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Floors & More: Members urged to take ‘unconventional’ approach

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.47.57 AMLeesburg, Va.—Thinking outside the box can help dealers discover new ways to grow their businesses. That was the primary message Floors & More management sought to drive home to members in attendance at its summer convention here.

The message correlated directly to the theme of the conference, “Unconventional.”

The two-day convention provided Floors & More members the opportunity to network, hear best practices from peers, as well as learn about new offerings and rebate opportunities from vendors. The show also provided members with multiple solutions to combat changing consumer buying habits and develop a greater digital footprint.

More importantly, the group stressed the importance of building quality relationships with customers, vendors and other members. To that end, the group’s vendor partners had the opportunity to participate in any of the member events, including the general session, keynote and activities. The goal was to cultivate and continue member/vendor relationships.

“We believe our vendors are our partners and our members are our partners—so we have a three-part relationship,” said Vinnie Virga, founder and CEO, Floors & More. “Our job is to make sure that relationship is incredibly strong so there is great, unfiltered communication between us so we’re helping each other and challenging each other. We believe only by having that kind of relationship between all the parties do we get the best growth, the best ideas and the best participation. This is the ‘Unconventional’ convention.”

Doing things different is at the core of the Floors & More group from its rebates program to its partnerships with Soci, a platform for managing social media, and 919 Marketing, a national marketing agency that provides members with relevant, localized and personalized content that targets all types of consumers. In addition, the group has added new private labels, expanded its vendor lineup and launched new websites for Floor to Ceiling and Big Bob’s stores.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.48.17 AMOver the past year the group has worked on fundamental elements to provide members with the tools they need to succeed. Part of this adjustment is how Floors & More members invest in the buying group. “All we did was flip the equation,” Virga explained. “We made it so the members have that upfront. The rebates are paid out and the vast majority of the rebate dollars goes to the members (around 80%). By making that flip it took those members who weren’t really committed to the program or buying from our vendors and it made it so they had to make an investment and commit to the group or they wanted to go—which is exactly what we wanted. We wanted people who were committed—who were going to stay and support the vendors.”

Virga believes a member’s investment should be viewed more as a marketing fee since the group covers social media, websites, commercials and review sites. Floors & More also provides unlimited education through the WFCA education library and the group’s full product library. It also covers convention attendance (excluding room costs) as well as a rare opportunity to meet with executives from the Floors & More corporate team for a consultation.

“Everything else we’re doing with the rebates is really a return on their support of the suppliers,” Virga explained.

Now that these elements are fully in place, the group plans on growing dramatically, according to Virga. “We’re starting to add new members a little at a time. We’ll also be growing through acquisition. You’ll definitely see us make some acquisitions over the next couple of years. We plan on being 700 or 800 stores stronger in the next five years, and we’re very committed to that number.”

New vendors, programs
Floors & More continues to expand its list of vendors, which includes Mannington, Phenix, Armstrong, Stainmaster, Wolf, Graber, USFloors, Nourison and RFMS—to name a few.

“The vendors here are top notch,” said Dave Bradley, vice president of Floor to Ceiling, Ottawa, Ill. “I really think [Virga] is pulling in great people for us on the technology side as well.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.48.11 AMThe group also recently launched an insurance program whereby store owners, installers, builders, remodelers and trade professionals are able to receive life and accident insurance as well as a 401(K) plan. Another key program announced at the convention is the development of an e-commerce system for member websites, which the group plans to launch by winter.

Floors & More management believes e-commerce is a crucial space for retailers today. “You need to be online with your products so consumers can first see it and then pick it,” Virga explained. “[While] our business is still very much tactile, you need to have it there because consumers demand it. It’s the price of admission of being a retailer today.”

Floors & More members like Lowell Matthys, president of Floor to Ceiling in Marshall, Minn., are embracing e-commerce. “Whether you like it or not, that’s the way our technology is moving. We carry more technology in our pockets than ever. That aspect of the business is changing.”

Matthys’ store already has an online presence, and he runs a website and Facebook page in connection with Floors & More. “They’ve set up the web page for us and we’re also going to be doing some postings to Facebook through Soci.”

For others, such as Roger Lake, owner of Lake Design & Décor/Floor to Ceiling in Manchester, Iowa, Floors & More not only offers new technology and group buying power but also education. In particular, he cited keynote presenter Mark Sanborn, author, entrepreneur and professional speaker, who conducted a presentation about leadership and ways to drive improvement. The talk provided valuable insights for Lake and his staff. “[Sanborn] was talking about motivating and how to get sales.”

Overall, the convention hit on a couple of key points for members such as Joe Virga, regional manager, Floor to Ceiling, Auburn, Mass. “It opened my eyes to our company’s potential and the importance of embracing change.”

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Big Bob’s welcomes Buckles as consultant

bigbobslogoAuburn, Mass.–Vinnie Virga, CEO of Big Bob’s Flooring, announced the partnership of Big Bob’s Flooring, part of the Floors & More buying group, and Jim Buckles, business consultant to the flooring industry. Buckles offers consulting throughout the flooring industry, helping companies overcome obstacles through operational, financial, and technical analysis and change.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Jim many times over my career at many different companies, and we are excited that he will be available not only to our members, but also to our franchise organization as someone who can help our members maximize their profitability,” Virga said. He added that Buckles’ decades’ long involvement with and experience on RFMS software is another benefit.

Scott Appel, partner in Floors & More and co-owner of Touch of Color, said Buckles “helps us bridge the gap of providing exceptional systems and programs with someone who can help them execute operationally and financially when they are in need of extra onsite or remote support. Jim has a track record of helping people when they hit critical growth stages, or are having a hard time breaking through to a new plateau.”

Buckles has experience with all levels of the industry from his involvement as an initial hire for CCA Global, running the finance end of their company-owned stores in St. Louis, through consultation with retailers ranging from single stores to multi-store national chains, to CFO of a company producing over $135 million in flooring, cabinet and counter sales (builder and retail).

“The opportunity to work with Vinnie, Scott and their group is the rare moment to help an organization that is poised to change the flooring industry as we know it today,” Buckles said

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Big Bob’s names Virga president, managing partner

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Kansas City, KS—Effective Jan. 1, Vinnie Virga has purchased controlling interest in Big Bob’s Flooring and will lead day-to-day executive management. David Elyachar, aka “Big Bob,” founder and leader of the company for 33 years, will act as the chairman emeritus for the company and will continue to provide creative marketing while still being featured in the company’s commercials.

“After working with Vinnie for the last four years, the management team and I couldn’t be more pleased or excited for our current franchisees, our vendor partners and our prospective franchisees to experience his leadership, energy and commitment to excellence,” Elyachar said. “He will provide great programs and services that will increase our members bottom line profits.” Over the next several years, the group is expected to grow exponentially; this transition will allow Elyachar to begin estate planning and pursue other interests.

Virga, well known for previously running all of CCA Global Partners’ retail groups, including Flooring America, and for having developed a major flooring footprint in New England, said, “The timing is perfect, as we have just put a great management team in place for my existing five-store, New England-based business. By purchasing the majority of the franchise system I am now able to focus all of my energy on helping our existing members. Through supporting our core values, helping our vendor partners grow and leading a new generation of prospective franchisees to realize immense success via our group, I will be able to continue the great legacy Mr. Elyachar has invested 31 years in building.”

For those interested in becoming a franchisee, contact Virga at 774.287.9459 or email Franchise@bigbobsflooring.com.

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Staff, service at Big Bob’s give dealers competitive advantage

July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2

By Nadia Ramlakhan

IMG_0037Kansas 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.

Moving forward

IMG_0457While 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.”

Vendor participation

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.”

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Big Bob’s evolves into professional, profitable program

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Steven Feldman

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 10.46.24 AMKansas City, Mo.—Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet may indeed be the best-kept secret in the flooring industry. The retail group has long outgrown its roots selling used and low-end carpet, and is now taking its members to new heights in professionalism and profitability. In fact, the group has undergone a metamorphosis in the last six years unlike any period in its history.

According to Scott Perron, president, Big Bob’s has spent the last six years retooling its old model, where franchisees’ main tools were the name and market position—seconds, off goods and plunders (products that are purchased below manufacturer cost). “We had positioned ourselves as the Fred Sanford of the flooring business intentionally. However, after being a franchisee for nine years, I saw gaps in the business.”

Those gaps were specifically in the areas of merchandising, marketing and technology. “The world changed in 2008,” Perron said, “and with that change came the need for us to develop these new tools and member services, and package them in such a way they would result in net profit. We listened to our members and developed the systems and services that allow them to build a successful, multi-store operation.”

Technology was needed as much as anything. “Back in 2008, the Kansas City stores were still handwriting their tickets,” he said. “We needed to come out of the dark ages.” An alignment with RFMS helped members measure productivity and increase profitability because the software allowed them to analyze instead of guess.

Occurring at the same time was the development of a Big Bob’s corporate website to capture the customers the group was not successfully targeting. “We needed to use all the cutting edge tools to drive customers to the store, educate them prior to visiting and allow them to submit requests for measure, ask questions, etc.,” Perron said. “This drove an incredible amount of traffic to our individual stores. Now the Big Bob’s corporate website gets hundreds of thousands of hits a year.”

Technology has gone beyond the website and software. Big Bob’s now has an online university and online portal for advertising to help members effectively spend their advertising dollars. “There is SEO and pay-per-click advertising,” Perron said. “They can also run extremely targeted promotions based on demographics, income brackets, age ranges, etc.” As for the online university, courses on carpet, LVT and selling skills are just a few of the options.

Merchandising, marketing

As much as technology moved Big Bob’s franchisees forward, a merchandising revamp raised professionalism instantaneously. The typical Big Bob’s store six years ago featured carpet rolls piled on top of one another, and pallets of materials were their own elements of merchandising with a few tiles possibly pulled out of the box. The new model has a galleria component that allows a member to utilize 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of showroom space to display products that would be stored in an adjacent or off-site warehouse capable of feeding multiple showrooms.

Within the showroom the customer will find carpet displayed symmetrically along the walls, consistently tagged using tubes. Each store also features a special order lineup that no longer focuses only on the entry level but rather includes a lineup from Dixie, Masland, Fabrica and Mannington. Hard surface is shown on optional low- and high-boy pallet toppers where the products are neatly framed.

“We have now developed much more universally acceptable merchandising pieces that show value but create a much better presentation,” Perron explained. “We also recently capitalized on that by creating an entirely new interior graphics package.”

When Mitch Dunnam of Big Bob’s of Oklahoma recently relocated from a 9,000-square-foot showroom to a space south of 6,000 square feet, he adopted the new merchandising model. “The tools that were built for us make the sale of the product easier. We are more organized and people are no longer tripping over pallets.” He added that profit margins on special order tile have gone through the roof, and profit margins in general have gone up 42% as a whole.

At the end of the day, all these changes represented a shift in Big Bob’s marketing philosophy. “We have morphed into a full-service flooring outlet capable of competing head to head with big boxes and other large-format players who are marketing to that consumer seeking value,” Dunham said. “Big Bob’s is not about cheap any more; it’s about delivering value across all categories of flooring and providing the service consumers would expect. We want people to think of Big Bob’s as an Advance Auto Parts or Costco.”

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Core values

Through it all, Big Bob’s has remained true to its core values: inventory, outstanding customer service, great value and a sense of humor. Perron believes the company has a leg up on the competition because of a built-in value proposition. “Without knowing who we are, we believe the name Big Bob’s sells value to the customer before she ever enters the store. And, because of this, her service expectations are always exceeded.”

Vinnie Virga, one-time president of Flooring America, opened his first Big Bob’s location in New England about two and a half years ago. Today he has five, which he expects to generate about $9 million in sales this year with a gross margin of 47%, and he owns his own real estate. “And we started in the worst economic environment we’ve had in some time.”

Virga called Big Bob’s the “best-kept secret in the industry. The big attraction for me was that I had gotten burned out in the corporate environment and was looking for something entrepreneurial that would give me a quick ramp to success. Big Bob’s was a great fit.”

Virga went on to say that it was the value proposition that drove him to Big Bob’s initially. “Customers have evolved into value hunters, and Big Bob’s properly advertises to that niche. It resonates with people. There is this perception of value because there is a lot of inventory. Once people walk into the store, there is this feeling of ‘If I can’t find it here I won’t find it anywhere.’”

But it’s more than inventory that turns Big Bob’s shoppers into customers. “When they walk into the store, they don’t have high expectations of the high level of service they receive, so it’s easy to delight them and create loyalty,” Virga said. “On average we have about a 46% close ratio compared to the industry average of 37%.

“If you are looking for a middle to high-end store, Carpet One does it better than anyone. But if you are looking for a medium to high-value store, Big Bob’s does it best.”