For the past few decades, many industries in the United States have experienced a slow “hollowing out” — companies merge and grow more powerful with each acquisition. Sometimes private equity enters the mix, which places even more pressure on smaller local and independent producers.
How do I know? I’m the co-founder of one of those independent producers competing in a Big Box world. At Steller Flooring–we create custom hardwood floors that are beautiful, durable, and sustainable. It’s made by true craftspeople and it’s innovative, There is nothing like it. We’re damn good at what we do, yet we understand that our landscape is narrow.
I’m thinking of what’s happening in books, as Barnes & Noble, then Amazon came to dominate the landscape, and book publishers continue to merge. It’s happened in the news industry as thousands of local newspapers across the country shut down each year. It’s happened with clothing as “fast fashion” dominates the landscape at stores like Zara and H&M.
Whether consumers realize it or not, this phenomenon has also wreaked havoc on the hardwood flooring industry. Big box stores are undercutting smaller, high-quality producers, and duping consumers. The boards that you’ll buy at (insert any name) big box store are harvested internationally and shipped to the United States, often becoming warped or damaged in transit. Improper storage and humidity control leave the boards in an unfavorable state. The result requires the consumer to buy considerable overage only to end up with a floor that lasts 15 or 20 years instead of 50, 75, or even 100 years.
The rise of popularity of luxury vinyl products (LVP and LVT) echos the point that consumers are being led towards products that are inferior. This type of flooring has become a staple in new construction and home remodeling alike, even though it’s not durable and prone to tearing and warping in as little as five years after installation. Again, the big box stores and large flooring conglomerates combine to sell consumers on the idea of quick, easy fixes instead of long-term investments that are worth paying more for.
In both solid hardwood and luxury vinyl flooring, “craft washing” makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to tell what’s quality and what’s not. Big companies create products that are marketed as craftsman-made when in reality, they’re produced in the same assembly line factories as all other flooring options. The products are often made to look and feel like a quality product but underneath that “hand-hewn” look is cardboard and glue.
Once the flooring is purchased, warranties are often problematic and designed to benefit the stores, not the customers, and homeowners find themselves with a defective product that they can’t return or replace. It’s one thing to have deceptive practices like this on small-ticket items, but it somehow feels more nefarious when it’s something people are spending tens of thousands of dollars on and will literally see every day in their homes.
What’s inspiring, however, is that there are industries pushing back against this trend. Think about craft beer — Budweiser and Miller-Coors dominated the landscape for a long time, but over time, thousands of craft breweries sprang up to give them a run for their money. Each is finding success in its own local market, with some breaking out to regional or even national success. Even those who do reach bigger heights maintain a commitment to high-quality products and don’t compromise production for price. This resonates with us. The pushback is something we at Steller strive for because we put our products, our people and our clients first.
The flooring industry is long overdue for a change, and we’re proud to be part of the independent companies keeping craftsmanship and innovative production alive. People who make a living wage throughout the mid-Atlantic handle Steller’s flooring at every step of the production process. We’re contributing to our local economy not decimating it.
A new hardwood floor is a major investment, and for too long, consumers have trusted that investment to multinational corporations who decidedly do not have their best interests in mind. Experienced craftsmen and small companies like ours value customer service just as much as the bottom line and do not face the pressure of continually maximizing profits to keep the shareholders happy.
At the end of the day, quality flooring is like having a friend in the room with you all the time. It’s not uncommon for our customers to choose their favorite planks in each room or take the floors with them when they move, thanks to our easy installation system.
Despite what the big box stores and large flooring companies want consumers to believe, they do not have to settle for the lowest common denominator in flooring. There is another way forward — paying expert craftspeople will lead to better products, better customer service, and more long-term value for your home.