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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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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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Bonewell joins Floors & More

JBonewell2Auburn, Mass.—John Bonewell has joined Floors & More as director of national franchise & membership sales.

Bonewell has a proven record of success including having dramatically grown the franchise systems of large national companies including: Steak’n Shake, Domino’s Pizza, Dairy Queen and others for over 22 years.

“John is incredibly strong in franchise sales—a natural leader with relevant experience that will greatly benefit our team as we grow our group,” said Vinnie Virga, CEO and founder, Floors & More.

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Executive Decision VP joins Floors & More

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

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

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

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Floors & More taps Cherico as vice president

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

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

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

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

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Floors & More acquires 60-store group

Big Bob’s parent continues expansion with Floor to Ceiling purchase

April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.27.25 PMAuburn, Mass.—Floors & More, which operates Big Bob’s Flooring Outlets as well as Floors & Kitchens Today, has acquired the Floor to Ceiling group. This consolidation will add 60 stores to the expanding entity.

Vinnie Virga and Scott Appel, co-CEOs of Floors & More, formally announced the acquisition earlier this month.

“We didn’t have this specific deal in our eyes but we had a desire to have an acquisition this year to get to critical mass,” Virga told FCNews. “It is a very good fit. Our Floors & Kitchen model is almost the same as the Floor to Ceiling model.”

Virga added there “are so many quality flooring dealers in this group and so much untapped potential in the Floor to Ceiling brand. With members’ help and guidance, we are going to make some amazing things happen.”

Appel said the synergy between this group and Big Bob’s “provides us with a wonderful springboard for awesome growth. We know that with this group collectively working together, along with our management team’s commitment to excellence, we will create a tremendous amount of momentum toward continued success.”

The Floor to Ceiling acquisition is the latest in a series of strategic moves taken by Big Bob’s since Virga purchased a controlling interest in Big Bob’s Flooring, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

On March 1, Appel, Bill Hamad and Joe Hamad—current owners of Touch of Color Flooring in Harrisburg, Pa.—announced their involvement in a group that bought controlling interest of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet stores. The buying group is now Floors & More, under which Big Bob’s, Floors & Kitchens Today and Floor to Ceiling operates.

During a January 2016 interview with FCNews, Virga said within five years Big Bob’s would be “at least” the third-largest buying group for flooring and kitchen design. “By hook or by crook we are going to get there,” he said.

As for the rest of 2016, Virga said the group is “definitely looking” for more acquisitions. “We believe there are another four groups that would make for a great fit in our organization. We’re looking to scale our group so we can bring value to our members.”

He added being able to help members become more profitable or to improve their quality of life “is what motivates our team each and every day.”

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Starnet members ‘rev’ revenue, enthusiasm

October 27/November 3, 2014; Volume 28/Number 10

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 10.51.10 AMDenver—Unlike the larger spring meeting in which attendance is mandatory, the fall conference of the Starnet Commercial Flooring Partnership is an optional affair. But that did not deter a large turnout of members and vendor partners here for two days of workshops, a trade show and networking.

“It was excellent attendance if we look at the percentage of members here,” said Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet.

The attendance of 309—compared to last year’s 280—included 100 vendor partners, which meant there was no shortage of quality networking and sharing of best practices during the conference. “Our members work in tandem with our vendors,” Matson said. “We have two equal parties. If both groups aren’t seeing a value in Starnet, there is a problem.”

Fortunately, everyone seemingly views the partnership as beneficial. Carlton Billingsley, vice president of Floors & More, Benton, Ark., said he has been asked in the past why it is important to be a Starnet member. His response was that anyone who has to ask that question doesn’t get it.

“If you want to be a leader, if you want to be different, there is no better group to be involved with than Starnet,” he said. “Those who are not in the group don’t understand how valuable the education and knowledge you get here is. You either continue to learn and adapt or you die. The way business worked 15 years ago doesn’t cut it today, and that is why you have to constantly learn new ways of doing things.”

“REV Up Your Business with Starnet” was the theme of the fall conference, with workshops focused on revenue generation and the bottom line. On both fronts, Starnet members say they are doing just that.

Matson called 2014 “a tricky year,” but one that will be satisfying in the end. “We didn’t see strong numbers until May and June. Now we have kicked it in and are seeing very strong business, and we see 2015 as an even better year. I looked at some industry figures today and they are very encouraging.”

Many Starnet members who spoke with FCNews said their businesses in 2014 will be up at least 10% over 2013, and with contracts and orders in place or pending, 2015 looks even more promising.

Harold Chapman, president of Bonitz Flooring Group in Greenvile, S.C., said after a slow first quarter, business has picked up substantially and the company will end 2014 10% to 14% ahead of last year in revenue, 5% to 8% on the bottom line. “We now have a backlog of orders that will carry into 2015,” he noted.

Lane’s Floor Covering in New York City saw its business climb 10% in 2014 over 2013, driven by hospitals, retail and ancillary work such as airports and law firms. Umberto Aponte, vice president, said the business “has come in waves” and summer was particularly strong.

New programs and initiatives

At the behest of members, Starnet has introduced several new initiatives designed to foster growth among its group. One such venture is the Next Gen group, which now consists of 70 members. The group comprises younger members who are currently in leadership roles, leadership-track positions or who have a stake in a company and will eventually take over the operations. The Next Gen group convenes monthly to brainstorm and share best practices. They also meet with older members who serve as mentors.

Matt Miller, project manager at Commercial Flooring Systems in Omaha, is a Next Gen member. “We’re still growing, still figuring it out. We want to make our vendor partners aware that we are their partners for the next 30 years and let them know what we can offer.”

About two years ago, Starnet members launched StarNetworking, a referral system among members. To illustrate how the system works, Randy Rubenstein, director of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet in Seattle, referred a customer who needed a project done in Chicago to fellow Starnet member Mr. David’s Flooring International in Itasca, Ill.

“The door wasn’t just opened; the mat was laid out for me,” said Mike Gannon of Mr. David’s. He said Rubenstein wrote a letter on behalf of Mr. David’s, saying in effect, “You want to do business with this guy; he won’t let you down.”

A few Starnet members said they have benefited from the referral system, either by landing additional business or helping customers and other members. By design, there is no formal business structure to StarNetworking. Sometimes there is a finder’s fee involved; other times a referring member is looking for reciprocity down the road. Sometimes it is simply about doing the right thing.

“The beauty of this organization is no one tells you how to run your business,” Rubenstein said. “We are here to share knowledge and information.”

Trade show

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 10.51.54 AMTwo years ago, Starnet added a trade show component to its conference. At the fall meeting, 31 vendors set up tables and small booths. Space precluded a larger gathering, Matson said, but even so, the networking was brisk and beneficial to both parties.

Masland Contract, which returned to Starnet as a member this year, brought a contingent that included Dixie Group CEO Dan Frierson, Masland CEO Lee Martin and four regional vice presidents. “This is a wonderful format to build relationships in a non-pressured situation,” Martin said. “These meetings are about connecting with the owners.”

Jim Cave, vice president of national accounts for Mats Inc., agreed. “It’s a relationship show, not a buying show, so it’s a great way to see owners in a relaxed setting and be able to socialize with them in a non-business environment.”

Deb Lechner, director of commercial markets for Armstrong, was back in familiar territory at the fall meeting. Lechner worked at Armstrong from 1990 to 2002 before joining the Starnet staff for 10 years. She then returned to Armstrong in March.

“I’m coming here to see friends,” she said. “It was a seamless transition going from Starnet to Armstrong because I understand the contract market very well.”

In other news…

* During the general session, Eric Boender, director of Starnet FloorCare and national accounts, previewed a program called Starnet Mega Training, which will be held Jan. 18-20, 2015, at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas, just prior to The International Surfaces Event. The strategy is to combine Starnet-sponsored training into a single, large event with multiple training sessions and networking opportunities. Among the speakers will be training/education experts Sam Allman and Stephen Covey.

“We think this is going to be the third main event of Starnet after the two members meetings,” Boender said.

* Bonitz’s Chapman, a board member of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), urged Starnet members to join WFCA. He highlighted the WFCA’s strength in, among other things, lobbying efforts for the flooring industry, and the relatively inexpensive $295 fee to join. He pointed out the WFCA pays out $500 toward education.

“A lot of people think of the WFCA as a retail organization,” he said. “That’s not true; they work for all of us. We can work in conjunction with them. There are things they can do for us that we can’t possibly do on our own.”

* Starnet has added four new members to its group and now has 173 memberships, including 13 in Canada. “We are very selective in who we bring in,” Matson said. “We want a company committed to a full-service model.”

The new members are ACS Flooring Group in Houston; Commercial Flooring in Toledo, Ohio; Prodigy Flooring in Tampa, Fla., and Jones Schlater Flooring in Columbus, Ohio.

Matson said she personally visits each new member and encourages company executives to get involved in Starnet activities. “It can be very daunting for a new member to walk into this room,” she said. “We try to help the new members navigate their way through the partnership, and involvement is a great way to do it.”