Posted on

Business is truly a family affair at Alliance Flooring

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Ken Ryan

 

Tucson, Ariz.—Not since the heady pre-recession days has Alliance Flooring and its dealers been in such a sweet spot: an improving economy; a growing, contented membership; exciting programs coming of age and a supplier network that treats the annual convention as if it were a family reunion.

The 2018 annual convention held here last month amplified those good vibes—from co-CEO Ron Dunn’s opening Power of 10 talk to the Oscars-like awards dinner to close the show.

Suppliers were uniform in their support and appreciation of Alliance Flooring—which comprises CarpetsPlus/Color Tile and Carpetland USA—and its membership. “Alliance Flooring is an extended family; they treat suppliers as partners and appreciate all of our efforts,” said Kelly Oberschlake, senior director, residential sales, for Mohawk, which won Supplier of the Year (see page 27).

Tim Hanno, vice president of retail sales, Karndean Designflooring, said Karndean has a great relationship with all the buying groups, but “this one just takes it to another level entirely. We love this group and the family atmosphere that exists here. It’s like you’re going to a family picnic. This business is about relationship sales, and this is a great relationship.”

Ann McDermott, vice president, national accounts, Shaw Industries, agreed. “It’s not like coming to a convention; it’s more like coming to a family reunion. This group is special.”

In the past year, Alliance Flooring has added 18 members, bringing to 370 the number of retailer members, which represents well over 400 storefronts. About one-third is part of the Destination program, which was launched in 2015 and is now in its fourth phase. What started as a carpet boutique within the showroom has expanded into hard surface and continues to evolve. “It is the most successful program ever for CarpetsPlus,” said Kevin Logue, co-COO and vice president of marketing. “We will continue to expand the program, especially in hard surfaces.”

In 2018, CarpetsPlus will add 12 new private-label programs to Destination, which is offered to members on an a la carte basis. Members don’t have to take on any elements but are encouraged to do so as research shows the average selling price of products within a Destination showroom goes up $1 to $2 per yard. “Destination has definitely created a buzz, and more suppliers want in on the program,” said Ryan Dunn, co-COO and vice president of sales.

Before convention there were 116 stores in the program. By the end of the second day, there were 121 members in the program—and that number is expected to rise.

“We have some progressive plans to grow this company,” Logue explained. “We’re adding new vendors; we have suppliers coming to us now. As for retailer members, we have to be very selective who we let in. We have spent a lot of time researching the industry and we are not just trying to sign up anyone. They have to be open and willing to share their best practices.”

That willingness to share best practices, to help each other in need, is one of the hallmarks of the Alliance Flooring group that stands out for retailers like Ben Case, owner of Carpet Collection, Lockport, N.Y. “We can have open-book discussions with almost any member we want. This allows growth for my business in avoiding the pitfalls others have experienced. Other members are just a phone call away, and most look forward to helping another member; I know I do.”

Bob Dauenhauer, owner, Carpet World, Bismarck, N.D., concurred. “If you have any questions you could go to any one of the dealers and they will help you out. It’s the friendliest group you could be with.”

It’s not just a cliché with Alliance Flooring—the group really does work with each other and can serve as a supplier/distributor when necessary. One example is the relationship between Montgomery’s CarpetsPlus Color Tile in Venice, Fla., and Gainesville CarpetsPlus Color Tile, located roughly 200 miles apart—not exactly around the corner. Still, when Montgomery’s was out of stock on a particular product that it needed, it turned not to a supplier but to Josh Elder, who runs the Gainesville store. He delivered the goods in a timely manner and sent them the invoice. Scores of these examples were retold at convention.

New offerings
Alliance Flooring has added 40 LVT-type products since September, and the combined LVT/WPC/SPC category now represents 20% of its mill shipments; resilient sheet makes up another 10%. Carpet is now at 39%, down from 80% in 2002. “I never thought in my days that I would see carpet at 39% for our group,” Logue said. “Meanwhile, LVT is going off. My phone is ringing once, maybe twice a week from people who say, ‘Hey, you want to see my rigid core line?’”

Rather than take them all in, Alliance chooses roughly five “winning” lines for its members, with WPC and SPC commanding equal time. As Logue explained, “We are never going to be the group that has 35 suppliers in one category. We pick the right ones. We boiled down our LVT business to five lines because we need to put our members in a position to be as competitive as they can be in their own markets.”

This year’s new offerings include denser, more rigid cores; wider and longer planks; and tile and stone visuals in larger formats. The lineup features Shaw’s new Floorte Pro products (48 SKUs) and COREtec Stone. “No other group is showing this right now—we think this product is going to be hot,” Logue said.

The carpet introductions “are pretty short and sweet this year,” Logue noted. Leading the way are Anso Foundations and Bellera from Shaw and Dixie’s PetProtect Destination.

For Color Tile dealers, ProGen from Tarkett and Korlok from Karndean are new offerings in rigid. “This is their foray into the floating arena,” Logue said of Karndean. “They really did their homework and took their time in bringing this to market.” Laminate represents 4% of the group’s sales but has stabilized, Logue said. “We feel the waterproof story is compelling.” To that end, Mohawk’s RevWood, a new waterproof collection, will fill that niche.

Alliance Flooring welcomed several new suppliers. Phenix Flooring is the replacement for Beaulieu, which was acquired by Engineered Floors in 2017. Phenix is expected to help Alliance dealers in the area of solution-dyed products.

Peerless (which is Beaulieu Canada; however, legally the name Beaulieu cannot be used in the U.S.) is a new member with a familiar name running the program—Greg Payne, formerly with Shaw. Also new is DuChateau. “We needed a higher-end line,” Logue noted. “I have been after them for two years. DuChateau is a good pickup for us.”

Posted on

Floors & More: Members put pedal to the metal

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Las Vegas—The main objective of Floors & More’s 2018 winter convention was to drive business for members—literally. In keeping with the conference theme, “EXCELerate,” the latest initiatives were designed to help members accelerate profits and growth.

Highlights included expanded private-label branding campaigns, a renewed focus on digital marketing strategies and, of course, new vendor programs. The three-day conference was also packed with education and networking opportunities.

“EXCELerate is about being the best and getting more aggressive,” said Vinnie Virga, founder and CEO, Floors & More. “Times are changing and they’re changing quickly. Therefore, our members need to be nimble and move faster. We’re helping them to understand the importance of building their local brands using the tools we bring them. We’re also reinforcing the importance of customer experience.”

According to Virga, the group’s focus in 2017 was on setting the right foundation and reworking its business model. This year the group plans on growing at an accelerated pace. “We’re growing organically, and we’re also growing through acquisition,” Virga said.

A big part of Floors & More’s success hinges on executing multiple facets of a particular design project. To that end, the group has added eight new vendors to provide dealers with the whole flooring package. In addition to taking on companies such as Lonesome Oak, the group has added insurance and benefits vendors.

What’s more, Floors & More is providing its members with multiple services to help the collective grow. “We’re extending our private brand offering,” said Mike Cherico, the group’s vice president. “We actually reiterated the importance of education and private branding [at general session]. We have some killer programs with private branding and we’re going to continue down that road.”

Cherico pointed to the success of private-label branding opportunities available through Stainmaster, adding there is more on the way. “It’s the No. 1 brand name in flooring, and we have it as our brand,” he said. “We also have another collection coming with 10 PetProtect products.”

Embracing digital
Beyond private-label branding the group is supporting members on the digital front. “Our digital marketing is already very good, but some of things we’re doing are blowing the minds of our members,” Virga said. “The digital aspect is cutting edge and very effective with unbelievable ROI, and most of it is included in the base membership.”

Kim Weber, office manager and interior design for Greeley, Colo.-based Steamway Floor to Ceiling—a member since 2002—is a big fan of the digital services. “A lot of the benefits to Floors & More are the background things they do such as advertising and the website. I also like all of the new companies they’ve brought in and the social media support they’re doing for us.”

Brad Millner, CEO, Synergy Holdings, Yuma, Ariz., is similarly impressed with the group’s initiatives. “To be successful, dealers must embrace product line extensions to capture more revenue,” he said. “After listening to RFMS, Flooring Financial, Creating Your Space (CYS) and other dealers, we are examining each step of our sales, operations, installation and customer services processes to create a more streamlined, efficient system.”

Moving forward, Floors & More is partnering with CYS and getting insight from digital experts to better serve its members with respect to their lead-generation initiatives.

Posted on

Silverman retires as president, COO of Abbey Carpet Co.

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 2.50.33 PMBonita Springs, Fla.—After 24 years of dedication to Abbey Carpet and Floor and its affiliates, Steve Silverman has decided to retire so he can spend more time with his grandchildren. His commitment and contributions to the growth and development of the franchise over the years have been numerous. The group wishes him good health and much happiness in the years to come.

Going forward, Ted Dlugokienski, CFO, will take over as executive vice president of operations. Dave Hardy will continue as executive vice president of merchandising and member services. Steve Mintz will continue as vice president of franchise development and franchise relations. All three will report to Philip Gutierrez, who will continue as CEO and assume the title of president.

Posted on

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.”

Posted on

Executive Decision VP joins Floors & More

CA Profile PicAuburn, Mass.— CarrieAnne Lapides, vice president of Executive Decision—a recruiting company she founded in 2007, has joined Floors & More, according to the company. Lapides will oversee the Floors & More convention and event planning in addition to executive recruitment for the company.

“CarrieAnne is an experienced professional that makes things happen,” said Vinnie Virga CEO and founder. “Her knowledge in the hospitality/event space and her relationships will allows us to insure the Floors & More events are incredibly effective and powerful for our vendors and our members-franchisees. In addition, her company’s ability to find—both from a skill set and personality perspective—the best match to fill open executive roles is uncanny and impressive.”

Lapides’ company, Executive Decision, specializes in full service/direct hire/permanent placement staffing and talent acquisition services for hospitality, information technology, engineering, manufacturing, human resources and senior level sales positions.

Posted on

Floors & More taps Cherico as vice president

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 10.10.29 AMAuburn, Mass.—Floors & More, the buying group that includes the Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet franchise and the Floor To Ceiling membership group, has appointed Mike Cherico as vice president. Cherico’s responsibilities will include recruitment of new members and franchisees, enhancing vendor relationships and programs, and leading the members services team.

“Mike is a proven industry leader and veteran, who will increase our scale dramatically and play a key role in executing our growth strategy,” said Vinnie Virga, CEO and founder, Floors & More.

Cherico brings over 30 years of leadership experience in flooring, franchising, buying and technology and will be based in Atlanta. Prior to joining Floors & More, Cherico founded Leaning Local, a grassroots effort to help local businesses grow and leverage digital technology.

“I couldn’t be more excited or honored to join this company,” Cherico said. “This company is positioned for significant growth. They already have great members and they have built a great management and support team. They are poised to ensure flooring and kitchen retailers generate increased profits and thrive in this ever-changing digital age.”

Posted on

Obituary: Jake Kimmel, founder of Floors to Go

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.—Jacob “Jake” Kimmel, founder of national floor covering franchise Floors To Go, died Sept. 25 of lymphoma and Parkinsons disease. He was 79.

Jacob Hughes Kimmel was born Aug. 8 in 1932 to a hardware store owner and homemaker in Cherokee, Kan. He served four years in the Navy and earned a business degree at Kansas State Teacher’s College. Continue reading Obituary: Jake Kimmel, founder of Floors to Go

Posted on

The Juleo Group: Canadian buying group delivers new business model

HICKSVILLE, N.Y.—Homegrown. Grassroots. Salt of the earth. Whichever the euphemism to describe the Juleo Group—one of Canada’s premiere buying groups—it should impart the honest values of hard work and family. Not to give the impression it is old-fashioned; a unique business model accompanied by exclamations like, “right on,” and “cool,” when describing the company makes this retail franchise an individual entity that is taking floor covering specialty retail in a new direction. Continue reading The Juleo Group: Canadian buying group delivers new business model