Aurora, Colo.—John Gilbert is coming up on his one-year anniversary as president of Carpet One Floor & Home. Some would argue he has already brought out some big changes (if not a fresher perspective) for the storied retail cooperative. FCNews caught up with Gilbert in between sessions at the recent Carpet One summer convention here to talk about his experience with the group thus far.
FCNews: What experiences have you gleaned from your prior management/leadership roles that you’ve brought to Carpet One?
Gilbert: Over the last 15 years or so I’ve served as CEO of turnaround businesses, sometimes in the restaurant space, retail and ecommerce. In those situations, getting into the role of leading a turnaround generally means you’re late in the process, you’re dealing with a brand in distress, and the main job is to squeeze as much cash out of it in the near term and then do some things on the timeline that gives the business sustainability going forward. It’s hard to do, and I haven’t been successful in everything I’ve tried to do it. It’s a high-stress vocation, but you learn a lot quickly.
One of the things I’ve been able to bring to my position here at Carpet One is a very keen sense of the complete business from a general management standpoint—not just marketing, human resources or financial expertise. I bring a complement of all those skills—knowing how to build a brand, hire, retain and in some cases let go of people who aren’t doing the job. I’m able to relate to the members of Carpet One across their business on a fairly broad level, and that helps me have credibility with the members.
FCNews: Comparing other industries you’ve worked in, are there issues that cross over into flooring?
Gilbert: The common issues I found is floor covering retailers worry about the same things in other industries. For example, making payroll every week. I know what it’s like to have two stacks of bills on the conference table and having to make the decision in terms of one that’s going to get paid on time vs. one that’s not. I know what it’s like to have to call a supplier and let them know they have to wait another week or two to get paid on top of having already waited two weeks. So from that I’ve brought some fresh ideas in terms of how retailers should be thinking about their P&Ls. For example, where are the extra sources of cash within those P&Ls? It’s also important to have a keener understanding and more precise focus on discounting and pricing. After all, pricing is the fastest way to improve cash flow to the bottom line.
FCNews: In light of all we’ve read about the state of retail, what’s your outlook for Carpet One Floor & Home members?
Gilbert: There’s no question that I’m optimistic about the future for our members. We have 600-some-odd members that own their businesses, we have an excellent balance sheet, and we have tremendous relationship with our customers at the local level. This is a solid company. I don’t know what the economy will present in terms of challenges; I’m not even going to try to guess. I don’t have a lot of concerns about the group’s ability to survive and thrive regardless of what gets thrown at us.
(Look for more on the Carpet One Floor & Home summer convention in the Aug. 5/12 edition of FCNews.)