As the floor covering market continues to expand, the number of retailers who carry laminate lines seems to lag a bit behind. Columnist Reggie Hill examines some of the reasons why laminate flooring is still on the sidelines in many marketplaces.

I am amazed at the number of full-service flooring retailers and distributors that are consciously avoiding the marketing and selling of laminate flooring, the fastest-growing segment in the floor covering industry. Laminate floors can be intimidating. Why? Let’s take a closer look at the product, its attributes, the negatives surrounding it, and the obstacles affecting sales.

The Product

  • Precision milled

  • New product category (since 1994 in the United States)

  • Modular product

  • Wide range of colors and patterns that can mix and match

    The Attributes

  • Extensive performance warranties for stain, fade and wear

  • Simulates the natural look of real wood

  • Easy to clean and maintain

  • Installation techniques allow wet-environment installation

  • Installs over most existing hard surfaces

    The Negatives

  • Installation procedures that do not cross over from conventional U.S. flooring products

  • Specialized tools

  • Delicate during shipping and handling

  • Environmentally sensitive

  • unrealistic consumer expectations

    The Obstacles

  • Fear of the unknown

  • “Wait and See” syndrome

  • Lack of competent installers

  • Zealous marketing and advertising

    It is a fact that salespeople are more likely to sell the products that they are the most comfortable with. This comfort level is comprised of their personal knowledge of a product, their history with that product, and their experience with successful installations of that product, not to mention profits and the level of difficulty in closing a sale. Human beings do not like venturing outside their comfort zones. Many will not. Others have reluctantly started selling laminate floors, all the while fearing other sales will leave with the laminate sale, because consumers are coming into the store and asking for it.

    The bottom line is simple. The product will not be successful unless it is correctly installed. That is right. It comes back to the installer. Think of it as an opportunity that requires an immediate investment in training and equipment. Luckily, the laminate flooring industry is making it easier to get basic training for simple installations, as well as advanced training for the installers who understand the profit potential of custom installations.

    Some manufacturers have initiated shared-accountability programs that partner the manufacturer with committed installers. Once these installers successfully complete their training, they pledge never to let the job be compromised by poor installation without sharing in the financial expense of a failed floor.

    Many manufacturers will provide training at their facility and in the field, while some will only offer training through their distributor network. Others may only occasionally put on evening seminars at the regional level. Often, the training goes beyond installation. The hardest part is to call and commit. You owe it to yourself to take advantage what often is available for no charge, other than your time.

    Your commitment will serve as a tool for the retailer by providing the most important part of the puzzle: You. The trained installer. Note that the points in the list above are often contingent upon, or can be impacted by, installation training. Use this list to market yourself to the retailer. Help retailers help themselves.