July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2
By Nadia Ramlakhan
Kansas City, Mo.—Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet has undergone a makeover of sorts over the past few years, and attendees at the annual convention, held June 15-17 here, were focused on what’s next for the franchise. In line with the convention’s 2015 theme, “Planning, Implementation, Accountability—Results Matter,” franchisees and vendor partners alike agreed the emphasis would be put on retail sales associate training and education moving forward, as exceptional personnel and customer service are what sets Big Bob’s apart from the herd.
David “Big Bob” Elyachar, founder and CEO, explained the gradual evolution of the group, noting that it has come a long way from selling used and lower-end carpet, finally positioning itself in the marketplace as a value source for consumers.
“Today, people don’t want to buy cheap; they want to buy value,” he said. “They don’t want to walk into a store with rolls piled 20-feet high and collecting dust; they want to see a nicer, cleaner showroom. They don’t want a grouchy, old guy wearing shorts and a T-shirt waiting on them; they want someone who looks and sounds more professional. It’s all about the expectations of the consumer and the consumer today is more educated and more price conscious.”
John Godwin, executive vice president, residential sales and marketing, Shaw Industries, remarked that Big Bob’s stores have become more selective when choosing product as part of its strategy to step up its game. “They’re becoming a total flooring supplier—offering all forms of soft surface and hard surface. They’ve also narrowed down their SKUs and have done a better job of selecting specific SKUs they want on the floor. It makes the selection easier for retail sales associates to show and present to a consumer. With that, they’ve taken a lot of the complication out of the process, making it easier for the consumer to make a decision.”
Sergio Morales, who started his career with Big Bob’s 10 years ago and is now the store manager for Big Bob’s in Stockton, Calif., also cited a better mix of product as one advancement the group has made over the years. “It’s a different economy now than it was 10 years ago. But we’re starting to grow and we’re starting to see more variety; we’re getting different grades of material and slowly getting into the higher end.”
Continuing on this path, the group brought on new vendor partners this year. “The original Big Bob’s business model was very low end,” said Don Karlin, director of broadloom sales, Nourison. “If [dealers] don’t have upscale components to show customers, then they will lose those customers. Upscale customers also want value, and if they walk in and all they see is entry-level carpet, they don’t have that option. Our products give [dealers] a chance to find something different, a chance to have nice patterned products, to get into area rugs—an assortment of things that other vendors don’t carry.”
Big Bob’s is currently making moves to enhance its marketing strategies as well. In addition to four new TV commercials, Big Bob’s websites have been updated in an effort to connect with digital consumers. While still serving the same functions, the improved website is easier to navigate, female-friendly and easily accessible. The site highlights design inspiration rather than Big Bob’s itself, making it visually appealing to the consumer who conducts her research online before stepping into a store.
While the group has made a lot of progress adapting to the needs of consumers and updating its image, there is still work to be done. With the belief that knowledgeable, attentive sales staffs are a key differentiator for Big Bob’s, members encourage others to put continual focus on RSA training in order to compete with the big boxes.
Scott Appel, owner of two Big Bob’s stores in Pennsylvania with two more on the way, said his business is up 48% year over year in growth. He attributes his success in part to his personnel. “If you go to Home Depot and ask a question, what do they do? They flip over the label and start reading it. That’s not what we’re about. We send our guys for mill training and we bring in mill reps to train us at our stores. For example, Harrisburg, Pa., isn’t too far from Lancaster, Pa., so two weeks ago I had my whole sales team [from Harrisburg] at Armstrong [in Lancaster] for private training and a mill tour. Learning about hardwood, seeing the products being made, speaking to people who make those products—that helps us become flooring consultants so that when [consumers] have questions, we can provide the answer.”
Vinnie Virga, owner of five Big Bob’s locations throughout the New England area, is another advocate for thorough training, investing a minimum of 26 weeks each year in these educational efforts. “We have great people who work for us and the best way to leverage our people is to make sure they have way better training than Home Depot and Lowe’s. We have meetings regularly with all of our team, we have bi-weekly meetings for our managers—we are very engaged in training our people.”
Elyachar is known among his peers for expressing the popular adage, “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” When it comes to training, he urges members to take advantage of the existing educational resources available through flooring associations like the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) and the Floor Covering Leadership Council (FCLC), as well as manufacturer programs. “It is the single greatest gap between who we are and who we want to become in this marketplace. We have to invest in education.”
Scott Humphrey, president and CEO of the WFCA, extended the focus on training to include installers. “We have to get new people into the installation field. We all get the fact that this issue is important; the challenge is for retailers to come around and say, ‘We’re going to do something about it.’ The industry’s issue is also your issue.”
Vendors who attended the event were encouraged to take part in the entire convention, allowing them to participate in roundtables and discussions as well as listen to keynote speakers and feedback from retailers.
“[This format] is leading edge—we all learn from each other,” said Ken Sherwood, vice president of buying group accounts, Beaulieu of America. “We learn from retailers, retailers learn from us; we have different aspects in the business, and obviously it’s a huge, positive environment for growth. Everyone said the opportunity to do breakout sessions was a major win. As we went around the room, 90% of people said that was the greatest takeaway. It’s always great to network. People, relationships and product—that’s what it’s all about.”
Including vendors in the sessions as opposed to only participating in the tradeshow portion of the convention was beneficial to members, too. “You get a whole different perspective,” said Ray Lucero Jr., a new member currently in the process of purchasing a storefront in Albuquerque, N.M. “As an owner of a company it helps you understand how you can be better. We’re here with the top of Shaw, top of Beaulieu; even at our level as owners we don’t normally get to interact like that.”