Marketing Minute: Stainmaster and Lowe’s, a good news/bad news scenario for the independent retailer - June 2021

By Paul Friederichsen

If anyone argues that what you name a product doesn’t really matter, just point to Stainmaster as your rebuttal. Few brands have been as memorable or as revered in the flooring industry as this one. No one has topped it, though many have tried. Stainmaster got off to a roaring start in 1986 with a $26 million network ad campaign (that’s almost $39 million in 2021 dollars) in the first year. And, outside of an occasional new entry (PetProtect) or hitching a ride on the vinyl flooring craze with Stainmaster planks, tiles and sheet goods, the brand has more or less coasted on its magical brand recognition and equity for the last 35 years.

But Stainmaster is a lot like an aging movie star: still beloved but not the box office draw it once was. To the current generation of home improvers, Stainmaster is their mom’s brand for carpet (that is, for those Millennial homeowners still willing to put carpet in their home). For Stainmaster, it is the perfect time for a fresh relaunch at a major retailer: Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Lowe’s, always the runner-up to rival Home Depot, has embarked on a three-year strategic plan called the “Total Home Strategy.” It is now about halfway through this 36-month plan. While its “Total Home” plan is to strengthen its retailing fundamentals-merchandising, supply chain, operations and customer engagement-having exclusivity of a recognized brand such as Stainmaster also complements its long-time emphasis on name brands (versus Home Depot’s house brand emphasis).

The timing is also perfect for Lowe’s. Its December 2020 research of 2,000 consumers confirmed a renewed affection for the home coming out of the pandemic lockdowns. In fact, 60% said, “I have bigger plans for my home than I did a year ago.”

Lowe’s has wasted no time in proclaiming its recent acquisition of Stainmaster on its website and across the Internet. Once the transition period of exiting independent retail is complete (about four months), we should expect Lowe’s to take a portion of its hefty, annual $100-plus million ad budget to relaunch Stainmaster exclusively at its 1,727 U.S. stores. That’s just in time for the fall selling season. This past year alone, Lowe’s more aggressively advertised nine new product entries-compared to Home Depot’s five-across multiple media formats. Little wonder Lowe’s was recognized by Ad Age as number three on its “Marketers of the Year” list-the only retailer so honored-for 2020.

Protecting its asset investment by spending ad dollars to raise awareness of its new brand, Lowe’s will, in effect, initiate a rising tide that will raise carpet consciousness among consumers, the first real shot of adrenaline the soft surface category has had in ages. Home Depot may well counter this move, thus doubling the media exposure and buzz about carpet, if not flooring in general. While this plays out on a national basis in highly rated home improvement programming and websites, the independent retailer can also see a lift in interest. The carpet mills are only too eager to help. The exit of the Stainmaster brand leaves a vacuum they are eagerly planning to fill. They see opportunity.

Other promising news for flooring retailers is that Lowe’s anticipates extending its new Stainmaster private label to other product categories. Big boxes can’t resist the temptation of doing this. Depending how this is handled, this can either strengthen or weaken the brand. The original brand promise could become disconnected over time and diluted with too many Stainmaster iterations, thus having the opposite intended effect.

For many retailers, there is actually a sense of relief, as the old standby has left for its final rodeo. Be that as it may, the Stainmaster brand still holds consumer trust as an acknowledged leading brand where there are so few. In a few months, Stainmaster retailers will lose that brand in their showrooms and on their websites.

New showroom resets by the manufacturers will only go so far. When a customer walks in to look at the Stainmaster carpet she saw on “Love It or List It” (and didn’t catch the “exclusively at Lowe’s” voiceover), how will you respond?

For many years, floorcovering has had the reputation of being a “directed sale.” With a better-informed customer who has done their research, that’s not as easy as it once was. Your opportunity lies online, where customers are spending research hours determining which retailers get their precious in-store shopping time. As you reconfigure your store, rethink your positioning, as well.

Now is your opportunity to intentionally focus on your store’s brand. How are you earning the trust of your customer? If it’s only by the brands you carry in your showroom, the Stainmaster experience should teach you otherwise. Lowe’s bought the exclusive rights to Stainmaster as an investment in “trust capital” as much as a means of increasing its share of floorcovering business. It knows that a brand like Stainmaster can still overcome any lack of confidence customers may have with their sales associates. And as Lowe’s’ own research validated, those customers plan to do more and spend more than they did a year ago.

Are you just another flooring store, or are you a curator of top, select flooring brands? This question becomes more important than ever. Your typical consumer will likely not know (and won’t care) why Stainmaster isn’t showcased in your store, only that it isn’t there. Give them reasons to trust you to do the job right and sell them the floor that’s right for them … with the top brands you carry.

The carpet-buying customer needs to have confidence that you carry carpet not because you’re expected to, but because you actually see it as a luxurious alternative to hard surface flooring.

You appreciate your carpet-buying customers as a smarter, service-oriented and advice-thirsty consumer because they shop with you and not at the big boxes. Let them know that you give them a custom solution that’s perfect for them, not a one-size-fits-all approach they will get at a cheaper price elsewhere.

Let these attitudes and messages permeate your marketing during this transition and beyond, especially online. The Stainmaster news can be good news for you, if you take advantage of the opportunity to build your own brand and the customer trust that goes with it.

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus