'Indians like brown when it comes to wooden floors': Havwoods

NEW DELHI: Havwoods International, one of the main actors of wood floors in the United Kingdom with four decades of specialization in hardwood, is expanding. The company that has a clientele like, Harrods , Breitling, Harley Davidson, Paul Smith, Jamie Oliver and Marks&Spencer have established a global presence with a network of showrooms on continents such as Europe, Australia, America, the Middle East and South America. India, a difficult market, marks the incursion of the brand in the Asian market.

Aashish Poojari, director of Havwoods India, talks about the flooring market in India and how the company plans to take on traditional players. Excerpts:

What is the difference in preferences when it comes to Indian customers compared to other markets in which it operates?

India has always been a different market compared to any other market in the world for any product. Whether Coca Cola or KitKat, they had to rethink their strategies and even their products to come here. Wood floors are no different. Europe is already a mature market, while India is in an incipient stage. Taste matters, value matters and the general price matters. Going for pleasure

For example, Germans like wider, distressed and mostly gray boards, while Italians prefer cleaner, smooth-finished boards. In France, lean and clean boards are preferred and in Australia variations are demanded.

Indians usually choose teak in species and the color brown. We see a new taste for gray tones and a growing interest in emerging spike and gallon patterns, but predominantly India buys brown. So we will bring more natural tones.

How do you plan to compete with manufacturers that deal with other types of floors?

As India is new to wood floors, players in this field are also quite new. The learning curve for Indian manufacturers is steep. It will take time to find the right product range, constant high quality, installation and service skills, prices, etc.

On the other hand, Havwoods being a global player has leveraged its customer knowledge and 40 years of experience to bring an Indian-centered collection with expert installation and retail competition. Our prices are competitive, the quality is worldwide and the range is second to none. This USP is actually unbeatable at the moment from the point of view of the competition.

Can you give us some examples of global trends in the wood flooring market?

A lot is being experienced on the global stage of wood floors. As mentioned earlier, grays and patterns are ruling trends almost everywhere. Many new floor ideas with species like Ash and Maple are being tested, new finishes are being created.

The oak is smoked, stained, stoned to give it a different personality. Worn and recovered wood is very prone to reactive stains instead of the traditional oil stains used to obtain interesting finishes.

Today, one of the most vital factors is the ecological awareness that affects trends and choices throughout the world. Buyers have become very conscious and insistent on FSC certification, sustainability, reliability and product stability, as well as the manufacturer.

What is your strategy in India?

India is a very diverse market. There will be our own flagship stores in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. We will designate some local partners in the franchise format in meters such as Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai, etc. We are also interested in having smaller distributor formats in Tier II cities such as Kolhapur, Nashik, Nagpur, etc. We are sure to put this network in place at the end of 2020. Let's cross our fingers.

The strategy is to leverage our expertise. Havwoods is the wood flooring expert internationally. Globally, we work closely with designers to understand markets, customer requirements and buying trends. Similarly, we are working with designers and architects to develop India insights and adapt it in our collections and strategies to them.

When you say that the Indian wood flooring market is not organized, can you give us a snapshot of the existing infrastructure here?

India is a tropical country, it is inherently a sand of stone, tiles and ceramics.

In fact, this represents 80% of the floor market. The real wood floor is only 0.2% of the total 480 million square meters per annual volume. This small participation does not attract large players, so it is supplied by importers, distributors and merchants who have not built any solid infrastructure to support the business.

Laminate flooring It is in a better place with about 4% of the entire floor market and, therefore, lucrative enough. Some serious brands have worked to build the infrastructure, educate the target audience, delivering in terms of installation efficiency and good service. A couple of players have also ventured to make laminate floors, which is a kind of momentum for the market.

But since the real wood floor is such a small part of the industry, there is only one manufacturer. And since we are not a traditional market of wood floors, develop a wide range, maintain quality, finish, etc. It is not viable and does not meet international standards. At this time, it is still an import market. With increasing demands and greater potential, I see that it grows exponentially and then it won't take long to have an organized segment of real wood floors.

Who are your competitors in your segment and how do you plan to play the price game?

To answer the first question, none really. The USP of Havwoods is its range and when we say range it is all colors, gradings, finishes, textures, dimensions, etc. and most importantly, price. Our budget to premium offerings range from Rs 300 to Rs 3,500 per sq.ft. There are other players but not with our kind of offerings. So we don’t really see them giving what we give customers in all these aspects. For example, if you want natural Oak flooring, Havwoods has the perfect permutation and combination of finish, texture, color, grading and price to suit your taste, decor, budget, requirement and everything else.

The price game is more a game of value for money in India. When a product meets all customer expectations in a tangible and intangible way, it is a winner at all times.

Given the maintenance required by the wooden floor, do you think you can obtain volumes in India?

Yes. The picture is very encouraging. A couple of years ago, wood was restricted to master bedrooms and MD cabins, but now it is seen in entire houses and offices. Living spaces, dens, guest bedrooms, hallways, etc. They are decorated with wooden floors. So, the potential is huge.

And yes, India has a safe dust problem as well as the maintenance and cleaning block. Therefore, we do not see wood floors that replace marble, tiles, ceramics, etc. in the near future. It will always remain a niche product in India.

But that said, with the growth of high-rise buildings, premium residences and tall towers and also the international exhibition through trips, films, etc., we see that the interest in the growth of wooden floors is a very positive development , this will lead to large numbers.

What about sustainability?

Havwoods is a responsible global flooring brand and understands the importance of keeping it green it has been offering FSC certified timber products for years.

We understand the effects of deforestation and we are committed to providing superior quality products that not only embody the beauty of wood but are responsible and of sustainable origin.

What percentage of your clientele is B2B?

With only one flagship store and three franchisees, B2B accounts for less than 5% of total sales, but with the network established for next year, we expect it to grow to around 40%.

How has your experience been so far in India?

We had a soft launch here in Mumbai 2 years ago and the experience so far is fantastic. Designers&end users are quite excited to see the wide range that Havwoods has to offer. It is a huge learning process as it is such a diverse market. We are honing our insights and understanding nuances thoroughly.

What stands out in our learning is that today's customer is very informed and is very demanding, therefore, very demanding, especially the high end. So we cannot be lax in our offers of products and services. We are moving forward with hope and caution.

What are the challenges?

There are many. The first is the mentality. Opening it for wood from the traditional stone floor. Then, educate customers, partners, labor and the market, especially from product to installation and maintenance, etc. A lot of effort is required to create awareness and training. And pricing, of course, so keeping our margins intact will definitely be a challenge.