May 12/19, 2014; Volume 27/Number 27
The growth and success of any industry is strongly incumbent upon the leadership of the people within it. Their contributions may often fly under the radar or be taken for granted. The floor covering industry is no exception. There are countless people who are directly or indirectly working to increase retailer profitability and/or professionalism, whether it be through product development, training or internal processes.
In this issue, FCNews highlights some of the people who are making a difference in the flooring industry today. While some names you may not recognize, they’re stars in the eyes of many people. This is by no means a Top 10 list; next year we will look to feature 10 more individuals who deserve recognition for their efforts. Also, the order in which these people appear should in no way be construed as a ranking. We do not consider any one of these people more significant than the next. Rather, it is simply a grouping of people from various sectors of the industry who are making a positive impact on the industry.
When Shaw Industries launched its diversity initiative in 2005, the company embarked on an educational journey with action plans to help fully integrate the program in all account management activities. Lisa Buice, corporate diversity manager at Shaw, joined the team in 2009 and started the true “action phase” with an established diversity council, according to Paul Richard, vice president, human resources.
“Since Lisa has come in we’ve really put a stronger emphasis on having local diversity councils,” Richard explained. “We’ve done a lot of education and training to help emphasize the need for diversity as a local activity. Lisa’s early focus was achieving this goal through the corporate diversity council.”
In 2011, Buice led the first corporate-wide forum for diversity champions and the local diversity councils. “It was one day of sharing best practices for different facilities,” Richard said. “A milestone event.”
While diversity has a general definition of integrating people of all races, religions, gender, etc., Shaw also sees diversity as the process in which associates at all levels of the company work together.
“The diversity council itself is a cross-functional team of business leaders throughout the company,” said Steve Sieracki, vice president of residential sales for Shaw Floors, who formerly served as the corporate diversity council chair. “Part of their duty is to take the diversity initiative and spread it throughout the organization. It’s one thing to have a meeting to talk about diversity and inclusion, but it’s another thing to leave the meeting and go spread it throughout the organization. That’s really what Lisa is driving. She’s giving the guidance, the leadership and the direction in providing the platform for everyone to learn.”
When it comes to people making a difference in the flooring industry, Scott Humphrey, CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), said few deserve that distinction more than Tom Jennings. “Tom is one of the true trainers in the industry. Sam Allman was one. Tom is another. Tom has a unique blend of experience and the ability to convey that experience to others to make their lives easier.”
Even though Jennings is a retailer at heart—he owned one of the first Carpet One stores and was literally born into the industry decades ago—Humphrey said he is as passionate about installation as he is retailing. In his WFCA position, he works closely with CFI in helping train the next generation of installers.
“He loves the installation side of the business,” Humphrey said. “He is one of those people who does not see a classification of people—white collar, blue collar; it doesn’t matter to him. He can speak to all of them.”
Humphrey is not the only flooring professional enamored of Jennings and his accomplishments. Harold Chapman, president and CEO of Bonitz Inc., Greenville, S.C., said Jennings has “done everything in the form of training to sales, installation, customer service, customer relations and marketing, even store planning and layout. He has always been willing to share his experiences and expertise.”
Janice Clifton, president and owner of Abbey Carpets Unlimited, Napa, Calif., said Jennings “has been a huge motivating factor in trying to get the ANSI standards done for carpet installation for the last five years. He has a passion to see better installation in our industry.”
Mohawk University is currently celebrating 20 years of retail training leadership in the flooring industry. During that span, it has consistently ranked as one of the best training programs in any industry, ranking 5th overall in Training magazine’s most recent Top 125.
Over two decades, Mohawk University has made a name for itself by partnering with
industry leaders to provide retailers with the best and most innovative training available. There is one flooring industry veteran who has dedicated his career to the development and success of Mohawk’s retailer support programs—Mike Zoellner.
A Mohawk associate for over 30 years, Zoellner, vice president of marketing services, has a keen understanding of the demands and evolving business climate of today’s flooring retailer. “We take the time to listen to our retail customers’ needs and make adjustments to our training,” Zoellner said. “For example, we are aware that sometimes it is difficult for retailers to physically leave their stores to attend courses, so we now offer live and on-demand online training options.”
Zoellner said Mohawk has also focused new course content on digital marketing, lead generation and management, “which is the new frontier for flooring retailers.”
David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing and sales operations, said Mohawk is “incredibly fortunate” to have Zoellner leading its marketing services efforts. “In addition to his contributions to the success of Mohawk U, Mike and his team are consistently focused on bringing the most value to our retailer base. He is a strong leader, mentor and friend.”
When the floor covering industry was mired in the deepest recession since the Great Depression, Haines CEO Bruce Zwicker could have taken the cautious route and steered the industry’s largest distributor to safe harbor.
Instead, he challenged the organization to continue to execute on its long-range strategy to grow and expand far beyond what others believed plausible.
Because of Zwicker’s leadership, Haines not only survived the 40% industry drop that capsized many companies, it increased its business through acquisitions, investments in inventory and services, managing costs, and expanding into new territories like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
“There’s no question that what Bruce has done within the last eight years as CEO is pretty astounding,” said Scott Roy, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service. “The recent CMH acquisition was a game-changer and should provide significant benefits to customers, suppliers and employees.”
According to those close to the chief executive, Zwicker lives by a simple rule that follows a clear strategy: doing the right things will result in peace of mind, good relationships with all constituents and an effective workforce.
“Bruce’s passion for growth and expansion at Haines is arguably the clearest definition of his entrepreneurial spirit,” Roy said.
Zwicker has created a culture at Haines that has resulted in high morale and low turnover. “In our last survey, 90% of our employees described Haines as a great place to work,” Roy added.
A company veteran of more than 26 years, Ed Duncan is responsible for integrating and overseeing marketing and product line management for all residential product categories at Mannington. Ten years ago, Duncan pushed the company to get into LVT, and “it has been a major part of our success ever since,” said Kim Holm, president, residential business.
In recent years Duncan has been instrumental in launching Mannington’s newest product line, luxury vinyl sheet (LVS). “We wondered why there weren’t the negative feelings toward LVT as there was to sheet,” Holm recalled. “Ed came up with a couple concepts, both of which focused on LVT’s look.”
Mannington then invested in state-of-the-art printing, texturing and finishing technology to create more realistic visuals. And because “sheet vinyl” has a bit of a negative connotation, Holm noted, the company renamed it “LVS.”
The other half of Duncan’s program, according to Holm, was a selling system that was a step up to a good/better/best system, a staple in the carpet category but not in vinyl.
During Duncan’s time with Mannington, he’s also helped launch NatureForm sheet vinyl, and has led the company’s charge into laminate, which started as an import partnership with Witex. “Ed led our launch into another revolutionary look for laminate with the Historic collection,” Holm said. “With it, we became the first mill to offer rustic looks in the hardwood and laminate categories.”
Al Collison founded Midwest Padding in 1997. In order to better suit its expanding diversity of product offerings, the company later underwent a name change to MP Global Products. Under Collison’s leadership, MP Global has been an innovator in the production of specialty padding for cushioning, insulating and acoustical applications.
Besides its traditional underlayment products—including the well-known QuietWalk—the company also offers a radiant heating line, as well as an imported vinyl flooring collection, as it continues to innovate and diversify its product offerings.
In 2000, Collison was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the University of Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship. In addition, the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) has twice honored MP Global with its Associate Member Company of the Year award.
In March of 2005, MP Global’s manufacturing facility in Norfolk, Neb., burned to the ground. Within a week, Collison relocated several key members of his manufacturing team to a sister plant. The strategic alliance with another manufacturer allowed MP Global to barely skip a beat and, in under seven months, a new plant was built and operational adjacent to the spot of the former factory.
“From the start, Al has believed what is good for the flooring industry is good for America,” said Jack Boesch, MP Global’s director of marketing. “Not only is MP Global manufacturing fiber acoustic underlayment in America, but the manufacturing process Al developed includes using post-industrial/pre-consumer fibers diverted from landfill. Al has set a high environmental standard for MP Global’s underlayment products, and his leadership exemplifies the highest standards in American entrepreneurship.”
With more than 20 years in trade show management—the last 14 at Hanley Wood—Dana Teague has been instrumental in the growth and development of both the company itself and the shows it runs and organizes. In illustration, she helped Surfaces | StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas become the second largest revenue-product property in its division and the 54th-ranked trade show in the country, according to Trade Show News magazine.
After being promoted to vice president of Hanley Wood just over a year ago, Teague in her new role has helped reposition Surfaces, now called The International Surface Event to represent the integration of TileExpo, Surfaces and StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas. The 2014 edition showed a 7% increase in attendance from 2013 with more than 700 companies exhibiting at the show. In addition, 80% of exhibitors re-signed at the event for the 2015 show, which will be held during Design and Construction Week, co-dated with the International Builders’ Show (IBS), the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and the Las Vegas Market. This will allow industry professionals from all sides of the consumer housing spectrum to meet, interact and collaborate in one place for the first time ever.
“Dana is working directly with the NAHB and KBIS groups on Design and Construction week,” said Amie Gilmore, director of The International Surface Event at Hanley Wood. “Her leadership of the team really helped influence and implement our plans for last January’s show and next year’s event. She gives us the tools we need so we can carry out plans and different ideas.”
The International Surface Event continues to increase its value to attendees each year. The education program is among the strongest in the industry, and show floor enhancements such as the social media lounge and dedicated spaces for product demonstrations have been a big hit.
Teague also helped develop the upcoming International Surface Event East, launched to help expose retailers and members of the A&D community on the East Coast to the mega show. “She and I haven been working closely together for some time on planning the East show,” Gilmore said. “As a forward thinker and someone who is very strategic and knowledgeable, the city choice [Miami] and the timing can be attributed to her.”
An innovative leader with a passion for flooring, Piet Dossche is a true go-getter in the flooring industry. With USFloors, he pioneered bamboo flooring in the U.S., exposing it to dealers and consumers nationwide. The company was an early adopter of oil-finished hardwood floors in the U.S.
Dossche is committed to the philosophy of providing unique and sustainable floors (the “U” and “S” in USFloors) that provide innovative flooring solutions to both dealers and consumers. Not content manufacturing cork and bamboo only, he established the only U.S. manufacturing facility for cork, bamboo and oil-finished hardwood at a time when most manufacturers were closing facilities or moving production offshore.
On the sustainability front, USFloors is one of Georgia’s largest solar power suppliers with two rooftop photovoltaic arrays rated at over 1⁄2 megawatt. The company also received the patent for Corboo flooring that infuses seams of cork into strand woven bamboo, creating the signature product marking USFloors’ commitment to unique and sustainable flooring products.
In his latest—and perhaps most innovative—initiative, Dossche developed the patent-pending COREtec Plus product line which created a new category of LVT—engineered luxury vinyl floors—that is currently being widely embraced by dealers nationwide.
A true visionary for the industry, Dossche saw the opportunity for retailers to make additional profit margins with COREtec Plus as an added value product, followed through successfully, and established the multi-product manufacturer as a major player in the industry.
Over the past 10 years, Zamma has become the largest producer of floor transitions in North America. If you’re not familiar with the company, it’s because Zamma manufactures moldings for companies like Shaw, Mannington, Metroflor, Earthwerks and Home Depot with several more in the pipeline, according to president Peter Spielman, whose vision is driving the company.
Moldings are an important part of a retailer’s business because they represent an additional profit center with nice margins. And while Zamma offers wood and laminate moldings, it is currently rewriting the book on LVT moldings.
“As LVT evolves, moldings are going to become a big part of it, and Peter is bringing LVT moldings to the [forefront],” said Kim Holm, Mannington’s president of residential business. “He may not be the only one, but he’s doing it in the biggest way that is going to continue to fuel the growth of LVT.”
Consumers were once forced to use metal, black or gray moldings as transitions with their LVT floors, but now retailers have the ability to offer a better solution: moldings that exactly match LVT.
“If a manufacturer has 100 colors, we will have 100 LVT moldings to match each one,” Spielman said. “We run decorative vinyl profiles exactly as you run it on your LVT.”
This is the result of Zamma’s isobaric press, which allows the company to take the exact décor layer that’s printed for the LVT, then firmly fuse it with a commercial grade top layer, thereby using the same top layer and decorative layer as the floor. “We have not embraced digital printing technology that use UV inks,” Spielman said. “We believe when you use hot melt glue to coat the paper, you are putting sand and glue together. You may pass the Tabor test but you don’t have a very good product. We figured out a better way to build a mousetrap.”
Since he became president of Flooring America in 2011, Keith Spano has created a “go for it” attitude amongst the group, leading the way in marketing and valuable investments. Spano’s experience from years in the flooring industry ranges from sales and marketing to product management and supplier relations, thanks to previous positions that include director of national accounts for franchises at Beaulieu and executive vice president of marketing and merchandising for Abbey Carpet.
Spano’s “partner in crime,” Frank Chiera, vice president of marketing for Flooring America, fondly remembers when the pair first met. “I could tell from that dinner—which lasted four hours—that he was not like anyone else in the floor covering business. He has a way of making you believe in his vision.”
His open-minded attitude has helped facilitate the reinvention of Flooring America’s marketing efforts, helping put a face behind the brand. Membership has increased significantly—and quickly—in recent years, in part because of Spano’s new methods in recruiting members, which takes the process to a personal level. According to Chiera, Spano has also brought in the “right team, people who can get things done and share his vision.
“It was a leap of faith for [Spano] to say, ‘Let’s reposition the brand, let’s change everything, let’s invest in digital marketing and social media,’ when everyone else in the industry was doubting that path,” Chiera continued. “He has the ability to recognize where things are going. It really sets him apart.”