by Steven Feldman
Dallas—Against the backdrop of some improving economic indicators that have helped rally floor covering sales, Abbey Carpet & Floor’s annual convention here saw its greatest attendance in the last five years. And paralleling the increase in bodies was a sense of optimism not seen at recent conventions.
The statistics cited by Steve Silverman, Abbey president and COO, spoke volumes about what can be expected for 2012.
•The 12.7% improvement in the fourth quarter vs. the third quarter of 2011 was the largest quarter-over-quarter increase seen in carpet since the downturn began.
•Carpet shipments in the first six weeks of this year were the strongest six-week period since the downturn began.
•First quarter carpet shipments are at least 2% to 3% better than fourth quarter 2011.
•The Commerce Department reported specialty flooring retailers had a 21% increase in December over November, the fifth consecutive month of increased sales, something that has not occurred since 2005.
•U.S. home resales surged 4.3% in January to an 18-month high.
Improving conditions have also been reflected in membership rolls, where the group signed twice as many members last year than in any of the previous five years, according to Silverman.
Why? “I think it’s because our program offers many components,” he explained, “and members can select the ones they feel will work best in their business. Nothing is mandatory. Also, every program is something a single store would like to do, but may not have the appropriate resources, such as a state-of-the art consumer website, cable TV ads, national consumer advertising, a homogeneous display system and private-label brands. Also, we have finally evolved to where we have enough people in the field to get that message out.”
The value of the national advertising to which Silverman alluded is invaluable. He said the group has passed more than 20,000 qualified leads to Abbey members since 2008 as a result of its national advertising, now in its sixth year. “No other retail group comes close to our level of national consumer advertising.”
Front and center of every retail group’s offering is its merchandising package, and this year’s program is “the best and most comprehensive we have ever had,” said David Hardy, executive vice president of merchandising, adding that this year’s introductions center around four critical adjectives: innovative, relevant, concise and non-repetitive. “Only products that meet consumer needs and are worthy of sample dollars are being introduced.”
The common thread, Hardy said, is value—meaning features and benefits such as color and style along with ease of maintenance and durability backed by warranties. That, coupled with installer and salesperson expertise, is a winning formula.
Specifically, Abbey brass was excited about the introduction of Infinity nylon fiber by American Showcase, the group’s second proprietary yarn offering and first from Shaw. It debuted the Mohawk-manufactured Softique in 2011.
Infinity consists of 34 products exclusive to Abbey, including loops, freizes, saxonies and more. The line offers high style along with superior durability and cleanability, Hardy said, adding Infinity is also one of the greenest fibers on the market, as it is cradle-to-cradle certified and can be continuously recycled.
Silverman said while Infinity and Softique share the same fiber type and price points, the similarities end there. “Infinity gives consumers the ability to have a greater variety of textures, constructions and colors from which to select under our private brand. It also gives members an additional display in which they feel comfortable with pricing and the additional profitability that pricing will generate.”
On the subject of Softique, Mohawk is building on its success with five new products: two LCLs, two loops and a 70-ounce texture. “The reception to Softique at its introduction in February 2011 was almost unanimous,” Silverman said. “The dramatic growth took place almost immediately, and subsequent growth each month thereafter in the number of displays purchased, means Softique will be one of our five best selling programs.”
Abbey is also capitalizing on Invista’s latest fiber introduction, TruSoft (FCNews, Jan. 9/16), by introducing members to the American Showcase Premier Stainmaster with TruSoft Collection, consisting of 13 styles from Shaw. The line will be housed in a new merchandising vehicle with a color wall as the focal point. A 60-day satisfaction guarantee along with a lifetime soil, stain and wear warranty builds consumer confidence. Samples are expected to ship this spring.
Dixie Home also rolled out four TruSoft products, joining four other styles being introduced that represent “great” values in premier Stainmaster products, Silverman said.
On the polyester side, Abbey introduced members to Lexmark Carpet Mills, the largest supplier of room carpets to the hotel industry since 1993. Lexmark this year recognized an opportunity to enter the residential business with solution-dyed polyester products. The company offers a low-cost position on fiber due to new, advanced extrusion technology. As such, Lexmark developed 25 colors in its product lineup while other suppliers have been limited to six to 10. Highly styled products include LCLs, freizes, pattern loops, textures and multicolors at price points that epitomize value.
The other new polyester program comes from Godfrey Hirst, the seventh largest carpet mill in the world that, until now, was known for its wool and wool- blend carpet. The company recently purchased a facility in Adairsville, Ga., and is moving into solution-dyed filament polyester with 17 Scotchgard-protected styles. “These products feature constructions not yet dominant on the retail scene,” Silverman said. “They are priced where retailers can make nice profits.”
Members were particularly excited about the polyester products from Lexmark and Godfrey Hirst. “The Lexmark products will be competitive with home centers’ solution-dyed polyester,” said Joe Sarubbi, Abbey Carpet of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. “And the fact they already supply carpet to major hotel chains will give us access to those lines.”
He also liked the idea of Godfrey making carpet in the U.S. “We sell a lot of its wool, so it will be nice to have the name associated with less expensive goods.”
Tim Baker, an Abbey dealer for 23 years with three stores in Tampa, Fla., said the new PETs from Godfrey are “really nice. The finishes are phenomenal. The color and luster have a great apparent value to the consumer.”
On the hard surface side, members were excited about a new custom program from Greyne Custom Wood Co. The South Carolina-based mill offers one-of-a-kind floors ranging from reclaimed to handscraped in walnut, hickory oak and cherry, all Made in the USA.
“I’m excited about the custom wood line,” said Sam O’Krent, owner of Abbey Carpet in San Antonio. “It’s a mid to high-end private label line for us. Anything we can do to build the private-label brand gives us a competitive advantage.”
Sarubbi agreed. “It won’t be for every customer, but if we sell one or two jobs a year it will be well worth having because of the margins, and it will help us sell other products in the store.”
Consumers can never experience Abbey dealers’ exclusive offerings if they don’t find their showrooms. That is why a primary goal this year is to help members find impactful and cost-effective ways to get their message across to potential customers, according to Barbara Wells, director of advertising.
One such way is via cable TV. It has not only become an affordable way for retailers to reach their target consumer—women —it reaches more every day than any other medium. Cable also delivers a targeted audience with such channels as HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Lifetime, etc.
To capitalize, the group is working with Media Brokers Interna-tional, a media buying and planning agency that places $80 million in advertising a year. For $1,000, Abbey members receive about 200 spots over a two-week period. The strategy is to advertise on the same networks to reach the same person over and over. “Repetition is key to growing your business by getting consumers to think of you first when they are looking to buy their new floor,” Wells said.
Six spots are available centering on Abbey’s competitive ad-vantages: locally owned, lifetime warranty, National Gold Tag Flooring Sale, Infinity, Softique and Legendary Beauty. The spots can also be customized.
“It’s a major initiative for us,” Silverman said, “and helps tie in-to our national advertising campaign and makes the Abbey name more prominent throughout the country.”
Sarubbi told FCNews he advertises on cable, but is getting “run-of-the-mill” times, like overnights. “I like the concept of making sure it is targeted to specific channels where women are. I try to do it myself, but it would be nice to have someone else monitor it. And the price is very reasonable—I’d pay more for the same air time on my own.”
Aside from exposing the TV-watching consumer to the Abbey brand, the group is focused on driving online consumers to member showrooms.
The strategy entails content, high rankings on search engines and a social media presence.
According to Fred Kotynski, director of technology, consumers are searching online and seek the right information in a visually appealing format. “The bar has been raised; consumers want more than a basic website.”
The first step is to create relevant content and enticing promotions on the home page. “There is nothing more important to your online success,” Kotynski said. “That attracts new customers and then drives them to your store.”
With that, Abbey unveiled two new, customizable home page options for members. One offers a main feature area that can contain a welcome message, promotional message, rotating feature images and more.
The second option offers a new content area at the bottom of the dealer’s home page, giving Abbey members the ability to add any important information deemed home page worthy: products, services, etc. That extended content also provides higher visibility by search engines like Google.
“Sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo are the lifeblood of your website,” Kotynski said. “65% of traffic to Abbey sites is generated through search engines, so you must be ranked high.”