February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16
By Ken Ryan
Vinnie Virga, who is well known for once running all of CCA Global Partners’ retail groups (including holding the position of president at Flooring America), is now tasked with running Big Bob’s Flooring as its president and managing partner.
Virga will replace David Elyachar, aka “Big Bob,” who founded the company and led it for 33 years.
There are already some changes in store to help the structure and efficiency of Big Bob’s. An initial step forward is the move of the corporate office from Kansas City, Kan., to Auburn, Mass., where Virga is based. In addition, the annual convention, usually in Kansas City, will be held at a still-to-be determined venue.
Virga gave FCNews an in-depth look at his plans.
You own a few Big Bob’s stores in New England. What attracted you to the franchise? How have the stores been doing?
What attracted me initially was the focus on value. In 2011, I looked at all the retail plays [buying groups], and out of all of them I felt like Big Bob’s had the best value. I have five stores—one Big Bob’s and four Floors & Kitchens Today, which are pilot stores designed for a full-service retail program. All of the stores are doing very well with significant double-digit increases. They have done that every year since 2011.
Talk a little about the genesis of you taking over for David Elyachar at the helm of Big Bob’s.
David is a wonderful person, has a great heart, and loves and cares about the members. He has two sons in the business. But David is on the 17th hole of his career heading to the clubhouse. I am still on the front nine. I have a lot of gas in the tank and there is so much I want to do. It is so important for David to have the business in good shape. He wanted me to take good care of the business and grow it. So it was a good fit, a good segue, for both of us.
What do you feel you bring to the table to help improve upon what the prior Big Bob’s regime has done?
The big thing is professionalism. I’ll be real honest; I am really angry about all the independent retailers who have gone out of business the last few years. It really upsets me. Too many people are getting shuttered and it’s wrong. A lot of people are really struggling; they can’t do digital marketing or need help with traditional marketing. I feel like I can fill the need. If someone doesn’t help them they will get out of the business and that is sad. This is a calling for me.
Talk about some of the strengths of the group.
There are some really fantastic members in the group—the Tom Garveys, Ken Weisbachers, Scott Appels—some smart retailers, smart people. There is a great foundation and they are dedicated to the group. We also have 33 years of brand name recognition. Big Bob’s is a meaningful brand; there is strength behind that. We have strategic partners engaged with the company who are committed to the long-range success.
What are some of the areas where you can help members take their businesses to the next level?
Digital marketing, social media and the Internet are areas where most retailers struggle—how to do it correctly and how to understand the mix of new media and traditional media. These are all challenging issues. If you’ve got a $50,000 ad spend per year, how are you going to find the right mix between traditional and digital? They will throw money at digital without the right strategy. We have the tools to do it effectively. We have a strong benefit we can bring to membership. Training is an area that members struggle with. We can train them digitally. Professional sales management is another area. There is a lot of fertile ground here.
What is the first order of business for you?
Building the dream team that can provide the backbone of services for digital and traditional marketing, finding people who can go out and consult with a member who is struggling and making sure all existing members are getting what they need.
Talk a little about your vision for the group and growth plans.
Continuing to grow private label is a vision. We are being very aggressive; getting good prices for members without a big load. A load often includes additional costs for things like conventions, training and other services that are built into the cost of goods but ultimately cuts down on a dealer’s profit margin. We will not overburden the product with a load that makes the member uncompetitive.
Do you think most retailers fully understand the Big Bob’s concept? Do you think there is a part of the industry that still sees Big Bob’s as a retailer of new and used carpet?
We’ve often been called “the best secret in the industry,” and one of my first goals is to change that. Some of the older people in the industry think we are primarily an outlet that sells used carpet but that is becoming less of an issue. We are a full-service retail store with more than one option.
What would you like to tell 13,000 retailers about Big Bob’s that they may not be aware of?
That if they are interested in increasing their pre-tax profit or gaining more market share they should give us a call because we can absolutely help them.
We have been testing a concept that expands the product mix beyond flooring. We will talk about that and the mindset behind it. We discovered that one in three customers are looking at either kitchen cabinets or bathroom remodeling along with flooring and a lot of them want to do business with people who could do it all. Rather than losing that business to someone else we are building a model that allows us to do it all. So we can do floors and kitchens, or just kitchens, or just bathrooms. In one of our stores we have a Benjamin Moore paint center. We are working with them on the program. We believe blinds, wallpaper, paint, backsplashes and floors all belong together. And we can create a destination where people will continue to come again and again so we can give them the entire package.
Five years from now, how big will the group be?
We will be at least the third- largest buying group for flooring and kitchen, for sure. By hook or by crook we are going to get there.
What is the cost to become a Big Bob’s franchisee?
It depends on if you are converting or starting from scratch; $30,000 for a conversion or $125,000 for a startup with the smallest footprint, about 6,500 square feet. We sometimes call those facilities “satellites.”