Q&A with Eco-Friendly Flooring entrepreneur Melissa Clements
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
In Brava Magazine, March (?) 2006
In 2001 Melissa Clements began a business with a little bamboo. Today Eco-Friendly Flooring offers non-toxic, sustainable and recycled materials to customers throughout the U.S. and Canada (only a quarter of sales are local), works with several design subcontractors and employs a handful of fulltimers including Melissa’s husband, Robert. With his years of experience with floor installation, remodeling and customer service, he oversees logistics and installation contracting. We caught up with Clements to find what lies beneath.
VVK: What do you love most about your business?
MC: I love to open the door to clients. Many people think that environmentally friendly products are out of their reach financially, but I have lots of products that are actually quite competitive against their non-eco counterparts. Projects actually become doable for people.
VVK: How did you come to start Eco-Friendly Flooring?
MC: I have a background in international sales and marketing. Through my travels, I witnessed bamboo being used in a variety of applications and was fascinated by the possibilities of introducing it in our area. When I was laid off from my job at a local software company, I tested the market for bamboo with some pilot projects, and it really took off from there. My family are all builders, so I have always been in and around residential construction and design. This, coupled with my own chemical sensitivities, provided a solid background and understanding for the best way to market the products.
VVK: How has having your own showroom helped?
MC: I moved [from a home office] into the Madison Enterprise Center in September 2002. I think it is very helpful for local customers to see the product installed over a large area versus just seeing a small sample.
VVK: What has been your greatest challenge?
MC: Striking a balance between business and personal time. With a fast-growing business and a two-year-old, we have very little time to unwind. We’ll often work 80 hours a week to keep up with growth.
VVK: Who is your typical customer?
MC: Well-educated, discerning homeowners who are interested in finding a non-toxic, durable, beautiful and affordable floor.
VVK: What’s your most popular flooring, and where do people put it?
MC: For new construction, bamboo for main living areas like dining, living and kitchen areas. For remodels, cork. Our clients like to use it in kitchens because it’s comfortable to stand on, easy to install and can be put in directly over the existing floor without a messy tear-out.
VVK: What’s your favorite flooring?
MC: I like our floating linoleum flooring planks with an interlocking tongue and groove. They just float over top of the existing floor. You don’t need any glue or nails to put them in. I am drawn to the saturated color selection of this type of flooring, as it lends itself to funky, creative design.
VVK: What are the most exciting trends you see?
MC: More suppliers for cork. As the wine industry moves to using more plastic for bottle stoppers, cork farmers in Europe are looking for ways to expand their offerings, and are starting to make flooring. As supply increases, price typically drops, so this will make the market larger for us.
I am also seeing many more physician referrals for clients with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, or intolerance to plastics and vinyls and the chemicals they emit. These consumers seek out healthier products that don’t make them sick.
VVK: What do you see in the future?
MC: I think that more and more big-name manufacturers of flooring will introduce a “green” offering in their lineups. This will increase consumer awareness of the products, and will lead to more competitive pricing and availability.