Best Practices - June 2007

By Sonna Calandrino

Matching customers’ needs—not just their wants—to the flooring product that’s right for them has propelled Rodenbaugh’s Flooring America and Appliances just outside of Dallas into the category of extremely successful flooring business.

In fact, it is the key to the company’s success and why Rodenbaugh’s has enjoyed steady profits by developing a solid business with long-standing repeat customers. One secret to the store’s success is promoting luxury vinyl tile over other hard surfaces. 

The more than $7 million business is comprised of a 10,000 square foot main store in Allen, Texas and two outlets, one in Allen (5,000 square feet) and another in Plano, TX (8,000 square feet). These locations are all supported by a 10,000 square foot warehouse at the headquarter facility. About 90% of the business is residential. 

As owner with his brother, Ronald, Gary Rodenbaugh has seen it all. He has witnessed his north-of-Dallas, Texas community grow from 500 inhabitants to more than 75,000 in 45 years. 

The “hot number” right now, and one that’s experienced steady growth at Rodenbaugh’s, is one category in particular—luxury vinyl tile. How can that be in an area like Texas where stone, ceramic, porcelain tile and wood are king? Gary has essentially created a market for the category on three foundations. First is luxury vinyl tile’s style. Second are its attributes. Third is building a loyal customer base that “gets” the product category. 

“Customer satisfaction results when you proudly sell the customer the right product. Later, when you see that customer, they are happy with the product and your store because it meets their expectations,” he said. “Customers have luxury tile installed and ultimately sell themselves on buying it again.”

It’s a matter of delivering on customer expectations that is at the core of selling high profit luxury vinyl tile. (Rodenbaugh is an active Amtico retailer and sits on the Amtico Signature Dealer Council.) And Rodenbaugh knows how to sell it.

“People come in with unrealistic product expectations. Early on, laminate for example, was over sold. It’s a good product for the right application, but people were overly excited about the advertising claims, not understanding its performance specifications.” 

Rodenbaugh said they found that luxury vinyl tile meets the needs of customers, not just their perceived wants. “It turns out most often that luxury tile is best suited for an area the customer thinks should have laminate. It’s a bulletproof product.” (Hard surfaces in general and wood specifically are also hot selling categories in his marketplace because some customers want green products that promote environmental responsibility.) 

So who is the customer, and how does Rodenbaugh’s represent high profit luxury tile when a customer is fixated on a product that’s not necessarily the best choice for their needs? What do they do if the customer has a preconceived notion of resilient? 

The first thing Rodenbaugh’s does is introduce the store line of LVT to the customer by romancing its stylings and aesthetics. That process begins as customers walk in the door. Rodenbaugh’s has put its best foot forward with more than 40 patterns installed on the showroom floor where the customer can see the product immediately. “Not only does this show off the product, it also helps move the customer up in price point, making it easier for your salespeople,” he says.

He begins the introduction by explaining that the product he carries is “a solid one,” meaning it will do what it says it will do. “Once we give the customer the features and benefits of our luxury vinyl tile, and the customer has a correct perception and expectation, we know they will come back and ask for more...and they do.”

To keep the romance going and to perhaps subliminally illustrate its value, Gary knows to keep his base grade resilient products on strap sets. “This keeps them (the lesser, commodity grades) in their place,” he said. “They’re not worthy of a large sample presentation because they’re not in the same class as luxury tile.” It also sends a message to the customer about value. 

Ultimately, the step up to the luxury vinyl tile category is easy. It’s a very attainable price point for the consumer to have a luxury product, he explained. “We let customers know they can use luxury vinyl tile from the front door to the back door. It goes anywhere in the house. At the entry it makes a wonderful impression for the homeowner and a great place to customize and to show off the product’s design capabilities. In the kitchen, customers don’t have to be afraid of using wood to get the look they want and the performance they need. It looks great next to natural stone, and it complements every other category.”

Gary took his own advice and installed 1,100 square feet of luxury vinyl tile in his home’s game room. “If you put it in your own home and tell the customer, they will want to buy, too. And don’t skimp on installation. Pay what you need to pay to make sure subfloors are prepped and smooth. That’s the secret to a beautiful product installation and referrals,” he said.

Lastly, Gary presents luxury vinyl tile as an installed product by pricing it up for maximum return—product with installation—as a complete package. Knowing that his customers are luxury buyers and not do-it-yourselfers, they are not swayed by price per square foot of product. It’s another way of merchandising and selling up. “The better customer is not a do-it-yourselfer, and luxury tile is competitive with other installed products,” Rodenbaugh said. This is why his store sells the product successfully as an installed package. 

When asked for one piece of advice he would share with other retailers, Rodenbaugh pointed to his decision to promote luxury vinyl tile. “In general it’s a matter of standing up for what you believe in and not to continue to capitalize in the short term on a product that’s not best suited to the customer just for the sake of the dollar.”

“We have integrity in this business. It’s why we have three and four generations of customers coming back to us.” 

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus