Merchandising: Showroom Strategies: A wave of new merchandising systems is guiding retailers toward a more effective selling process - January 2023

By Darius Helm

Recent developments in merchandising suggest that there may be an alignment of interests occurring in the flooring industry. With retailers signaling a need for more tools to enhance their value in the eyes of consumers, producers are beginning to realize that letting their flooring volume flow increasingly through home centers and big boxes is not optimizing their value and is even ceding control of their own destiny, and they’re looking at ways of strengthening the independent retailer channel.

At the same time, consumers have evolved in terms of what sort of shopping experience they’re looking for. A few year ago, Apple stores turned retailing on its head with a new model, one with fewer SKUs (centered on higher-end goods) and more service. The model has been hugely successful for Apple, with consumers responding well to the retail experience it delivers. And it has helped reinforce the concept that service adds value.

Both manufacturers and buying groups have been investing a lot of time and money into programs that maximize opportunities for flooring specialty retailers. Their efforts are on display in retailer showrooms, on websites, in room visualizers, in advanced software programs that maximize retailer efficiency.

Retailers need all the help they can get. For every spacious showroom with digital price tags and stunning displays, there’s another with a damaged sign that reads: Carpet – Linoleum – Tile, and the store doesn’t even sell linoleum and never has, and the oblivious salesperson thinks that it’s just another word for vinyl, and if you just climb over this display and push that rack to the side, he’ll show you a checkerboard sheet vinyl that’ll make your grandma sob in nostalgia and that he’ll install himself because his last installer left in 2017.

Many retailers are so busy that they never seem to find time to take stock of their operation, to truly see what works and what doesn’t. Instead of adjusting their system to conform to their needs, they end up serving the system and finding ways of validating it. If RSAs have to walk halfway across the showroom to take a potential customer from one carpet display to another, they will justify it as a chance for an additional item to catch the customer’s eye. If the right color of hardwood isn’t on display, it’s an opportunity to get the customer even more deeply involved by taking her through the sample chips. If a showroom is cluttered, it reassures the customer that somewhere in this manic, dusty hoard is the answer to their dreams.

While that might have worked at some point in the past, if only because that’s what all the flooring retailers were doing, that tactic doesn’t stand a chance today, with data-driven knowledge of everything from the selling process to how the consumer wants to buy creating much more effective and productive selling systems and, crucially, with readily available tools to use that knowledge to transform the showroom and the retail operation itself.

SHOWROOM STRATEGIES
When it comes to merchandising displays, in the past the goals of the display rack have not necessarily aligned with those of the retailer. For instance, the traditional and typical goal of any manufacturer display is always to outshine displays from competing manufacturers, making the flooring showroom essentially a shouting match between the various displays-higher, bigger, brighter, more exciting-more about which display will win the sale than the nature and quality of the sale itself. The whole store becomes a giant tug-of-war, with the consumer as the rope.

In some ways, shopping online is more of the same. Options are endless; opinions run the gamut. And, of course, everyone’s an expert. According to John Gilbert, president of Carpet One Floor & Home, “Anywhere from 60% to 70% of consumers who start the flooring journey, mostly online, drop out at some point in time because it becomes too complex, too challenging.”

A growing number of flooring retailers have embraced modern showroom designs developed from the point of view of the customer, not the retailer or flooring supplier. And that generally means reducing clutter and streamlining the showroom design. But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

Mark Carr, president of Texas-based Color Interiors, points out that he wants to both declutter and offer lots of options for customers. He wants consumers to come into the store and feel like anything they want will be there. “So, you have to show enough to make them feel like they can get what they want,” he says, adding that it’s a struggle to balance presenting well and offering a sufficient array of flooring options.

Adam Arnquist, fourth-generation leader of Alexandria, Minnesota’s family-owned Arnquist CarpetPlus, does his best to avoid the look of traditional flooring stores in his 8,000-square-foot showroom. He avoids tall displays and uses wide alleys to offer a clear line of sight, and the showroom floor is charcoal to keep shoppers focused on the displays.

Donna Mudd, president of Kinnaird’s Flooring in Kentucky, says that, while she dislikes behemoth displays and favors a calmer showroom, she feels that it’s essential to present leading brands like Shaw and Mohawk. She says, “If folks came in and didn’t see their displays, they’re wonder about the store itself.” She notes, however, that suppliers are getting better at offering more low-key displays.

It’s worth noting that the big manufacturers like Shaw and Mohawk have been investing heavily in building consumer awareness of their company names and product brands, so they might not be too enthusiastic about their products being private labeled. And when it comes to private labeling, Arnquist points out, “You might have 12 Masland carpets sprinkled throughout, and it’s more expensive, but the consumers don’t necessarily know why. That’s not how to present it.” He adds that it’s harder for RSAs to romanticize a brand when it’s all scattered and buried with other products.

NEW IDEAS IN MERCHANDISING
There have been several innovative merchandising systems introduced to flooring retailers. Perhaps the most comprehensive new system is CCA Global’s Retail 2.0, launched in early 2022. By all accounts, it’s the most comprehensive program the industry has ever seen, with 390 hard surface products and nearly 270 soft surface products, all private labeled. Crucially, the hard surface offering is arranged by color and organized in six triple walls and four islands. And carpet, merchandized in three wall units and five islands, is organized into four categories: patterns, multicolors, loops and solids/tonals. Basically, the program removes all the noise, all of the competing visuals, for an overall display that is consistent and harmonious. It’s all geared toward the customer experience. And the offering is matched by the online component of the program, both in terms of product and how it’s organized, with a range of online tools to help customers visualize and select their ideal flooring.

CCA reports that it gathered a lot of data from pilot programs in 2022, with stores showing a nearly 15% gain in sales compared to comparable stores that were not using the program.

When Carpet One’s Gilbert was talking about how some 60% to 70% of consumers drop out of the process, he followed up by noting that capturing just 1% of that represents massive top-line sales growth. In the Retail 2.0 pilot process, CCA saw double-digit sales growth, says Gilbert. And while the investment in Retail 2.0 “is not insignificant,” it can pay for itself in as little as six months.

According to Cyndy Sigadel, president of Mineola, New York-based Harry Katz Carpet One Floor & Home, Retail 2.0 knocked it out of the park. It simplified the showroom, consolidated displays from several managers into a single display system that is light, welcoming and uncluttered, and includes features like digital price tags that streamline the process for the customer and also allow for easy updating by the retailer.

Cathy Buchanan, co-owner of Independent Carpet One in Westland, Michigan, says, “We’re finding that when we’re in a busy situation and can’t attend to the client right away, they’re immediately gravitating toward the display.” And she adds, “The time to find that perfect floor is probably cut in half.”

Even Adam Arnquist, whose business is affiliated with CarpetsPlus, acknowledges that Retail 2.0 is impressive, the largest launch he’s seen on the residential side. He notes, “Anyone in the U.S. can go to the website and find a product on the Carpet One web store.”

While CCA may have set a new standard, it is not working in a vacuum. All of the buying groups have been busy developing better tools to serve their members. CarpetsPlus, which is part of the Alliance Flooring buying group and just celebrated its 25th anniversary, has continued to expand its private label program, adding new displays across several categories, including an expanded Coretec program.

And the National Floorcovering Alliance, which used to be a major supporter of Stainmaster carpets, replaced that defunct program with its Lasting Luxury and Lasting Luxury Pet programs, and reports that it’s about to add new products to those private-label lines.

Abbey Carpet & Floor has been adding to its Pet Defense private label program for both carpet and hard surface, as well as to its Infinity nylon fiber brand. And Floors & More has revamped its private label program.

Manufacturers have also been busy in terms of merchandising displays and website development. Shaw has updated its Anso Color Wall and created the Anso Gallery with Pet Perfect program. Mohawk has come out with Omnify+, partnering with Roomvo for the visualizer. And Dixie’s new Premier Flooring Center (PFC) replaces its Stainmaster offering with a complete selling system, and the firm also launched PFCstores.com.

One manufacturer deserving of special mention is Mannington. The firm came out with its Adura Selling Solution in 2019 in a single display offering 80 designs. What is unique about it is that every design in the display is available in flex LVT, SPC and WPC. Mannington contends it has been a game changer for the firm, helping to drive resilient sales. In fact, Sigadel, who is completely enthusiastic about the new Carpet One Retail 2.0 merchandising system and how it has transformed her showroom, adds that one display she won’t be switching out any time soon is Mannington’s Adura Selling Solution.

Many retailers are taking initiative themselves. Arnquist CarpetsPlus, for instance, just bought a unit for its in-stock floorcoverings-popular products that it has negotiated on, so margins are better, and has also hired a firm to build a new website that is customized to its specific offerings and needs. Kinnaird’s Flooring identifies its best-selling products and arranges to have larger sample boards for those products (e.g. 18”x27” carpet samples, instead of the small swatches on display). Nebraska Furniture Mart just remodeled its Omaha carpet showroom with both Shaw’s Anso Gallery and the NFA’s Lasting Luxury, and also added a Roomvo kiosk.

Most retailers now recognize that it’s essential to create websites to match their in-store offerings, and those that can manage it are also investing in visualizers. Most importantly, they realize that they need to reorient their businesses to be focused on the consumer in order to compete successfully against the market’s high-volume, low-service outlets.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 


Related Topics:Nebraska Furniture Mart, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., The Dixie Group, Coverings, Mohawk Industries, National Flooring Alliance (NFA), Mannington Mills, Masland Carpets & Rugs, Carpet One