they provide information including the product, the price that was quoted, then the dealer charges the consumer $99 for shipping. The retailer is then notified by email of all pertinent information about the sale including the margin they would make on it.

TF: You have been talking with retailers here at Surfaces for more than two days, what kind of reaction are you getting?

Celtrick: The reaction for the most part is surprise. That’s because the cost for this service is $400 annually. The retailer pays us once and the service pretty much runs itself and they don’t really have to do anything. The retailer can change their margin at any time and it’s updated automatically. They can also change their message to consumers on any product anytime.

TF: The products that are involved in this offering, talk about them.

Celtrick: The products that are inventoried are in warehouses around the country. They have been issued new SKU numbers so no product can be identified by manufacturer or as a private label. The products in essence become the retailer’s private label line and appear on his website, so the retailer is protected from having the products being shopped. It’s difficult for retailers to compete online with the larger, national online companies who are showing prices but yet when an independent retailer attempts to sell online he often receives letters from manufacturers saying they have manufacturer suggest retail prices. But there is basically no brand recognition at the consumer level in the flooring industry, except with the major national retailers.

The products in this offering run the gamut from repeatable first quality material, to product where there are only limited quantities available.

TF: So this program is ready to launch and everything is ready to go?

Celtrick: Everything is ready to go. A retailer can sign up on theflooringmarketplace.com, and after they are approved, they can then see the prices.

In addition, the program can be a benefit for the retailer in another way. If a customer comes in the store and asks for zebra wood, for example, it’s available on the website. The site has 73 species of wood in addition to bamboo and cork. We [also] have cork underlayment, and we can supply retailers with moldings—whatever they need.

The purpose is not to replace the products retailers have in their stores, but to help them research things they do not have in their showrooms. For the $400 annual fee all this information can be plugged into a retailer’s website where it will virtually run itself and the retailer makes it available to his customers.

TF: Many retailers feel at a loss because they feel limited as to what they can do online, this option appears to remedy this situation with a minimum investment.

Celtrick: Many retailers, when they learn about this program are shocked because they have been told that they can’t sell online. That, however, is crazy.

Of course they can sell online—it’s just that many manufacturers don’t want them to because of commitments they have made. This takes all of that away for the retailers and lets them do their thing.

When a dealer gets a sample order he can send an email to the customer letting her know he can verify her measurement and the store can do the installation, or if she wants to see additional products she can visit the store.

This program allows the independent retailer to enter the online playing field and legitimately show products and prices and compete with the big national players that have been doing it very successfully for years.

Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this interesting conversation than space permits. If you have been frustrated by trying to offer products online and looking for another option, check out this TalkFloor.com interview. The Flooring Marketplace may be a good fit for you.

We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at davefoster@talkfloor.com, or Matthew Spieler at spielerm@bnpmedia.com.