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Abbey Floor & Carpet, New marketing, Main Street agenda take center stage

RENO, NEV.—Abbey Floor & Home pulled out all the stops for its annual convention here Feb. 18 to 22, unveiling a myriad of programs and services to give members additional tools to grow their businesses. Among the highlights were a new marketing foray into Main Street commercial, an expanded national print ad campaign along with new products and programs.
Many of the new initiatives were built on what has been done over the years, said Steve Silverman, president and COO of Abbey Carpet & Floor. “It was a natural evolution. We’ve had to change with the marketplace.” It seems to be working. Although the last three and a half years have been the worst the floor covering industry has seen, Abbey members have managed to increase market share, he claimed.
At the top of the new initiative list was the introduction of a Main Street commercial program. Providing marketing and advertising tools like mail fliers and postcards, Abbey is assisting its members in reaching a new market of designers, contractors and property managers. “Doctor’s offices, restaurants, other retail shops and religious centers in your community will all eventually need new flooring,” said Barbara Wells, director of advertising.

Although much emphasis was put on Web marketing, advertising through traditional mediums remains on the radar for 2010. Print ads in national magazines have been increased to 40 inserts, up from 32 last year, all targeting female consumers, the same audience for flooring retailers. This year Abbey will run ads in House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Elle Décor, Veranda, Kitchen & Bath Remodeling and Renovation Style, a publication owned by Woman’s Day.

In addition to higher frequency, the theme for the ads has been changed from “Every floor is a work of art” to “Love your floor year after year.” This reflects the consumer’s desire for value and fashion, according to Silverman, adding that Abbey members have been informed of which flooring is featured in the respective ads so they are prepared with the knowledge and samples of the products shown. “The print ad still steers her to our Web site, where we list all our local dealers in her area.”

In order to reach this new consumer, Abbey executives urged dealers to be sure their Web sites were up to date and ready to be shopped by the new consumer, who wants information available to her before she ever sets foot in the store. “81% of consumers conduct research on the Internet before going into your store,” Silverman said. “The Abbey Web site generated 10 million hits in 2009; we’re looking at around 100,000 per month for this year.”

The new consumer places an emphasis on the importance of locally owned, community- centric buying practices in addition to value. “In a recent survey, 73% of shoppers polled said they make an effort to sup- port local, neighborhood businesses,” Wells said. To that end, dealers can sign up for window graphics that boast, “We are a locally owned family business.The dollars you spend with us stay in our communi- ty.” The decal can be affixed to residential and commercial brochures, local ads and sales promotions. “Take that, big boxes,” Wells said triumphantly.

Shelly and Dennis Runolfson from Abbey Floor & Carpet in Spokane Valley, Wash., were impressed with the local seal. “We sell against a lot of big box stores, so we’re excited to put that signage in our window,” the couple said. “We’ve been in business for 36 years and it is hard to find things to get excited about.”

Products and suppliers
New vendors unveiled at convention included Cikel hardwood, Earthwerks LVT, Flexco rubber tile and sheet, Roppe rubber and sundries, Porcelanosa tile and wood, Mapei adhesives, Versatrim sundries, Legacy Floor Products stained concrete and Healthier Choice underlayments. New programs from existing suppliers like Anderson, Armstrong, Shaw, Columbia, Mannington and Max Windsor—including its new laminate program—help dealers take their showrooms to the next level.

“Abbey is completely in the floor covering business, from soup to nuts,” said Roger Pyatsky of Abbey Classic Carpet & Floor in Lake Grove, N.Y. “They provide everything.”

That sentiment resounded on the show floor. “Shaw’s new introductions are going to give the retailer who doesn’t stock rugs yet an advantage, especially financially,” said John Iskalis of American Floor Show inGurnee, Ill. “The interactive rug display shows 5,000-plus SKUs and automatically launches that dealer into the area rug game. It’s really user friendly.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Abbey’s multitude of offerings is the flexibility to choose and tailor initiatives to a member’s respective store. Personalizing corporate advertising programs is as easy as a click or a phone call away for members. “No request is too small for us to handle,” Wells said.

First-year member Scott Kuzma of TDC Interiors in Tucson, Ariz., joined the group to increase his retail business. As a design center, he was able to maintain profitable margins in regions of the state that were still experiencing new construction, like his location in Tucson. However his business in Phoenix needed a lift. “We’re familiar with the other buying groups, but we chose Abbey because it’s a la carte.”

Silverman agreed members choose the products and services they want. “We don’t force anything or mandate programs—the final choice to participate in a program is always left to that member,” he explained. “The retail floor covering business is the most difficult one can choose because every purchase is a custom order. We give retailers the tools to accomplish things they can’t do on their own.”

Rather than hiring professional motivational key- note speakers, industry experts came forward to offer perspective on economic recovery. Steve Griffith, vice president of residential for Invista, agreed with economists and pundits that the market has bottomed out. Unlike the smaller dips in the economy that drop in 18 months and take as long to recover, he reiterated this is the worst recession this country has seen since the Great Depression of 1929. “We’re most likely looking at a three- year recovery,” he said, and advised dealers to focus on selling segments that require the lowest levels of consumer confidence.

And John Godwin, executive vice president of residential flooring for Shaw Industries, touched on the housing market. “We can’t have a strong economy without a vibrant housing market, which is vital to our industry.”