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Gilford emphasizes American pride at dealer event

By Matthew Spieler

Volume 26/Number 22; March 18/25, 2013

Lawrenceburg, Ind.—With a message of American pride, Gilford Flooring hosted roughly two dozen suppliers and key retailers, including most of its 150-member Gilford Advantage Program (GAP) dealers, for its annual Preparing for Spring event here March 7 to 8.

Dennis Cook, president of the Midwestern distributor, said this year’s theme, “Pride in America,” was not about touting domestic products. Rather, it focused on the concept of honoring the men and women—along with their families—who sacrifice their lives to keep the country free and allow entrepreneurs, such as the many in the flooring industry, the opportunity to make their dreams come true. “It’s about what makes this country great and something we believe needed to be said.”

As part of the effort to honor those who have served their country, Dick Wallingford, Gilford’s senior vice president, said the wholesaler made a donation to the Wounded Warriors Project. “We didn’t just want to give a salute to our soldiers, we wanted to do something tangible. This a national organization that does wonderful work helping our veterans.”

The two-day event was also designed to “give value” to those who attended. Gilford not only brought together its suppliers in one setting, it hosted educational clinics focusing on moisture issues and how to sell at higher prices rather than sinking down to competitors’ levels. Also, industry training guru Sam Allman provided the keynote, presenting the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Retailers.”

While retailers across Gilford’s four-state territory had plenty of reasons to attend this year’s event, Cook said, “Many customers came with purchase orders in hand. Last year was our best year ever in both revenues and bottom line. We’re going into 2013 with a very positive attitude and to see our customers ready to buy tells us things are starting to rebound.”

He added this was the first time in years “we are seeing land being developed into subdivisions, builders putting up spec homes and model homes and an overall sense that real construction is taking place.”

Tom Simmons, owner of Premier Carpets and More Carpets-Plus ColorTile in Sellersburg, Ind., said business has been picking up. As a GAP dealer and member of Gilford’s 100K Club, he said, “We do a lot of business [with the distributor] because they do a good job with their products and programs and their people are focused on helping us succeed.”

Allen Gindt, retail manager of family owned Blakley’s Flooring in Indiana, said the “recession is in the rearview mirror. Customers are out there shopping; it’s our job to get them. We’ve built traffic back up to respectable levels. It’s similar to what it was last year but the big difference is we are writing more orders, which means there are more buyers as opposed to lookers. Our biggest strategies now are maintaining margins and growing sales as more people re-enter the marketplace.”

That’s where Gilford comes into play—from products to education. “The seminars this year were very timely,” he noted. “Gilford is a strong believer in private labels, which is something we like as we believe in building our own brand.”

More importantly, though, Gindt said Gilford’s customer service sets it apart. “The sales people are very attentive and are in our stores more than other companies’ reps.”

Adding to Gilford’s optimism was the addition last year of a new territory: Tennessee. Right now the company is in Knoxville, Nashville and the eastern part of the state, including Johnson City.

Dealers who experienced the distributor event for the first time were impressed with its customer-centric focus. Adam Houk of Johnson & Sons Flooring in Knoxville and the 2012 Southeast regional Mohawk ColorCenter of the Year winner, said he couldn’t be happier he gave Gilford a try. “We’re really big on one-day private sales and when we asked for help, they didn’t hesitate in asking what we need. To have someone be that attentive, how can you not be successful?”

Suppliers agree with dealers when it comes to Gilford going the extra mile.

Daniel Lang, vice president of sales and marketing for laminate supplier Inhaus, which named Gilford its 2012 Distributor of the Year (FCNews, February 18/25), said the wholesaler did a “great job helping us establish our brand. They were one of our first distributors when we launched in 2010 and each year they do a better and better job. We don’t offer a canned program, rather we let distributors select the products they want for their markets. With Gilford, some very sophisticated looks were chosen—the kinds of products you wouldn’t think would sell in its markets—and have become some of the best sellers.”

Even sundries companies gave Gilford high marks for its attention to customer service and supporting its vendors. Sonny Callaham, product marketing manager for Para-Chem, wishes “all distributors could be like Gilford. First, with this event, they wanted to focus on education, not selling, and that’s a secret to success. Secondly, its people are good about picking up the phone and asking. Gilford really values partnerships and relationships and that’s the next secret to success—realizing you can’t do it all by yourself.”

When it comes to its annual event, Cook concluded, “Most important are the relationships we build and the people we bring into the fold, especially into our GAP program. The sales we generate from this event will not make or break us. More importantly, we are developing long term partnerships and allowing our salespeople to strengthen their relationships with customers. It all comes down to the sales consultant and how he or she interacts with the retailer.