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My take: The Domotex USA post mortem

March 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 20

By Steven Feldman

 

I awoke on the morning of Feb. 28 to a torrential downpour. I took a peek out my downtown Atlanta hotel room window and watched as traffic began to build. It was the morning of Domotex USA’s much anticipated debut. Was this going to prove an ominous harbinger of things to come at the Georgia World Congress Center?

Two and a half days later, the jury was still out. Was Domotex USA a success? In a word, depends. Depends on the true expectations of show management. If expectations were that this would be a competitor to Surfaces, a show that would attract a throng of East Coast retailers, then Informa has nothing to worry about. If the goal was to connect manufacturers with manufacturers and manufacturers with distributors—that may be another story.

Many in this industry have been asking for my takeaways. Based on conversations I had with attendees and the exhibitors who gave the upstart show a shot, here’s what I gleaned…

1. The sentiment from exhibitors was the show was much too late. Domotex had no choice. Atlanta this year played host to the Super Bowl, rendering earlier dates impossible due to a scarcity of hotel accommodations. Next year’s show dates are Feb. 5-7, smack on the heels of Surfaces. Some told me they thought Domotex should have waited until 2020 to launch.

2. Basically every exhibitor told me they saw precious few retailers, and those they did see were local with maybe a scattering from Florida. Conversely, they were seeing small and mid-sized distributors and manufacturers. They called it a manufacturer networking show. It didn’t come as the greatest surprise given Domotex approached FCNews, the most influential publication for retailers, with a pittance of a budget compared to other shows that attempted to launch an East Coast event to promote to you—retailers. That didn’t inspire much confidence on our part. One manufacturer who requested anonymity said they brought more people to the show than retailers they saw.

3. I did see some high-profile retailers walking around. Floor & Décor had a contingent of about five people, and there was Jason McSwain, president of the National Floorcovering Alliance. Then again, Floor & Décor is based in nearby Smyrna, Ga.

4. Many manufacturers that passed on exhibiting chose to walk the show, taking the proverbial “wait-and-see” approach. Each and every one I spoke with told me attendance, or lack thereof, justified their decision—a decision that will not change for next year’s event.

5. On the other hand, most companies that did exhibit said they will return next year, believing they need to give Domotex USA a couple of years to prove its worth. And then there are companies like The Dixie Group, which will return because the Dalton-based company wants to support Georgia.

6. Many exhibitors said the impetus for exhibiting this year was their strong relationship with Domotex by virtue of its Germany and China events. Others cited the fact it is much less expensive than Surfaces. That’s why you saw some exhibitors in Atlanta that otherwise sneak suites or hold off-site events during Surfaces.

7. Everyone questioned Saturday hours. The unanimous sentiment was that two days are more than sufficient.

8. The center stage on the show floor was a good idea. The seminars/ presentations were easily accessible.

At the end of the day, the future of Domotex USA will rest on whether the industry determines the need for an East Coast trade show on the heels of Surfaces. Remember, many East Coast retailers will already have attended Surfaces, the Shaw and Mohawk regionals, Carpet One/Flooring America or some combination thereof before Domotex.

These shows are somewhat symbiotic: If the manufacturers come, retailers will follow. If retailers show up, manufacturers sign on. One doesn’t happen without the other. Or it doesn’t happen at all.

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My take: Dancing for kids with cancer

February 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 19

By Steven Feldman

 

So, I was talking to my son the other day, which is a miraculous feat in and of itself. It’s not that he isn’t a great kid; he certainly is. But, he’s 20. For those of you who have teenagers or 20-something year-olds, you can probably relate. Life spent with face buried in phone. Selective hearing. Unable to commit to plans more than 30 seconds in advance. Always looking for the BBD (bigger, better deal).

Anyway, I made the mistake of doing the unfathomable—asking what he was doing the weekend on April 5. Yes, nearly two months in advance. A question usually met with a blank stare. Much to my surprise, he immediately parted his face from his phone, risking a case of separation anxiety, and assertively told me he was participating in a dance marathon.

Ummm, huh?

Harris is a junior at Rutgers University, and it turns out his fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT), is actively involved in the Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM), which is the largest, student-run philanthropic event in New Jersey. It is a weekend of no-sitting and no-sleeping. The 27-hour event brings together more than 2,000 people, including dancers and volunteers. RUDM’s mission is to provide emotional and financial support for children who are a part of Embrace Kids Foundation. RUDM participants dance to help raise funds and awareness that goes toward Embrace Kids Foundation’s mission to support the non-medical needs of children with cancer, sickle cell and other serious disorders. It addresses the spiritual, emotional and financial needs of patient families in the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan area. More than 3,200 children and families have received assistance over its 27-year history.

Students often dance as part of teams representing their student organizations in a mutual effort to raise funds. RUDM is high energy, filled with activities, games, live bands and food to engage participants. In the finale, patient families join a large dance party on the floor.

RUDM is not limited to one weekend in spring. It is a year-long effort to raise funds and awareness for children with cancer and blood disorders. Children and their families who are a part of Embrace Kids Foundation are paired with fraternities, sororities and organizations across Rutgers University. The pairing ensures children and their families have a support system at the University and feel like they are a part of the Rutgers community. The college students provide comfort, friendly faces and fun during trying times. They visit the children during treatment and engage them with fun activities. Additionally, students and families meet outside of treatment for parties, sporting events and movies. The idea is to make a family’s time through treatment much easier by being a fun escape during a difficult journey.

In 2018, RUDM raised a record-breaking $1,055,468, every penny of which went to Embrace Kids Foundation. In fact, since 1999, RUDM has raised more than $7.9 million for the foundation. The money raised has helped countless families in the tri-state area cope with the numerous challenges of pediatric cancer.

Why am I mentioning it here? Benevolence and helping those in need is a big part of the culture here at FCNews. Whether we are creating awareness for what others are doing, like Shaw’s involvement with St. Jude, volunteering our time or administrating the FCNews Fantasy Football League for a Cause—which has resulted in donations surpassing $130,000 these past few years—we know our role here is about more than flooring. And in the spirit of transparency, I couldn’t be more proud of my son for doing this. And here’s the obligatory shameless plug: Anyone wishing to support the cause can log on to Harris’ page: tinyurl.com/y35o9q3r.

Meantime, no sitting or sleeping for 27 hours? Good luck to each and every one of them. They know they are doing it for a good cause.

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My take: Page 25 from my Surfaces diary

February 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 18

By Steven Feldman

 

Dear Diary,

 

So here we are again, adding yet another page to this diary that began 25 years ago. Yes, 25. Silver anniversary. Time does fly. I remember walking around the Sands Convention Center in 1995 like it was yesterday with only two thoughts: Get me the hell out of here, and I can’t go back to the horse racing industry soon enough. Two and a half decades later, you couldn’t pry me from this industry with a crowbar.

Interesting story: The first person I talked to at my Surfaces debut was Michael Raskin. Stumbled upon his booth (it’s a phrase; I was sober) where we got to talking. Turned out the best man at his wedding interned for me at a horse racing magazine in 1986. Totally random. Twenty-five years later Michael was the first person I stumbled upon at Eye Candy the Monday before the show began (not making any sobriety statements this time).

Anyway, it still blows my mind how we prepare for this show for months with such anticipation, and it’s over in a flash. It’s a virtual whirlwind—gym, breakfast meetings, show, cocktail receptions, dinners, late-night meet-ups at Eye Candy. I was even somehow coaxed to exit my comfort zone and go zip-lining. Such are the trials and tribulations of Surfaces week.

So, what were my takeaways from Surfaces, er, TISE? First, SPC, rigid core, SPC, rigid core. Everyone has their own iterations. I saw a bunch putting 1.2mm real wood veneers on top of the core. Many put their own spin on the core. It’s kind of like where we were with laminate in the late 1990s. Hopefully the category will endure and avoid the proverbial race to the bottom.

Next thing: The Surfaces show floor is becoming increasingly populated with Asian companies. Practically all are seeking OEM or private-label business. Many hardly speak English. Here’s a business idea for the Informa folks—provide translators. It can only help business. My business partner, Dustin Aaronson, has been advocating this for years.

What about traffic? Most exhibitors I spoke with felt traffic was off a bit, but the quality of attendee was as good or better than in years past. No one I spoke with felt the impending Domotex USA show had any impact; rather, it was the Shaw Flooring Network event on top of the show and the CCA shows the week before.

As for products, COREtec Stone to me is a home-run product. It may be a category unto itself. It doesn’t compete with anything except stone or ceramic, and it installs at (I’m guessing) half the price and half the time. Piet Dossche, the genius, refuses to rest on his laurels.

For the second year in a row, I was impressed with the Arte Mundi space. Their wood products are truly unique.

The aforementioned Raskin parlayed his fascination with Brooklyn into a namesake collection that drew rave reviews.

Reconnecting: Happy to see old friend Mara Villenueva-Heras, the former VP of marketing at Armstrong, back in the game, taking the same position with Emser just weeks before the show. Along the same lines, good to see another old friend, Jean-Sebastien Roy, stepping in at Preverco, hopefully for the long haul. Last but not least, Keith Wiethe resurfaced at Home Legend; it had been a long time.

Random thoughts: You can always count on Mohawk to make a big splash, and it did not disappoint by closing the show on Thursday with The Band Perry… If Provenza is not on your radar it should be… PR people are an interesting breed—most are assets but some are impediments; just saying... Apologies to Beauflor’s Nick Brown if I harassed him on the treadmill at 6 a.m…. I truly believe Cleo from Congoleum will be a hit… If Eye Candy shut down at midnight I think we’d all be better off… Remember this name: Celeste; no, it’s not a supermodel—it’s a brand you will be hearing about this year… Mannington’s new products always overwhelm... Team Finkell—Don, Allie and Emily Morrow—continue to put their best foot forward with their respective brands… Wickham’s booth was a deserving Best of Surfaces winner… Just when I could tell the difference between Bob Shaw’s identical twin grandkids, Joe and Will Young, they get haircuts… Tip of the week: How do you get through Surfaces in one piece? One word: Prednisone.

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My take: Nine retail trends to consider for 2019

January 21/28, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 17

By Steven Feldman

If you go online and search for “retail trends in 2019,” you will find hundreds of trends and predictions. Since FCNews’ focus is on the retailer, and this second issue of 2019 coincides with Surfaces, the premier retailer event in our industry, I thought it would be timely to highlight nine trends that might be of interest to our readers.

  1. Facebook becomes a retailer. Amazon and Google may have cornered the market on explicit search, but Facebook knows what consumers implicitly want better than they know themselves. After all, consumers tell Facebook far more about themselves—by way of their social media activity—than they tell Amazon and Google. This dynamic is why the rise of social commerce is probably the most important trend that will impact retail over the next several years.
  2. Private label will grow online. Over the last several years, retailers have doubled down on private-label lines to differentiate in a new retail landscape where customers are inundated with an unprecedented number of places and ways to buy the same goods. Sales of private-label products are now three times higher than branded products, according to research firm CB Insights. Building up private-label brands is expected to continue, but if retailers are hoping to get the best bang for their buck, they’ll need to invest in the visibility of those brands online.
  3. Retail as a service to expand. Retailers are exploring options to create a more personalized experience for consumers—and for good reason. Accenture and the Retail Industry Leaders Association released data earlier this month that indicated more consumers than ever want retailers to personalize their shopping experiences. Of consumers surveyed, 63% indicated they were interested in personalized recommendations.
  4. Investments in the retail workforce will grow. The retail employment landscape is shifting, hiring is on the rise and the labor market is tighter and much more competitive. Plus, these days, the role of a retail sales associate calls for more than just sales and store admin—they must evolve from salespeople to consultants and experts. “Retailers that win…will deliver a meaningful human interaction that gives consumers confidence in what to buy,” said Nick Stagge, vice president of marketing at ExpertVoice. “This requires an increased responsibility in hiring, training and empowering sales associates to put the customer interaction first.”
  5. Retailers that offer compelling in-store experiences will flourish. People don’t flock to retail locations because it’s convenient (some still do, but “convenience” usually means shopping online). Modern consumers make the effort to head to physical retail stores because of the experience they get in the store. Some do it because they crave the social component of shopping; others do it because they love the excitement of treasure hunts and product discovery. Then there are those who want to touch and feel products for themselves. Retailers need to be attuned to the reasons why their customers shop offline, and then adjust to fit those needs.
  6. Back-office solutions and innovations will be at the forefront. From warehouse operations to inventory management, more effective logistics to enhanced customer service, consumers are demanding more efficient, more personalized expectations than ever before. Retailers can start to bolster their back-office operations by evaluating their processes and technologies to identify areas for improvement. If you’re unable to offer a seamless shopping experience between digital and brick-and-mortar, then it’s time to integrate your online and offline systems.
  7. Emerging payment options will gain traction. The process of ringing up sales continues to be a critical component of brick-and-mortar retail, and the checkout process is evolving. It may behoove you to explore emerging payment options such as mobile payments, particularly as younger shoppers—millennials and Generation Z—increasingly walk into your store. If your customers want to pay using their mobile device, or if they’re looking for more flexible payment options, look into the different payment types you can offer.
  8. Sustainability will be a major focus. This year more retailers will invest in sustainability as consumers choose to align themselves with businesses that support their values. In 2018, a number of companies expanded their sustainability efforts. For example, REI enforced sustainability standards for its 1,000 vendors, and North Face launched its Renewed line of damaged and refurbished items to further waste reduction. As such, retailers will improve on their practices to ensure they’re selling and delivering products in ways that aren’t harmful to the environment or society.
  9. Mobile messaging will provide a competitive advantage. Mobile messaging adoption has seen an upward trajectory in the last several years and it won’t slow anytime soon. Mobile phone messaging app users are expected to increase from 2.01 billion in 2018 to 2.18 billion in 2019. If you’re looking for a better way to reach your customers, mobile could be just the channel you need. When used correctly, instant messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger can be effective tools in addressing customer questions and sending product updates.
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My take: Ten more retailer resolutions for 2019

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Steven Feldman

 

Let me begin this first column of 2019 by wishing our readers a Happy New Year from all of us at Floor Covering News. Here’s hoping 2019 brings you everything you wish for yourselves both professionally and personally.

As I’ve done the past few years, I thought it would be appropriate to use this first column of 2019 to reprint a portion of something that lands in my email every year from Pami Bhullar, retail trainer extraordinaire from Invista. Bhullar continues his tradition of creating his New Year’s resolutions for flooring professionals. He believes if retailers can implement at least three of the following 10 objectives, they will see improved results. The foundation of this year’s resolutions is the belief the industry will continue to shrink due to the longevity of the hard surface replacement cycle and many other factors. It may be harder for the smaller retailers to strive without alignments. Therefore, the success of retailers may depend on the ability to sell better flooring.

Without further ado…

  1. Vision 2020: Ask yourself where you want to be at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2020. Vision 2020 means having a clear vision. Set your goals for the end of 2020 and plan how much you want to accomplish in 2019. This is a great way to inspire your team. You can make your projections monthly or quarterly.
  2. Be organized: Everyone tells you to be organized but very seldom does someone shows you how. Here is a simple process: Create an electronic list of your daily tasks (using a tool such as Microsoft Outlook, Word or PowerPoint). We are wired to do the easy things—we can do more and feel good. Look for the difficult ones that create the most value for you, your company, your customers and for society, and do those first. Take care of the big rocks first; the smaller ones will find their place.
  3. Upgrade three of your favorite products to newer and better ones: Most of us have our favorite products and gravitate toward those. If so, find new favorites that are better and get to know their benefits for customers. Practice your pitch and be comfortable with it.
  4. Avoid five big mistakes: There are five mistakes many sales pros make: No. 1, not making a systematic presentation with a plan; No 2, not asking for permission to ask questions; No. 3, not telling your story detailing your competitive advantage; No. 4, taking the customer to product too quickly without understanding her needs, wants and values; and No. 5, getting into the price discussion too prematurely.
  5. Ask for money the right way: Most salespeople have a hard time asking for money or a deposit. I have heard so many times, “We require a 50% deposit.” Require is a very harsh word. I recommend you talk about all the benefits you have offered and then say, “It comes to $$$$. How would you like to take care (not pay) of it today?” You may be surprised by the outcome.
  6. Partner with manufacturer reps: Your mill and fiber reps are a great source of knowledge. The better the relationships, the higher the odds for success. Get to know them, and ask questions to gain confidence.
  7. Impossible vs. I’m possible: A very small effort changes something from impossible to I’m possible. Nelson Mandela once said, “Everything seems impossible until it’s done.” Figure out different ways of doing it instead of just thinking it can’t be done. You get results when you focus.
  8. Be the change: We all like others to change, which is hard. Why don’t you bring the change in you? The world is changed by your actions and examples, not your opinions. Now change one thing to be a better you in 2019.
  9. Try, try again: We have heard throughout history that winners keep trying until they succeed. Perseverance prevails. Remember if you “FAIL” it is First Attempt In Learning; if you get to an “END” it is Effort Never Dies and if you get a “NO” it means Next Opportunity.
  10. Live a principled life: Honesty, integrity and hard work should be the hallmarks of one’s life. We can always leave more than what we got so this planet becomes better every day. Worry not whose favor the outcome is if you work on your principle. Worry not who gets the credit. The world will know one day all your contributions.
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My take: Another visit from St. Nicholas

December 24/31, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 15

By Steven Feldman

 

Back by popular demand, round 3...

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
We were walking on RevWood, which isn’t laminate like Faus.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes our advertisers would give us more share.

The FCNews team all snug in their beds,
Dreaming about 2019 and what lies ahead.
Dustin and Nadia, listing those good and bad
As they were trying to secure just one last ad.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Followed by Lindsay and Ken, Megan and Reg,
Facing Surfaces deadlines so a bit on edge.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Eight tiny reindeer and a little old driver bellowing “whoa.”
I knew in an instant it must be St. Nick
It was not a BMW so it could not have been Mike Blick.

I walked outside and he began to approach,
He whistled and shouted, and asked for Piet Dossche.
“I need him to reveal who’s been naughty and nice;
“If he’s not here I’ll need your advice.”

“You asked me that last year,” I said with a smile;
“It’s just that judging people is not my style.
Instead I will give you much to construe
As I will now provide the year in review.”

The first bit of big news that would have occurred
Was Armstrong parting ways with William M. Bird.
The manufacturer decided it was time to switch gears;
So much for a relationship that spanned 82 years.

Later in the year it would unload its wood;
Don Maier cited low profits despite doing all he could.
The company now sells only vinyl floors;
LVT, sheet, VCT and, of course, rigid cores.

Domotex announced plans for an East Coast show;
Others have failed so “why” I don’t know.
Challenging Surfaces may be just plain crazy;
I’ll put my money on Gilmore, Teague and Swayze.

Congoleum launched Cleo, a whole new brand
Hitting the streets took longer than planned.
It’s a new type of flooring the company will assert;
Kudos to the braintrust—Chris and Kurt.

The faces at Abbey bore nothing but smiles
With suppliers unveiling new designs and styles.
There was no smell in the air of anything rotten;
The man who caused angst all but forgotten.

Often things happen in one fell swoop
Like Haines pulling out of the Bravo Group.
The company said it was not worth the time and expense
So it decided to save the dollars and cents.

Later in the year Haines made more news
Just when Hanukkah was being celebrated by the Jews.
We’re not sure how long the board was planning
To replace Mike Barrett with our friend Hoy Lanning.

Shaw’s Bellera was one of the year’s biggest hits
Carpet loaded with features and benefits.
Retailers continue to sing its praises
With a high-performance story that truly amazes.

Industry icons would gain acclaim
Like Harold Chapman called to WFCA’s Hall of Fame.
A few months later it was Rite Rug’s Goldberg’s turn
As FCNews’ Lifetime Achievement he would earn.

QEP made another purchase, this time Kraus,
Adding to its portfolio which includes Harris Wood and Faus.
This may be the company’s 20th brand;
Marketing them, however, is something they don’t understand.

Ashlie Butler did something really smart,
Poaching Dave Snedeker from Nebraska Furniture Mart.
We saw both of them at her Christmas gala;
Hopefully they’re done expanding to Ocala.

Alliance’s deal with Nationwide was a home run;
Gotta give credit to Teams Logue and Dunn.
The group keeps growing; members are zealous
Despite poor advertising decisions from one Dave Ellis.

Tariffs forced some prices to jump,
It evens the playing field, said President Trump.
Domestic manufacturers came out in favor;
Comments from importers were of a different flavor.

Despite our balanced coverage, one went into a rage
So with this magazine he chose to disengage.
He had someone else email rather than pick up the phone;
Asking for a meeting was like talking to a stone.

While the industry homed in on millennial homebuyers
It had to contend with devastating hurricanes and fires.
These tragedies leave us anything but thrilled
But at least there’s a silver lining when it comes time to rebuild.

Mohawk replaced Carson with a man named DeCock
He’s charged with boosting sales and, with that, the stock.
To be retailers’ best partner the company would allege
Through its new go-to-market strategy they’re calling Edge.

We went to convention to see the big fuss
Among which were Pergo and RevWood Plus.
The marketing programs were anything but random
Led by the Omnify and Five Star tandem.

My last trip of the year was a farewell to a friend;
Ed Duncan’s 40-year career has come to an end.
Early on he withstood the Mannington Gold storm;
More recently he marketed Adura and NatureForm.

St. Nick then thanked me and said with a laugh,
“Tell me a few things about your FCNews staff
You’ve given me so many reviews;
Now tell me a few things about Floor Covering News.”

Well, Dustin Aaronson is our advertising predator;
Reggie Tucker happens to be the best managing editor.
When it comes to what we do online daily
There’s no one better than Lindsay Baillie.

Megan Salzano is our newest star
She’s worked for the Weekly but never Kemp Harr.
Ken Ryan is about as professional as it gets
Nadia Ramlakhan and Frank N. are two great assets.

When it comes to us I feel quite blessed
To be considered by many to be the best.
Our competitors also work hard, most are friends
Like Dave Madonia and Tanja Kern, who head up Floor Trends.

As for our readers, I wish continued health,
And anything we can do to improve their wealth.
Whether it’s a manufacturer of flooring or those who own stores,
Our goal in the end is to help sell more floors.

And with that St. Nick sprang to his sleigh
And away he flew to be on his way.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

In all seriousness, our heartfelt gratitude to all of you for reading and supporting FCNews throughout the year. We couldn’t do what we do without you. The friendships I have with many are you are invaluable. Happy holidays to everyone, and we’ll catch you on the other side in 2019.

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My take: Journalists who paid the ultimate price get their due

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Steven Feldman

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Time magazine’s choice for 2018 Person of the Year. Titled “The Guardians and the War on Truth,” the magazine feted multiple members of the press—all of whom have either been killed or imprisoned in service of telling hard truths. As journalists ourselves here at FCNews, the announcement led me to reflect on what we aim to do every single day and the challenges we face and repercussions with which we are forced to deal. Of course, what we do here pales in comparison to the sacrifices others have made and will make, but in some small way you feel a kinship. They are our brothers and sisters in our chosen career paths.

For those who may have been orbiting the planet for the past week or so, “The Guardians” includes a Washington Post columnist who was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of Maryland’s Capital Gazette, which lost five of its small staff after someone shot up the newsroom in July, but it kept publishing through their grief; a legal target in the Philippines for championing democracy under the rule of an increasingly authoritarian regime; and a pair of journalists imprisoned in Myanmar for almost a year now for exposing the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims.

Journalists are not perfect. We all don’t look to save the world, but we do endeavor to make a difference in our own ways. We type up stories and columns every day, and we do important work, whether it’s reporting on a new product, covering a trade show or revealing the latest trends. The work we do is important for our little corner of the world, which just happens to be the flooring world. Others may pen an expose´ of shady spending at charter schools or review the new local restaurant. These stories have real value in our communities.

But the people Time honored, well, that’s the heavy lifting. What they do allows us to do what we do. They clear the way for us. They dare to describe what’s going on in front of them, often risking their lives in the process.

Here at FCNews we never have to worry about risking our lives when we report a news story. We never burn a bridge or anger someone to the point where they take matters to the extreme. Controversial stories are few and far between. But when those do occur, we seek fairness and balance on both sides equitably.

Unfortunately, that may result in us paying the price. Literally. Take the tariff situation. While the industry at large applauded us for balanced coverage, one company that will remain nameless took offense and chose to disengage with the magazine. The price we paid? Nothing close to our lives but rather significant advertising revenue. Years ago another company expressed its displeasure with our choice for a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and has boycotted the magazine ever since. I could go on.

As well, what happened at the Capital Gazette could unfortunately happen to any journalist sitting at his desk at any magazine at any time where someone becomes consumed by anger and enacts revenge by taking lives. That’s the world we live in.

These people, these journalists, have made sacrifices. All of us—not just journalists, but everyone who values a free society—would be poorer without them. Were these “Guardians” the right choice for Person of the Year? Trump? Putin? Mueller? Markle? Coogler? Moon Jae-in? Separated families? March for Our Lives activists? I guess you could make a case for all of them. But I’m glad a few of our own—those who have paid the ultimate price—received their well-deserved recognition.

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My take: DuChâteau—Daring to be different

November 26/December 3, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 12

By Steven Feldman

 

It’s been 10 years since DuChâteau pioneered that wide-plank, long-length, oil-finished hardwood flooring that remains so popular today. If it’s true what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, then co-owner Mitch Tagle must feel like the belle of the ball. I recently caught up with Tagle, and after a few beers and glasses of wine we got to talking about how DuChâteau has not only evolved but also provides value to the flooring retailer.

With a reputation built on a high-end product portfolio featuring European oak, Tagle believes DuChâteau has evolved from a wood flooring supplier into a lifestyle company rooted in fashion and design. He defines lifestyle as the entire look and feel of the room. It’s about bringing life and energy to a home. It’s about participating in a way of life. It’s not just providing a floor—it’s the look, the feel, the energy, the emotion that it brings to the space.

Truth be told, DuChâteau has been forced to evolve, given the plethora of companies that have capitalized on that European oil-finished visual, and in many instances offering product at much lower price points than the original. The response to this point has been innovative looks and styles. “We create; they copy,” Tagle told me. “People are always looking at what we are doing.”

As the publisher of this magazine, I am always interested in ways a company can help retailers make money. I asked Tagle. He first cited the branding: It’s upper end, sounds nice, the gold shields. However, he also believes the company offers retailers something special—something unique and interesting. The word he used was “prestige.” That transcends to its San Diego headquarters with a look and feel that epitomizes the DuChâteau product offering. If you can discern the difference between a Kia and Mercedes dealership, then this is the Bentley of flooring nerve centers.

Another way DuChâteau is helping retailers is through its website. Rather than offering a dealer locator, the consumer is connected to one of 40 DuChâteau representatives located throughout the U.S. who act as a pseudo personal shopper. That rep will eventually guide her to the appropriate dealer, where they meet. That retailer now has a strong chance of getting the sale because someone is now bringing a qualified consumer to his doorstep predisposed to purchasing a DuChâteau floor.

DuChâteau is also somewhat unique in how it has handled the tariff situation to this point. Rather than raising prices 10% in response to the first wave of tariffs—as most others have—DuChâteau has actually cut prices. How? Why? Tagle cited the strategic alliance it has with its suppliers. It has been able to source product at a better price point and in doing so pass those savings to the retailer and consumer.

While DuChâteau products remain at the higher end of the spectrum, today a portion of its portfolio is a little bit more affordable to the masses, or “affordable luxury” as Tagle calls it. How does that happen? “We look at exactly the type of product our competitors are selling and at what price point. Then we ask ourselves what we can do to get us within those ranges and provide product that is superior within that price point.”

DuChâteau also branched out into resilient with a unique twist. Given it has some of the best wood visuals on the market, DuChâteau took those high-end designs and replicated them in LVT. Tagle noted how many companies actually buy designs from the same film houses even though they’re manufacturing in different factories around the world. DuChâteau created its own print films from its hardwood offerings, and then those print films are turned into the canisters that actually create the requisite embossing.

Then there’s the wall covering business, where Tagle claims DuChâteau was the first company to mass market 3-D types of designs on the wall with dedicated displays and marketing to wood flooring retailers. The company is now starting to play with other materials, such as acrylic, stone and metals with plans to venture into new materials.

Tagle admits DuChâteau floors might not be for everyone, but in a world permeated by a sea of sameness, the company gives retailers a story to tell and ways to make money.

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My take: Best of Surfaces call for entries, judges

November 12/19, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 11
By Steven Feldman

I know many of you are wrapped up in your Thanksgiving Day plans as you read this, and some are focused on putting up their Christmas trees on Black Friday. But it’s also time to start thinking about Surfaces, because—believe it or not— we’re only two months away from the flooring industry’s premier event.

Future columns will focus on the most comprehensive education program (co-sponsored by FCNews) and exhibitor lineup that can’t be experienced anywhere but Surfaces. But for now I want to concentrate on Best of Surfaces, the competition we co-sponsor with Informa, owners and operators of the show. Now in its eighth year, Best of Surfaces has become a benchmark for product and program excellence. But the success of the contest cannot be achieved without the help of our readers—both our suppliers and retailers.

A little background for those new to the industry or in a coma for the past eight years: The Best of Surfaces awards recognizes those companies whose product, program, service, business practice or booth design are considered to be “best” in their class. But unlike other awards, which are typically handed out by product category, the Best of Surfaces awards are handled a bit differently. Winners are announced in four categories: Innovation, Sustainability, Style & Design and Technology. In addition, there will be two awards for exhibit space: Booth Design (under 1,200 square feet and over 1,200 square feet). The criteria is simple: Products must make their debuts at Surfaces. What’s more, there is absolutely no charge for entering.

For exhibitors, consider this a call for entries. Please enter a product, program, service, business practice or booth in the category you believe to be most reflective of the product’s primary attribute. Suppliers can have one entry per category; they cannot have multiple entries in one particular category. Best thing to do is contact Michelle Swayze at Informa at 972.536.6449 or michelle.swayze@informa.com for more information or to enter.

For the record, winning a Best of Surfaces award can truly drive product success on the retail floor. Winners will receive:

•Recognition on the Surfaces and FCNews websites through July
•A customized Best of Surfaces 2019 logo for placement on all advertising
•An exquisite, custom-engraved award presented at the booth by members of show management and FCNews staff
•Booth signage acknowledging the company was voted Best of Surfaces
•Coverage in FCNews

That takes care of the entry part. The next thing we need are retailer panel judges who will determine the 2019 winners. It’s a job you don’t want to take lightly because there’s a lot at stake for the manufacturers. If you are a flooring dealer—past or present—who has an understanding of what constitutes excellence in the Best of Surfaces’ four categories, we want to hear from you.

Some criteria: First, you have to attend Surfaces. Second, you must be willing to evaluate some of the submissions in the weeks leading up to the show. Third, you are required to share your thoughts with other members of the panel. After we decide the category for which you will be judging, you and your peers will be given some criteria on what to look for. You will then receive information on each of the entries. In some cases, it will be a description of the entry. The respective panels will then come up with their five finalists, which they will view on site on day one at Surfaces. By the end of the show’s first day, they will have informed FCNews of their choice.

Those interested in judging Best of Surfaces can contact me via e-mail at steve@fcnews.net.

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My take: Distributors don’t have it easy, that’s for sure

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By Steven Feldman

 

I have always admired floor covering wholesale distributors, and not because I count many of them as good friends. For the most part, they are regular guys; they like to eat, have a few beers and go to sporting events. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They work hard. They are accessible. And yet, their role in the supply chain is probably the most difficult of any channel partner.

For starters, some work on razor-thin margins, and those who don’t are doing only slightly better. Second, they are constantly getting hammered from both ends of the spectrum as middlemen. They have to meet the demands of two sets of customers—their suppliers and their retailer accounts. They require a keen and varied focus because both have different sets of needs to satisfy.

On top of tight margins, it seems distributors are always facing price pressures. In the current job market, the cost of labor has increased. Especially considering many truckers have left the industry over the past five years. As well, when the cost of fuel doubles in a relatively short period of time, who do you think feels it the most? Those who own the trucks, of course. Warehousing costs have increased. And then you have the issue of ELDs, where drivers are now monitored—actually their engines are—and cannot go beyond the limits of the law. If it is mandated that a driver can only drive 11 hours a day, he can no longer drive 14. That means deliveries can take longer. We won’t even get into the subject of the litany of price increases distributors receive from their suppliers, not all of which can be passed on in their entirety. What about rising healthcare costs? Old news.

I recently came across an article that outlined six challenges most often cited by wholesale distributors across an array of industries. They include:

  1. Increasing competition from manufacturers.Increasingly efficient logistics systems allow manufacturers to sell more goods directly to end users, thereby bypassing distributors. Plus, consolidation in many manufacturing sectors has produced large manufacturers with national distribution systems. In our industry, think Shaw and Mohawk.
  2. Retailers demanding faster delivery.As big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target expand their product offerings, they are tightening delivery deadlines and imposing stiffer penalties on distributors for late shipments. Wholesalers may also be fined for providing inaccurate product information. Many companies have invested in technology upgrades and additional employee training to meet the new standards.
  3. Dependence on fuel prices.Wholesaling is the business of transporting products, and fuel prices play an important role in a company’s overall profitability. The cost of diesel fuel can represent a significant portion of total wholesale operating costs. Many distributors pass this cost on to customers in the form of fuel surcharges, but some smaller companies might not have this leverage.
  4. Vulnerability to changing prices.Rapid changes in costs leave distributors vulnerable to changes in inventory values. Although distributors try to limit their cost exposure by pricing products according to a percentage mark-up on costs, competition may make it impossible to mark up expensive inventory when prices are falling.
  5. Worker safety concerns.There are significant hazards associated with the storage, handling and transportation of many products. Companies must therefore implement tight safety standards to avoid system failures and maintain preparedness for potential issues that may arise.
  6. Supplier and retailer consolidation.Wholesalers are losing buying power due to increasing consolidation among manufacturers. Regional distributors have become easy acquisition targets as they struggle to compete with national players. The top chains are increasing their market share and continuing to take advantage of manufacturer discounts for large purchases, giving them additional leverage with distributors that are unable to offer similar terms.

At the end of the day, it is quite the challenge that so many of our floor covering distributors have figured out how to overcome all of this. Kudos to them.