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American Olean opens new markets for distributors

Dallas—American Olean is making it easier for its distributors to expand into new territories through convenient “turn-key” stores built by the company. These facilities are part of a value-added service where American Olean executes all of the up-front financing and legwork to site survey, manage construction and build-out the interior of a new store that will feature American Olean as its “anchor” brand.

Once the doors are ready to be opened for business American Olean hands the keys over to its distributor. The eventual cost to the distributor through an easy payment plan is much more doable than shouldering the burden of up-front construction costs and the risk of a new business venture alone.

“Our ongoing mission is to equip our distributors for success with the American Olean brand,” said Hector Narvaez, vice president of distributor sales for American Olean. “Our turn-key value-added service is a powerful tool to help distributors increase their revenue—and the best part about it is, American Olean does all of the heavy lifting for them.”

Travis Tile is the latest American Olean distributor to take advantage of this opportunity and recently celebrated the grand opening of its new Travis Tile showroom in McAllen, Texas. Travis Tile has been an important American Olean distributor for 32 years. “American Olean is serving as the ultimate strategic ally, offering distributors an easy way to substantially increase their revenue stream by expanding into new markets via American Olean’s turn-key showroom opportunities,” said Jamie Tyler of Travis Tile.

The manufacturer’s turn-key showroom is designed to offer a “complete American Olean shopping experience.” Displays in each store showcase the entire American Olean product line. In addition, the overall layout of each store incorporates today’s most studied principles on how consumers shop and what overall shopping experience most effectively guides consumers through the consideration and selection process.

For more information, visit americanolean.com.

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Rising transport costs take their toll on distributors

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

By Ken Ryan

New government regulations have exacerbated the ongoing trucker shortage in the U.S., resulting in higher inbound freight costs for flooring distributors that could spread across the entire supply chain.

The problem is twofold: More than 70% of the goods Americans consume are carried on the nation’s highways, but a new report says the industry needs to hire roughly 90,000 new truckers each year to keep up with demand. At the same time, new government regulations—including implementation of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate—are forcing some smaller trucking firms and individuals out of business, thereby worsening the shortage and creating problems like product shortages and delivery delays.

Observers say there is no reason to think the labor situation in the trucking industry should get better any time soon. In the short term, truckers must switch from logging their hours on paper to doing it electronically by April 1or face penalties; drivers will no longer be able to fudge their hours on paper to stay on the road longer.

“There has been a shortage of truckers for quite a while,” said Bob Weiss, CEO of All-Tile/Carpets Cushions & Supplies, a top five flooring distributor based in Elk Grove Village, Ill. “What is compounding the problem are new regulations that are tighter.”

Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of FlorStar Sales, a top 20 wholesaler based in Romeoville, Ill., said the biggest issues they are facing are delays and the difficulty of finding available, reliable carriers. “Obviously, costs are going up, too, but ultimately the consumer will need to bear those costs.”

Other distributors are feeling the impact as well. Carrollton, Texas-based Adleta, another top 20 flooring distributor, had to go out and hire additional drivers because of the shortage. “It’s no easy feat to find a driver with a clean and safe driving record,” said John Sher, president. “[As a result], all inbound freight has gone up dramatically. While we have been absorbing this, we will have no choice but to pass this on.”

The improving economy is adding to the problem. The reason: as more goods are shipped, more drivers are needed. It’s classic supply and demand economics. “There will be increased costs moving forward as the new cost structure realities begin to show themselves,” Weiss explained.

At issue is the ELD mandate, a federal rule that took effect Dec. 18, 2017 which requires trucking companies to record their hours of service on ELDs (devices that synchronize with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time for more accurate hours of service recording). With ELD implementation, any delays at docks or warehouses will result in higher transportation costs for the shipper, according to transportation officials.

Jaeckle Distributors, Madison, Wis., has been operating with electronic logs since 2008, so the new ELD mandate hasn’t impacted the way it operates. However, it has impacted other carriers it works with and has added another layer of complexity for carriers who are new to it.

“We have not seen a significant rise in LTL [less than truck load] costs; however, I am seeing a decline in the overall service quality we’re experiencing with other carriers,” said Bill Simonson, vice president of operations. “We are finding increased damage and more occurrences of freight not being picked up. That is either due to lack of experience, shortness of drivers, or lack of hours available to drive.

“And, of course, you are dealing with a good economy, rising volumes and fewer drivers to move the freight. We’ve been adding drivers to our staff and we’re more confident with our ability to control quality in this environment than we are with some of the third-party carriers out there.”

Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, a top 20 distributor from Owings Mills, Md., said the implementation of electronic logs has prompted a tangible percentage of the smaller independent trucking companies to exit the business. “Losing 10%-12% is a dent in the overall capacity, which was strained to begin with,” he explained. “A lot of the drivers I am around have gotten older and they are not willing to spend the money [required of the electronic logs] into one truck; it has really shut down a portion of the trucking capacity, and there wasn’t an abundance to begin with.”

The American Trucking Association reports the industry has struggled with a driver shortage for the past 15 years. During the Great Recession, freight volumes dropped, allowing the industry to meet demand with fewer drivers. But when volumes recovered in 2011, the driver shortage became a problem again, the ATA found.

According to a study conducted by DAT Solutions, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped at the start of 2018—that’s the lowest ratio since 2005.

Striegel, as well as others, predicts the situation could get worse. “Hiring a driver is the hardest position to fill. Between [the government] closing loopholes and the new restrictions in place, it has put constraints on my existing fleet.”

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HPS Schönox adds multiple distributors

Florence, Ala.—HPS Schönox has added new distribution partners to assists the company in meeting its goal to increase the ease of doing business. Distributors including David C Greenbaum Co., Jon Don, Carpet Shoppe, Bixco and ALA Round Flooring were added as authorized distributors and value-added resellers of Schönox products in North America.

“We see great potential with the new distributors because each are forging new roads across all market segments,” said Dave Lepird, Sr., HPS Schönox vice president of sales. “Additional availability and expanded product knowledge are essential for substantial growth.”

Thomas Trissl, HPS Schönox principal, explained the company is proud to be collaborating with the new distributors. “We are impressed by the wide portfolio of customers, quality of their work as well as their commitment to our company.”

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Haines to bail out of Bravo Services Group

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Ken Ryan

 

Haines, the flooring industry’s largest distributor with 2017 sales of approximately $495 million, has announced plans to exit the Bravo Services consortium, effective April 1, 2018. Haines, in a prepared statement, said the decision to end the relationship with Bravo, which dates to 2000, was based on the distributor’s inability to justify the cost and time commitment vs. the overall return on investment.

“Our decision, while difficult, is simply a matter of return on our investment from the efforts we put in,” Mike Barrett, president and CEO of Haines, said in a press release. In a follow-up call, Barrett told FCNews that over the past year he had evaluated the “the time and effort required to attend meetings, answer surveys, attend the annual [summit], plus our dues, and we frankly haven’t been able to justify a return on those investments.”

Barrett said he kept John Carney, executive director of Bravo, and John Sher, president of Adleta, and a group leader, apprised of his concerns the entire year. “So this, while not their hope, was not a surprise,” he stated. “John Carney and John Sher are great leaders in our industry, and we wish them and the Bravo members the best.”

Bravo disseminated its own release confirming the departure of Haines following a lengthy management review. “Bravo wishes to thank Haines for their many contributions to Bravo over the years,” Carney said.

Haines recently expanded its distribution coverage with Armstrong to the South (FCNews, Feb. 5/12). However, Barrett said that move had nothing to do with its Bravo decision. Also, in November, Haines and Belknap-White Group forged a partnership aimed at improving the  effectiveness of both companies. As part of the deal, Belknap will hold limited shares in Haines through an equity investment, which would help Haines reduce debt and continue to invest in new initiatives.

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Armstrong severs ties with William M. Bird

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring has ended its partnership with Southeast distributor William M. Bird, a relationship that dates to 1936 when Bird began distributing Armstrong floor coverings and building materials as its entree into flooring distribution.

“Ending an 82-year relationship is not something you ever expect; however, William M. Bird is prepared and positioned to handle this transition,” Maybank Hagood, CEO, told FCNews.

Hagood said its house brand products, including Palmetto Road and Azalea Lane, as well as its portfolio of branded lines like Roppe, Metroflor, Tarkett and Somerset, will provide the wholesaler with the flexibility to bring new products to Bird customers “that provide the highest level of value and quality in wood, LVT, WPC, rigid core and laminate products. Our core values as a company have always driven our decision-making and how we partner with our customers with the right products. That will not change at all. We have always been committed to an exceptional salesforce, cutting-edge technologies via our online tools and dynamic warehousing and logistics to assure our customers that when they call us they will be served by a team driven to help our customers succeed.”

Hagood said it is “probably premature at this point” to comment about any potential future partnerships. However, he did note, “We have had some great conversations in the last couple of weeks and we look forward to finalizing and announcing soon the next generation of brands that will help serve to define William M. Bird for the future.”

Hagood put a positive spin on the separation with Armstrong—its longest-standing supplier—saying, “a change like this will allow us to deepen our existing strategic partnerships and continue our mission to deliver the right products and services, to the right customer, at the right time.”

In light of the Bird changes, Armstrong will expand the territories of three of its existing distributors as part of its strategy to improve service to retailers.

The changes, which will become effective April 1, 2018, are as follows:

  • J.J. Haines, which handles the Mid-Atlantic region, will now also serve the Southeastern U.S., including parts of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Florida panhandle.
  • Derr Flooring, which also covers the Mid-Atlantic region, will begin serving parts of northern Virginia with the Bruce brand in a dual-distribution capacity with J.J. Haines.
  • Ohio Valley Flooring, which services Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, will expand into western Pennsylvania.

“We are committed to aligning ourselves with the distribution partners that are best positioned to support our growth strategy,” said Don Maier, Armstrong Flooring president and CEO. “We are excited by J.J. Haines’ ongoing investments in distribution infrastructure and logistics technology, and the level of service and responsiveness it can bring to the independent retailers who sell Armstrong products. We are equally pleased to reward the exceptional performance and service that Ohio Valley and Derr Flooring deliver for us every day.”

Maier also addressed the separation from William M. Bird. “We value their role in our company’s development over the years and the service they have provided to customers. We look forward to working with our distributor partners over the next few months to ensure a smooth transition.”

Empowering distributors

In a separate announcement, Armstrong said it is empowering its distributors with increased responsibility for marketing, merchandising and sales of its residential flooring products, focusing resources to drive growth with national retail and commercial customers.

“Since we launched Armstrong Flooring as an independent company in 2016, one of our core objectives has been winning with distribution—to grow sales and market share by rebuilding and leveraging our distributor relationships,” Maier explained. “We’ve made tremendous progress to further enhance these partnerships, and we are confident we are working with distributors who can most effectively advance our growth strategy.”

Shifting elements of its residential marketing and merchandising responsibilities to its distributors, Maier explained, is intended to increase efficiency, move decision-making closer to the customer and improve speed-to-market. As distributors take on additional responsibilities, the company plans to increase investments in national retail and commercial accounts, specifiers, architects, designers and contractors.

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Armstrong Flooring strengthens distributor partnerships

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring is empowering its distributors with increased responsibility for marketing, merchandising and sales of its residential flooring products, and is focusing resources to drive growth with national retail and commercial customers.

“Since we launched Armstrong Flooring as an independent company in 2016, one of our core objectives has been winning with distribution—to grow sales and market share by rebuilding and leveraging our distributor relationships,” said Don Maier, president and CEO, Armstrong Flooring. “We’ve made tremendous progress to further enhance these partnerships, and we are confident we are working with distributors who can most effectively advance our growth strategy.”

Maier continued, “Shifting elements of our residential marketing and merchandising responsibilities to our distributors is intended to increase efficiency, move decision-making closer to the customer, and improve speed-to-market. As distributors take on additional responsibilities, we plan to increase investments in national retail and commercial accounts, specifiers, architects, designers and contractors.”

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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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Gesco Group: Striving to stay a step ahead

The following is the 13th installment in a series highlighting the 14 distributors that constitute Bravo Services, a group comprising many of the top flooring wholesalers in the country. Here we focus on Gesco.

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

 

Founded in 1938 by George Shnier, the Canadian flooring distributor was run by the Shnier family until 2007 when it was sold to a private equity firm and senior management. Between 2007 and 2017 (it was sold again in 2013), Gesco added to its management team, upgraded and consolidated facilities and systems, established offices in Shanghai and Seattle, opened a corporate commercial division (D9) and acquired two companies (Tierra Sol and Savoia Canada) while continuing to diversify and improve operating performance.

Today the Gesco Group of Companies (as it is officially known) remains one of North America’s leading flooring and wall covering solutions providers with multiple yet separate operating divisions. Shnier is the flooring distributor piece of the equation. The company’s mission is to stay “a step ahead” of the competition, always striving to be more innovative and flexible and generally easier to do business with.

Gesco executives believe its future will mirror its 80-year past, growing organically and strategically in Canada and the U.S. as it adapts to a multi-generational customer base. Today the company shops globally across 12 countries, including China, Italy, Austria, Mexico and the U.S.

The single-most important factor contributing to Gesco’s longevity and success is its workforce, which entails 330 associates, according to Ed duDomaine, president and CEO. “They are the ones who have helped lead and support change. They have established, served and protected our caring culture and continuously achieved while ensuring every undertaking remains moral, legal and ethical.”

Through the years, Gesco’s approach has remained steadfast—to always be responsibly owned, professionally managed and capably operated while preserving the company’s character and integrity.

Going above and beyond
Shnier, the oldest of Gesco’s operating companies, is Canada’s leading national flooring distributor and solutions company.

Shnier boasts more than 500,000 square feet of warehouse space across Canada—equal to nine football fields. Its fully automated facility features advanced, integrated real-time warehouse management systems that allow it to handle 100 million-plus pounds of freight while receiving over 5,000 trailer loads of goods per year.

Nuts & bolts
Geographic coverage: All of Canada. Corporate headquarters are in Brampton, Ontario, with regional facilities in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Dartmouth.

Brands: Armstrong, Casa Roma, Aspecta by Metroflor, Wicanders, Laurentian, Lexmark Stonepeak.

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Distributors, retailers upbeat about 2018 prospects

December 18/25, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 14

By Ken Ryan

 

Flooring retailers and distributors are all but guaranteeing that 2018 will be a banner year for business, with signs pointing toward healthy growth both residentially and commercially. While the known (shortage of skilled labor) and the unknown (geopolitical strife) could threaten the feel-good story, the consensus among flooring observers is 2018 will be the best year in the last decade.

There is evidence to support this. The Conference Board forecast calls for 2.8% growth during the final quarter of 2017 and 2.5% growth in 2018. This would represent the economy’s best two-year run since 2005.

“I hate to jinx something, but I will eat my hat if 2018 is not a great year,” Sam Presnell, owner of The Rug Gallery in Cincinnati, told FCNews. “Seldom does everything line up. There are so many positive signs—consumer confidence, housing sales, remodeling, interest rates, great products and lower taxes. I am very excited about 2018, and we are ready.”

Presnell’s bullish sentiment was shared by fellow retailers and distributors. Many point to the generally favorable trend of the economy and housing; others view the pending tax bill as the elixir for what ails them.

“I believe the tax bill—if it passes into law in a recognizable form of today’s description—will definitely have a very positive effect on 2018 business,” said Sam Roberts, owner of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, with 12 locations in the Houston area. “I believe it will stimulate economic growth and, almost as importantly, increase consumer confidence. For my fellow carpet and flooring dealers with Subchapter S corporations, income should increase nicely and tax expense should sharply decrease.”

Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of Romeoville, Ill.-based FlorStar Sales, a top 20 distributor, believes business will be good in 2018 and could be strong if the proposed tax reform goes through. “The reductions in corporate tax rates in particular would likely generate significant investment across the board, including investment in interior finishes,” he explained.

Beyond the potential benefits of tax reform, flooring observers note that 2017 is finishing on a high note, with residential new construction among the sectors leading the charge. More of the same is expected in the new year. “I think people will continue to spend money on their existing homes and that new construction will also continue to grow,” said Chris Kemp, owner of Kemp’s Dalton West Flooring, with three Georgia locations.

According to Jim Walters, president of Macco’s Floor Covering, Green Bay, Wis., residential new construction and commercial should remain strong in 2018. And while residential retail growth will be more of a challenge it also has the potential to grow, he noted. “As a full-service retailer the key to success is to continue to create value for our customers in a very competitive market that includes big box, Internet retailers and outlet stores.”

Great products drive business and flooring leaders expect the high-octane LVT/WPC/rigid core category to continue to grow and take market share from all other segments in 2018. Companies are adjusting accordingly. “In our business, we saw a rapid change with our product mix from other products, especially hardwood, to a mass migration to LVT,” said Scott Roy, president and CEO of Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Gilford-Johnson Flooring, a top 20 wholesaler. “Given our strong push with LVT, especially the new WPC and rigid core products, we are optimistic about 2018. We believe having the right products at the right prices and a strong style perspective will be important for our customers.”

While an improving economic climate and the potential benefits from a new tax bill may lift flooring businesses to a certain degree, there are challenges specific to each market that could impact 2018. For Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, it stands to benefit from what Sam Roberts called “a backlog on the urban development side and Hurricane Harvey-related business that should impact us positively in all areas of the business through the first half of 2018.”

Several distributors with operations in the oil-producing states are keeping a watchful eye on the price of oil. “We need oil to stabilize over $50 barrel to see more activity,” said John Sher, president of Adleta, a top 20 distributor in Carrollton, Texas.

A concern for all is the continued shortage of skilled labor. As Macco’s Walters explained, “Having enough qualified installation to meet our sales demand and projected growth continues to be our No. 1 challenge.” Adleta’s Sher agreed, noting, “Labor shortages in the construction trades will be an issue. This could hinder growth in our area.”

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Haines, Belknap-White form partnership

November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12

Deal leverages strengths, broadens opportunities

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.16.19 AMHaines and Belknap-White Group, the No. 1- and 3-ranked flooring distributors in annual revenue with a combined $700 million in 2017 sales, announced the formation of a partnership intended to improve the strategic effectiveness of both organizations.

As part of this arrangement, each company will hold a seat on the other’s board of directors, and Belknap will hold limited shares in Haines by virtue of an equity investment in Haines, the industry’s top distributor with 2017 revenue at $490 million (FCNews, Nov. 6/13). The investment will help the Glen Burnie, Md.-based wholesaler reduce debt and continue to invest in new business initiatives. “It is a real win for us,” Michael Barrett, president and CEO of Haines, told FCNews.

Barrett emphasized the Belknap-White investment should in no way be misconstrued. “We didn’t need the money; we saw it as a way to start a collaboration process that allows us to do things at a quicker pace than we could have done on our own. We’ve done a lot of benchmarking and best practices with [Belknap-White] in the past. Through this alliance we are taking benchmarking and best practices to a new level.”

The two distributors, members of the Bravo Services Group, will continue to operate as they do today with no change in the leadership structure at either organization.

Ray Mancini, CEO of Mansfield, Mass.-based Belknap-White, said his company is excited to be working with the Haines team in “creating a flooring platform from Maine to Florida that differentiates us from our competitors while working together to help our customers be more successful.”

Specifically, Barrett said the partnership will help both companies in the areas of logistics and global sourcing. “This official relationship will allow us to work very directly with Belknap-White and opens doors in helping us build a strong distribution business. In some areas, they might be able to help us, and they can learn from us as well. It is really a two-way opportunity.”

Employees from Belknap-White will be invited to spend time with their counterparts at Haines to learn how their internal operation works. Conversely, Haines will send some of its key staff to work alongside Belknap-White employees in areas of strategic importance. “My approach is I don’t have all the answers,” Barrett explained. “They do things on the sales and marketing side that we think we can learn from.”

The distributors formed a six-person steering committee with three members on each side. The idea is to collaborate on ways to make each stronger in their respective markets at a time of consolidation within the distribution industry. “The number of distributors is going to shrink in the industry over time,” Barrett stated. “Having a partner like Belknap helps us become stronger.”

One aim of this partnership is to create added value for its vendor partners. Both Haines and Belknap-White are long-term Armstrong distributors. Earlier this year, they were recipients of the Thomas Armstrong Award, which recognizes wholesalers that exemplify integrity, a resilience of spirit and a deep dedication to their customers.

Don Maier, president and CEO of Armstrong Flooring, hailed both companies as exceptional distribution leaders. “Their collective financial strength has allowed them each to invest in their business, build exceptional sales capabilities and deliver world-class service,” he told FCNews. “We believe their partnership should encourage even higher levels of business excellence.”

Maier said he does not believe the alliance will have any negative impact on Armstrong, noting, “Solid, long-standing relationships with our distribution partners, in every geographic region, allow us to continue our legacy of excellence…We believe the investment and collaboration between these two phenomenal distributors should lead to good results, both for them and Armstrong Flooring.”