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Distributors’ perspective: Helping retailers embrace technology

October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Torrey Jaeckle

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-03-14-pmOne look at the displays in any retail flooring store these days and it’s easy to see that our industry is rife with innovation. The explosion of product innovation we’ve seen over the past decade is astounding, and something to be proud of. Unfortunately, when it comes to implementing technology on the operational sides of our businesses, our industry is often behind the curve.

The fcB2B standard has been in existence for over 10 years now, but is still a widely underutilized technology throughout our supply chain. Many organizations, including some NAFCD distributor members, have invested significantly in the ability to bring operational efficiencies to their customers. Yet so few retail customers take advantage of leveraging this investment. Why is that?

To be sure, many retailers are currently taking in fcB2B product catalogs from their distributor and manufacturer partners. But there is a hesitancy to taking the next step toward submitting purchase orders and receiving invoices and other documents in the fcB2B world. It is unclear why that is. Fear, trust and lack of resources could all be possibilities. Whatever the reason, I can assure retailers that their NAFCD distributor partners are ready, willing and able to help walk them through those next steps.

The specialty retail floor covering dealer has so much more to offer the consumer than the generic big-box stores. But the big boxes continue to make strides against the specialty dealer. If the specialty retail floor covering dealer is to compete effectively against these larger companies, they need to not only offer higher levels of service and assistance, but also exhibit operational efficiency as well. Consumers understand that you get what you pay for. They will, therefore, pay for higher levels of service, design help, quality products and professional installation. However, they will not pay for non-value-added activities. Are you still paying someone to call or fax in your purchase orders? Do you still have someone manually enter every invoice you receive? Do you still maintain your own product database of the many products you sell? If so, linking up electronically with your NAFCD distributor partners could bring great benefits.

So what can we all do to help move our industry forward? For retailers currently not engaged in fcB2B, contact your fcB2B-enabled suppliers to get started. If you are a retailer currently taking in fcB2B product catalogs but nothing else, contact your suppliers to start the process.

For fcB2B-enabled distributors and manufacturers, begin supplying data to the fcB2B association on a monthly basis. fcB2B is currently collecting data as to the extent of fcB2B usage in our industry. The only way to propel our industry forward is to collectively measure our progress. That is only possible if fcB2B suppliers anonymously share their data.

We’ve come a long way as an industry over the past 10 years, but there is still so much more we can do. In today’s environment, using technology to increase operational efficiency is not a luxury–it’s a must. I can assure every flooring retailer that their NAFCD distributor partners are here to help, wherever they are on the fcB2B continuum. We’ve already made the investments, and we invite retailers to reap the rewards.

 

Torrey Jaeckle is vice president of Jaeckle Distributors, a Madison, Wis.-based distributors of flooring and countertop surfacing products. He also serves on the executive committee of the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors. Outside of business, Torrey has written several op-ed pieces for the Wisconsin State Journal on educational issues.