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Aligned groups strive to give retailers a competitive edge

January 8/15, 2018, Volume 33, Issue 15

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Differentiation is key for the success of an independent flooring retailer. While this is often no simple task, flooring retailers do not have to do it alone. Various flooring organizations from distributors, manufacturers and buying groups are available to help retailers not only survive but thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Distributor group
Haines Loyalty Club (HLC) aims to help smaller, independent and unaligned dealers compete in the competitive world of flooring. Dealers who wish to be part of HLC and receive the benefits pay $2,700 annually and are entitled to all program elements.

“We give them access to exclusive partners who offer tools and services to help them in their business but at a discount,” said Mike Barrett, president and CEO. “We also invite them all to attend, at no additional charge, our marquee summits each year where they can network with fellow members, get face time with the Haines selling and executive teams as well as our supplier partners.”

Member benefits include: attendance at annual summits; rebates on most purchases (1-2%); $700 in merchandising funds to be used on displays, updates, sample boards, etc.; Haines’ exclusive web services program, which features a dealer locator listing only HLC members; and individual dealer sites, which are fully customizable and managed/maintained by a dedicated team. In addition, HLC partners with vendors that offer discounts or special pricing to HLC dealers. This list includes Synchrony Financial, NWFA, HomeAdvisor, RFMS and CardConnect.

Manufacturer groups
Mohawk’s Floorscapes and ColorCenter Elite programs were created 25 years ago with a focus on differentiating the retail community with the in-store shopping area. Today these programs also include the ability to utilize Omnify, the manufacturer’s online program that aims to integrate the customer’s digital and physical experiences.

“We look for retailers who are supporting the Mohawk brand with a certain amount of sales, because we aim to drive traffic to those stores,” said Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing. “We also look for dealers who are predominantly focused on the retail channel rather than commercial, Main Street or builder/multi-family.”

As part of the program, Mohawk structures national sales and drives awareness to the retail community. The manufacturer also has the capability and resources to completely restructure a member’s store.

“The first thing we do is a complete survey of the showroom,” Arnold explained. “Then we update all of the merchandising to make sure it is consistent and has the most up-to-date graphics that connect with what we’re doing online.”

These programs also offer other benefits for members including improved rates with business partners such as Synchrony Financial to offer credit programs to their customers.

 

The qualities that set the Shaw Flooring Network (SFN) apart from other groups, according to the company, include its people, products and service. Through membership in SFN, dealer partners receive all the benefits of independence while profiting from the collective knowledge, expertise and experience of their fellow members. In addition, Shaw provides members with digital marketing assistance and lead-generation tools.

“We’re committed to building the genuine relationships that make our retailers know we value them,” said Danny Crutchfield, director, SFN. “We want our members to be successful, and we want them to know we’re committed to helping them in every facet of their business. Through back-end business solutions, vendor partner programs, consumer financing opportunities, merchandising, advertising solutions, digital marketing services and more, we help our retailers run their businesses more efficiently and profitably.”

Membership in SFN is seen as a three-way commitment. As Crutchfield explained, “SFN members commit to Shaw in the form of floor space, core products and participation in various programs. Shaw commits to members via exclusive programs, benefits and service levels. Lastly, members commit to each other by learning, growing and sharing together.”

 

Buying groups
Carpet One Floor & Home describes itself as a “retailers for retailers” group, where everything is driven by the membership to help retailers sustain profitable growth. To become a member of the group and a stockholder in the parent company, CCA Global Partners, a flooring retailer must be financially sound, have a good reputation in his or her market, be respected and valued by the supplier community and have core values that mirror the cooperative.

“From the very beginning over 35 years ago, the founders of the Carpet Cooperative of America—now CCA Global Partners—wanted a business model that supported independent business owners with buying, merchandising, marketing, brand management and management services,” said Eric Demaree, president, Carpet One Floor & Home. “Belonging to Carpet One Floor & Home gives an independent retailer tremendous scale that enables him or her to get exclusive brands at better prices; world-class marketing assets across every traditional and digital media channel; an award-winning university to train, hire and retain salespeople; and access to leading technology to support their store operations.”

Additionally, members have access to an international network of independent retailers to share ideas with and learn from. They are able to consult with CCA Global and third-party experts in product, merchandising, marketing and operations.

 

What sets CarpetsPlus apart from other buying groups, according to ownership, is the level of networking available to its members. Communication is a priority for the group and is accomplished in various ways, the most notable of which is the group’s annual “summits,” where store owners and managers are able to meet and get an inside look at another member’s business.

“Identifying and communicating best practices and proven ways is a high priority,” said Ron Dunn, co-founder and co-CEO of parent company Alliance Flooring. “We know that whatever challenge or opportunity any one of our members is up against, another member has already crossed that bridge and is willing to provide invaluable insight. The smartest person in any room is the combined IQ, so it stands to reason that asking questions and discovering new ideas makes for a growth culture.”

Group members have access to resources such as networking, private-label displays, showroom design, brand recognition, continual promotions, aggressive consumer credit offerings, website support, social media, exclusive specials, training, customer service support, rebates on supplier purchases and member-only conventions and meetings.

 

Flooring America/Flooring Canada (FA/FC) views itself as the most diverse and comprehensive full-service merchandising and marketing group in the industry today. The group contains members of all sizes from $1 million to $70 million in top-line revenue, single- and multiple-location operations and a mix of retail, commercial and builder.

“The FA/FC membership is fiercely independent yet embraces the cooperative model giving each member, regardless of size, an equal say in the management of the company and a natural inclination to help fellow members,” Keith Spano, president, FA/FC, explained. “We provide our members with merchandising, marketing, operational and educational programs that allow them to compete with the big boxes and other large national competitors.”

Group members have access to marketing programs, complete with automated social media, proprietary in-store apps and customizable websites. FA/FC also assists in hiring sales professionals, negotiating rents, succession planning, long-term consumer financing and operational efficiency programs.

 

Floors & More looks to stand out among other buying groups with its embrace of digital advertising as well as the attention and care the group has for each of its members. From website design to Facebook posts, SEO and pay per click, the group offers a plethora of digital resources while providing members with private branding and merchandising programs.

“We work with professionals who specialize in different industries to help members understand how and what they should be doing in digital marketing and social media,” said Vinnie Virga, founder and CEO. “We also run six of our own stores and are a member of the group. We are constantly testing services and products in our own business to make sure they are effective for the whole group. Combining that with our advisory council, made up of our own members, we guide the group in the direction we all want to go. We are dedicated to making our members money, and we treat them like family.”

 

The Floor Trader is a cooperative group of outlet retailers focused on providing value to customers looking for in-stock merchandise. This low-overhead, no-installation, strong-margin, deep-inventory model caters to today’s customers looking for value.

“The group’s buying power is backed by the largest flooring cooperative in North America, and our proprietary merchandising system allows for product and pricing management with ease,” said Keith Spano, president, FA/FC and Floor Trader. “The group has also launched an e-commerce initiative to reach customers who can’t come into the store.”

Members receive a comprehensive marketing and advertising program designed specifically for the outlet business model. Merchandising is fresh and fun while an online learning system provides training on products, design and selling skills. Members also have an opportunity to network with other industry leaders at ConneXtion and Building Buzz.

 

The International Design Guild (IDG) is a luxury flooring alliance that offers programs for showrooms open to the public, open to the trade only and programs for their affiliated interior designers. The group offers networking opportunities and access to industry leaders and their annual winter and summer conferences.

“Although the group caters to the upper echelon, it facilitates tremendous give-back to each community they service through the community-driven Design For A Difference movement,” said Keith Spano, president, FA/FC, Floor Trader and IDG.

Member requirements include an expertise in the luxury flooring segment, a strong following in the design community and a willingness to give back to the community through local Design for a Difference makeovers.

“Members enjoy access to the Louis A. Dabbieri brand of soft and hard surface luxury products in addition to select products made only for IDG members from a variety of suppliers,” Spano said. “Members also have access to continuing education opportunities through training events, webinars and study guides.”

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FCA Network: Retail members praise industry’s ‘best-kept secret’

March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 10.27.17 AMChicago—Cottonwood, Idaho, is located on the Carnas Prairie (population 910, as per 2010 U.S. Census), 158 miles from Spokane, Wash., the nearest city with more than 100,000 people. It is home to Hoene (pronounced Hay-nee) Hardware Co., a 108-year-old, fourth-generation retailer that sells items including appliances, bedding, furniture and flooring—and is the newest member of the FCA Network.

Gus Hoene, owner, said that after buying out his partner last year he wanted to join a group. He started looking online and came upon the FCA Network and Olga Robertson, its president. Hoene said he dialed an 877 number and Robertson immediately picked up. “I was driving and had to pull over to the side of the road because I didn’t think I would get through, and I wasn’t prepared to talk,” Hoene told FCNews. He spoke with Robertson for 90 minutes and verbally committed to joining the group.

To seal the deal, Robertson personally visited Hoene’s Hardware. She flew to Spokane, traversed rugged mountain ranges and arrived “white as a ghost” from the trip, Hoene said. During the visit, Robertson rearranged the store’s merchandising and collaborated on a new marketing slogan for the store. “Olga bulldozed through my store, which I liked,” Hoene recalled. “She said, ‘Move that,’ ‘Get that crap out of the window,’ ‘Put that here.’ The store has never looked better since she redesigned it.”

The Hoene Hardware scenario is not uncommon at FCA Network (except perhaps for the long and winding road traveled), where Robertson and her team are a mere phone call away. FCA Network is not the largest buying group, but to hear its retail members tell it you would be hard pressed to find a more loyal group of dealers.

“The FCA Network may be the best-kept secret in the industry,” said Carlton Billingsley, owner of Benton, Ark.-based Floors and More, a member for 15 years. “I don’t think they realize how great having a female leadership of a flooring buying group adds to each member’s success from not only a woman’s expertise, but the female perspective of what the customer really wants.”

The majority of FCA’s newest retailers (it has 54 members and 62 storefronts) come via online searches or referrals from existing members. As Robertson explained, “We don’t have people beating the bushes looking for new members.”

FCA Network, which bills itself as the low-cost buying group with high-powered expertise, is unique in that it is the only retail group actually run by retailers (it has its own corporate stores). The group, an offshoot of Floor Covering Associates, a $40 million-plus retailer based in Shorewood, Ill., was launched in 1998 with the goal of assisting independent retailers in expanding opportunities through marketing, merchandising and buying power.

Appropriately, this year’s convention theme was “Opportunity Knocks,” and against a backdrop of an improving economy and more favorable housing numbers, the outlook is indeed bright for the group. “I really believe there are unlimited opportunities for us,” Robertson told members. “We all have to step up our games because the status quo is not a business strategy. Retail is getting more complex every day. Creative thinking, networking and the strength of our product assortment are what are needed. FCA has the muscle to help [members] survive and thrive.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 10.27.49 AMDennis Thiets, senior vice president of residential sales for Mohawk Industries, a keynote speaker, tapped into Robertson’s positive outlook in his address, saying, “There is once again reason for optimism all around us. If you look at consumer confidence, for example, the most optimistic of all age groups is 35 and under, which is very encouraging for our industry.”

Ninety percent of membership attended the Chicago event, which is par for the course, and yet a rather significant statistic considering the conference is not mandatory. “Our members are here because they want to be here,” Robertson said. “They are committed to this business.” As with everything with this group, no program or product is mandated; retailers remain autonomous in how they want to run their business. FCA Network is there to provide the necessary support through professional assistance.

Bob Gaither, owner of The Carpet Gallery and Quality Carpet & Flooring, Akron, Ohio, was one of the original members of FCA Network. He said each convention gives him a renewed sense of purpose. “I wouldn’t call it a pep talk, but I think it is a shot in the arm when I come here—and when I get back to the office I am fired up. I remember Bob Hill [FCA Associates founder] saying 15 years ago that if you did things the same way you did them a year ago, then you are doing something wrong. This group is constantly evolving with products and programs, which they have to do because the industry is evolving.”

Supplier executives who took part in the vendor trade show said FCA Network’s can-do spirit starts at the top. “While a lot of groups help out with their buying power, Olga does that and more—she helps them with their merchandising and store layout,” said Ann McDermott, vice president of national accounts for Shaw Industries. “Many of the smaller dealers in this group who may not have known where to turn if they have a problem can count on Olga. She takes care of their needs. She’ll go into their stores and give them a facelift. She really beautifies their stores.”

Joe Ross, regional vice president of sales for the north central region, Phenix, noted, “Olga always tries to create a unique venue to inspire her members in a different way, whether it is product assortment, merchandising or digital platforms.”

Robertson is happy to oblige. “FCA Network is a partner in our members’ success; helping them improver their profitability while maintaining their local identity.”

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Abbey Carpet dealers search for ‘Solutions’ at convention

February 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Number 18

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Atlanta—Abbey Carpet & Floor recently welcomed dealers and vendors to its winter convention, where the star of the show was technology.

On the digital front, members were treated to a newly redesigned consumer website that touts improved responsiveness. The new consumer website, which is set to go live April 4, aims to strengthen awareness of Abbey’s name across the U.S. while allowing dealers to distinguish and differentiate themselves as independent retailers.

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.35.43 PM“Our new website is built on a responsive platform, meaning if a consumer is using a smartphone to search for a flooring store near her location the site will adjust to fit her device,” Steve Silverman, president and COO, Abbey Carpet & Floor, told members during the opening general session. “The same is true for tablets and laptops.”

Spearheading the website’s redesign are Bill Wilson, vice president of marketing and advertising, Abbey Carpet & Floor, and Ken Norvell, IT development manager. To complement the platform, Abbey has also updated the website’s layout. “The design is crisp, clean, inviting and easy to navigate,” Silverman said. “The layout is fitting of today’s design trends and offers an impactful and effective consumer experience.”

Other highlights: The full screen format is enhanced by the simplicity of acquiring information through the updated main menu. Flooring types, product details, photo galleries, call to action pages, “About Us” pages and a room visualizer are only some of the features easily found among the menu options.

Tying it all together is a new tagline, ‘Create your own lifestyle,’ which is descriptive of what the website offers the consumer. “Beautiful flooring products are shown in a full-screen format to help inspire the online search and provide a vision for what she might want in the home,” Silverman explained.

Dealer members in attendance liked what they’ve seen so far. “The website is going to be great for all the dealers,” said David Hayes, David’s Abbey Carpet & Floors, Knoxville, Tenn. “Everyone who is an Abbey dealer should take advantage of that. This is going to be a huge upgrade to what we have now. New technology, new ideas. We really love it.”

Hayes is particularly impressed by the new Room Visualizer feature, which allows the consumer to select different flooring products to view in a virtual room. She can also upload her own photos into the visualizer and apply product directly to the virtual room. “The room scenes and the ability to move the different products around the room is definitely going to be a big asset for us.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.35.56 PMOthers are similarly intrigued by the new technology. Tracy Taylor, Taylor Flooring, Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., noted the website’s revamped look and features. “It looks good. The website looks more updated and you can use the room visualizer.”

Rewarding connections
Another highlight from the convention was the launch of a pay-per-click program called Customer Connect. The program was developed to give dealers more exposure on the Internet. For a monthly charge, dealers can select pay-per-click advertising that is geo-targeted according to ZIP code, with links directly back to their websites. When a consumer clicks on the ad she is brought to the hero site showing the promotion, providing a streamlined connection from start to finish.

Also new is Abbey’s Performance Plus Rewards program, which offers dealers the opportunity to improve profitability with exclusive, private-label brands, eliminate Internet shopping, and incentivize and reward retail sales associates. At no cost to the dealers, RSAs can accumulate points that can be redeemed for premiums. To be a part of the program dealers must register their stores and retail sales associates.

While the convention focused on providing dealers with solutions through the website, various programs and new products, it also provided a space for dealers to network and share ideas. “The greatest value for me is the interaction with other dealers and picking up thoughts and creative ides and some good tactical information,” said Tim Mann, Brian’s Flooring & Design, based in Birmingham, Ala.

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Floors and More buying group hires new executive

Auburn, Mass.—Floors and More has appointed Jeff Spirer vice president of operations and membership. Spirer has over 29 years of experience in the flooring industry, and a wealth of knowledge that will only further cement Floors and More’s reputation as a leader in the flooring, kitchen and bath retail industry. He comes to Floors and More after a year as senior vice president of Beaulieu of America in Georgia, where he managed both residential and commercial sales.

In this new position, Spirer will develop and build a team to find new members, as well as lead member services activities to keep the current membership well informed. “He is incredibly bright, hard-working and dedicated which will allow us to more quickly realize our goals as a company,” said Vinnie Virga, CEO and founder.

Spirer’s dedication and business savvy acumen has propelled him from his position as a regional sales manager, overseeing several states, to becoming the director of distributor sales—managing sale distribution across the entire country. He is an accomplished and energetic manager with a solid history of achievement in sales management.

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Digital Marketing: Buying groups hop on the mobile bandwagon

November 7/14, 2016: Volume 31, Number 11

By Ken Ryan

Attend any flooring buying group convention these days and be prepared for an onslaught of digital dialogue covering the full spectrum of online and mobile marketing, as well as a plethora of social media strategies to help independent dealers compete in this rapidly changing mobile landscape.

Here are what some of the buying groups are up to:

Abbey Carpet & Floor
Abbey’s digital marketing program is designed to guide its flooring dealers through their social media efforts on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Houzz, Google+ and more. Email marketing is another major component, helping send store messages, news and promotions via Constant Contact. Perhaps the most critical component of Abbey’s digital marketing program is Customer Connect, the group’s customized pay-per-click (PPC) advertising program. Members say it is an ideal service for small businesses looking for ways to cost effectively reach customers. Retailers only pay when a consumer clicks on the text ad and is brought to the dealer’s Abbey website. PPC connects to online shoppers the moment they start looking for flooring.

The Customer Connect dashboard lets Abbey dealers gauge how successful their PPC campaigns have been, showing statistics like clicks, views, click-through rate and costs per click, in addition to seeing from where traffic is actually coming. Members can decide how much they want to spend per month on PPC. The Customer Connect team helps determine what programming is best for each budget and monitors results to see what is working and what is not.

Carpet One Floor & Home
screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-4-44-54-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-14-at-4-45-03-pmIn 2016, Carpet One Floor & Home unveiled a revamped carpetone.com designed to engage consumers at every step of the purchase process, along with more enhancements to the One Stop Digital (OSD) marketing initiative.

Janice Jacobs, vice president of marketing, said the Carpet One website relaunch is in response to changing consumer shopping and buying habits. “The way they consume media has changed,” she said. “Eighty percent of purchase decisions are made online.” She added that customers today are making 12-plus online visits over the course of many weeks and generally four websites but are only visiting 2.4 stores on average (where most sales occur). “But the impact of digital is what’s driving customer expectations to new levels. They expect a seamless experience between an online visit and the physical store. It is so important today to have the best customer experience online. We have to provide education. It is more important than ever to earn their trust.”

Carpet One said the new website opens up opportunities to add more content and make Carpet One the best site in the industry to get ideas, learn and shop. Jacobs said the objective is to attract customers earlier. “We have to get on their long list before we get on their short list. We have to convert them into buyers by connecting with our members’ stores in new ways.”

Other features include:

  • The ability to now search the entire website. The new site allows the consumer to search products, videos, photos, articles, etc., on the site. In the past, only the product catalog could be searched.
  • New product selection tools where customers can compare various products and categories.
  • Results display pros and cons so customers can easily compare across different categories. Reviews will show up on each member’s microsite. This helps with their Google ranking and is one of the key factors customers use in their final purchasing decisions.
  • If the customer chooses to shop, there are two options: a quick pick filter to narrow down choices, or the SelectAFloor finder option, which asks the customer a couple of engaging questions to determine her wants and needs. The customer is then presented choices that best align with her answers.
  • An updated room visualizer, where the customer can use stock photos or upload her own photos and change wall colors and countertops. She can then share her room visualizer choices via social media or with friends and family.

CarpetsPlus Colortile
screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-4-44-43-pmThe group recently introduced Web Pro 3.0, which is billed as more than just a user-friendly, mobile responsive, fully optimized website—it’s a complete digital and print marketing strategy. “We help the dealer tell their story online, over the air and in print,” said David Ellis, advertising and public relations manager. “Besides a robust website and analytics reports, they also receive complete ad campaigns with point of purchase materials, customizable magazine and newspaper advertising, direct mail, videos and other downloadable content for any of their social media channels.”

CarpetsPlus Colortile was founded to provide independent retailers with a menu of professional tools to grow a successful flooring business, and Ellis said the new Web Pro 3.0 is one of those tools that can help businesses thrive.

Flooring America/Flooring Canada
Frank Chiera, senior vice president-marketing and advertising, CCA Global Partners, said every year the group invests in the latest technology to create digital marketing programs that will work hard for its members. “We recognize that our members can get overwhelmed when it comes to executing a digital marketing strategy so we try to provide programs that can be easily implemented in these key areas: search marketing, social media marketing and online reviews,” Chiera said. “Through our G1 program, our members gain access to a best-in-class search marketing program that ensures they have a strong online presence so when a consumer is searching for flooring, our members will have a prominent presence on the first page in a Google search, which most definitely helps to drive a potential customer to a member’s showroom.”

F.A.S.T. (Flooring America Social Tools) is an automated social media program that syndicates content across social media platforms, ensuring Flooring America/Flooring Canada members have access to a powerful and robust operating tool that provides enhanced reporting and tracking as well as improved flexibility and control over publishing content.

“We’ve developed apps for our members to leverage as well,” Chiera said. “My Floor Story allows members to easily obtain reviews and recommendations from customers and My Floor Style lets customers visualize what a floor or paint color will look like in their home.”

Chiera said successful digital marketing campaigns are ones that translate well online and in-store, making for a holistic customer experience. “The programs we provide our members aim to make it easy for them to execute well-rounded digital marketing campaigns designed to build brand awareness and generate sales.”

Floors & More
At its inaugural conference in Minneapolis in July, Floors & More members were offered lead-generation software packages and custom websites. RFMS is the business-to-business software provider for the group.

To further help its dealers, Floors & More is providing customized websites for each of its members at a price they cannot refuse. “A professional customized website can cost $10,000 to $20,000,” Vinnie Virga, CEO, told members during the convention. “Your price? Free. Why are we doing this? Because we have to own this space. We can’t wait any longer.” The Floors & More Buying Group also includes the Floor To Ceiling and Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet divisions. Virga said in order to thrive in today’s fast-paced world, retailers need a sound digital strategy that starts with web and social media, and they need assistance like that provided by a buying group.

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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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Abbey Carpet & Floor: New programs for optimizing RSAs, web-savvy shoppers

February 29/March 7, 2016; Volume 30, Number 18

By Jenna Lippin

IMG_7240Las Vegas—Against the backdrop of a positive outlook for 2016, Abbey Carpet & Floor saw the highest percentage of membership attending last month’s annual convention since 2008. And to help dealers ride this wave of optimism, the group presented several new strategies and programs to cater to today’s consumer, which ranges from millennial to baby boomer.

“To stay ahead we must work smarter in order to take market share,” said Steve Silverman, Abbey’s president and COO. “Your customer continues to change. You must target marketing and advertising to focus on different needs. To win you must deliver value to every customer.”

Keynote speaker Joe Bondi, vice president of Armstrong residential flooring, North America, explained the changing consumer. “Arguably the most critical [market trend] is keeping pace with the consumer of today. There are different ways of shopping and purchasing flooring, which have really changed and continue to evolve.”

Part of this evolution is the focal shift to millennials, or Generation Y—those consumers who range in age from 19 to 35. Today the largest consumer demographic is Generation X, ages 36 to 51, but by 2017 Generation Y will surpass them in terms of buying power. To further the point, in 2021 millennials will be the largest consumer group and by 2025 will account for 46.6% of the nation’s income.

How does Abbey help its members address this sea change of shoppers? Helping to arm its members with the best RSAs in the business is one major weapon, because quality salespeople lead to happy customers, which results in positive online feedback via social media and review sites, driving new and repeat customers.

To that end, Abbey’s new RSA Training and Learning Center—available to members via Abbey InfoNet—features a plethora of tools to help the busy dealer train his sales staff. Topics include best practices and sales training along with product knowledge and detailed information on Abbey private-label brands. Both videos and written guides are available from customer service guru Pami Bhullar, director of retail development for Invista/Stainmaster, and renowned business coach Joe Calloway, a regular speaker at Abbey events.

“In our industry, training means a number of things,” Silverman noted. “It’s more than just selling; it’s knowledge and when to use that knowledge. There are so many components that make up our industry in terms of different types of flooring. Consumers today go on the Internet and learn about products before they are going to spend $10,000 to $15,000. They compare and know differences of products. All that information needs to be in the hands of salespeople. If they fumble on giving an answer [to a customer] it may mean she is going to a competitor.”

Ted Gregerson, owner of Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor with two locations in the Birmingham, Ala., area, had been anticipating a full-service training program from the group. “Now you are able to take someone you’ve just hired who knows nothing about flooring and have them sit down at the computer, watch videos and get basic flooring knowledge without having someone else on your staff take the time to train them. That will be a huge savings for us. And even veteran or seasoned sales personnel can now [easily] be educated on Abbey programs, Abbey brands and even sales 101 as reminders. We do a great job with education and training ourselves; this will go really well with what we’re already doing.”

In conjunction with its new training initiative, Abbey launched Performance Plus Rewards at convention, an incentives program for RSAs designed to encourage sales of private-label products.

“The basic concept is to provide a reward for salespeople to sell the brands you have the best opportunity to make more money on,” David Hardy, executive vice president, merchandising and member services, told members. “These products are really not ‘shop-able.’ Suppliers that create products in exclusive brands and private labels prevent people from going on the Internet and shopping prices.”

Any product under Abbey’s umbrella of exclusive brands earns points for salespeople. Points earned go toward electronics like iPads, DVD and Blu-ray players, desktop computers and more.

Abbey launched Performance Plus Rewards and the RSA training program in sync so members can educate and motivate their sales staff at the same time. IMG_7230With all information in one place on Abbey’s InfoNet portal, the initiatives work together seamlessly. “I have a small team of five and plan on using the training and rewards,” said Leon Wink, COO, Wolde Flooring, Madison, Ala. “Often a company sends just one representative or the store owner to learn more, but to grow your company you really have to delegate and everyone has to come up to speed. You want your entire staff to be knowledgeable, not just one person. This system simplifies the process.”

While customer service is a top priority for Abbey members, driving shoppers to that top-notch in-store experience is the first step. With that, the group has boosted its focus on members’ digital footprints to help bring consumers to Abbey member sites and ultimately their stores.

Abbey’s digital marketing program has been designed to guide flooring dealers through their social media efforts on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Houzz, Google+ and more. Email marketing is another major component, helping send store messages, news and promotions via Constant Contact.

Perhaps the most critical element of Abbey’s digital marketing program is Customer Connect, the group’s customized pay-per-click (PPC) advertising program. “It is a perfect service for small businesses looking for ways to cost effectively reach customers,” said Patricia Toledo, Abbey’s digital marketing coordinator. “You only pay when a consumer clicks on your text ad and is brought to your Abbey website. PPC connects to online shoppers the moment they start looking for flooring.”

As the largest search engine in existence today, Google continues to come up with tools to better utilize its features. The Google Results Page will give higher rankings to Abbey members using PPC, with the Google text ad and corresponding ad on the member website linking to communicate the same message. The Customer Connect dashboard lets Abbey dealers gauge how successful their PPC campaigns have been, showing statistics like clicks, views, click-through rate and costs per click, in addition to seeing from where traffic is actually coming. The best part: Every member can decide how much he or she wants to spend per month on PPC. The Customer Connect team helps determine what programming is best for each budget and monitors results to see what is working and what is not.

One member who can attest to the success generated by Abbey’s Customer Connect PPC program is Barry Lindgren, owner of Abbey Carpet & Floor of Puyallup in Puyallup, Wash. While he was hesitant about the initiative when it first launched in 2014, he soon increased his monthly budget when he saw the jump in his website traffic. One particular promotion he ran in May 2015 featuring a Karastan campaign changed the game for good. “I was extremely surprised at how much it increased our business. We continued to increase our PPC monthly budget and have held it ever since. About 60% to 65% of the traffic on our website is through PPC. I hope to find other ways to use PPC to enhance our traffic even more.”

Another initiative introduced at convention created to attract customers and entice them to buy was its Visions 2016 showroom design that helps members position products to keep on top of what’s trending in the market. The group has partnered with Ron Hodgdon of Creative Arts—who has helped develop member showrooms for over 25 years—to conceptualize this new design. Members who sign up for the redesign work with him directly.

“Unless you have recently joined Abbey or had your showroom redesigned by Ron, members that joined years ago probably haven’t changed their showrooms,” Hardy said. “Displays have been switched out but the flow hasn’t changed. The new, vibrant look is exciting.”

Silverman noted the consistent design amongst Abbey private-label displays, which helps a showroom look organized and inviting. “In a non-member showroom you see different displays. In an Abbey showroom you see displays with the same look; there is a homogenous feel. This design provides an upscale look that will hopefully increase selling price and margin. It’s like inviting guests to your home.”