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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Flooring Display Challenge - Part I

Do you remember the Flooring Display Challenge as announced in How Might Flooring Displays Tell Better Stories?? It has generated fascinating input from within the industry as well as outside the category.

I recap them here. Perhaps they will spark more ideas?

Mario Vellandi recommends visiting "DIYs and niche stores for paint, siding, and window devices [curtains, blinds], and see how they do it". Essentially, go outside the flooring category to brainstorm.

Another fascinating source of display inspiration comes from commercial [or architect/designer focused] carpet showrooms. I've seen product shown as artwork - in frames, hanging from walls, with focused lighting. It looks special and generates conversation.

He asks "What kinds of flooring materials are sold? carpet, vinyl, wood, tile... Each material has its own personality."

I love the notion of these products having distinct personalities. It makes sense. Although each should be able to interact with the other in a home, the interaction would happen remotely - as a handoff from one surface to another. Imagine a carpeted bedroom leading to a tiled bathroom, for example. Or a kitchen to a garage.

Doug Meacham shares a consumer electronics perspective. Surprisingly -- or perhaps not so surprisingly -- many consumer electronics retailers share quite a bit with flooring retailers! "CE retail competitors and virtually all pure retail operators for that matter, must partner with all of the brands they carry to offer the customer a wide array of offerings. The individual brand images are not clearly reflected in the average retail experience because the retailers 1) won't typically give preferential treatment to selected brands and 2) can't afford to set up individual brand experiences within the store. What you are left with are those bland POP displays that are provided as part of the purchasing deals with the vendors."

Which makes The Apple Store experience that much more unusual in how integrated and strongly brand focused it is.

Doug explains that "unlike Circuit City or Best Buy, Apple has the luxury of being able to design the retail experience around the Apple brand and its limited number of products. It's clean, simple and easy to incorporate the brand image into the store design." Retailers like IKEA and Pottery Barn -- and Apple -- offer a retail experience carefully controlled and orchestrated around their brand and products.

Using vignettes to "demonstrate the product in a way the customer can relate to" he explains is extremely effective, having done so succesfully in many Circuit City innovation test stores.

He offers the following ideas [Doug, you are eerily spot on!]:

1. Flooring is not something the average customer buys frequently. When it is time to replace or upgrade, customers are overwhelmed by the number of options available to them. Making the right choice comes down to striking a balance between texture, color, maintainability and cost. That can be daunting so having the right level of help in-store is critical.

Buying furniture presents a similar problem. Ethan Allen's approach of putting interior designers into the store mix has been highly successful. Can you simplify the selection process? Can you translate the tools on the Wear-Dated website to the in-store experience? Can the Wear-Dated brand support its own branded retail experience or perhaps partner with a furniture brand in a way that allows your products to be shown like you described in your dream store while at the same time, offering a high level of guidance? Lots of opportunity to show the product in vignettes with that approach.

2. In the end, customers don't want "flooring products". They want solutions to a problem or need that they have. It may be that they want a bedroom floor that feels like walking on a cloud or an entryway that makes a statement about their personal style. Find ways to present flooring products as solutions to those problems instead of just dazzling assortment of materials, textures and colors.

3. Look at placing your products in real use areas. Hotels are using their rooms to market mattresses, plumbing fixtures, linens, and electronics. Why not carpeting? Hey if it can withstand hotel traffic, imagine how well it will do in your house.

[Note: we have a successful contract carpet fiber business with our Ultron carpet fiber brand. Our nylon 6,6 fiber is the fiber type specified most often by designers and architects!]

Ryan Karpeles' suggestions include using vignettes or model rooms (similar to IKEA). What about "incorporating samples into the web site. Allow people to take photos of their existing rooms, and then swap virtual samples in and out to see what it would look like."

This idea caught my imagination: What if you asked anyone entering your store to remove shoes? Then invite your customers to walk around on your different flooring products. Carpet, in particular, is such a sensuous product and yet it is never sold as such. Walking on it barefoot would help make the point!

From the retail experience perspective, Ryan says to "make your store smell like a home, rather than carpet. Bake some cookies. Light some candles. Etc, etc. Stay meticulous. Never let the store get sloppy. Keep it neat, organized, and sharp at all times. Turn your store into a home. Allow people to envision themselves in their house - not a carpet store."

Finally, "find out exactly what people need and why. Give recommendations based on their actual situation/preferences." What a wild concept asking people! Imagine that.

Thank you, Mario, Doug and Ryan!

Next, Part II.

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