By Kemp Harr
There’s a new retail concept in floorcovering that integrates innovations in technology with market research to give the consumer a customized shopping experience. Two pilot stores were recently opened in Kansas by Aaron Pirner, a successful, second generation retailer who operates 16 stores under five different brands in the Midwest and who was ranked number 29 in Floor Focus’ Top 100 retailer list with 2012 revenues of $50 million.The concept, called The Floor Project, bases the way it interacts with the consumer on extensive research that Pirner’s corporate team (known as Cap Carpet) conducted using a “mall intercept” research process. According to the research, consumers have five core questions that need to be answered when they’re shopping for floorcovering. What’s it going to look like? Is this right for my life stage? How much does it cost? How much do I need? How soon can I get it? Armed with this knowledge, Pirner and his team have spent millions formatting a retail experience with many new features that include: web-based visualization tools integrated into large screen monitors; customized and simplified display racks that incorporate large samples; QR code integration and ample take-home samples; and large graphic information panels that educate the consumer about flooring options, warranties, and pricing policies.The mix of products (based on SKU count) is 60% carpet and 40% hard surface, which includes hardwood, LVT, glass-backed sheet vinyl and laminate, but no ceramic tile. Consumers can start their shopping process online using thefloorproject.com website, and if they come into the store there are design workstations with large tables complete with customizable lighting.Pirner and his team have been very analytical about The Floor Project’s target demographics and the level of service it offers. Pirner describes his target consumers as the same people who shop at Pottery Barn, Ikea, and Target. “We’re in the middle between the outlet stores on the low end and the full service stores on the upper end,” Pirner says. “The sweet spot for our price points range between $1.89 and $3.49 per foot.” In addition, pricing doesn’t include installation. While The Floor Project can coordinate installation services, it positions installation as a value-added service with independent contractors that’s sold at cost. And to keep consumers from comparison shopping, all products are private label, with no link to who the manufacturer is. The only national brand on display in the store is Stainmaster. Aaron has also learned over the years that you have to invest in advertising to be successful at retail. To build store traffic and raise the awareness of this new retail format, he runs ads on TV, radio and outdoor billboards.
Cap Carpet was started by Aaron's father, LaVone Pirner, in Wichita, Kansas in 1967. Today the company operates retail stores in Wichita, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City and Topeka using five different retail brands: Carpet One, ProSource, Big Bob's, The Floor Trader and now The Floor Project. In addition to its retail operation, Cap also owns White Oak Carpet mill, a specialty mill in Spindale, North Carolina. It's also one of the leading suppliers of private aircraft flooring under the AIP (Aviation Interior Products) brand. Today, the company has over 200 employees.
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