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Friday, September 18, 2009

Meet Stuart Hirschhorn - Floor Covering Institute Series

This series started in June 2009 and gives me the opportunity to introduce you to my talented and fellow consultants at the Floor Covering Institute which has just announced the addition of Stuart Hirschhorn whom I interview in this post.

Stuart is director of research and founder of Catalina Research Inc., a name you surely recognize if you are associated with the floor covering industry, read the trade press and devour research on the industry.

C.B.: Stuart, tell me about yourself.

Stuart: With a degree in economics and marketing, I started at the birth of the information business working for a company publishing industry reports on a wide range of subjects. Over the decades, I became an expert compiling, analyzing, and presenting industry data and information to executives for actionable decision-making. In 1977, I started Specialists in Business Information (SBI) to offer executives this expertise worldwide. SBI was sold to a division of FIND/svp (now Guideline) that eventually became MarketResearch.com. In 2001, Catalina Research was formed to concentrate on publishing in-depth industry studies on the flooring, siding and roofing, plumbing fixture, and kitchen cabinet and countertop markets. A few years later, InformationGiant.com was established to provide an ecommerce platform for these reports. Clients can purchase on-shelf reports or they can sponsor a new report.

C.B.: How did you get started in the Flooring Industry?

Stuart: In the 1970s and the 1980s, I published separate reports on wood flooring, ceramic tile, and resilient flooring. In the mid-1990s, Floor Covering Weekly (FCW) approached me to provide a look at the entire flooring industry for their “Annual Statistical Issue” [Note: 2009 issue requires Silverlight]. Their request was one of the early attempts to quantify the entire flooring industry, and the FCW “Annual Statistical Issue” quickly became the statistical standard for the industry. At the same time, I began to publish an annual report on the floor covering industry covering total and segment market sales, the industry cost structure and company market shares, end-use markets and consumer demographics, the floor coverings distribution and installation businesses, and the factors driving U.S. demand.

A few years ago, Sandy Montero, the editor-in-chief of FCW, suggested that Catalina Research provide an analysis of floor covering industry trends on a timely basis. The result was the Catalina Floor Coverings Quarterly Update. This timely newsletter quickly became a valuable planning tool for the industry’s leading manufactures and marketers.

As the Catalina Research reports and newsletter became widely used throughout the flooring industry, I was contacted to present the findings of our research at industry gatherings. I have had the opportunity to present at Surfaces, the China Wood International Export & Import Conference, the National Wood Flooring Association Convention, and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute Annual Meeting.

C.B.: What do you like most about flooring?

Stuart: I find the flooring industry fascinating to analyze since the competing material sectors - textile, wood, ceramic, vinyl, rubber, etc.- each have their own set of sourcing economics and each provide the consumer with a unique set of advantages. You can see this play out at Surfaces, where the different types of flooring are displayed side by side, sometimes even within the same company booth. It is also interesting how competitors use technology, in what could be a commodity business, to provide consumers with higher end looks and longer lasting and easier to install flooring. It has been very exciting to see how technological innovations have played out in the wood and laminate flooring sectors over the past decade as manufactures offered glue-less installations and pre-finished products.

The past decade has also seen the globalization of the flooring market. When I first starting analyzing the flooring industry there were many regional players. Regional players became national suppliers, and now national suppliers are forming global distribution. Today, flooring materials are being sourced on one continent, manufactured in another, and sold in a third world market.

C.B.: What do you like least about flooring?

Stuart: As in many other markets, the selling of low-priced, low quality products hurts the reputation of flooring materials. When I was in China, I was asked why Chinese wood and laminate flooring was considered to be low quality. The problem is the marketing strategy of Chinese manufacturers is primarily based on selling on price. However, eventually prices are lowered enough for the customer to question the quality of the product. I told the Chinese manufacturers they must develop brand recognition in order to convey the quality of the product to the customer.

C.B.: Stuart, what five opportunities do you see in the flooring industry?

Stuart: Currently, there are two trends in the flooring industry that are providing selling opportunities. One is the growth in consumer preference for lower priced flooring as consumer incomes suffer from the recession, and the other is the growth in export shipments as the U.S. dollar weakened. As a result of these trends, manufacturers and marketers should:

1. Market to the large population cohort that was born since 1975. These are the first time homebuyers taking advantage of the $8,000 tax credit and are the ones driving the recent increase in existing home sales.

2. Improve the quality of your lower end product lines to excite these younger buyers, who also have lower incomes than their baby boomer parents.

3. Expand international marketing to take advantage of the growing emerging markets.

4. Develop a global brand to bring meaning to your product line to the millions of consumers world wide entering the middle class.

5. Prepare for the turnaround in U.S. floor coverings sales in the second half of 2010 due to the rise in existing home sales in recent months. Some 10% of consumers purchasing a home today will be purchasing new flooring a year from now.

C.B.: What do you see being the greatest advantage that the Floor Covering Institute offers?

Stuart: The Floor Covering Institute provides the industry with a one-stop consulting group that can assist manufacturers and marketers build their brands globally.

C.B.: Stuart, is there anything you'd like to add?

Stuart: Please visit our web site at www.InformationGiant.com to review the contents of the Catalina Reports and newsletter.

Thank you, Stuart!

Other posts in this series include:
+ Meet Jim Gould
+ Meet Carl Ruland

Do you have questions you'd like to ask Stuart? Let me know.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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