Flooring consumers are increasingly being empowered by digital devices and social networks that enable them to dictate exactly what they want. They have become both critics and creators, and design professionals are experiencing a rise in customers who want to shape the interior designs of their properties.

This puts flooring installers, product manufacturers, architects and other professionals in the built environment in a unique position. As people scramble to stay ahead in a competitive economy, the brands and contractors who come out on top will be those who are able to offer a personalised, customised, and many times a “niche” experience. But first, what constitutes “niche flooring”?

Specifiers in particular have many opportunities when it comes to niche flooring. As the link between the client and manufacturers, specifiers, designers and architects need to be able to spot a niche flooring project before the phrase has even crossed your client’s mind. Understanding the ins and outs of customisation possibilities in the local market will put you in the position to advise relevant buyers on their buying journey, educate them about the options available and give them the tools they need to take their creativity one step further.

Niche flooring can refer to flooring products that were specifically manufactured for a project, a flooring material that required a company to develop a new colour or finish for the installation, contractors who had to reinvent how they install a specific type of flooring to meet site specific requirements, and anything in between. If you’re in the flooring market and your team regularly goes above and beyond to make sure a flooring installation meets unique (and many times challenging) criteria, then you can consider yourself a part of the niche flooring market.

These projects are usually out-of-the-ordinary installations that require specialised sourcing and out-of-the-box thinking. The brief is unique and a collaborative approach between a variety of stakeholders is needed to come up with a workable solution. Some of the benefits of offering niche flooring solutions include the following:

Customers are willing to pay more for niche products and installations

A report by Deloitte entitled Made-to-order: The rise of mass personalisation showed that in some product categories more than 50% of consumers expressed interest in purchasing customised products or services. Not only are customers willing to pay more for a customised product or service, they also like to be actively involved in the process. Companies in the flooring market should use this information to shape the way sales consultants, designers, engineers and installers approach clients. Co-creating the final result requires the customer’s input, which means you need to focus on asking the right questions to get to the ‘why’ behind their unique requirements. Research by NPD Group also showed that consumers are willing pay approximately a 25% premium for products they consider niche or customised.

Free publicity
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, “niche flooring” is a broad concept that can include a variety of personalisation initiatives. Many flooring product manufacturers have already started to add “Create Your Own” type of features on their websites. These handy tools are very newsworthy at the moment, so by launching an innovative customisation option in your product line, you could catch the attention of design bloggers, niche publications in the industry or even mainstream media.

More insights into what your customers want
If you start to pick up trends in the niche flooring product or installation requests from your clients, you can use this feedback to expand product lines or business services that you offer. If, for example, you are increasingly being asked to develop carpeting in a certain pattern, or realise that a rising number of customers require a specific approach to access flooring installations, then you can add these products and services to your umbrella of flooring solutions. Adding content to your website about these products and services, or contributing editorials to publications like FLOORS in Africa magazine, can portray you as an authority in a market segment that was previously considered unique and out of the ordinary. This can make you the go-to company for products and services that you only developed on an ad hoc basis in the past.

Novelty appeal
Whether your client’s client is a high profile, blue chip investment company in the heart of Sandton or the owner of a plush house in a new residential area of Cape Town, these clients want to wow everyone from the media to their employees and guests with their interior design. Being able to say that their flooring was a niche installation can add the novelty element that is needed to boost your brand (and it can even lead to unexpected publicity).

More repeat sales with lower return rates
When customers are more involved in the creation process, they will feel more connected to your brand. They will know your executive team and sales reps and will want to do business with you again. When your clients feel an affinity to your company, they are more likely to partner with you again for both niche flooring installations and off-the-shelf solutions.

Specialised tip: The flooring manufacturers and contractors who come out on top will be those who are able to offer a personalised, customised, and many times a “niche” experience.

Thanks and acknowledgement are given to www2.deloitte.com and www.blog.doogma.com for some of the information contained in this article.

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