Waterproof Floors: How retailers are positioning waterproof floors to consumers - June 2021

By Meg Scarbrough

Whether they saw a photo on Pinterest, heard a glowing review from a friend or watched an influencer install them on one of the myriad home improvement shows, some consumers are hearing the news about waterproof floors. In an age in which homeowners are increasingly seeking out floors that can withstand traffic from kids and dogs and are easy to maintain but also look good, the performance benefit is resonating with consumers seeking a carefree floor.

In many instances, retailers say, consumers are coming in the door asking specifically for waterproof floors-not just the best flooring for dogs or the best flooring for kitchens. Says Nik Burdett, general manager of Atlanta Flooring Design Centers (AFDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, “We just opened a 20,000-square-foot cash-and-carry store, and I would say six out of ten people that come in say, ‘I’m interested in waterproof flooring.’”

With demand skyrocketing, many flooring manufacturers are looking to get a piece of the pie, and these days, the market is saturated with products labeled “waterproof” from waterproof hardwood to waterproof laminate and luxury vinyl tile. As technological advancements continue to improve the look, feel and function of these products, it’s likely demand will only continue to grow. Says Rodney DiFranco, general manager at Capitol Carpet and Tile in Boynton Beach, Florida, “When LVT first came out, it looked fake, but it has evolved.”

Burdett says, “I’ve been doing this a long time, and heck, we didn’t even know we needed waterproof floors until eight or ten years ago-we just said, ‘Water and floors don’t mix.’ But now we’ve created this whole category, and we’re trying to build on it, and manufacturers have done a great job. There’s no doubt that today, from a vinyl standpoint and an appearance standpoint, the patterns and embossing on some of the floors are incredible. And when you put that up against real hardwood, sometimes it’s hard to really tell the difference.”

But Phil Shrimper, owner of JP Flooring in West Chester Ohio, adds that hardwood, too, is stepping up its game under the rising pressure. He says, “The one silver lining is that competition is always good, and LVT’s moisture performance is making the hardwood folks wake up and bring more innovation to the category.”

Consumers are smitten, and retailers are eager to profit from the frenzy, but the prospect comes with some challenges, among them, whether the consumer really knows what “waterproof” means when it comes to flooring.

Donna Mudd, manager of Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring based in Louisville, Kentucky, is among the retailers that say consumers are actively seeking out waterproof floors. She sees consumers come to her store having already done some research online and have a sense for what they are looking for. She says, “They even come in and ask for brands.” She adds that lifestyle concerns such as pets in the home are generally at the forefront of their minds when seeking out waterproof floors, not floods, although she does see people with leaky basement issues seeking solutions.

Burdett says LVT has been among the most-purchased waterproof flooring products in his store, both WPC and SPC flooring. Shrimper adds that consumers who buy the best vinyl plank flooring brands are seeking a product that won’t scratch or dent in an active environment, and one that is easy to maintain. He says, “And in the case of second homes, they like the fact they can turn off the A/C and not have issues from increased humidity while they are away.”

But whether they come in asking for brands or not, retailers say it’s still critical to really talk to the customer and understand what they need and expect. Sometimes, they discover that the consumer doesn’t have realistic expectations of what “waterproof” means, and retailers find themselves explaining that while the flooring itself might be waterproof, the installation isn’t, making these types of floors suitable for topical moisture, but not for standing water or moisture coming from underneath.

Says Burdett, “We are very, very careful to make sure we do not overpromise. One of the things we have our salespeople do is just ask the customer what their concept is of a waterproof floor and just sit back and listen-don’t contradict, you’re not there to dispute-but just listen to what they say. And then in your presentation, try to cover some of the salient points on what their beliefs and desires are and what the actual function is going to be and what the performance of the forum is going to be.”

Shrimper agrees. “We like to under-promise and overdeliver,” he says. “A happy consumer is one where the RSA recommends a flooring based on their client’s lifestyle-but without touting extreme durability commitments-that factor in the total space and not just the product.”

The good news for retailers is that today’s market has something to meet everyone’s needs. Burdett says, “If you look at consumers’ lifestyle-everybody’s got pets today-what they’re looking for is performance. I think we do offer products that perform much better for today’s lifestyle. But I do think it’s incumbent on us to tell the truth and make sure that everybody understands and gets the product that’s right for them.”

Burdett says consumers are generally receptive to learning the truth about waterproof floors, adding, “I think the thing I have found is most people, when you present it, are pretty realistic about it, and they’ll understand.”

For some retailers, in-store signage and showroom layout is part of the process of selling waterproof floors. At AFDC, asterisks next to the word “waterproof” are included on signs directing shoppers to ask an RSA for details about the product. Additionally, product and warranty sheets that outline what is and isn’t covered are made available to shoppers.

Retailers vary on what manufacturer point-of-sale materials are allowed. DiFranco, for instance, says Capital Carpet and Tile allows brochures. On the other hand, Shrimper says, “We do not allow point-of-sale materials in our store that promote warranties that are hard to achieve, whether it be waterproof, stainproof, crushproof or fadeproof.”

As for layout, Mudd says her store positions waterproof products around each other and arranged by price point; Shrimper’s store is laid out so the consumer has to walk by the hardwood flooring area to get to the LVT section.

Retailers say another critical piece comes down to training sales associates.

One way retailers are navigating the waters is by putting a greater focus on aesthetics. Burdett says retailers sometimes forget that they are in the style and fashion business. He says, “I think that in our effort to hit price points, we sometimes don’t promote the appearance and the look and the styling and the realism of what’s out there today and how it’s truly going to make a difference in people’s houses.”

Helping the consumer pick the right product builds trust, and over time, more business. Burdett says, “So much of our business is built on word-of-mouth and performance-we’re a 35-year-old company-and we really look at our referrals and our track record to sell itself.” He adds that part of their strategy when opening their new location has been around growing their reviews-positive ones, of course. Burdett notes, “We probably spend about as much time trying to sell them on leaving a positive review as we do on selling the right product.”

He says the result is that happy customers are posting photos of their floors in reviews, some are coming back for more flooring, and in one case, someone brought in a neighbor who saw their new floors and the difference it made in the home. Says Burdett, “That’s really been rewarding. The home is a huge investment, and it’s a place where people want to feel comfortable; they want their homes to look nice, and we want to be a part of that. We want to be more than just selling a price point or removing some old material or things like that. We want to try to put together a package that the customer is happy with and can be proud of.”

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Atlanta Flooring Design Center