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Floors and More pushes aggressive agenda at convention

By Ken Ryan

Minneapolis, Minn.—Vinnie Virga, group president of Floors and More, which encompasses Big Bob’s Flooring and Floor to Ceiling, has big plans for the organization. During the group’s inaugural meeting recently, he expressed his goal to be among the top three buying groups in the country over the medium to long term.

“This is just the beginning,” said Virga, citing the group’s growth trends. Big Bob’s has 17 members who own 39 showrooms; Floor to Ceiling has 60 members, each with a single showroom. While Big Bob’s is still more so a cash and carry dealer, over 50% of its members offer installation today. Floor to Ceiling, meanwhile, goes to market as a full service retailer that aims to do the entire project for its customer.

The primary aim, according to Virga, is to create a mindset that this group collectively is powerful. “We have great vision. It is about us being together more. We are differentiated to the customer and united behind the scenes.”

Specifically, Floors and More is looking to grow organically and through acquisitions. To that end, Virga is engaged in talks with other groups about joining forces. “In five to seven years we will be right there with the biggest buying groups. We are running faster but that’s what you have to do to be successful. We are looking for people who are like-minded who want to grow. We help our members become more profitable than they would with other buying groups and we will do so in a more efficient way.”

To that end, Virga said the group plans to explore opportunities in the commercial space, as well as multi-family and non-flooring segments including operating stores that offer pure cabinets and countertops as well as stores that also sell paint. “We’re more about home design and we’re going to build out more verticals. The more legs we can put on the stool for our members the easier to withstand the storms that will come.”

“Spark,” the driving theme of the conference, included a “speed-dating” session in which retailers met with each vendor for a few minutes, before rotating to the next table. Another popular activity was a series of breakout brainstorming sessions in which seven groups were selected and assigned topics ranging from marketing, the Internet, education and training, to operations, networking, merchandising and buying. Each group was tasked with coming up with actionable ideas.

David Bradley, a Floor to Ceiling dealer in Ottawa, Ill., appreciated the collaboration that took place at the conference. “It was unique to be able to break into groups and share ideas. If you have skin in the game you need to be involved. Vinnie is the leader and he has skin in the game because he is also a retailer. He has the same headaches we do.”

Mill executives in attendance also saw the value. Rodney Mauter, executive vice president of marketing for Lexmark Carpet Mills, enjoyed the vendor-retailer meetings. He said Lexmark is poised to grow with the Floors and More group. “Their members have been incredibly receptive to our offerings; it fits into their market of affordable luxury. They are here to promote the dealer, and anything that promotes the dealer is a good thing.”

David Bradley, left, owner of Floor to Ceiling, Ottawa, Ill., discusses the latest COREtec features with Sam Ruble and Marc Tinter of USFloors.
David Bradley, left, owner of Floor to Ceiling, Ottawa, Ill., discusses the latest COREtec features with Sam Ruble and Marc Tinter of USFloors.

Digital push

No flooring conference is complete these days without a heavy emphasis on digital marketing and social media. To that end, Floors and More members were offered lead-generation software packages and custom websites. RFMS, the business-to-business software provider for the group, encouraged members to embrace the changes in technology.

“Technology is today’s way of life,” Terry Wheat, CEO of RFMS, told attendees “There is not a single person who comes in your store today who hasn’t been online looking at your store. While the economy is better you must use technology if you expect to survive.”

Several other digital and social media experts spoke during the conference to reinforce how technology is changing the face of flooring retail. To help its dealers, Floors and More is providing customized websites for each of its members. “A professional customized website can cost $10,000 to $20,000,” Virga told members. “Your price? Free. Why are we doing this? Because we have to own this space. We can’t wait any longer.”

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Floors & More acquires 60-store group

Big Bob’s parent continues expansion with Floor to Ceiling purchase

April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.27.25 PMAuburn, Mass.—Floors & More, which operates Big Bob’s Flooring Outlets as well as Floors & Kitchens Today, has acquired the Floor to Ceiling group. This consolidation will add 60 stores to the expanding entity.

Vinnie Virga and Scott Appel, co-CEOs of Floors & More, formally announced the acquisition earlier this month.

“We didn’t have this specific deal in our eyes but we had a desire to have an acquisition this year to get to critical mass,” Virga told FCNews. “It is a very good fit. Our Floors & Kitchen model is almost the same as the Floor to Ceiling model.”

Virga added there “are so many quality flooring dealers in this group and so much untapped potential in the Floor to Ceiling brand. With members’ help and guidance, we are going to make some amazing things happen.”

Appel said the synergy between this group and Big Bob’s “provides us with a wonderful springboard for awesome growth. We know that with this group collectively working together, along with our management team’s commitment to excellence, we will create a tremendous amount of momentum toward continued success.”

The Floor to Ceiling acquisition is the latest in a series of strategic moves taken by Big Bob’s since Virga purchased a controlling interest in Big Bob’s Flooring, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

On March 1, Appel, Bill Hamad and Joe Hamad—current owners of Touch of Color Flooring in Harrisburg, Pa.—announced their involvement in a group that bought controlling interest of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet stores. The buying group is now Floors & More, under which Big Bob’s, Floors & Kitchens Today and Floor to Ceiling operates.

During a January 2016 interview with FCNews, Virga said within five years Big Bob’s would be “at least” the third-largest buying group for flooring and kitchen design. “By hook or by crook we are going to get there,” he said.

As for the rest of 2016, Virga said the group is “definitely looking” for more acquisitions. “We believe there are another four groups that would make for a great fit in our organization. We’re looking to scale our group so we can bring value to our members.”

He added being able to help members become more profitable or to improve their quality of life “is what motivates our team each and every day.”

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Big plans for Big Bob’s new managing partner

February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.49.45 PMVinnie 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?

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.49.50 PMDigital 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.”

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Big Bob’s names Virga president, managing partner

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.29.59 PM

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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CAP Carpet unveils The Floor Project

New retail concept is ‘the ideal flooring experience’

by Steven Feldman

Wichita, Kan.—CAP Carpet, one of the nation’s 15 largest flooring retailers, last week officially opened the doors to its latest retail concept, called The Floor Project, the store is billed as the first floor covering location designed around consumers’ wants and needs—the result of extensive research. Continue reading CAP Carpet unveils The Floor Project

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Smaller buying groups take retailers a step ahead

Volume 26/Number 17; January 7/14, 2013

From education to networking to competitive pricing, FCA Network gives members what they need to be successful.

In today’s economic climate, retailers have to fight for every piece of the market, no matter how small or large the slice. Buying groups are not only for new products and services, but can also provide retailers with the tools needed to succeed in business.

Two buying groups, FCA Network and Big Bob’s, have unique characteristics
that attract retailers to join. FCNews contributing editor Emily Cappiello spoke to several members of both groups to find out what makes the organizations different and why joining was the best decision for their businesses. Continue reading Smaller buying groups take retailers a step ahead