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NRF prioritizes service for partners at NEFM

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Steven Feldman & Mara Bollettieri

Uncasville, Conn.—Winter turned to spring on March 19 as things were heating up at NRF Distributors’ New England Flooring Market (NEFM). With 110 vendors showcasing their latest wares to an estimated 320 customers, Terry Gray, vice president of marketing, was anticipating the one-day event to generate $3 million in business. Every vendor offered some type of special to encourage retailers to make the trip to NEFM and spend.

“This is their local Surfaces,” Gray told FCNews. By her count, only 10 retailers who signed up for the NEFM attended Surfaces. “Instead of flying to Vegas and spending all that money, they can spend a night here and buy new displays and meet executives of the brands they sell.”

The NEFM concept began nearly 40 years ago, when it was held in NRF’s Augusta, Maine-based warehouse. The market eventually outgrew the venue and has been held in casinos for the last 10 years, attracting customers from Maine to Pennsylvania. NRF now hosts three markets a year for its customers—two in Connecticut and one in New York.

One initiative the distributor was focusing on at this event was its newly launched social media platform, NRF Social, which aims to help retail customers build their Facebook and Twitter presence. Michael Gallicchio, social media manager of NRF Social, explained how the program familiarizes itself with the retailer and adapts to his or her specific community and product line. This allows the program to produce a library of personalized content. “What we try to do is engage the community through social media in the name of the retailer and target people who are showing the tendency toward home improvement services. Once we do that, more than likely when people go to buy flooring, they’re going to be thinking about the local retailers first.”

The program costs anywhere from $99-$149 a month depending on the level of service. Ninety-nine bucks a month includes posting content and pictures; for $149 a month, retailers receive content plus paid Facebook ads. Gallicchio emphasized how putting money behind Facebook advertising can be extremely beneficial to a retailer’s business. “For hardly any money, comparatively speaking to what existed 20 years ago—when people spent thousands of dollars in ads—you can deliver a branded message with pictures, specs and product knowledge that will help people make decisions on the fly.”

Around 30 to 40 stores have signed on to NRF Social since its launch in October, and at least a dozen more were added at the show, Gallicchio shared. “NRF had the foresight to not guess what consumers do. We studied it.” The platform allows retailers to maximize their time on the floor with customers while the social media experts handle the advertising.

NRF’s social media team held a four-month pilot program, where it tested numerous types of messaging and online advertising through social media platforms. The data collected from this study revealed what consumers best respond to, so a local retailer can hyper-locally target consumers in his or her community.

NRF has also launched a campaign promoting the “shop local” movement with service, honesty, options and pricing providing the basis for the acronym SHOP. NRF has adorned the back door of its 68 trucks with the signage and is also providing POP material in the form of stickers to retailers. “The idea is to get people to buy specialty flooring products from their local retailer,” Gray said. “It’s a way to drive more traffic into stores. We are driving the fact local stores do it better.”

NRF is also using its trucks to promote its vendors. For example, 28 trucks sport the Tarkett logo and a large room scene visual plastered on the side. “We’ve been doing that since 1988,” Gray said. “We don’t know of any other distributor doing that. It’s the best advertising you can get. That will last 12 years; the trailer will die before the label comes off.”

Gray noted that NRF was up about 6% in 2017 and, like just about everyone, is riding the crest of the LVT/WPC/SPC wave. Beauflor and Raskin are new vendors joining Tarkett, which NRF has handled for five years. “Actually, the last two or three years have been great,” Gray said.

That is not to say NRF is strictly growing because of hard surface. Gray pointed out that carpet is still a big part of the distributor’s overall sales. “Carpet remains 30% of our business. I have carpet in stock all the time.”

Service with a smile 

Service has been, and always will be, something Gray believes is an NRF hallmark. “Truck drivers deliver to every single store twice a week—roll goods, boxed goods, palletized goods. Generally speaking, customers never have to wait more than a week for anything. We even have 400 customers who have given the truck drivers keys to their stores, so they can deliver early in the morning. Sometimes we even start the coffee maker.”

Delivery of product begins long before NRF drivers show up on a retailer’s doorstep. In many cases, product comes from overseas, which requires astute management to ensure proper inventory. “If you are buying containers from China, you must factor in how many weeks and months it takes to get product,” Gray noted. “You need 15 to 18 weeks inventory if it’s coming on a container. You have to have a purchasing system for all the different items. You have to factor in all the nuances of each product lines.”

Retailers attending the NEFM attested to NRF’s focus on service. Jeff Hosking, owner of Payless Floors, North Attleborough, Mass., shared the advantages of using the distributor for his local business. “The pricing is better when you buy it in bulk, and they’re great people to deal with. We’ve worked with them now for a lot of years, and we’ve found them to be very honest when we have an issue. They back up what they say. They help us sell our customers with product knowledge and offer training.”

When asked what separates NRF from other distributors, Hosking did not hesitate to respond. “They’re more attentive. The service is 100% better than most of the other distributors.”

Even retailers who are new to the game are impressed with the service NRF provides. Eileen Nash and her husband, Dylan O’Malley-Joyce, recently opened The Floor Works in Bethlehem, N.H. She shared how they recently had a problem with some of their flooring and NRF resolved the issue. “The manufacturer blamed the installer, so NRF got us an inspector. It turned out to be a flooring defect, and NRF had everything fixed [just] like that.”

As an added bonus, NRF has a printing department and another that handles sampling for wood and ceramic. NRF also offers its customers products to sell on a private-label basis. “We always thought it was important for customers to have their own lines,” Gray said. “Everyone can go on their phones and say, ‘I can buy it cheaper.’ But private-label products can’t be shopped.”

Manufacturers also attest to the value NRF provides. “They’re just efficient,” said Stephan Guindon, executive director, NA, Venture Carpet. “The reputation they’ve built in the marketplace is something I haven’t seen in other areas of the country.”

If reputation is No. 1, then product knowledge is a close second. Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales at Ribadao Wood Boutique, was one who commended the distributor’s familiarity of his products. “They have an extremely knowledgeable sales staff that can talk in depth about the unique species we offer.”

Raskin Industries is a relatively new supplier, only four months into the relationship. “I would say they dominate New England more than any other distributor dominates their own marketplace,” said Ted Rocha, vice president of sales. He likened his partnership with NRF to being a part of an extended family. “They have great support from areas that are very difficult to get to.”

Mike Lewandowski, general manager of American Olean, is also pleased with NRF as a distributor partner. “They support all our new launches and every effort we do in the market.”

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Ribadao seeks to stand out with differentiated offerings

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Reginald Tucker

 

In a sea of European oak, wide-plank/long length sameness, Ribadao Wood Boutique is looking to set itself apart from the pack. The key, according to the company, lies in targeting the mid-to-high-end tier of the market with visuals, profiles and product formats consumers and commercial end users won’t find among the bevy of commodity offerings currently flooding the market.

Utilizing its expertise in raw materials sourcing (the company has long maintained manufacturing and finishing facilities in Portugal), Ribadao focuses on various exotic species from South America and Africa as well as wide-plank European oaks planks. Once a private-label supplier to major importers as well as manufacturers based in the U.S., the company is focusing on driving awareness of its own brand by leveraging its manufacturing capabilities and history.

“The company has been producing hardwood flooring for a long time—just not under its own brand,” said Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, Ribadao Wood Boutique. “The company was founded in 1976 by the father of current president and CEO Pedro Tavares. His dad began trading African lumber and commodities and then started making flooring and other products. The company quickly became a global leader in the production of exotic flooring, lumber and decking, supplying several OEM and private-label programs to some of the leading brands and U.S. manufacturers in the industry. Now it’s looking at being a branded manufacturer in America.”

Ribadao’s go-to-market strategy in the U.S. market will entail, essentially, a dual-distribution approach, according to Hammer (formerly of Elof Hansson), who teamed up with Tavares several years ago while they were developing new collections for the American market. “We are going with distribution in certain markets, and we will go it alone in other territories,” he explained. “We have a mixed bag of products that bring value and selection to our customer base.”

But don’t expect to find your run-of-the-mill, entry-level hardwood flooring options among those offerings. “We’re still very bullish on exotics, although it’s just one line that we offer,” Hammer explained. “It’s true the U.S. market is nowhere near what it was for exotics about 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for us.”

The company’s signature offerings include the Exotics Skins line and its Rio collection. Ribadao is also working on an engineered exotics line and—in a limited number of SKUs—engineered birch. Outside of exotics, Ribadao also offers European oak wide planks, some as broad as 10 inches wide in a ¾-inch format with a 4mm wear layer. “There are a lot of companies out there today offering 7½-inch European oak planks, but there’s a limited number of suppliers that can do the wider widths and longer lengths,” Hammer explained.

Priced for profit

For retailers, Ribadao strives to offer products that will command a higher price point at retail and, more importantly, higher margins for dealers. Take the company’s Exotics collection, for example. Considered a “medium- to high- priced” offering, the line opens at roughly $5 per square foot for certain grades and moves all the way up to $14 for some species.

Outside of retail, Ribadao has also been successful marketing to the commercial sector. According to Hammer, 30,000 square feet of the company’s products were installed at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, and the company also has a contract to supply Chanel stores globally.

“High-profile installations are a feather in our cap,” Hammer said. “But we also know that to get good turns out of inventory we have to have products sold through retail that’s not just an A&D spec.”