For many in this industry, hardwood flooring is a way of life. For the small team at Revel Woods, the story is no different. They grew up in the hardwood flooring industry; in fact, the group even jokes that hardwood is in their blood. As part of its growth process, this startup company is using new technology to enhance its business and evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing consumer. You might even say they are Revel-utionizing the hardwood buying experience with the launch of their new website, revelwoods.com.
“A few years ago, we took a hard look at our company and tried to forecast what our business and this industry will look like in five years, and maybe even 15-20 years into the future,” says John Dupra, Co-Founder, Revel Woods.
The team noticed three major opportunities in the industry. First, there is still a large portion of the consumer population that doesn’t fully understand the nuances and benefits of installing hardwood flooring. Second, with the transition to more homeowners installing factory-finished flooring, some installation professionals are not making money like they used to selling flooring materials. Third, many manufacturers are in the unenviable position of manufacturing a product without direct contact with their end user.
“We’ve seen numerous situations where consumers are making a buying decision without first talking to a craftsman who understands the materials. They’re going to a big box store, or they’re shopping online. Then the contractor hopes to get the labor for the installation and makes a decent living that way, but there’s still some money left on the table for him as he’s not as involved in the process of procuring that material,” says Dupra.
“When we approached this project, our mission was to create an online boutique experience that solves these challenges. We wanted to remove a lot of the complications for the consumer, and use technology to simulate the experience of an expert craftsman walking you through every step of the process,” says Dupra. “Our goal is to make buying beautiful, responsibly sourced hardwoods easy and affordable. It’s that simple.”
Reaching the Next Generation of Buyers
Millennials have changed everything – from the way media is consumed to the way our culture communicates. Soon, home purchasing and remodeling will be added to that list. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “first-time Millennial buyers are rushing to buy homes after a decade on the sidelines, promising to kick a housing market already flush with luxury sales into higher gear.”
“We’re just now buying homes. I bought my first house two years ago; I was 31. Previous generations were buying homes in their early to mid-20s. In my early to mid-20s, we hit the 2008 housing crisis, and the economy tanked. Most of my peers were not going to plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house,” says Dupra. “We just weren’t. We delayed, and we rented.”
“Now, this generation that has changed the way consumer behavior works in every industry it has touched, is starting to get into buying houses and remodeling them. In the hardwood industry, we have to get plugged into that. We need to focus on the wave that is coming,” he continued.
Over the past two years, the team carefully thought through how to combine its level of hardwood expertise and technology to target the next generation, the online generation. The end goal was to provide this consumer group known for conducting research online, with solid, credible information in a way that would allow them to consume this information, and to buy these materials safely and simply. “We put an enormous amount of care into the details. We private labeled everything, we came up with our own names, and we wrote copy and product descriptions that tie back to the name for every single product,” says Dupra.
“Our overall theory is that there is a market out there for people who genuinely want to feel like we care about them, their situation, and what they are buying. We care about what we’re selling. It’s not a disingenuous notion; we’re all in this industry,” he continued.
Educating the Consumer
Different types of hardwood flooring perform differently depending on a number of factors. Everything from climate to pets can impact performance. The first step when a customer visits the website is to provide the necessary information about his or her lifestyle and home. The site starts by asking a range of questions about the installation space and how the buyer plans to use it so that every option shown will be tailored to the consumer’s exact needs.
To achieve these personalized results, the team created a database that cross-references a customer’s ZIP code with the Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification. Every one of Revel Woods’ SKUs was assigned to one of these ratings based on the climate performance of the product. When a customer takes the quiz, the website references the database in real time and displays only products that are suitable for the customer’s ZIP code climate rating for the space.
Customers are then encouraged to order a sample box, which allows them to see their favorite selections in their home with their own lighting and surroundings. Up to four different samples can be included in one sample pack, including two pieces of each product to show the character and variation of the board. The sample box was strategically designed to be lightweight and portable so a customer can easily transport it as they are designing the rest of the space. Also included in the sample pack is a brochure explaining the next steps in the buying process as well as an overview of Revel Woods’ mission, commitment to environmental sustainability and responsibly sourced products, and commitment to the American workforce.
Transparency in pricing is another key component of the overall experience. Through an application program interface (API) with Old Dominion, Revel Woods is able to immediately calculate the cost of shipping and build it into the square footage price. “Let’s say you’re decorating two different spaces, one in St. Louis and one in Portland. That same product will be different prices per square foot, even if you buy the same thing. The reason for that is because the price per square foot on the website is delivered,” says Dupra. “There are no hidden fees, there’s no, ‘Hey, this is only $4.99 a square foot,’ and then you go to check out and see that there is $10,000 in freight. What you see is what you get. There’s a lot of technical engineering going on in the background, but we strive to make it seamless for
Once the customer places his or her order, and the delivery date is set, roughly a week before the shipment is scheduled to arrive a welcome kit is sent to the customer’s home. That kit includes a branded hygrometer so the customer can start monitoring the RH in the home before the floor arrives and post installation, a cleaning kit designed for the specific floor, and an owner’s manual. “The manual provides everything the homeowner needs to know to ensure a successful installation, including delivery information, recommended job site conditions, and basic installation guidelines,” says Dupra. “It also is designed to cover the lifetime of the floor, similar to what you would have for most major appliances in your home, and includes care and maintenance tips, as well as warranty information.”
Elevating the Flooring Professional
Revel Woods not only encourages its customers to use an NWFA Certified Installer, but it also provides NWFA Certified Installers with the opportunity to create a professional account through its website.
“We know that a lot of times, if you’re a craftsman working out of your van or in the garage, you don’t have access to a lot of factory-finished samples. You simply can’t handle the sample inventory the way a retailer or sample showroom can,” says Dupra. “One of the other strategies for the site was to provide a simple resource for contractors to use when walking their customer through the selection process. We’ll sell them the samples, deliver the flooring, and have it all ready to go for them.”
Individuals interested in a professional account can submit an application. NWFA members are immediately granted one. Once granted a professional account, the individual receives a code that can be provided to his or her customers. When the customer uses that code at checkout, he or she will receive a discount on the order. Then the owner of the code used will be given a small percentage commission on that sale as well.
“They don’t have to do any work; they just need to recommend us for the product. Then they know that they are getting a high-quality, responsibly sourced material to work with, which is going to make their installation easier. Plus, we allow them to earn a bit of money on the materials as well,” says Dupra. “We wanted to make sure that we didn’t forget about the craftsman in this equation. We’re trying to bring them back into the supply chain, so there are more and more trained experts working with hardwood flooring.”
“We’d love to see this concept transform the industry – if it does what we think it can, it would be a positive revolution. We’ve got the story, we’ve got the product, it’s a plant-based, carbon-neutral, renewable resource. The story is there; we just have to start telling it,” he concluded.
Stacy Brown is the Editor/Publisher of Hardwood Floors Magazine, the official magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.