Wood Cuts - April 2007

By Rick Berg

Selling wood floors is like selling any other product—the more you know about it, the better you’ll be able to sell it. We’re not telling you anything new about that, of course. So the question is, what do you need to know about wood floors to sell them most effectively? If you’re new to the category, consider this a crash course. If you’ve been selling wood floors for awhile, maybe this will be a refresher.


For a lot of your customers, wood floors are the least understood type of flooring product. While in some ways that may present a challenge to you as a salesperson, it’s really a tremendous opportunity to elevate your status in their eyes and position yourself as an expert source of information.

Before you get to the meat of the matter and talk about the technical details of the many options available, you’ll want to make sure to lay the groundwork by outlining the benefits.

Beauty and value: While the natural beauty of wood flooring is an obvious aesthetic benefit, homeowners should also know that it’s one of the best ways to increase their home’s resale value. According to a National Wood Flooring Association survey, 90% of real estate agents said that homes with wood flooring sold faster and for a higher price than homes without it. In addition, a Hardwood Manufacturers Association survey of realtors found that hardwood flooring can add $7,000 to $10,000 to a home’s resale value. Wood flooring also provides added value in terms of lifecycle costs. While the initial price of owning a hardwood floor may be higher, the long term costs are favorable, since wood has a longer life and can be recoated and refinished multiple times. 

An eco-friendly product: For your environmentally conscious customers (and there are more of them every day), you can always point to the fact that wood flooring is manufactured from a renewable resource, and that manufacturers are taking steps to ensure that the trees used for their products are being harvested in an environmentally responsible manner. Beyond the big picture, wood floors also have a positive impact on your customers’ home environment. 


For more than 20 years, the National Wood Flooring Association has been representing wood flooring contractors and retailers and helping to build a healthy sales and installation base for the industry. But the association also has a broader role to play in making sure the industry's infrastructure remains strong. One way to do that has been to focus on the "green" aspects of wood flooring.

The NWFA has worked with several prominent green building programs to ensure that wood flooring is properly specified as a green building product. It's supported the National Association of Home Builders Green Home Building Guidelines, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, and the Green Building Initiative's Green Globes program. All of these programs promote sustainable forest management, and further draw attention to the issue of responsible forestry practices, especially as related to imported wood.

"As an industry, we believe that only wood logged and approved by the country of origin for export should be used in wood flooring," says NWFA executive director and CEO Ed Korczak.

The NWFA recently formalized its commitment to environmental responsibility with the adoption of the NWFA Environmental Policy, which states that the NWFA and its members will endorse positive actions toward the preservation of the earth's air, water, land and plants by implementing a variety of earth-friendly initiatives. This commitment has been further reinforced through the NWFAs partnership with the University of Wisconsin to conduct an environmental impact study on solid hardwood flooring. The study will provide a detailed lifecycle analysis to assess its environmental impact compared to other non-wood flooring products in the areas of energy consumption, air, water and solid waste pollution, and climate change.

Wood flooring has always had the advantage of being manufactured from a renewable resource--it really does grow on trees, you know. but recent consumer concerns about indoor air quality have made it an even more popular choice, thanks in part to NWFA's efforts to call attention to those benefits. Korczak points to the Environmental Protection Agency study which noted that wood floors do not harbor allergens or microorganisms, and that dust, mold and animal dander contamination is minimal in homes with wood floors.

While keeping an eye on the big picture, NWFA also continues to attend to the day-to-day issues affecting the bottom line business of wood flooring contractors and retailers. In addition to its national convention and its technical and management education schools, the NWFA has stepped up publication of technical and resource materials to enable contractors and retailers to more effectively sell and install wood flooring. The association has also developed certification programs for installers, sanders and finishers, salespersons, and inspectors--all designed to increase the knowledge and skill base of the industry and to promote consumer confidence.

Today, the NWFA represents more than 4,000 wood flooring professionals throughout the world.

Ease of maintenance: You can also remind your customers that today’s wood floors are as easy to maintain as any other flooring, requiring only routine sweeping and vacuuming and the occasional professional wood cleaning product, as specified by the manufacturer.


Your wood flooring expertise will never be more evident than when you show your customers the extensive choices available to them, and explain which choices will work best for their specific needs.

Site and factory finished, solid and engineered: Let’s start with the most basic choices available. All are good choices. Some customers may prefer a factory finished product for a remodeling project, since it will eliminate the sanding and finishing required for a site finished floor, and it may reduce the amount of time the remodeled room is “under construction.” Engineered wood floors will be the best bet for customers who want to install wood in a below-grade room, such as a walkout basement. Regardless, all are “real wood” floors.

A wealth of species: Your customers have a multitude of visuals when it comes to selecting wood flooring. Domestic species like oak, maple, cherry, birch, walnut and hickory are all popular, but there are many imported species to choose from as well, including Brazilian cherry, mahogany, wenge, bubinga and Australian cypress, to name just a few.

Borders and medallions: Whatever species your customers choose, they can always dress it up even more with a border or medallion. They can create a dramatic look, for example, by installing a contrasting border of walnut around a maple floor, or by placing a medallion in an entryway or in another high visibility location.

Specialty products: Handscraped or distressed floors offer yet another creative option. High quality flooring contractors can create that look with a site finished floor, but an increasing number of manufacturers offer factory finished floors with a distressed or handscraped appearance. There are also other touches that can be added, including wood vents, trim, molding and stair parts that match the flooring.

Manage Your Customer’s Expectations

The secret to a happy customer is making sure you’ve sold the right floor for that customer’s needs, and that you’ve made sure the customer fully appreciates the natural beauty and characteristics that are inherent in a wood floor. Some important points to tell them:

Natural variation: Just as no two trees are identical, no two floor boards are created exactly alike. Many homeowners prefer a wood floor that has a great deal of color and grain variation. If your customers fit that description, you might steer them toward a cabin grade or similar product, which will tend to have that rich variation. As a bonus, cabin or rustic grades are often less expensive than premium grade or select grade floors, which tend to have more uniform color and grain. Either way, you have a product available to suit your customers’ tastes, budget and expectations, and they’ll appreciate that you’re able to meet those needs.

Color change: Color change can occur in some species as the floors age. This is normal and generally desirable, since it usually results in a deeper, richer hue. However, uneven color change can be minimized by limiting exposure to direct sunlight, and periodically moving furniture and rugs. Some species are more prone to color change over time. Both American cherry and Brazilian cherry (a popular imported species) are known for their tendency to deepen in color as they age, a fact that many homeowners appreciate. Just make sure your customer is aware of that tendency. 

Seasonal change: Seasonal spacings between boards are also normal as conditions within the home vary between high and low humidity. Generally, anything less than the width of a dime is considered normal, and will correct itself as seasons change.

That’s going to be true of any wood flooring installation, but your expertise really comes into play when you have a customer with radiant heating. All wood flooring works well over radiant heating systems, but you would be wise to steer your customers toward products that perform best under those conditions. Since wood’s natural tendency to expand and shrink as it gains or loses moisture will be more pronounced over a radiant heating system, you’ll want to recommend a product that’s less susceptible to expansion and shrinkage. Engineered wood flooring fits that description, since it’s more dimensionally stable than solid wood. In addition, some solid wood floors are more dimensionally stable than others. Quarter-sawn wood tends to shrink and expand less than plain-sawn, and some species, such as American cherry, are less susceptible to seasonal change than others.

Know Your Customer, Know Your Product

An expert wood flooring salesperson knows that the key is to understand your customers’ hopes and expectations, and make sure those expectations match up with the floor they buy. When that happens, the customers will be happy with the result, and they’ll respect your knowledge and expertise.

The manufacturers of the floor you sell take great pains to provide information about their products, but there’s also a wealth of technical information produced by the National Wood Flooring Association. For more information on the topics we’ve covered here, check out any of  NWFA’s technical publications, including the following:

  • Wood Species Used in Wood Flooring offers technical information, including dimensional stability data on 33 of the most commonly used wood flooring species.

  • Water and Wood is an excellent resource on the ways in which moisture affects wood flooring.

  • Maintenance and Recoating contains valuable information to help your customers maximize the beauty of their wood floors.

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus

Related Topics:NWFA Expo, The International Surface Event (TISE)