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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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Distribution: NRF’s Pomerleau stands by carpet

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 4.49.31 PM It’s easy to spot Norman Pomerleau, founder and president of NRF, at an NRF Northeast Floorcovering Market (NEFM); he can be found by the carpet displays, likely holding court with customers.

To say Pomerleau is partial to carpet would be an understatement. “Norman could be walking the show floor with us but if he sees us heading toward the hardwood displays, he leaves us,” said Denis Lebel, co-owner of Sherm Arnold’s Flooring & Kitchen, a Lewiston, Maine-based dealer.

The flooring distribution market may be embracing more hard surfaces to keep current with trends, but Pomerleau never abandoned the carpet category. While many of the industry’s top 20 flooring dealers have little or no presence in carpet, NRF increased its overall mix to 25.1% carpet in 2015 compared with 24.4% in 2014. NRF also holds 25.1% in resilient, the hottest category in flooring.

“Norman never gave up on carpet,” said Terry Pomerleau Gray, senior vice president at NRF. “Norman loves carpet, it’s No. 1. And No. 2, it is a service.”

Gray reflected on a time in the 1970s when Bob Shaw, then CEO of Shaw Industries, called Pomerleau to inform him that Shaw would be selling direct. Other mills followed suit and soon distributors were switching to hard surfaces.

However, NRF continued to sell carpet. His model was to buy truckloads to get a better price and save on freight. A strong service component allowed NRF to command a slightly higher price than the mill.

NRF is the exclusive distributor of Lexmark Carpet in an eight-state region of the Northeast. The mill’s Tailored by Lexmark boutique collection of patterned goods has been one of the most successful soft surface introductions in 2015 and NRF has helped drive that business to hundreds of its retailers.

Tom Mathis, vice president of the residential division of Lexmark, credits NRF’s stellar sales team for that success, as well as the steadfast vision of the founder. “Norman never lost his foothold in carpet,” he said. “A lot of distributors got out of it. NRF never did and today it is one of the strongest carpet distributors in the country.”

Of the top 20 distributors NRF has the largest percentage of carpet. BPI, which was out of the carpet business from 1998 to 2005, returned in 2006 and has seen that percentage of the business increase to about 10%. Carpet accounts for 7Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 4.49.23 PM% of Swiff-Train, which has been in the carpet business since the 1960s.

While Pomerleau acknowledges the gains hard surfaces have made (at 28.8%, hardwood is NRF’s largest product category), and how his company has adapted to those changes, he maintains there is no better value for the consumer than carpet. “There are so many applications where carpet is the better surface. It’s still the best thing out there.”

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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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NRF market moves forward with sales and optimism

March 30/April 6, 2015; Volume 28/Number 20

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 12.11.05 PMLedyard, Conn.—The snow was still piled high in northeast Connecticut, but inside Foxwoods Resort & Casino spring was in the air as NRF Distributors hosted its annual North East Flooring Market (NEFM). Indeed, “spring fever” was the theme as NRF rolled out the hottest new products to “thaw out” its Northeastern retailers, the vast majority of whom dealt with a serious case of cabin fever this past winter.

In all, 320 dealers and more than 1,000 people turned out. “Every year we keep adding vendors,” Norman Pomerleau, founder and chairman of NRF, told FCNews.

Exhibiting vendors included Quick-Step, Lexmark Carpet Mills, Hallmark Floors, Somerset Hardwood Flooring, Tarkett, Johnsonite, Marazzi, EarthWerks, Interceramic and Foss Manufacturing.

“We’re mainly here to show new product and new displays, and sell displays and stock—a lot of stock,” Pomerleau said. “When this show started we had carpet and cushion; now we are adding everything.”

While NRF is well established in hardwood flooring and getting stronger in LVT and ceramic tile, Pomerleau admits he is a carpet guy at heart. “It’s still the best thing out there,” he said. “I’m still a big fan. I see nothing wrong with carpet; there are so many applications where carpet is the better surface.”

At the spring sale, Godfrey Hirst’s new Stainmaster PetProtect line and Lexmark’s Tailored by Lexmark three-dimensional carpet were big hits.

“Tailored is such a unique product,” said Terry Gray, senior vice president of marketing for NRF. “The consumer feels three different densities. It is the nicest looking carpet I have seen in a long time, and it’s not extremely high priced. We sold 100 racks already today, and it’s not even noon. Everyone who sees it wants it.”

More than 60 NRF sales personnel fanned out across the large Foxwoods banquet room to help vendors showcase their goods. Manufacturer executives on hand were impressed with the action on the floor.

“The traffic was strong, customers were buying, and we sold a nice volume of product,” said Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing at Somerset. “The show is a first-class event. The NRF sales reps worked with our sales group, and I always enjoy watching the energy and confidence they exhibit selling the Somerset brand. Of course, NRF and Somerset have a long and successful history, and we enjoy a close relationship to the management at NRF. In today’s fast-paced, iPhone environment, people forget about relationships. We try not to. They don’t either.”

For Foss Manufacturing, which showed off its peel-and-stick adhesive tile, NRF represents the company’s lone distribution outlet in the Northeast. And that’s perfectly fine with Foss president Mike DeGrace. “We’re busier here than we were at Surfaces. In a word, this show is fantastic. Some of the comments I heard were, ‘Best new product I have seen in years’ and ‘Most innovative.’ We sold twice as many racks as the goal I set.”

Most dealers were there to buy. However, Phil Oropallo, owner of Syracuse Carpet & Flooring in Syracuse, N.Y., who has been coming to NRF markets for 17 years, uses the March event to plan his buying season. “Our main goal is to look at all the different products here and plan accordingly over the next six to eight months. We will pick up a couple of new wood lines at the show, specifically Owens and Hallmark.”

Joe and Debbie Marotta, co-owners of Personal Touch Flooring in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said the handscraped collection from Hallmark has been a home run for their business. “Heirloom was a big hit; it comes in oak, hickory and maple, all 5 inches and wider. The product just sells itself,” Joe Marotta said. “Once we had two or three of the Hallmark lines, we decided we had to have every floor it offers—that is how much we believe in Hallmark’s floors.”

Personal Touch Flooring has a similarly strong relationship with Tarkett. “It has made our business very successful. Personally, I want a company you can talk to. The relationship with Tarkett works very well.”

Donna Marotta said their business has been greatly enhanced by their association with NRF. “The best decision we made 20 years ago was to put all of our eggs in the NRF basket. They take care of you.”