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Fuse Alliance: Growing stronger every day

By Reginald Tucker

 

New Orleans—Rising contractor membership numbers, a steady uptick in vendor partners, a respectable surge in buying power and, more importantly, a growing influence on the specification of a variety of commercial flooring products and services. These are some of the accomplishments Fuse Alliance leadership shared with attendees at the group’s recent annual conference here earlier this month.

“This is the biggest group we’ve ever had,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director of Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional commercial flooring contractors, during his opening address to the 300-some-odd members in attendance. “More importantly, this is the most content we’ve ever offered for our annual meeting.”

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, “Never Miss a Beat,” the event was designed to transition seamlessly from last year’s meeting—which focused mostly on the subject of commercial design—to the 2018 conference, which was all about matters dealing with facilities and job-site issues. “In any organization you always want to have momentum,” Gordon said, referring back to the conference theme. “We’re trying to elevate our status in the industry.”

The numbers reflect that objective. Fuse Alliance management reports the group has grown to 99 members representing 150 locations. In terms of scale, members generate approximately $1.7 billion in sales today, which equates to about $1 billion in materials purchasing power, according to Gordon. The organization has also boosted its vendor lineup, adding 15 new suppliers in the last year alone. In addition, this year’s meeting welcomed nine new contractor members.

“Suppliers like to see growth, and we have definitely seen a surge in interest from vendors who said they would like to be more active with the group,” Gordon noted. “Furthermore, member sales are up 9%, while the industry at large is up 3%. That’s significant.”

Fuse Alliance members like Cleveland-based D&R Carpet Services is participating in the economic rebound. Daniel Schrickel, who handles sales for the company, is seeing a commercial renaissance of sorts, with particularly strong activity in the restaurant, hospitality and education sectors. “There’s a lot of rebuilding in our market,” he said.

Farther south, in Charlotte, N.C., commercial flooring contractors like Garmon & Co. are also experiencing growth, Scott Garmon, president, reports. The company—which provides a broad range of servicing ranging from product specification and consulting all the way through installation, certified reclamation and project management—has seen an uptick in activity amongst the key market segments it serves, especially corporate, restaurant/retail, financial and senior living facilities.

The economic outlook for some Fuse Alliance members is such that it is creating an environment that encourages reinvestment in the business. Such is the case for Lakeside, Calif.-based Christian Brothers Flooring & Interiors. “We see an opportunity to build a maintenance division that will strengthen our offering to our clients,” said Brian Boek, vice president of sales and marketing. The company has also renewed its commitment to integrate new technologies to streamline aspects of the business.

Common challenges
Despite their respective successes and achievements, Fuse Alliance members are not immune to the challenges and issues facing the commercial flooring sector. During a special roundtable-style breakout session on opening day, attendees were asked to split up into smaller splinter groups for the purpose of identifying common concerns and coming up with potential solutions. Among the most common problems/issues identified:

Robert Varden

Dearth of installers. Finding qualified labor continues to be an issue for the industry at large for residential dealers and commercial flooring contractors alike. The problem, industry observers say, boils down to a lack of new installers coming into the industry to replace an aging workforce. “For commercial installers, the average age is over 50—and there are thousands of them,” Gordon said. “It’s a problem that’s going to increase before it decreases.

For its part, Fuse Alliance is working closely with The Certified Floor Covering Installers Association (now a division of the WFCA) on ways to recruit, train and retain floor layers. The group is also teaming up with what some consider a rival organization (the larger, more formidable Starnet Flooring Cooperative) in the development of a joint task force to address this perennial issue as well as other challenges facing the contractor commercial industry.

In the interim, CFI vice president, Robert Varden, offered attendees some suggestions on what the industry can do to address the installation issue while providing an update on what his association is working on to tackle the problem. As for the former, Varden sees recruitment opportunities in various initiative such as hosting job fairs at high schools around the country in addition to meeting with school counselors. Utilizing social media tools to reach students who are considering future employment options and developing incentive programs at the local and state levels are also legitimate approaches.

“Many kids are not aware of the job opportunities afforded by the flooring industry or how much money they can make as an installer,” he told the group. “We, as an industry, have to expose young people to these opportunities.”

Varden shared a sobering statistic that puts the issue in perspective. CFI’s research shows as much as 70% of installers in the field today have been working for more than 15 years, which means many are inching ever closer to retirement. At the same time, he said only 4% have been installing flooring for less than five years—which speaks to limited skill levels.

“In 40 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like the pickle we’re in now,” Varden told attendees. “But I’ve also never seen more opportunities.”

For its part, Varden said CFI is working diligently to develop programs that not only provide installation training opportunities for newcomers but also intermediate and advanced educational sessions for experienced installers. These programs include training and certification programs covering both basic and advanced classes across a variety of soft and hard surface products. The majority of classes are held at CFI’s training facility in Forney, Texas, but the group is also looking into the feasibility of establishing training branches and networks in other locations across the country. Furthermore, the group has expanded its reach globally, conducting training in eight different countries and partnering with like-minded associations in Brazil, Canada and South Africa, to name a few.

Project delays. Flooring contractors, naturally, are typically one of the last trades to arrive on the job site. While project delays are common and often unavoidable due to various issues (last-minute design alterations, delays caused by previous trades not completing their work on time, etc.), it can cause problems for commercial flooring contractors who sometimes show up on a job site to complete a task but can’t proceed due to issues such as those mentioned above. For many contractors, downtime is wasted time—and lost revenue opportunities.

Some flooring contractors are counteracting this issue by building stipulations into their contracts with the general contractors that offer certain protections. “We request that the GCs we work with give us appropriate notice when there’s an issue,” Christian Brothers’ Boek said. “We tell them there’s going to be a cost associated with sending our crews out to the site if they can’t work. We understand there are issues with scheduling, but we can’t have our guys standing around. We don’t want to ruin the relationship with the GCs, but at the same time we can’t have them drive our margins down and cause you to lose money on a consistent basis. There’s a way to do it nicely and still be firm.”

Direct selling by the mills. This is an issue that one attendee referred to as the “elephant in the room” when his group was asked to identify the biggest challenges commercial flooring installation companies face today. “Everybody is talking about the lack of installers and product claims—which are affecting all of us, but for more me the proliferation of direct selling by the mills is the biggest issue,” the member said. “They’re using the same estimating services as flooring contractors. Some mills are essentially functioning as GCs, giving end users and architects and designers all the tools that commercial flooring contractors typically provide. Until we stand up, collectively, and say ‘no more,’ it’s going to get worse. We are all being relegated to a position of relative unimportance relative to the big picture.”

Part of the problem, according to Mike Hutton, senior vice president, Fuse Alliance, is manufacturers are feeling more pressure from clients to expand their offerings beyond product to include installation services—which puts them in direct conflict with many of the flooring contractors who purchase their products. Essentially, they are going after the same customers.

“I’ve spoken to the mill executives; they feel if they don’t respond to these demands from the end users, then the client is just going to go to another mill and they will lose the business,” he explained.

Hutton, who came to Fuse Alliance after working for nearly nine years on the vendor side with Interface Services, agrees it’s a complex issue. In his capacity with the group, Hutton is responsible for growing the national accounts business within the Fuse Network while working with members and vendor partners to grow their business. In seeking a resolution to this issue, he said he’s working hard behind the scenes to get the manufacturers to come to Fuse Alliance members with their projects as opposed to going direct.

“More manufacturers are developing turnkey services, but the people they are hiring are not flooring experts like Fuse members,” Hutton told attendees. “Individual companies don’t have the capability Fuse members have. We still have an advantage and a much better story to tell today from an installation service and logistics perspective.”

Gordon agreed, noting members can count on Fuse management to provide assistance in resolving issues such as these. “It doesn’t do us any good to get sideways with a supplier. We encourage our members to reach out to leadership if they have a problem. We can step in and get it resolved.”

Management issues. Other issues that came up during the roundtable breakout discussions was moisture mitigation—specifically, who’s responsible for ensuring testing concrete subfloor conditions on the job site—as well as the rising cost of providing health insurance to installers.

Forging ahead
Despite these issues, Fuse leadership is forging ahead with its plans to grow the group while continuing to provide value for members. Primary goals and initiatives include building brand awareness for the group while communicating the importance of the network and benefits of partnering with members. The group is also constantly working to provide tools to help members more effectively market their business.

“We feel this is the time of the rise of the flooring contractor,” Gordon told attendees. “With our expertise in installation and logistics, we are playing a much larger part in the overall project. This is the best group of quality installation companies in the business, and your commitment to excellence is unmatched. We want to be the go-to network and the easiest people to deal with and offer the best customer experience—not only to the end customer but up and down the chain, including the supplier and general contractor.”

Members are buying in. “Fuse brings the best of the best commercial flooring contractors and manufacturers together and provides a network to solve common challenges,” Christian Brothers’ Boek said. “Fuse also brings a social element where relationships can be built across the United States where we can share ideas and improve together.”

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Lorberbaum: Optimism abounds in 2018

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

 

Long Beach, Calif.—To commemorate Abbey Carpet’s 60th anniversary convention, Jeff Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO of Mohawk Industries, was tapped as the keynote speaker. The selection was most appropriate given that Mohawk was an original supplier to the group.

Lorberbaum told the 500-plus members in attendance to focus on increasing their success, and his first piece of advice was to stop watching the news. “Every day we hear negative stories about how politicians are arguing, calling each other names. They’re focusing on [things] that have almost no impact on us. Guess what? Democracy is a really sloppy process. Don’t let all of the political noise distract you from the good things going on in our country. In every economic cycle there are good years and bad years. We’re currently not just in good years but in the right years. Despite the gloom and doom presented in the media, every day our economy is thriving. The Great Recession has become a distant memory. Our country is in the best shape it has been in for more than a decade. Ignore the bickering you hear in Washington. Private economists are talking about GDP growth of more than 3% this year—the first time we’ve seen that level of expansion in almost forever.”

Lorberbaum also believes the recently enacted tax cuts will add to the economy and boost our economic expansion. “With the new tax law, the average person will take home between $1,000 and $1,500 more in their monthly paycheck this year. No matter how they use the money and what you hear them talking about, all the money is going to benefit our economy. If they spend it they will create greater demand for goods and services. If they put it in the bank, the banks are going to loan more money. If they invest it in the stock market, then the people selling the stocks will have more money and spend it.

“Businesses—including yours—will pay much lower taxes this year. Some will invest it by expanding their businesses. Others will develop new products; some will put automation in; some are raising employee wages and benefits; and some are distributing dividends to their shareholders. It doesn’t matter. Consumers and businesses with more disposable income will create ripples through the economy and drive our growth through every sector, including our own.”

Lorberbaum then addressed the recently passed budget, which he said had to include $400 billion of additional spending this year on both parties’ priorities. “In the short term the higher government spending will further expand the economy and fuel consumption in every building category, including flooring.”

His optimism is shared by many. In fact, The Conference Board’s leading economic indicators have been rising for months and they’re forecasting strong future growth. “Consumer confidence is the highest it has been in two decades as people embrace a more positive view of our future—people just feel safer. They feel more economically secure. They’ve become comfortable making big purchases and taking on more debt. Robust job growth is forecast for all sectors this year as the work force expands and many people return back to the labor market who haven’t worked in years. Weekly unemployment claims are near record lows, which reinforces the growth we all expect. Finally, we’re actually seeing wage growth in the lower-paying jobs in our country, which is good. With inflation limited, the workers will use the higher wages to increase their purchases of everything.”

Lorberbaum turned to the stock market for more evidence of the optimism. “The stock market’s run over the past year has created significant wealth for individuals and inspired greater confidence in the future. Even people who only own stocks in 401(k) plans are seeing their balances rising and are more optimistic. If the recent market drops have undermined your confidence, take a deep breath and look at the bond market where the higher prices suggest growth in our country’s future. If you look outside the U.S., the global market is in the best shape it has been in, with simultaneous acceleration in the U.S., European and Asian economies.”

Then we have the housing market, which should create great opportunities in the years ahead. “By the best estimates, the flooring industry in 2017 grew about 4% and further growth is predicted by everyone this year. Flooring in the past is like the overall economy. As consumers deferred purchases, which resulted in significant pent-up demand that we expect to come through, the demand is translating to greater residential remodeling, with some predicting that 2018 will set a record for home renovation spending. Overall, the real estate industry is the healthiest it has been in 30 years. Interest rates are near historic lows and even when the Feds raise the interest rates in 2018, they will still be historically low.”

The biggest challenge in the real estate market today, he said, has been a shortage of homes for sale. “Rapidly increasing demand will spark new construction as well as remodeling across the country. Remodeling drags at about 60% of the total flooring sales and probably much more for those of you in this room. So increased activity would really benefit you and our industry. Right now, investments in remodeling is being influenced by two major factors. The first is rising home prices, which is building confidence for homeowners to update and address changing lifestyles in their homes and how to make it benefit themselves. New buyers of existing homes will also customize their purchase to suit their own taste. Renewed interest in remodeling is also being spurred by television prompting home renovation on every other show. HGTV and the DIY networks have built franchises around home remodeling and their websites and magazines along with everything else are teaching consumers that updating their floors creates a trendy and refreshed home.”

Lorberbaum also cited new home construction as yet another source for optimism. “As excited as I am about remodeling, I also see growth in new single-family home construction as another sign of a healthy year ahead of us. For years, single-family home construction lagged the historical averages. After the Great Recession, we saw an emphasis on multi-family properties, but the pendulum is now swinging once more to single-family home growth. New construction must accelerate to meet current demands as expanded household formations creates added pressure to the existing market. To meet that demand, the construction industry is finally finding ways to deal with a lack of developed land, as well as taking care of the labor shortage in new ways to build more homes.

“If you take all those factors into consideration, 2018 will be rich in opportunity. The most important fact I want you to take away is that in 2018 consumers have more confidence and are going to spend more money. Together we have to convince them that spending that money in your store on new flooring is the right thing to do.”

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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.

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Belknap White hosts FlooringPlus convention

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

Mansfield, Mass.—The Belknap White Group (BWG), a full-line distributor and member of the Bravo Group, hosted its 17th Annual FlooringPlus Convention at The Sagamore in Upstate New York recently. Scores of retailers, vendors, exhibitors and sponsors turned out for the event.

This year’s convention focused on BWG’s tradition of empowering its FlooringPlus members. This two-day event featured keynote speaker Jay Rifenbary, whose presentation “No Excuse!” discussed incorporating core values, accountability and bringing balance into one’s life and career.

Additional breakout sessions focused on marketing and the importance of consistent advertising, effective website marketing, promoting consumer financing options and the often overlooked importance of making customers feel appreciated. Other sessions included important technical issues such as “Focusing on Moisture Control.” Attendees learned about new products and services during the event’s two-day product showcase.

One of the highlights of the convention was BWG’s awards presentation luncheon. This year, BWG recognized the following award recipients:

  • Tony and Kathy Sicilia, Floor & Home, Inc. Westwood, N.J. (Highest percentage increase).
  • Gary and Shelly Bertrain, Lee Appliance, Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Cross corporate account of the year).
  • Elite Flooring Specialist, Hartford, Conn. (Dealer of the year).

“Our 17th annual convention was a resounding success,” said Paul Castagliuolo, BWG president. “Thank you to all suppliers, service providers, employees and participants who joined us to renew friendships, forge new relationships and help plan for our shared future.”

The Belknap White Group created the FlooringPlus Loyalty Program to provide its customers with ongoing cogent information on merchandising, marketing, technology, education and business resources. Members enjoy the benefits of a group program while maintaining their independence and identity.

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NAFCD, NBMDA to host annual convention in Colorado

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 4.09.07 PMChicago—The North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and the North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA) Annual Convention is expected to bring together more than 800 distribution professionals representing the leading flooring and building product distribution companies in the U.S. and Canada. The highly anticipated convention will take place this week Nov. 14-16 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

With 196 exhibitor booths and 47 first-time exhibitors the tabletop networking forum allows distributors and suppliers to connect face to face and conduct meaningful business planning. Semi-private tabletop booths provide an ideal forum for senior executives and key decision makers to discuss distribution plans and strategies for the future while also reviewing past performance. Meetings are coordinated by appointment to ensure a highly focused and productive environment.

“We are thrilled by the interest in this year’s event,” said Kevin Gammonley, executive director, NAFCD and NBMDA. “The joint event between the two organizations continues to be a rich setting for distributor professionals to make business connections and learn from educational sessions addressing relevant industry trends and distribution management challenges.”

For more information, visit distributorconvention.org.

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CFI annual convention sees records attendance

CFIForney, Texas—The 24th annual CFI Convention saw a record-breaking number of attendees from every sector of the flooring industry, according to Robert Varden, vice president, Certified Floorcovering Installers Association. The event, which kicked off Aug. 16 at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, spanned three days and commenced with a welcome reception sponsored by Royal Adhesives, Traxx, Tarkett, Parabond, Tools4Flooring.com and Sponge Cushion.

The event included programs, training and networking opportunities. It also featured the Associate Showcase, an expo highlighting new products and tools from numerous flooring manufacturers. Attendees experienced hands-on interaction with the latest tools and products as well as opportunities to talk with developers behind new technologies that are changing the face of installation.

The convention also included a host of presentations from renowned industry speakers and celebrities including: Scott Humphrey, chief executive officer, WFCA; Darryl Ross, author and motivational speaker; Jeff King, general counsel for the WFCA; CFI trainer Jonathan Varden; Phil Zolan, executive director, fcB2B; and CFI-pro Tom Cartmell—to name a few.

The convention concluded with the CFI Annual Awards Dinner, where several industry leaders were honored. The Chris Davis Award, given each year to an individual who stands out in his or her efforts to promote quality installation and support across the flooring industry, was presented to Rick Herr, installation technology leader from Armstrong World Industries. The Gress Award, the highest form of recognition available to a professional flooring installer, was given to Dwayne Pruitt of Pruitt Flooring in Wichita, Kan.

The final award, Walk of Excellence, was presented to John McHale and Jill Sheets of CFI for their outstanding achievement and all-around excellence. These individuals have helped cultivate CFI’s success through a combined total of 43 years working in the CFI office. Sheets was also presented with a plaque in recognition of her hard work and dedication over the years.

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NeoCon East previews educational program

Hig-res-dark-blue_-NeoConEast-Philadelphia-Logo-blue-1Philadelphia—NeoCon East, billed as the Northeast’s premier commercial interiors design expo and conference, has provided an overview of the sessions that will take place during the event, scheduled to take place Nov. 15-16 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

“Our aim for the NeoCon East educational offering is to inform, spark conversation, and provide professionals across disciplines a way to effectively and efficiently earn valuable CEU credits in just two days,” said Monica DeBartolo, director of programming. “The 2017 assortment caters to varying levels of practice and covers everything from the application of psychology to built projects and architecting ecosystems that inspire innovation, to exploring livable space efficiency and best practices in designing for the federal government.”

In addition to market-ready solutions from hundreds of companies across sectors and valuable networking opportunities, this year’s conference program will round out what organizers call the “comprehensive NeoCon East experience.” The lineup includes over 25 CEUs offering insight into what’s next in workplace, healthcare, hospitality, government, education and beyond.

Anchoring the program will be keynote speakers: Suzette Subance Ferrier, IIDA, design director, TPG Architecture; Zena Howard, AIA, LEED AP, managing director Perkins+Will, North Carolina Practice; David Insinga, AIA, chief architect, General Services Administration’s Public Building Service; and Alex Gilliam, founder, Public Workshop.

Seminars are $40 each when attendees register online before Nov. 10. After Nov. 10, all registration for seminars is on-site, subject to availability, at a fee of $50 each. Special discounts are available for students and government employees. The full list of seminars is available online at neoconeast.com.

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CFI ‘steps up its game’ as installation issues linger

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.56.49 AMOrlando, Fla.—After two years at a Courtyard Marriott in Grapevine, Texas, the Certified Flooring Installers (CFI) moved its annual convention to the expansive Rosen Shingle Creek, an opulent 255-acre, AAA Four Diamond resort with 500,000 square feet of meeting/ event space.

The change in venue was no accident. “It was time to step up our game,” Robert Varden, vice president of the CFI division of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), told FCNews.

Since merging with the CFI three years ago, the WFCA—led by Scott Humphrey, CEO—has championed the installation trade for its craftsmanship and value to the flooring industry. Moving the 24th annual CFI convention to Rosen Shingle Creek was a nod to the CFI’s importance. “This is a phenomenal team, and the core of this team has been consistent,” Humphrey told members.

As it enters its quarter century, CFI is growing and evolving. It is no longer primarily a training and certification body. Given the current lack of qualified installers, CFI is actively recruiting the next generation. It was noted during the conference that the average age of a flooring installer working today is 56 years old. To canvas for new blood, the association has made recruiting, training and deploying new installers a major priority.

“These programs are really starting to take off,” Varden said, noting that CFI in the past year has graduated three classes in Cincinnati and four in Forney, Texas (about 40 in all). Some of these students had no previous training in installation; however, after five weeks of rigorous course work and mentoring, they were able to graduate and start working. “When these students leave they are really proud,” Varden said. “In fact, their chests are about 3 inches bigger when they complete the course. The industry is in desperate need of recruiting and we needed to add to our program and be able to take someone who had no Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.55.28 AMexperience whatsoever and turn him into an installer. We have shown significant growth both in the trainings we are doing, which can be done anywhere in the country, and the exposure to the brand.”

On the whole, things are looking up for CFI. “I told our staff the time is now to up our game,” Varden said. “Our vendor participation rate is growing, and attendance at the show is up. We’re trying to attract more segments of the industry here. Our convention is a big deal—it really gives us exposure to the industry.”

Industry observers applauded CFI for its efforts to bring more awareness to this critical issue. “CFI is at the forefront with the installation issue,” said Don Styka, director of field services for Tarkett North America. “CFI has set a training protocol that you’re going to learn the right way to do things. They teach people how to use the tools properly, what tools to use, etc.—and that’s half the battle.”

Other highlights
CFI organizers expanded the scope of its educational programming by moving beyond installation-related matters. For example, WFCA’s Humphrey led a session titled, “Leadership Strategies That Work,” and Jeff King, counsel for the WFCA, conducted a presentation, “Are You Ready for an Immigration Raid or Audit?”

In his talk, King noted there are 27 million foreign-born workers in the U.S. today, or nearly 17% of the workforce; 13% of construction workers, which includes flooring installers, are undocumented. “What would we do without them?” King asked. “You think you have installation issues now? Without them, there would be no installation.”

King said President Trump has committed to adding 10,000 investigators to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) taskforce to go after undocumented immigrants; he noted that the construction industry is a likely target.

CFI announced it is in the process of finalizing a contract to open a new training facility in Shanghai, China. The office is expected to open Sept. 4.

Lastly, CFI announced several personnel changes. Jill Sheets, who served as the association’s training advisor, has left the group for an opportunity outside the flooring industry. Her replacement will handle outreach and recruiting. And in a related move, CFI is closing its Lenexa, Kan., facility and moving all operations to Forney, where its main training facility is based.

 

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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.”

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Carpet One strategy hinges on ‘Owning the shopping experience’

August 14/21, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 5

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.19.22 AMSalt Lake City—Competition for the consumer’s disposable dollars has never been more fierce, especially when it comes to renovation/remodeling projects. To gain an advantage, experts say, it’s critical that retailers take complete ownership of the entire sales process—from the research phase all the way through installation—if they are to close more deals and generate repeat business.

That was the underlying message Carpet One management conveyed to its members in attendance here at the group’s summer convention. During his opening welcome speech, Eric Demaree, president, Carpet One Floor & Home, challenged retailers to “own the customer service experience,” beginning with online, where the consumer typically begins her research; to the store when she’s ready to pay the retailer a visit; all the way to her home, where the installation and post-sale care take place.

In driving home the importance of providing complete and professional customer service throughout the process, Demaree cited published research and reports on the issue. “The Harvard Business Review describes it as the customer’s “end-to-end” journey. A major international consulting firm describes it as the product of the interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. That all sounds so academic for me; I see it this way: ‘A great customer experience is any value add that any person or company delivers to me that makes me feel good and want to tell other people about the company.’”

Regardless of the difference sources, there’s a common theme that emerges. “There’s a wealth of evidence out there that shows those who own the customer service experience generally outperform the competition in every single area,” Demaree stated. “These retailers tend to make more money, they have less employee turnover and they get more positive reviews. More importantly, 50% of consumers—including all of us in attendance here—will spend more money with companies that provide us with a superior customer experience, according to American Express.”

To that end, Demaree told attendees this year’s convention is all about discovering and sharing ways members can make their customers feel good, with the hope they will tell others about their positive experiences. To drive the point home to members, Carpet One showed a documentary-style video/testimonial that showed one woman’s journey through the entire purchasing cycle—from the research phase all the way through to final installation. The video—which was broadcast in segments or “episodes” over the course of the convention—followed the journey of “Karen,” a 45-year-old working, married woman with two kids—and pets.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.19.38 AM“For the next two days,” Demaree told attendees, “we are going to go on a journey through the eyes of Karen as she shares her story about finding the perfect floor, from the time she goes online to start her search to the in-store shopping visit, to what she experiences when the measurer and installer go through her home as well as the services she receives after the job is complete.”

The exercise was designed to inspire ideas that retailers could not only share with other members but also bring back to their businesses after the show. Gayle Selden, president of Ed Selden Carpet One Floor & Home, Lakewood, Wash., believes retailers can improve the way they interact with customers by remembering their own customer service experiences. “A lot of it is just returning to the things we know but have forgotten to do over time,” she explained.

Others agree, adding that focusing on the little things—such as how employees greet customers—can go a long way in making customers feel appreciated. “Everyone who answers the phone is part of the process—even if they are not in sales,” said Juan Cisneros, sales associate with Upland Carpet One Floor & Home, Ontario, Calif.

Other fundamental ideas include improving the look and feel of your showroom, beginning with the entrance. Jim Aaron, vice president of merchandising, CCA Global Partners, believes the in-store experience starts in the parking lot and the window. “You’re trying to create a feeling of, ‘Wow, I feel really comfortable here.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.19.43 AMTheresa Fisher, senior vice president of visual merchandising and brand development, concurs. Comfort is key, she said, given the fact most flooring purchases are not something people are accustomed to making. It helps to make sure traffic lanes within the store are wide open and that the space is decluttered. “People in general don’t feel comfortable when they’re confined, and women in particular don’t want to feel crowded.”

But let’s not forget about drawing customers into your store in the first place. For Stevie Leasure, owner of Carpetbagger Carpet One, Charleston, S.C., the key was transferring advertising and marketing funds from traditional means (print and billboards) to online initiatives. “We have really embraced the digital space; 75% of our advertising is through electronic marketing today.”

All in all, management likes what it is seeing at the membership level. “We have the best dealer base, and we are exceeding the industry growth rate,” Howard Brodsky, co-founder, chairman and co-CEO, CCA Global Partners, told FCNews. “It’s an exciting time for the industry.”