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Somerset expands distribution in Northeast territory

Somerset, Ky.—Somerset Hardwood Flooring will begin to have Belknap White Group distribute Somerset-branded flooring products throughout its distribution coverage areas, effective Oct. 1, 2018. This appointment adds a top-five distributor to Somerset’s already strong distribution base in the Northeastern U.S. 

Belknap White will serve in a dual-distribution capacity with Somerset Hardwood Flooring's longtime wholesale partner, NRF Distributors, in the northernmost part of its territory. In the southern part of Belknap White’s distribution area, it will overlap with Somerset's distributors, who are already in place there. These include: PC Hardwoods, Elias Wilf (New Jersey area), Olson Floor Supply and Michael Halebian & Co.

"Somerset is proud to add Belknap White to our already strong family of distributors in the Northeast," said Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing, Somerset Hardwood Flooring.

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NRF prioritizes service for partners at NEFM

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Steven Feldman & Mara Bollettieri

Uncasville, Conn.—Winter turned to spring on March 19 as things were heating up at NRF Distributors’ New England Flooring Market (NEFM). With 110 vendors showcasing their latest wares to an estimated 320 customers, Terry Gray, vice president of marketing, was anticipating the one-day event to generate $3 million in business. Every vendor offered some type of special to encourage retailers to make the trip to NEFM and spend.

“This is their local Surfaces,” Gray told FCNews. By her count, only 10 retailers who signed up for the NEFM attended Surfaces. “Instead of flying to Vegas and spending all that money, they can spend a night here and buy new displays and meet executives of the brands they sell.”

The NEFM concept began nearly 40 years ago, when it was held in NRF’s Augusta, Maine-based warehouse. The market eventually outgrew the venue and has been held in casinos for the last 10 years, attracting customers from Maine to Pennsylvania. NRF now hosts three markets a year for its customers—two in Connecticut and one in New York.

One initiative the distributor was focusing on at this event was its newly launched social media platform, NRF Social, which aims to help retail customers build their Facebook and Twitter presence. Michael Gallicchio, social media manager of NRF Social, explained how the program familiarizes itself with the retailer and adapts to his or her specific community and product line. This allows the program to produce a library of personalized content. “What we try to do is engage the community through social media in the name of the retailer and target people who are showing the tendency toward home improvement services. Once we do that, more than likely when people go to buy flooring, they’re going to be thinking about the local retailers first.”

The program costs anywhere from $99-$149 a month depending on the level of service. Ninety-nine bucks a month includes posting content and pictures; for $149 a month, retailers receive content plus paid Facebook ads. Gallicchio emphasized how putting money behind Facebook advertising can be extremely beneficial to a retailer’s business. “For hardly any money, comparatively speaking to what existed 20 years ago—when people spent thousands of dollars in ads—you can deliver a branded message with pictures, specs and product knowledge that will help people make decisions on the fly.”

Around 30 to 40 stores have signed on to NRF Social since its launch in October, and at least a dozen more were added at the show, Gallicchio shared. “NRF had the foresight to not guess what consumers do. We studied it.” The platform allows retailers to maximize their time on the floor with customers while the social media experts handle the advertising.

NRF’s social media team held a four-month pilot program, where it tested numerous types of messaging and online advertising through social media platforms. The data collected from this study revealed what consumers best respond to, so a local retailer can hyper-locally target consumers in his or her community.

NRF has also launched a campaign promoting the “shop local” movement with service, honesty, options and pricing providing the basis for the acronym SHOP. NRF has adorned the back door of its 68 trucks with the signage and is also providing POP material in the form of stickers to retailers. “The idea is to get people to buy specialty flooring products from their local retailer,” Gray said. “It’s a way to drive more traffic into stores. We are driving the fact local stores do it better.”

NRF is also using its trucks to promote its vendors. For example, 28 trucks sport the Tarkett logo and a large room scene visual plastered on the side. “We’ve been doing that since 1988,” Gray said. “We don’t know of any other distributor doing that. It’s the best advertising you can get. That will last 12 years; the trailer will die before the label comes off.”

Gray noted that NRF was up about 6% in 2017 and, like just about everyone, is riding the crest of the LVT/WPC/SPC wave. Beauflor and Raskin are new vendors joining Tarkett, which NRF has handled for five years. “Actually, the last two or three years have been great,” Gray said.

That is not to say NRF is strictly growing because of hard surface. Gray pointed out that carpet is still a big part of the distributor’s overall sales. “Carpet remains 30% of our business. I have carpet in stock all the time.”

Service with a smile 

Service has been, and always will be, something Gray believes is an NRF hallmark. “Truck drivers deliver to every single store twice a week—roll goods, boxed goods, palletized goods. Generally speaking, customers never have to wait more than a week for anything. We even have 400 customers who have given the truck drivers keys to their stores, so they can deliver early in the morning. Sometimes we even start the coffee maker.”

Delivery of product begins long before NRF drivers show up on a retailer’s doorstep. In many cases, product comes from overseas, which requires astute management to ensure proper inventory. “If you are buying containers from China, you must factor in how many weeks and months it takes to get product,” Gray noted. “You need 15 to 18 weeks inventory if it’s coming on a container. You have to have a purchasing system for all the different items. You have to factor in all the nuances of each product lines.”

Retailers attending the NEFM attested to NRF’s focus on service. Jeff Hosking, owner of Payless Floors, North Attleborough, Mass., shared the advantages of using the distributor for his local business. “The pricing is better when you buy it in bulk, and they’re great people to deal with. We’ve worked with them now for a lot of years, and we’ve found them to be very honest when we have an issue. They back up what they say. They help us sell our customers with product knowledge and offer training.”

When asked what separates NRF from other distributors, Hosking did not hesitate to respond. “They’re more attentive. The service is 100% better than most of the other distributors.”

Even retailers who are new to the game are impressed with the service NRF provides. Eileen Nash and her husband, Dylan O’Malley-Joyce, recently opened The Floor Works in Bethlehem, N.H. She shared how they recently had a problem with some of their flooring and NRF resolved the issue. “The manufacturer blamed the installer, so NRF got us an inspector. It turned out to be a flooring defect, and NRF had everything fixed [just] like that.”

As an added bonus, NRF has a printing department and another that handles sampling for wood and ceramic. NRF also offers its customers products to sell on a private-label basis. “We always thought it was important for customers to have their own lines,” Gray said. “Everyone can go on their phones and say, ‘I can buy it cheaper.’ But private-label products can’t be shopped.”

Manufacturers also attest to the value NRF provides. “They’re just efficient,” said Stephan Guindon, executive director, NA, Venture Carpet. “The reputation they’ve built in the marketplace is something I haven’t seen in other areas of the country.”

If reputation is No. 1, then product knowledge is a close second. Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales at Ribadao Wood Boutique, was one who commended the distributor’s familiarity of his products. “They have an extremely knowledgeable sales staff that can talk in depth about the unique species we offer.”

Raskin Industries is a relatively new supplier, only four months into the relationship. “I would say they dominate New England more than any other distributor dominates their own marketplace,” said Ted Rocha, vice president of sales. He likened his partnership with NRF to being a part of an extended family. “They have great support from areas that are very difficult to get to.”

Mike Lewandowski, general manager of American Olean, is also pleased with NRF as a distributor partner. “They support all our new launches and every effort we do in the market.”

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Bamboo Hardwoods inks distribution deals with All Tile, NRF

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.25.20 PMSeattle—Bamboo Hardwoods, an innovator in bamboo flooring and panel products since 1995, has entered into two distribution agreements with top 20 wholesalers All Tile and NRF Distributors. The new deals expand Bamboo Hardwoods’ nationwide distribution network.

Headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill., All Tile supplies 54 lines of building materials to clients throughout 14 states in the North Central region of the U.S. NRF Distributors, based in Augusta, Maine, services more than 3,000 retail stores encompassing all of New England as well as upstate New York and western Pennsylvania.

“Both All Tile and NRF are well known for representing top-quality flooring products and a growing customer base seeking bamboo flooring, so these partnerships are an ideal fit,” said David Keegan, president and CEO of Bamboo Hardwoods. “There is much upside potential for the bamboo category to become even more mainstream within these markets, and these partnerships will greatly benefit our collective growth for years to come.”

Bamboo Hardwoods offers 100% rapidly renewable, FSC-certified flooring products that are popular with designers, architects and homeowners who prefer using durable, environmentally friendly products. Known for providing quality bamboo products for more than 20 years, Bamboo Hardwoods offers a vast selection of colors and styles, with a large assortment of matching accessories and transition pieces to complement a wide array of residential and commercial décor styles.

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NRF connects retailers, suppliers

March market well attended in New England

March 28/April 4, 2016; Volume 30, Number 20

By Steven Feldman

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 9.52.26 AMUncasville, Conn.—It’s been going on for more than 20 years and it only gets bigger and better. NRF Distributors’ pre-spring market held here again attracted a large throng of retailers seeking to capitalize on the wholesaler’s mission of bringing Surfaces to those who did not or could not make the trip west in January.

“I always try to tell people we are bringing Surfaces to you,” said Terry Gray, senior vice president of marketing of the New England distributor. “Not everyone can go to Las Vegas, and those who do don’t always have access to all product lines. Surfaces is a successful show; it’s just a very expensive destination for someone from New England to attend.”

Gray said every year she looks to introduce the distributor’s largest customers to the “right” people. “This market allows retailers to get the business cards of some key individuals who they can call year round if they ever have an issue. They may never have the chance to meet these people at Surfaces. The long-term relationship building at this event is just as important for these dealers as purchasing product.”

While about 350 dealers registered for this mini-market, a number “pretty consistent” from years past, Gray is expecting the event to serve as a springboard for a strong year given the consensus sentiment of attendees. “We usually sell about $1 million at this event, but I think this year may be better because the vibe around the show is very optimistic. People are talking about how good business is. That is the takeaway. The economic turn has happened for most of these dealers.”

A relatively new debit card promotion is one of the initiatives NRF is highlighting this year. Retail salespeople sign up for the card, on which the store owner signs off. Every time the RSA sells an eligible product during a particular promotional period, NRF adds money to the debit card. Currently about 600 salespeople are participating across 300 locations. Vendors kick in a certain amount per square foot if they want a particular product included in one month’s special, and NRF will promote that offering.

As one of the 10 largest flooring distributors in the U.S., NRF is projecting 6% growth in 2016 from a base of about $130 million in 2015. Of course, much of that growth is coming from LVT, where Tarkett is the bell cow with EarthWerks and Johnsonite also contributing. But wood has been a growth area, as well, by virtue of NRF’s approximate 15 suppliers led by Somerset. “They have a great diversity of product,” Gray said. “It’s a great looking line and the merchandising vehicles are good.” Other wood suppliers in the NRF stable include Hallmark, Lauzon and Harris Wood.

But talk to Gray and she will tell you the biggest key to NRF’s success is an 80-item private-label carpet line—NRF Select—from eight manufacturers that is stocked in every color. “This was put together seven years ago and represents the best of the best. Retailers can have their orders within a week.” In addition, NRF distributes carpet from Lexmark and Godfrey Hirst.

She also believes customer service is something that separates NRF from other distributors. That’s because owner Norman Pomerleau came from a retail environment. “Because of his retail background, he understands you have to get it there when you say you will get it there. That philosophy trickles down to the person who answers the phone.” An in-house computer system and 270,000 square feet of warehouse space helps elevate the service quotient. “Because we do our own programming, we can change or fix things immediately. We never used [industry standard systems like] Dancik or Gartman.”

With an arsenal of more than 50 brands, providing the proper service for each may seem difficult. NRF alleviates the issue by employing product managers in every division as well as salespeople. “So every account could have up to four people calling on them,” Gray said. “That also makes each salesman an expert in his field. The average salesman has been at NRF for 20 years.” Some brands have their own dedicated salespeople. “In the case of Hallmark, for example, we hired a product specialist. We have collections that are so successful we put one person on the line.”

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NRF flooring market continues to thrive as major buying show

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Ken Ryan

Marazzi RIPUncasville, Conn.—For many of the 233 flooring dealers who gathered at Mohegan Sun resort and casino here, the NRF Northeast Floorcovering Market (NEFM) represents one of the two biggest buying shows of the year—the other being NRF Distributors’ spring show.

NEFM—considered the largest of all distributor trade show events—has evolved from a warehouse event in Augusta, Maine, to the grand affairs that alternate between Foxwoods Resort & Casino (spring) and Mohegan Sun (fall). Both events draw upwards of 1,000 attendees.

Norman Pomerleau, founder and president of NRF, said he didn’t want to hold the show so late in the calendar year but had to wait in order to get extra space at the expansive 28,000-square-foot convention center to accommodate the large gathering. “This room is ideal for us. People are buying.”

Indeed, they were. Sherm Arnold’s Flooring & Kitchen in Lewiston, Maine, does most of its buying for the year at the two NRF shows. “We’re here to look for deals,” said Denis Lebel, owner. “We have an outlet cash-and-carry type of store where we look for deals and we have a separate 5,000-square-foot showroom.”

Lebel said his stores have bought $90,000 worth of merchandise this year from NRF, up from $70,000 in 2014. “Our goal was to hit half a million in business with NRF in total and we did that. We’re a small mom-and-pop operation, so that is a lot of business.”

Torell’s Carpetland in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is another retailer that counts on these shows for stocking inventory. “We buy 90% of all our products through NRF,” said Jim Morrell, owner. “I’m here for practically everything.”

The trade show portion of the event runs from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; that makes for a long day for manufacturer reps and executives like Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing at Somerset Hardwood Flooring. “This is a high energy show with a lot of buying and selling going on,” he said. “You get a lot of great questions and feedback from dealers. A lot of good ideas come out of this show. NRF reps are very aggressive in bringing their customers over to see you. Very few distributors can hold a show of this magnitude.”

scared - nrfHector Narvaez, vice president of sales at Marazzi USA, was impressed with what he called the “smooth operations” of the event. “This is so well organized; nothing is last minute. We do a lot of these shows and this one is top notch.”

Larry Pellegrini, Eastern region sales manager for Godfrey Hirst, said the NRF show “gives us an entry to a dealer base we wouldn’t otherwise get to see.”

Hallmark Floors was one of the more active booths, with dealers raving about the company’s recent collections including Organic. “Once we had two or three of the Hallmark lines, we decided we had to have every floor it offers,” said Joe Marotta, co-owner of Personal Touch Flooring in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “That is how much we believe in Hallmark’s floors.”

Ron Oliver, vice president of sales and marketing at Hallmark, was fielding retail inquiries non-stop. “It’s busy; I’m selling strong all the time,” he said. “The last 18 to 24 months we have popped out of the weeds, and now the industry is watching us. We need to remain humble about our success. It’s not about us, it’s about our customers, and we feel our lines provide a lot of value for them.”

Many of the retailer accounts in attendance have multiple store locations. “We service well over 3,000 stores in our territory,” said Terry Pomerleau Gray, NRF’s senior vice president. The distributor’s geographical footprint spans from Northern Maine to upstate New York and as far west as Pennsylvania. Some retail customers drove six hours to attend this event.

For NRF, 2015 started off slowly, hindered in large part by the brutal New England winter that was harsher than normal. “But we made it up for it after that,” Pomerleau said. “I think we are going to have a record year when all is said and done.”

Gray spent a good part of the day walking the floor and meeting with suppliers and retailers. “We spoke to many stores at this event and everyone was very positive. There was strong optimism that we all experienced. I believe 2016 will be an extremely good year.”

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Distribution: Carpet

Distributors see action in soft surface segment

By Ken Ryan

Oct. 21/28 2013; Volume 27/number 13

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 9.32.07 AMCMH Space Flooring, a top flooring distributor, is growing by double digits—primarily on the strength of its hard surfaces business. However, that didn’t prevent the Wadesboro, N.C., wholesaler from expanding into carpet when it had the opportunity.

“The carpet business was new to us in 2012, and each month it gets stronger,” said Hoy Lanning, president and CEO. “Carpet is still 50% of the flooring business; we feel we have a wonderful opportunity to add carpet to our shipments. This way our dealers can get all of their flooring products from one source.” Continue reading Distribution: Carpet

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FCNews’ annual top 20 flooring distributors

 Distributors emerging from economic stronger, more relevant than ever

By Ken Ryan

Oct. 21/28 2013; Volume 27/number 13

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 4.47.45 PMDistributors. They are the backbone of the industry, the group on which manufacturers rely for moving their products to the point of sale. It is a segment that faces as many challenges as any and works on razor-thin margins.

Still, the good ones have not only succeeded but thrived. In fact, most project growth of 5% to 15% in 2013, driven in part by a housing comeback, both remodeling and new construction.

FCNews’ annual top 20 distributor listing not only looks at the industry’s leaders but also reveals the 10 highest-volume wholesalers in the resilient, wood and laminate categories. In most cases, the information was obtained from the respective high-level executives. Continue reading FCNews’ annual top 20 flooring distributors

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NRF celebrates 40 years at its annual NEFM market

by Steven Feldman

Volume 26/Number 21; March 4/11, 2013

Uncasville, Conn.—NRF Distributors kicked off its 40th anniversary celebration last week with its annual Northeast Floorcovering Market (NEFM). Approximately 400 accounts, which included over 1,000 attendees, gobbled up show specials and sought to win one of the many cash and prize giveaways valued at $20,000.

Terry Gray, senior vice president of marketing, was pleased with the turnout, which she said was comparable to last year. Given the distributor’s vast geographical footprint, which spans from the northern-most tip of Maine to upstate New York and as far west as Pennsylvania, customers came from far and wide to this market. “People have driven as much as five hours to be here. Aside from product, we sell the NRF friendship. In fact, I’d say 50% of the people in this room have been on at least one NRF trip.” Continue reading NRF celebrates 40 years at its annual NEFM market

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Tarket/NRF Distributors expand partnership

Tarkett and NRF Distributors have announced an extension of its partnership that it will include representation of all commercial products under the Johnsonite brand and all residential products under the Tarkett brand. NRF will represent the expanded Tarkett portfolio across a region that includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania. Continue reading Tarket/NRF Distributors expand partnership

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Distribution: Top wholesalers revealed in FCNews' survey

It has certainly been a rough ride for the industry the last four to five years, with sales off anywhere from 25% to 40% depending on the area of the country and the product category. Caught in the middle of all this are flooring distribu- tors who have had to reinvent their businesses in order to remain relevant to both their suppliers and retail customers. FCNews’ annual survey of the distribution channel reveals how industry distributors have done over the last 12 months. While most of the top players continued in their role, there was quite a bit of shuffling in the order in which they are now ranked. And, when broken down by resilient, hardwood and laminate distribution, there was more than just shuffling as a number of new names appear on this year’s listings. Continue reading Distribution: Top wholesalers revealed in FCNews' survey