By Ken Ryan
Minneapolis, Minn.—Vinnie Virga, group president of Floors and More, which encompasses Big Bob’s Flooring and Floor to Ceiling, has big plans for the organization. During the group’s inaugural meeting recently, he expressed his goal to be among the top three buying groups in the country over the medium to long term.
“This is just the beginning,” said Virga, citing the group’s growth trends. Big Bob’s has 17 members who own 39 showrooms; Floor to Ceiling has 60 members, each with a single showroom. While Big Bob’s is still more so a cash and carry dealer, over 50% of its members offer installation today. Floor to Ceiling, meanwhile, goes to market as a full service retailer that aims to do the entire project for its customer.
The primary aim, according to Virga, is to create a mindset that this group collectively is powerful. “We have great vision. It is about us being together more. We are differentiated to the customer and united behind the scenes.”
Specifically, Floors and More is looking to grow organically and through acquisitions. To that end, Virga is engaged in talks with other groups about joining forces. “In five to seven years we will be right there with the biggest buying groups. We are running faster but that’s what you have to do to be successful. We are looking for people who are like-minded who want to grow. We help our members become more profitable than they would with other buying groups and we will do so in a more efficient way.”
To that end, Virga said the group plans to explore opportunities in the commercial space, as well as multi-family and non-flooring segments including operating stores that offer pure cabinets and countertops as well as stores that also sell paint. “We’re more about home design and we’re going to build out more verticals. The more legs we can put on the stool for our members the easier to withstand the storms that will come.”
“Spark,” the driving theme of the conference, included a “speed-dating” session in which retailers met with each vendor for a few minutes, before rotating to the next table. Another popular activity was a series of breakout brainstorming sessions in which seven groups were selected and assigned topics ranging from marketing, the Internet, education and training, to operations, networking, merchandising and buying. Each group was tasked with coming up with actionable ideas.
David Bradley, a Floor to Ceiling dealer in Ottawa, Ill., appreciated the collaboration that took place at the conference. “It was unique to be able to break into groups and share ideas. If you have skin in the game you need to be involved. Vinnie is the leader and he has skin in the game because he is also a retailer. He has the same headaches we do.”
Mill executives in attendance also saw the value. Rodney Mauter, executive vice president of marketing for Lexmark Carpet Mills, enjoyed the vendor-retailer meetings. He said Lexmark is poised to grow with the Floors and More group. “Their members have been incredibly receptive to our offerings; it fits into their market of affordable luxury. They are here to promote the dealer, and anything that promotes the dealer is a good thing.”
No flooring conference is complete these days without a heavy emphasis on digital marketing and social media. To that end, Floors and More members were offered lead-generation software packages and custom websites. RFMS, the business-to-business software provider for the group, encouraged members to embrace the changes in technology.
“Technology is today’s way of life,” Terry Wheat, CEO of RFMS, told attendees “There is not a single person who comes in your store today who hasn’t been online looking at your store. While the economy is better you must use technology if you expect to survive.”
Several other digital and social media experts spoke during the conference to reinforce how technology is changing the face of flooring retail. To help its dealers, Floors and More is providing customized websites for each of its members. “A professional customized website can cost $10,000 to $20,000,” Virga told members. “Your price? Free. Why are we doing this? Because we have to own this space. We can’t wait any longer.”