Waterproof: Retailer perspectives: How to train RSAs to properly position the “waterproof” performance of floating LVT flooring – Oct 2019

By Kemp Harr

Now that consumers have been fully immersed in the concept of the waterproof floor, they go to their retailers with high expectations, so it falls on retail sales associates (RSAs) to educate them and adjust their expectations to ensure they select the right product. Weighing in on how they train their RSAs to position the LVT waterproof story are four leading flooring retailers: Robert Dolan, vice president of hard surface flooring for Avalon Flooring, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cathy Buchanan, co-owner of Independent Carpet One, based in Westland, Michigan; Dave Snedeker, executive vice president for Bob’s Carpet & Flooring, based in the Tampa Bay area; and Ed Keller, CEO with Hadinger Flooring, based in Naples, Florida.

Q: How do you train your RSAs to properly position the waterproof performance of floating LVT flooring to consumers?
Snedeker: The really important part of the training is that we clarify to each customer that it is a topical waterproof protection. The products are water resistant overall and are great for spills but are not bulletproof. They will still scratch and dent if enough force is applied. They will also seal in moisture issues underneath if not tested prior to installation. We ask our RSAs to make customers aware of the pluses and minuses-put the decision back on them and their needs.

Keller: We start with common sense. We primarily relate about topical moisture and normal household use when it comes to the LVP classification and, for the most part, the so-called waterproof laminates and hardwoods as well. We emphasize that waterproof warranties exclude flooding due to rising water from a natural disaster, burst pipes and appliance failure.

Buchanan: Being a Carpet One store, we encourage our new as well as our veteran RSAs to take the Carpet One University online training modules for all products on our showroom floor. Keeping that in mind, every manufacturer has their own story to tell; the end result is caution when using the words “water” and “proof.”

Today with the draw to hard surface floors, ease of maintenance, pet proof, kid proof, waterproof, etc., we need to stay cautious that we don’t oversell the product. Under promise and over deliver. We need to make sure the consumer understands that these floors can’t handle a flood.

Dolan: In our training, we make sure, first and foremost, to teach our RSAs that the waterproof story is not to be oversold. We cite specific information from warranty documents and also real-life scenarios so there isn’t confusion regarding the type of events waterproof products are meant to handle. We want our RSAs to be able to talk to our customers about how these products will perform for them and properly manage their expectations. 

Q: In the context of floating LVT flooring, what does waterproof really mean?
Keller: Being in Florida, we have issues with moisture in slabs as well as topical. Floating with an underlayment eliminates most slab issues. I like to explain waterproof like a raincoat that repels water; however, if water rises above your waist, you will get wet and so will the floor. Then there is the mold and mildew issue as well.

Snedeker: That topical spills should not affect the integrity of the floor as long as they are cleaned up in a reasonable amount of time and do not get to the edge of the flooring.

Dolan: Waterproof is the ability of the product to withstand the normal moisture or water issues related to a typical active household. Waterproof is not flood proof.

Buchanan: When a customer is looking to purchase a floating LVT product, we need to make sure they realize that, like a laminate floor, water can’t puddle on the floor for hours. The spill must be wiped up as soon as it happens. Don’t mop the floor with a bucket of water and leave puddles of water. If water seeps in at the seams of the planks or along the perimeter of the room, mold can start to grow and it grows rather quickly.

When a floating floor experiences a flood or some type of insurance situation where water is involved, the customer is kidding themselves that the restoration company is going to carefully remove the floor to let it dry. They will immediately tear out the floor. Water damage is water damage, especially if a subfloor is involved and water has gotten to it. The floor is history!

Q: Do you believe that most click systems are a waterproof barrier for standing water?
Snedeker: I believe that, if given enough time, some of them may fail if water stands too long. We are led to believe that most of them are safe.

Keller: Standing water meaning spills-yes. Flooding-no. At this point, I have reservations about both hardwood and laminates.

Dolan: Definitely not. Sometimes we forget that this is flooring, and flooring isn’t meant to withstand or be a barrier for standing water or a flooding event. 

Q: Do your installers take extra steps to ensure that the perimeter of a bathroom, kitchen or laundry room is sealed to ensure that spilled water won’t leak under the floor at the baseboard?
Buchanan: This is a most recent request from all “waterproof” LVT flooring manufacturers. It was not a requirement previously. It is written for a rigid core product that is in the field: “When installing in a lavatory, bathroom, laundry room or other area with frequent water usage, it is recommended that any gap be filled with silicone caulk. This will lower the possibility of the water traveling under the floating floor and help reduce bacterial growth and problems associated with it.” All manufacturers, if they don’t now, will have this statement in their installation guidelines in the future.

Snedeker: Yes. We require all “potentially wet” areas to be properly protected as part of the installation guarantee we offer.

Keller: Unless given specific directions, I would say no.

Dolan: No.

Q: Which word more accurately describes the performance of a floating LVT floor: “waterproof” or “water resistant”?
Snedeker: We prefer the term “water resistant” because it puts some of the responsibility squarely back on consumers. Unfortunately, that is not what the consumers are hearing from our competition.

Keller: “Waterproof” is more of a buzz word that has been created by our industry. The general public needed a reason to purchase flooring, and we as retailers and manufacturers have decided that it needs to be waterproof. When actually reading the fine print warranty, it’s not waterproof; it’s water resistant.

Buchanan: The product itself is “waterproof,” but without proper installation and preparation, the floor is solely a water-resistant floor.

Dolan: With waterproof, the issue is often overselling, even on the manufacturer level, and what waterproof means to the consumer.

Q: Whose responsibility is it to set the right expectation on what could happen if water seeps under the floor?
Snedeker: I believe it has totally been put on retailers and our RSAs to accurately inform consumers of what “waterproof” really means. I also believe that this has put some issues that used to be insurance claims and homeowner issues squarely in retailers’ hands to deal with as a result of the new terminology.

Keller: Presenting reasonable expectations to the consumer during the presentation is a must. Living in a hurricane-prone area with rising water as a possibility, the consumer has to understand that if a home is flooded by acts of God or failures of appliances or piping, it falls under the homeowner’s insurance and not the warranty of the product.

Buchanan: It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to explain this to the store owners and RSAs during product knowledge sessions. It is the store owner’s responsibility to make sure their RSAs know and understand this! It is then the RSA’s responsibility to share this information with their customers.

Dolan: It is the retailer’s responsibility to properly manage the performance expectations of the product. This includes helping the customer understand that water seeping under the floor may leave the product intact but that there may be issues remaining as a result of the water seepage for the customer to deal with. It is also the responsibility of the manufacturer to not be vague in what “waterproof” means regarding their product.

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