The owners of Word of Mouth Floors have been in the industry for many years, and we have some fun stories to share. Last week James and I were talking to a customer in our Richmond, BC showroom and the topic of bamboo flooring came up. We have some full plank bamboo flooring product in the corner as it is some clearance product we are helping a friend blow out. The customer happened to had installed bamboo flooring years ago and loved it. Unique look, very durable, natural product. Especially strand woven bamboo, amazing durability. Wow, we loved that product.
Little did they know that together, James and I, 'back in the day' had sourced and sold probably more bamboo flooring than almost anyone in North America. We were early adopters of the flooring type and had a real affection for that style of flooring 10 to 15 years ago. In fact, it was one of the biggest sellers we for a few years at BuildDirect. Boy, did we sell a lot of it. Amazing product. But this customer last week asked, what happened to bamboo flooring? Why does no one carry it in BC anymore?
Let me tell a quick, funny story about bamboo flooring. At BuildDirect it was a hugely popular seller for us in the 2000's and primarily because it was so different that all the gunstock oak that was sold for decades in America. Oak, oak and more oak was what you could buy in the south of America. BuildDirect sells primarily in USA, so this isn't really a Canada customer story, but I think it will resonate.
This story is about data, data we collected on consumer behavior. For decades industries were run on gut feel and lagging indicators. Sales, as a statistic, is a poor predictor of actual buyers intent. It is a lagging indicator. It tells what happened, not what should have happened, if the customer could actually get what they really wanted. Famous business story about car company, Ford, and their former best seller was the Mustang. Cool car. Nothing sold more than blue coloured Mustangs, so they made more Blue Mustang vehicles and they kept selling. But customers actually wanted Red Mustangs. Red was so hot, it would immediately sell out. Red was out of stock, people wanted Mustangs, so everyone bought the blue ones. Ford looks at the sales data, people buyig so many blue cars, and they told the factory, 'wow! people love the blue ones, make more blue!!'. So the cycle continued, make more blue, sell more blue, make more blue. Red was not made because no one bought it. If customers wanted red, it would show up in the sales numbers, right?? Haha, it couldn't show in the sales numbers, because they had no stock to sell. So Blue sells, blue gets made, because it is what the people want.
Remember this: in America, during 1990 to 2005... Oak sold. Oak is pretty well everything that sold. And Gunstock Oak (a darker brown stain of oak) was the best seller, and remained a best seller year, after year, after year.
When we talk about online data in 2020, everyone clearly knows that this is pretty easy to track with 95% of consumers doing some e-commerce shopping or at least online research before buying. But in 2000 - 2008 range, what BuildDirect was doing was revolutionary. No one in North America was tracking and predicting consumer behaviour in the flooring industry the way we were.
Here is the little story: I had a meeting with a potential large volume customer. They were one of the largest sellers of flooring in the State of Georgia, USA. They were a decades-old company and run by an older gentleman and industry vet that was one of the nicest people I had ever met in the industry. Great guy, a gentleman through and through. I asked him to buy some containers of bamboo flooring from me to put into his distribution in the South (mostly Georgia). This was a long time ago, but the story sticks with me. I mentioned we had been a big seller of strand woven bamboo and in my conversation with him, I was suggesting it was really something his company should try. It was an emerging product and I really thought it could be a win, win, win. For him, for his customers, and for us. He said to me, in a very gentlemanly way, ‘son, you don't know Georgia. We know Georgia and bamboo flooring will never sell in Georgia. We have been here for decades, and bamboo flooring will never sell in the state of Georgia'. He was right on one thing, I didn't know Georgia. I lived on the other side of the continent and I was much younger than he was, and his experience certainly was more vast than mine. But I knew things he didn't, because I had leading indicators, not lagging indicators. I followed the data, he followed what had historically sold. And boy, was he was wrong about bamboo flooring not selling in Georgia. At the time of me asking him, we were selling bamboo in every single State in the continental USA. The biggest seller was California... and of all the States in America could you guess the 2nd highest volume of sales were?? That's right, it was happening in Georgia! They loved bamboo, it was selling extremely well. I tried to point this out to him, show him the data, and give him the upper hand verses his local competition. We were online and a small player in volume compared to what his distribution network could sell. Customer demand was real, and they came to my internet site and bought millions of dollars of bamboo from us. I was trying to do him a favour and give him an innovative line that sold like hotcakes. He allowed his historical bias to cloud his decision, and he let his company ‘experts' decide what people were allowed to buy, rather than listening to the data. It worked out fine for us, we kept selling large volumes of bamboo to Georgia for years to come. To my knowledge, he kept selling gunstock Oak.
I always found that a funny story because I can hear that conversation in my mind today. He really was a nice man but he thought I was crazy and he was going to do me a favour and explain how business operated in his backyard.
James and I have seen a lot of trends in this industry and we stay on the cutting edge. I have traveled to thousands of factories around the world and we will keep on top of trends for BC for you. But I am curious myself... what ever happened to bamboo flooring? Our answer was that people stopped buying it and people stopped asking for it, stopped getting samples or asking for delivered quotation in their carts (leading indicators) so we know that demand dropped down, so we stopped bring it in. It still sells a little in pockets of America, but overall, the category mostly died down. In fact, the hottest trend, SPC Vinyl, is made in many of the old bamboo factories. I know what happened to the factory side, but it still a fair point and fair question to ask.... strand woven bamboo is an amazing product and was in such high demand. Why did it go away? Is it because SPC vinyl is superior waterproof product? Vinyl is easier to install? Pricing are lower? Easier and more efficient for factories to source raw material and produce? Visual options of vinyl look so good and customer visual preferences changed? It is likely all of these things played a part. But it is still a great question, whatever happened to bamboo flooring?