Posted on

FCICA doubles down on educational initiatives

March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.24.55 AMSan Antonio—FCICA, the flooring contractors association, commemorated its 35th annual convention here by refocusing on its principal values: education, training and enhancing the skill sets of its core constituency—the professional installation manager.

“From what I have seen over the last six years, I think this group is as healthy as it has ever been—not just financially but in terms of great member retention,” Mike Newberry, chairman of the FCICA, told FCNews. “There is a renewed commitment and energy here, and we have a laser focus.”

The FCICA’s flagship program, what Newberry calls the group’s “cornerstone,” is the Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program. This eight-module curriculum provides training tools and assessment for qualified professionals within the commercial flooring space. To date, 29 have successfully completed CIM and there are 102 currently enrolled in the program. In addition to technical issues, installation managers learn “soft skills” such as how to professionally handle irate customers and deal with other issues that require strong interpersonal skills.

James Bissler of Texan Floor Service, Houston, said he became CIM certified because he wanted to separate himself and his company from the competition. “I have certified installers so it made sense to take the next step.”

Newberry said there is strong momentum for the CIM program, which is in its third year. “Being a member is great, but when you have non-members who want to participate in the training program it says a lot about its value. Internally we feel CIM is the only program of its kind in flooring that is training the project/ installation manager, which is a term we use interchangeably.”

Kelly Fuller, director of education, said the CIM program has information installation managers cannot find anywhere else. Best of all, it is all accessible online. “It is a program that is constantly evolving.”

The CIM emphasis comes at a time when the installation trade is being challenged on all fronts—from a dearth of qualified installers to the question of where and how to recruit the next generation of an aging workforce. Larry Chandler, commercial sales director for William M. Bird, a top 20 distributor, is chairman of the FCICA’s Member Benefits committee. He told members that educational opportunities like CIM are imperative. “Margins are getting squeezed all the time that it is almost impossible to go back out on a job site for a second time [without losing money on the project]. The job needs to be done right the first time.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.26.16 AMThe focus on continuing education carried over to the vendor trade program where product demonstrations were included during and after the four-hour trade show that featured 48 vendors. “Any organization willing to promote more training, the better off we all are—and FCICA is big in this area,” said Daniel Tallman, strategic business manager for Schönox, who conducted a product demonstration of the company’s newest synthetic gypsum self-leveling product. “We are a big proponent of getting the proper knowledge in the hands of the people who are going to be handling our material.”

Cathy McVey, customer service manager for Ceramic Tool Flooring Transitions, said she appreciated the interaction with the flooring contractors. “They made a point to come by and visit with us. All you want is a little traffic, and we had plenty of that.”

On the rise

This year’s convention featured 42 first-time attendees and eight new associate members. FCICA now has 201 members—108 contractors and 73 associate members (mostly suppliers).

One first-time attendee, Greg Epperson, technical services manager for Chilewich, which supplies carpet tile, broadloom and carpet mats to the commercial trade, noted, “I have been to some shows where the contractors come around and barely show interest in you. Here the contractors have genuinely been interested in our products and their uses.”

Of the 154 people in attendance in San Antonio 24 were considered “successors,” those less than 40 years old. Graham Capobianco, chairman of the Successors Committee, said his group plans to hold successor-specific programs to spur membership and promote greater involvement within the organization. “We are trending upward with successor involvement,” he told members. “We want to grow with existing members first.”

Posted on

Carpet One programs aim to ease the social media learning curve

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.28.13 PMPhoenix—Contrary to marketing hype, millennials are not the quintessential flooring customer today. Not yet at least. In 10 years, statistics show, this demographic group will be making the key decisions and influencing the market in ways that old-school retailers may not be comfortable with.

In an effort to convert old-school thinkers, Carpet One Floor & Home focused its winter convention on the future, which according to group president Eric Demaree, “requires a new mindset and an understanding of how to attract, engage with and convert today’s ever-changing consumer into a lifelong loyal customer.”

Future Focus, as the convention was themed, put digital marketing and social media front and center for the nearly 1,000 Carpet One Floor & Home members attending. Focus on the future requires investing in areas that are growing, such as digital marketing. Gary Redmond, digital director of marketing for Carpet One Floor & Home, convened a panel on the subject with member retailers Guy Pylypiw, Oshawa Carpet One Floor & Home, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada; Zack Allen, Buddy Allen Carpet One Floor & Home, Nashville, Tenn; and Kevin Frazier, Frazier’s Carpet One Floor & Home, Knoxville, Tenn.

These retail leaders have already embraced the digital world and encouraged their brethren to follow suit. Allen implored members to stop delaying the inevitable. “It is the future. It is where people are going to shop. Jump in there, do it and give it some time.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.28.31 PMFrazier, who still spends 85% of his advertising budget on traditional mediums (i.e., radio, TV), told members they have to first invest in this space before they see a return. “At the same time we are not just marketing for the sake of marketing—we are looking for measurables.” Frazier told the audience that four days before he conducted a large private sale at his store, he did a “digital drop” to spread the word through all online platforms. He said he got six requests for pre-measures that led to closings at the private sale. “This was a perfect snapshot of what can be accomplished. [Digital] is a great way to amplify and accelerate your traditional marketing.”

Social media
Virtually every Carpet One Floor & Home dealer understands the importance of digital marketing. How to effectively use social media, however, is still an area of exploration for many dealers.

Terri Daniels, vice president of corporate communications, hosted a panel discussion on the most effective ways to use social media. Michelle Pylypiw, Oshawa Carpet One; Andrew Wiebe, Carpet One Floor & Home, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada; and Bonnie Fenwick, Carpet N’ Drapes, Carpet One Floor & Home, Jacksonville, Fla., conveyed this message to members: You don’t have to be on every social media platform; just choose what works best in your market.

Wiebe suggested members start with Facebook, which he called a “dream market platform.” He discussed how his installer used a camera to film a time-lapse installation of a two-story fireplace. “The response from that video was incredible. We had customers coming into the store saying, ‘I want that fireplace.’”

NEX<40
Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.28.24 PMCarpet One is looking at the future internally as well as externally. Its NEX<40 Generational Leadership Program was established as a way to engage the next generation of Carpet One shareholders. “The group has two major focus areas at this time,” said Palmer Johnson, director of merchandising and general counsel, Carpet One Floor & Home, Tulsa, Okla. “We want to help younger/next generation business owners within the co-op access the tools they need to be successful. We are also placing some focus on influencing the direction Carpet One takes with its online presence. Specifically, the mix of products shown online, brand identity and how that translates to a customer’s in-store experience.”

Lauren Allwein-Andrews, manager at Allwein Carpet One Floor & Home, Annville, Pa., said second- and third-generation owners such as herself never had the opportunity to meet people her own age at these gatherings until now. “Of the 85% of Carpet One membership who attended the convention, nearly 20% are under 40. Those numbers will continue to grow, and now is the time to get this group engaged so we can steer the co-op in the direction we want and need it to go for the future.

“We know millennial buyers—our fellow consumers—are the future, and the best way to reach them is through digital advertising and social media. Traditional forms of advertising are a thing of the past, and one’s money is better spent online.”

 

Posted on

Flooring America helps members make a better ‘conneXtion’

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.25.30 PMPhoenix—There was no shortage of optimism here at the Phoenix Convention Center last month where retail members of Flooring America/Flooring Canada gathered for their winter convention. The conference, themed conneXtion, took place against a backdrop of improving economic conditions and the perception of a more business-friendly environment in Washington.

“I believe dealers and vendors alike are ready to capitalize on what appears to be an economy more willing to spend,” said Casey Dillabaugh, Dillabaugh’s Flooring America in Boise, Idaho. “I noticed an above-average amount of interaction between dealers and vendors, and a couple of vendors voiced their appreciation for the increased activity.”

As a group, Flooring America/ Canada dealers—more than 600 strong—enjoyed sales growth of 6% on average in 2016, outpacing the industry average pegged at 3%. Notably, 73 retailers in the group grew their business more than 20% last year.

“We have the best of the best in this group, and we are feeling bullish for the next few years,” said Keith Spano, president of Flooring America/Flooring Canada, The International Design Guild and Floor Trader. “Consumers feel they have more money in their pockets. Dealers probably feel the new administration is more business friendly and less restrictive for small business. I love it when our members are in a good mood, and they are in a great mood here.”

The conference reinforced the power of collaboration. Members drove home the point that no matter how good you are as a flooring retailer, you could be even better with the help of your network. “It’s always good to be amongst your peers who are more than willing to share ideas,” said Bill Huss, owner and sales manager of D&M Interiors, Appleton, Wis. “My typical goal is to take two solid ideas from the show and implement them as an everyday business practice.”

While all buying groups and cooperatives stress the importance of digital marketing and social media today, Flooring America has been banging that drum for several years. At each winter and summer gathering it takes steps to place a greater emphasis on this emerging medium. At convention each member received a copy of My Digital, a 32-page guide that outlines all online marketing initiatives facilitated by the Flooring America/ Flooring Canada marketing team. “Flooring America is doing a good job keeping us current,” said Jerry Nicholas, manager of Glendora Floor Store in Glendora, Calif. “We are finally getting dragged into the 21st century with the digital marketing, and that’s a good thing.”

Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, said Flooring America/Canada members are ahead of the pack in terms of understanding the power of digital because they have been at it longer than other flooring retail groups. “Since we started five years ago, there have been competitors who have tried to emulate what we do—which is the biggest form of flattery. However, we know our offerings are superior and we remain steadfast in our commitment to execute smart digital marketing programs that will work hard for our membership.”

Flooring America/Canada is trying to keep current with the shift in product mix as well. Five years ago the group was 55% soft surface; today they are 55% hard surface. “The shift has been incredible,” Spano said. “At the same time we have to find more ways to engage the consumer with carpet and show the value of the product and find better ways to hold margin with hard surface.”

Management has positioned members to take advantage of the exploding WPC/rigid core category with both branded products from the likes of USFloors and its category-leading COREtec as well as private-label goods sold as Downs H2O. Spano said WPC “has breathed badly needed energy” into the industry, so much so that sales of WPC have surpassed that of hardwood and ceramic tile for most of its members.

New programs
Flooring America updated its KILZ Tribute paint program with new display racks showing paint chip samples in large 8 x 10-inch sizes. The samples can be taken off the rack, peeled back and affixed to the wall for convenience. To date, 220 members have signed up for the paint program. The program comes with Flooring America’s Ultimate Confidence Warranty, which allows customers to replace the paint color—no questions asked—if she is not satisfied.

Jim Fink, president of Corter’s Flooring America, Williamsport, Pa., said the satisfaction guarantee is the difference maker. “Flooring America covers the labor and the manufacturer takes care of the product—this is a no brainer for the retailer,” he said.

Other convention highlights:

  • Flooring America unveiled a new marketing campaign featuring Jen Bertrand, HGTV’s Design Star winner and company spokesperson. Bertrand will be featured in broadcast, digital and print media ads.
  • International Design Guild (IDG) members got their first look at the newly rebranded Louis Dabbieri collection as an independent brand with its own website and customer experience, as well as the newly designed IDG members’ websites. The new responsive websites provide consumers with a seamless experience across multiple devices, including desktop, mobile and tablets.
  • The marketing team completed the rebranding of The Floor Trader Group, which includes a new showroom design and social media program. Launching in 2017 will be The Floor Trader channel—FTX, which is dedicated to showing DIY design videos for consumers that can be viewed on YouTube, the websites and in stores.