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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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Guest column: Lack of action is the No. 1 impediment to success

April 24/May 1, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 23

By Vinnie Virga

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.51.13 AMIf you were able to ask Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn or any other world-class personal performance speaker to identify the greatest inhibitor to success, they would probably say “fear of acting.” I would agree. When it comes to establishing and growing a successful business, every decision counts – even if you procrastinate and don’t take action, that is in its own way a decision.

Most barometers I’ve seen indicate the economy is growing, which means our businesses should all benefit. The question you must now ask yourself is this: Can you afford NOT to act? Competition is at an all-time high, and when these consumers are ready for remodeling of any kind are you confident they will call you? If you don’t know the answer with absolute certainty then read on.

In today’s ever-changing marketplace, the differentiating factor between businesses that succeed and those that don’t is the willingness to change, try new things and, most importantly, keep up with the times. What worked before won’t work now, and if you want to stay alive you’ve got to accept this notion and pivot accordingly. Consider the difference between McDonald’s and Howard Johnson’s. McDonald’s was willing to change with the times, even if every new product didn’t catch on. (Remember the McHot Dog?) Howard Johnson’s wasn’t willing to change even a modicum and, well, you know how that turned out.

Yesterday’s marketing plan cannot keep up with today’s consumers. If you do not have a plan that is aligned with current marketing methods, and if you are not looking at your plan daily, you are prolonging the inevitability of failure. Managing any successful and thriving business has an element of risk. Every entrepreneur faces the unknown and stumbling blocks along the way, but the successful ones have a support system and an effective strategy and are willing to step up to the plate. Oftentimes their risk is rewarded with increased revenue and a boost in customer acquisition.

Large leaps forward consist of smaller, focused steps. Concentrate your efforts in digital marketing. I have touched on this in the past, but it bears repeating because getting up to speed with your social media and other digital marketing strategies will be the biggest difference maker in attracting customers that traditional media might miss. A well-managed social media program is the most cost-effective marketing for your business, because it gets the right message to the right target consistently and frequently. Content is king and timely responses are vital. Remember, you are your brand. Don’t shy away from collaborating and promoting like-minded content to expand your audience and bolster your overall brand recognition.

Every choice you make is either a hindrance or a help to your business. Remember, failing to take action is still a choice—a costly one. If you want your business to thrive, think about what fears might be inhibiting you from achieving unparalleled success and formulate a plan for tackling them head on.

What’s stopping you from achieving the success for your business and quality of life you deserve? What’s stopping you from contacting Floors & More? Be bold and decisive and turn your dreams into reality. Better yet, let us help you do that.

 

Vinnie Virga is managing partner and president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Floors & More buying group. His experience includes management of various CCA Global Partner retail groups, including Flooring America.

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Guest Column: When renting space is preferred over buying

March 27/April 3, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 21

By Vinnie Virga

 

(Second of two parts)

In my previous column, “Upgrading your store’s location,” I discussed the advantages—and timing—of upgrading a retail location (FCNews, February 27/March 6). In the second installment, I will review the benefits of renting a space when buying is disadvantageous or not an option.

If you are going to rent, and it isn’t in a strip mall or with other tenants, be sure to arrange the following provisions:

  • First Right of Refusal. If the owner decides to sell and has a bonafide offer, you have 30 days to purchase at the offered price.
  • Option to buy. You have the right to buy, at a pre-agreed upon price (negotiate this sooner rather than later), and a portion of the rent paid goes toward the purchase. A good trick is to also have the purchase and sales agreement decided on in advance by your attorneys to avoid problems later.
  • HVAC service. The equipment must consistently maintain an in-store temperature of 70 degrees or the landlord must fix at their expense.
  • Repairs. Roof replacements, which can be expensive, are the landlord’s responsibility.
  • Upkeep. Determine in advance who is going paint the building, seal coat the parking lot or fix the exterior lights, etc.
  • Review renewal options. Lock in the rent; don’t agree to automatic increases, or negotiate lower hikes. Landlords must pay to retrofit every time the tenant changes and their cost for owning the building doesn’t change. All increases equal more profit from the building for the landlord.
  • Tenant improvement provisions. Most landlords will provide $2 or $3 per square foot toward renovating the space when you first move in. If this isn’t necessary, request the allocation be applied towards 60-120 days of free rent. If you do need changes, have the landlord or owner pay for them. If your changes will cost more than that, negotiate terms that stipulate the landlord or owner pay for them, and for your rent to be slightly higher to offset their higher cost.

If you’re considering renting in a strip mall here are some tips:

  • Make sure you know the zoning laws, restrictions and easements.
  • Ensure there are no open violations. Check roof, HVAC and other structural issues. Make sure the location is ADA compliant.
  • Try for “Gross Leases” if possible.
  • Good deposit, buyer can terminate for any reason during due diligence.
  • Possession date based on permit.
  • Rent starts based on days after opening.
  • Pre-approved sign, pre-approved changes.
  • Try to get near an anchor, such as the parking lot of a home center.
  • Always try for an end cap nearest the entrance.
  • Assigned parking spaces are vital. Make sure you have enough for your customers to have easy access near the front of the store.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.51.13 AMVinnie Virga is managing partner and president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Floors & More buying group. His experience includes management of various CCA Global Partner retail groups, including Flooring America.

 

 

 

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Guest Column: Upgrading your store’s location

February 27/March 6, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 19

By Vinnie Virga

 

(First of two parts)

I have visited hundreds of flooring retailers, and the impression I keep leaving with is location is the difference between a thriving store and one that is flailing. Where you are situated is just as much a factor as inventory, payroll and other line items on your financial statement. With the economic outlook brighter than it has been for years, there is no better time than the present to upgrade your location or to even add new locations.

First, look at your current situation. If you don’t own or have an opportunity to buy your real estate (option to purchase, first right of refusal), you are missing out. You can keep lining your landlord’s pockets all day or you can begin to put your hard-earned profits to work for you. The rents landlords charge represent a multiple of the cost of acquiring the building and keeping it in good condition. His goal is after 15 or 20 years to own the building outright with the tenant having paid not only all the cost associated with buying the building, but also at least a 6% return on the actual cash they had to invest initially. Which begs the question: Why don’t you do it instead?

Owning their own real estate is what sets apart the most successful flooring retailers from the rest and is the primary source of their wealth. It pays to invest some time talking with multiple bankers and your accountant. For example, check out the SBA programs. Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet is preapproved by the SBA nationally and qualifies for special financing programs to acquire real estate. There are great programs the SBA offers, such as the 504 program. If you have been in business for at least two years, the 504 program allows you to purchase with 10% down; SBA will finance 40% at a great fixed rate for 20 years and the 50% balance is financed by a local bank with conventional terms which includes a five-year balloon and a 20-year amortization.

Once you have secured the financing, the next step is to find the best location. There are typically two types of locations that have been shown to perform well repeatedly. The first is a store in close proximity to a town that has a major interstate or highway. It is vital to have visibility to store signage from that highway. What a great way to ensure brand awareness. (For instance, our Auburn location is visible to 220,000 cars per day.) Stand-alone buildings are best, and area required depends on your business model. For example, a sample-only mid to upper satellite store will need around 3,000 square feet, while a satellite stocking store will need around 8,000 and a main store (stocking or warehouse and retail showroom) will require 8,000 to 12,000 depending on your volume or volume potential.

If you are in an area without a major highway, look at the center of town. Major retail centers are a great draw. Ask your realtor for demographic data to make sure you are picking an area that has significant retail traffic. Studies show most retail floor covering stores get 80% of the business from a 12-mile radius. (In rural areas it’s 18 miles and in urban areas it’s about five miles.) You want to be close to people who own their own homes with incomes of $75,000 or more—again, adjust up or down based on your part of the country.

In my next column, I will discuss rental options as an alternative to buying outright.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.51.13 AMVinnie Virga is managing partner and president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Floors & More buying group. His experience includes management of various CCA Global Partner retail groups, including Flooring America.

 

 

 

 

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Guest Column: Perform annual business checkups

January 30/February 6, 2017: Volume 31, Number 17

By Vinnie Virga

Once a year there is a process you can use to help ensure you are managing your expenses well, taking a fresh look at how you operate and maintaining a staff and showroom floor that reflects your changing business trends.

Step one: Take two days off in a row and don’t do anything related to your business. On the third day come back and, if possible, bring a female set of eyes. Don’t just pull in but drive by your business in every direction a customer can. How does your showroom look? Is she comfortable and attracted to your showroom? When she tells you what’s wrong just listen and write. Does it look clean and friendly from the outside? How is the paint, roof, signage, parking lot, etc.? Does your business name reflect what you actually sell? If you are ‘Joe’s Carpet Barn’ and you sell cabinets and hardwood you are already missing the boat. If you have lots of different signs you’re probably confusing the customer. Keep it short and consistent, i.e., Floor To Ceiling.

Now go inside and try to look at it from a new customer’s perspective. Is it professional, well organized and female friendly? Are there signs to explain department locations, or with customers walking on or using the products you sell? When she tells you what’s wrong, write it down. That should create a list of things you need to work on especially while business is slow.

Step two: Make a printout of how much you sell by category. As a percentage to your total sales, how much does each category represent? For example, if you are doing $3M per year, and you’re selling $300,000 in Vinyl, that would be 10% of your total business. Next take a laser and measure off how much square footage your allocating to each category in the showroom. Compare the percentage of square footage allocated to your total square footage by category. Then compare the percentage sales by category next to the square footage and ask yourself if it’s time to make some changes. Some quick tips would be to put the items you are trying to grow or that are most profitable at the front of your showroom. If you have a bullpen for your salespeople, get rid of it and have desks or closing tables spread throughout the showroom.

Step three: Look at your sales numbers per salesperson, and look at your customer base for the last 60 days. Do you have enough women and millennials on your sales floor? Is anyone a bad fit? Get rid of those unwilling to change or unproductive, and replace them with people who represent your customer base and are excited to be there.

Step four: Look at any expense you pay regularly on your P&L. Is it something you can eliminate or shift the cost to someone else? If it is five figures or more on an annual basis, get a minimum of two bids plus an updated bid from the person you currently get the service from, and pit them against each other to get the best deal. Any four figure or more items on an annual basis get at least one other competitive bid. Are you charging at least a $45 environmental fee to offset costs? Are you charging a minimum of $75, or $0.10 per square feet, whichever is greater for acclimation delivery for all hard surface products?

If you do this once a year you will be amazed how much money you will save, how much better your showroom will look and how much more productive your people will be.

 

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-20-42-pmVinnie Virga is managing partner and president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Floors & More buying group. His experience includes management of various CCA Global Partner retail groups, including Flooring America. 

 

 

 

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Guest Column: Note to small retailers—Think hard but fast

January 2/9, 2017: Volume 31, Number 15

By Vinnie Virga

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-20-42-pmHistory, as we know has a habit of repeating itself, and that’s what’s happening again in the floor covering industry. Some or the larger vendors are aggressively raising their margins at the expense of small to medium sized retailers while providing strong competitive advantages to large dealers and national companies. This could have a negative impact on independent flooring retailers and one that should trigger a major rethinking of the path forward for flooring retailers all across America.

Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the current strategic moves by the largest mills:

Most of the larger vendors have aligned programs for their largest customers whereby they may receive special products, brands or programs, or at least a head start on other retailers. That could put a small- to medium-sized dealer at a competitive disadvantage.

One of the largest mills has entered into partnerships with large, national, Internet-only providers selling both hard and soft surface products, including installation.

One of the larger mills announced its intentions to remake itself as a marketing company, indicating that it is seeking to have a direct relationship with consumers.

In these examples, when vendors attempt to bypass the retailer to get the consumer (either directly or via Internet retailers) that could put you at a competitive disadvantage. That is what each and every independent retailer must realize and respond to.

As a proudly independent floor covering dealer, I will share my conclusions. Do they feel that we are obsolete? Some of our industry’s largest vendors may have forgotten that proper selling skills, estimating and installation truly make or break the long-term consumer relationship. These are hallmarks of the independent dealer.

Take the latest round of price increases. Was it out of necessity due to rising costs? Or was it a way to grab more margin? How much of the fuel savings have made it back to your pricing for freight or materials?

If you have come to the same conclusion as I, then the obvious question is what, if anything, can we do about it? Fortunately the answer is a lot.

Here are some suggestions:

First, support only those vendors that support you. In hard surface it’s easy to do. With local distribution usually doing a great job of fulfilling orders quickly and often having national alignments. Similarly, there are still great options in soft surfaces. Many specialty mills provide incredibly good-looking products, tremendous value and have much more limited distribution, which means more margin for you with less competition.

Align yourself with a company that wants independent flooring, cabinet and countertop dealers to not just survive but thrive in this ever-changing market we live in.

At Floors & More we don’t just manage a buying group; we also actually own and operate our own retail flooring and kitchen stores. We don’t work to understand your world as an independent dealer; we live it everyday.

Sitting by and letting others determine my future and our group’s future isn’t in my playbook; should it be in yours? Think carefully about what you just read, but act quickly. The future of your business may well depend on it.

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Guest Column: Don’t fear the big boxes

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13
By Vinnie Virga

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-20-42-pmMany flooring retailers tell me they cannot compete with the likes of home centers and liquidators.  In my experience, these retailers are either listening to the whining of their salespeople (read: excuses for not closing sales) and/or they are not regularly shopping their competitors and don’t understand how they operate.

Following are a few helpful ideas and strategies to increase traffic and better compete with the big boys:

Shop your competitors. While there may be a few competitors you may know so well that you choose to send someone in on your behalf, the vast majority of the people out there selling floor covering don’t know you, and they don’t care if you shop their store. The worst thing that will happen is they will kindly ask you to leave. Trust me, you will survive.

Promote “loss leaders.” This technique entails promoting certain entry-level products at or below cost to create the impression the entire store has competitive prices. Know what these loss leaders are, know the products and find out details. For instance, is the sale on one color or every color? Be sure you are at or below the competition’s prices if you want to be credible; if you can’t do that don’t sample those products in your store.

Advertise specials on labor. For example, offer $29, $69, $99 or even “free labor.” Remember, the big guys have fewer installers willing to work for free than you do. You have to look at the total package being offered at these stores and factor in everything on the final written estimate. They charge to measure, unload the truck, etc. Understand what and how they charge and you’ll see that when it nets out, your offer of free labor isn’t so bad. Don’t forget the trims, metals, pad, etc., all the little things they/you can charge so much for. (Disclosure: We have a 65% gross profit margin on all of the “little things.”) It might sound counterintuitive, but you should always compete with the total price when it is to your advantage. Remember, customers usually pay attention to the price of the main product, the cost of the basic installation and nothing else.

Zig or zag?
Armed with this information, ask yourself if you should “zig” or “zag.”  By zig I mean do the polar opposite of what the competition is doing. For instance, if they promote free installation, your  position should be, “Labor is the most important part of the job, we have the best installers and we don’t think you want someone doing the job for free. Besides, our total installed price is always lower than theirs, and isn’t that what matters most?”

Conversely, zag means if you can’t beat them then join them. Raise your selling price to accommodate what you charge for basic labor. Then make sure you are making 50% to 65% margin on all your other labor items and make at least 65% margin on the little things. Your overall profit margin should remain the same as usual.

Once you have your strategies in place, communicate them with your staff. Hold regular sales meetings where your team conducts role-play exercises handling phone calls, emails and live interactions with customers with objections based on your competitors.
Competing with the big boys is easy—providing you have a plan and stick to it.

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Guest column: Adapting to survive in today’s changing world

November 7/14, 2016: Volume 31, Number 11

By Vinnie Virga

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-20-42-pmOnce upon a time it was easy to be successful at marketing to consumers. You ran a great ad in the Sunday paper, came up with a really creative radio or TV spot, opened your doors and voila, it rained business.

The key to succeeding in today’s media-saturated world is a little different. In the past, if you did a good job, the customer told a couple of their friends and you got referrals. Conversely, if there was a problem you had the ability to work one on one with that customer to rectify any issues. Nowadays, if customers are unhappy they tell the world. More than ever, retailers need to understand demographics, segmenting and targeting and how to market on the web. At the same time, you need to be politically, gender, faith and race sensitive. These weren’t even thoughts you had to consider in the past.

Currently, if you don’t understand the alphabet soup of SEO, PPC, along with GeoFencing, GeoTargeting, re-targeting, brand positioning, e-commerce, visualization, social media, Houzz, Angie’s List, Yelp, review aggregation and, of course, Google you’re not going to make it.

All these things need to be part of your brand’s strategy in some shape or form. You should know which to do vs. what you should avoid as well as how much to invest. If you don’t you’re already a dinosaur and your remaining time in the retail world may be limited.

Add to this mix the upside-down funnel of investment many retailers currently employ. This is where their first investment is in traditional media and their last investment entails money they free up or the leftovers toward the bottom of the funnel that they invest in digital. Even worse, as soon as things get a little tough some yank the digital investment altogether. Throw some competitors into the digital mix (i.e., Home Depot and Lowes) as well as Amazon, Wal-Mart and Wayfair.

If you run a small business, especially retail, you’ll find your world is changing at a faster rate each day. The only way to survive is by constantly adapting to keep pace with evolving consumers shopping habits. I know that you just want to sell products, but it’s just not that easy anymore.

So where do you start? It all starts with your web and social media presence. You need to begin by building—in layers—a well-devised digital strategy. Your website needs lots of hooks—basically bread crumbs that invite the customer to begin sharing data with you—in return for information that will help them. Throughout your site there should be easy ways for browsers to raise their hand and ask for service. Be sure to offer a digital product catalog with pictures of product that can be placed into a room scene so the customer can get an idea of what they will look like in their home.

Next you need to list your website so it shows up in online directories. Your phone number (which should be text enabled) and your business email on all the major directories. Ideally, you want a YEXT service, but if you are going to attempt to do this yourself you can get a free listing on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo Local, YP.com, Superpages, Merchant Circle, White pages and more.

Finally, be prepared to consistently monitor, adjust and tweak your online marketing strategy.

 

Vinnie Virga is managing partner and president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Floors & More buying group. His experience includes management of various CCA Global Partner retail groups, including Flooring America, and he is credited for developing a major flooring footprint in New England.

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Floors & More announces new partnership

Habitat logoAuburn, Mass.–Floors & More Buying Group announced a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity. 
Floors & More, which is the parent company of Floors to Ceiling and Big Bob’s Outlet, will immediately begin donating excess flooring materials to Habitat for Humanity, which will then allocate the materials to their ReStore locations across the country.

ReStores can be compared to Goodwill stores, but for the construction industry. They are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell; new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price. ReStores are independently owned and operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations. Proceeds are used to help rebuild local neighborhoods and communities around the world.

“We are so excited to announce this new partnership,” said Vinnie Virga, co-CEO of Floors & More. “Supporting the good work of Habitat for Humanity meshes perfectly with our commitment to give back. This organization has helped so many people, we are honored to be able to join the important cause by contributing to their mission.”

Scott Appel, co-CEO of Floors & More, added, “I am a strong advocate of giving back. I want to thank Habitat for Humanity for creating a streamlined and efficient donation process that will allow for each and every one of our franchisees to easily donate to their cause. We are very much looking forward to the good our brand can do for families across the nation with Habitat.”

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Big Bob’s welcomes Buckles as consultant

bigbobslogoAuburn, Mass.–Vinnie Virga, CEO of Big Bob’s Flooring, announced the partnership of Big Bob’s Flooring, part of the Floors & More buying group, and Jim Buckles, business consultant to the flooring industry. Buckles offers consulting throughout the flooring industry, helping companies overcome obstacles through operational, financial, and technical analysis and change.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Jim many times over my career at many different companies, and we are excited that he will be available not only to our members, but also to our franchise organization as someone who can help our members maximize their profitability,” Virga said. He added that Buckles’ decades’ long involvement with and experience on RFMS software is another benefit.

Scott Appel, partner in Floors & More and co-owner of Touch of Color, said Buckles “helps us bridge the gap of providing exceptional systems and programs with someone who can help them execute operationally and financially when they are in need of extra onsite or remote support. Jim has a track record of helping people when they hit critical growth stages, or are having a hard time breaking through to a new plateau.”

Buckles has experience with all levels of the industry from his involvement as an initial hire for CCA Global, running the finance end of their company-owned stores in St. Louis, through consultation with retailers ranging from single stores to multi-store national chains, to CFO of a company producing over $135 million in flooring, cabinet and counter sales (builder and retail).

“The opportunity to work with Vinnie, Scott and their group is the rare moment to help an organization that is poised to change the flooring industry as we know it today,” Buckles said