Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Flooring Warranties and Expectations: Oh, what tangled webs we weave

Lew Migliore We surely see some tangled messes in the flooring industry when customers buy flooring products based on marketing and not based upon choosing the right products for their location or application.  Invariably, the product doesn’t live up to their expectations. Flooring warranties are part of the marketing package; they are not insurance against a bad product choice and we need to do a better job at making sure our sales people and customers understand the difference.

For every application there is an appropriate product. The right product in the right place, and there always is one, will perform up to the expectations of the end user. The role of the flooring professional is to guide the buying decision toward the right product. In the absence of professional help a consumer is left to make a decision based upon marketing alone. Even with "professional help" they can come away confused.  Here's a great example of a consumer who is trying to make the right carpet decision but is "so confused."

A warranty, or guarantee, is an assurance of the quality of or of the length of use to be expected from a product offered for sale often with a promise of reimbursement.

All warranties come with exclusions. Most warranties are never fully read or even seen until there’s a problem and then the consumer is left to interpret them alone only to find that the warranty rarely covers what they thought it did.  Take “wear” for example.

The Wear Warranty: What the Consumer Hears
“Wear” to our carpet industry means the abrasive loss of fiber, up to 10% loss over a period of 5 or 10 years, depending on how the warranty reads.  To a consumer it means something totally different.

When a consumer hears "wear" they think "appearance retention."  Naturally, any change to the product appearance they weren’t expecting – generally after a short period of time – is what they consider “wear” .... traffic lanes that appear matted or crushed or carpet that is disarrayed in front of a favorite sofa or chair, or what I like to call “ugly out."  When the product doesn’t look the same in these areas as it does in areas not used so much, consumers think it is "wearing" prematurely.  This misunderstanding is the genesis of many complaints and claims.  Stain warranties are another.

Stain Warranties: Spot vs. Stain
Stain warranties typically state that the carpet offers improved resistance to stains when the carpet is properly installed and maintained in its original single-family interior location.  (This makes the phrase “properly installed and maintained” very important but warranties rarely say what that is) .... but more to my point...what is a stain and what is a spot and why does it matter?
Spot vs. Stain
A spot is caused when a foreign substance is spilled onto the floor leaving a residue that attracts dirt that creates a dark spot.  A stain is the result of a foreign substance coming in contact with the surface of the flooring that either imparts color to or strips the color from the floor.  Spots will clean out, stains will not.  A stain warranty doesn’t mean the carpet won’t get dirty or show dirt.
Stain exclusions

Stain warranties exclude stains from non-food and non-beverage substances. Staining from acne medications, household cleaners, swimming pool chemicals, chlorine bleach, insecticides, plant foods, vomit, feces, and other harsh substances are not covered by these warranties. These warranties cover staining only; not soiling.  Most perceived stains are actually spots or soil.   Oh by the way….all those “Oxy” type cleaning products you see on TV?  They stain flooring!

No Mat / No Crush Warranty
This is one of my favorites. No mat no crush warranties say the carpet will not mat or crush from foot traffic. This warranty excludes stairs and hallways. Carpet is a vertically oriented textile floor covering and when walked on repeatedly, particularly in concentrated, unalterable and pivotal areas, it mats and crushes.  This is what it does naturally; it’s the law of physics at work.  What the warranty should say is that the carpet is guaranteed to mat and crush or compact to a certain extent.  Depending on the construction the matting may be unnoticeable or very noticeable, but it is going to occur.

Exclusions, Legalese and Marketing Adding to the Confusion

There are those who think that warranties are the single biggest injustice perpetrated on the consumer because what is given in one paragraph is taken away in the next three and what they think is covered is not.  Warranties are largely marketing tools written by legal and marketing departments and not so much protection against a product that fails to perform.

Making the Right Decision

Buying decisions should start with qualifying the user and the intended use of the product. That is more important than marketing or warranty promises. A conscientious flooring professional will know the product and what it was designed to do - and not do.  If the right product is chosen and installed properly you’ll rarely ever need to read the warranty – or need a claims and performance specialist like me.


Lew Migliore is President of LGM and Associates, a technical consulting firm specializing in all aspects of product and installation performance and education. He is also a consultant with the Floor Covering Institute.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job Lew, giving new life to a forever problem in the flooring industry. My experience is that customers are either not told about warantees or they just don't listen. It doesn't really matter it's important the saleperson understands the warrantees and can explain them to the customers so the customer doesn't have unreasonable expectations about her carpet.Thanks again for the post.