FCA Network In The News

Published: 06/01/2018

FCA Network Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Floor Covering News

April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23

By Ken Ryan

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—Against the scenic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra de Vallejo mountains, FCA Network celebrated its 20th anniversary in grand style here last month, complete with a 12-piece Mariachi band, celebratory toasts and, of course, a successful business gathering.

The conference included a vendor showcase featuring a round-robin format in which pairs of retailers spent 20 minutes at each exhibitor station before rotating. The format was well received by suppliers and dealers alike.

“The round robin was awesome,” said Welton Davison, vice president, strategic accounts for Shaw Industries. “There’s no better way to connect. You can talk specifically to important dealers.”

Bob Noe, president of Pacific Solutions, added, “I loved it. We have a captive audience; it couldn’t be better.”

FCA dealers had similar reactions. Sheri Delp, manager, Legacy Flooring, Olathe, Kan., said accessibility to vendors was a big benefit to her business as she looks to leverage the buying power of the group.

FCA Network comprises 51-member retailers encompassing 67 storefronts; many of which readily admit they would not be in business today without Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, and her management team.

Buddy Mitchell, co-owner of Simply Floors in Denver, is one of those dealers who was thrown a lifeline. When he was in the market for a buying group, he Googled “carpet buying group,” and Olga Robertson’s name appeared. He called the main number and was startled when she picked up the phone. At the time, Mitchell said he was being “blocked” by a significantly larger retailer in his market who tried to “stifle” his business. He was unable to get product from the major mills.

“FCA quickly stopped that,” he said after joining the group. “Without FCA, I wouldn’t have a business today. And now I have a 3,000-square-foot showroom. I think there are a lot of stores out there that don’t know about buying groups. They say they don’t want to be controlled, but FCA isn’t like other buying groups. They gave me the start I needed but I can buy anything I want. Olga is a great leader, and she is picky. She doesn’t just select anyone who applies to the group.”

Olga Robertson Welcomes Members

It is true that Robertson employs a strict screening process. In candidates she looks for people who are willing to be flexible, who can adapt to change, who are embedded in their communities and hard workers. But unlike other groups, they don’t have to change their store names to comply because Robertson believes “their store is their brand” with many of them already established in their respective markets.

Carpet Source, for example, has been a trusted name in the Albuquerque, N.M., market for 25 years, and its place in the market has only been enhanced by its affiliation with FCA Network, according to Don Lovato, owner. “It’s like having a brotherhood here. We share best practices because we are not in competition with one another; it’s symbiotic. At these meetings, everyone walks away with something valuable for their business.”

Being able to help hard-working people succeed in business is what drives Robertson. “What keeps me going is the ability to help someone who really just needs a chance,” she said. “Of course, we cherish our vendor partners as well. We wouldn’t be here without them.”

Discussing disruption

John Godwin, retired executive from Shaw Industries and longtime friend of the group, was the keynote speaker. One topic he touched on was disruptive technologies. He cited Uber, Airbnb, solar power and smartphones as examples. In flooring, rigid core is of that ilk. “Rigid core boards will take share from every other hard surface category—that’s disruptive technology,” Godwin told FCA retailers. “It’s an exceptional product.”

Godwin encouraged dealers to make themselves uncomfortable; in other words, step out of their comfort zones. “You have to change the way you think. It is the only way to grow.”

That change in approach also applies to sizing up the competition, specifically big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Godwin suggested flooring dealers should walk into a Lowe’s or Home Depot every other week and be inquisitive. “See what they are doing; ask basic questions such as ‘What is your best-selling hardwood?’ Every consumer who is buying floor covering is going to go to Home Depot and Lowe’s as part of the shopping process.”

Godwin went so far as to suggest retailers have Lowe’s or Home Depot install flooring in their offices to see how the big box associates/installers handle that part of the process.

“A differentiator to the consumer is to guarantee that ‘we will provide you the right product for your application and stand behind it because Lowe’s and Home Depot don’t have the sales team to do that,’” Godwin said.

Dennis Thiets, senior vice president of residential sales, Mohawk, spoke to FCA members about Air.o, the company’s new category of united soft floor covering known for its healthier choice benefits and ease of installation. “Indoor air quality is absolutely critical,” Thiets said. “Paint used to contain 100% VOC, now it is down to 20% as consumers complained about its harmful effects. We believe they will vote the same way for carpet.”

FCA Network Round Robin

With the average age of today’s installers at 54.5 (Mohawk’s figure), the ease of installing Air.o is another benefit for dealers. “We have lightning in a bottle here,” Thiets said. “Few people are entering the [installation] trade and Air.o is so much easier to install, but this is not a do-it-yourself product. It is exacting.” Overall, it should take about 30% less time to install Air.o vs. regular carpet, he said.

Empire Today, the shop-at-home giant, is private labeling Air.o and making a big push in its TV commercials. As Thiets explained, “Empire is promoting this in a big way and has first-mover advantage.”

FCA’s Robertson called Air.o “disruptive technology” and urged members “to think hard about this product. You have to say this is the direction we want and take the lead here. Open up your mind to this new disruptive technology. It truly is a healthier choice.”

In addition to Air.o, the members were briefed on RevWood and TecWood as the company makes a strong push in hard surfaces this year.

Members were also briefed on new offerings from Congoleum (CLEO Home Studio); Engineered Floors’ PureBac by DreamWeaver; and Signature Classique, a private branded Phenix display with their top polyester styles.

To round out the event, members and vendors alike came together Saturday evening for the group’s annual awards banquet. The event turned out to be a spectacular setting of camaraderie, good food and great fun.

Published: 01/03/2018

FCA Network: Retail Members Praise Industry’s ‘Best-kept Secret’

Floor Covering News

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

Olga Robertson

Chicago—Cottonwood, Idaho, is located on the Carnas Prairie (population 910, as per 2010 U.S. Census), 158 miles from Spokane, Wash., the nearest city with more than 100,000 people. It is home to Hoene (pronounced Hay-nee) Hardware Co., a 108-year-old, fourth-generation retailer that sells items including appliances, bedding, furniture and flooring—and is the newest member of the FCA Network.

Gus Hoene, owner, said that after buying out his partner last year he wanted to join a group. He started looking online and came upon the FCA Network and Olga Robertson, its president. Hoene said he dialed an 877 number and Robertson immediately picked up. “I was driving and had to pull over to the side of the road because I didn’t think I would get through, and I wasn’t prepared to talk,” Hoene told FCNews. He spoke with Robertson for 90 minutes and verbally committed to joining the group.

To seal the deal, Robertson personally visited Hoene’s Hardware. She flew to Spokane, traversed rugged mountain ranges and arrived “white as a ghost” from the trip, Hoene said. During the visit, Robertson rearranged the store’s merchandising and collaborated on a new marketing slogan for the store. “Olga bulldozed through my store, which I liked,” Hoene recalled. “She said, ‘Move that,’ ‘Get that crap out of the window,’ ‘Put that here.’ The store has never looked better since she redesigned it.”

The Hoene Hardware scenario is not uncommon at FCA Network (except perhaps for the long and winding road traveled), where Robertson and her team are a mere phone call away. FCA Network is not the largest buying group, but to hear its retail members tell it you would be hard pressed to find a more loyal group of dealers.

“The FCA Network may be the best-kept secret in the industry,” said Carlton Billingsley, owner of Benton, Ark.-based Floors and More, a member for 15 years. “I don’t think they realize how great having a female leadership of a flooring buying group adds to each member’s success from not only a woman’s expertise, but the female perspective of what the customer really wants.”

The majority of FCA’s newest retailers (it has 54 members and 62 storefronts) come via online searches or referrals from existing members. As Robertson explained, “We don’t have people beating the bushes looking for new members.”

FCA Network, which bills itself as the low-cost buying group with high-powered expertise, is unique in that it is the only retail group actually run by retailers (it has its own corporate stores). The group, an offshoot of Floor Covering Associates, a $40 million-plus retailer based in Shorewood, Ill., was launched in 1998 with the goal of assisting independent retailers in expanding opportunities through marketing, merchandising and buying power.

Appropriately, this year’s convention theme was “Opportunity Knocks,” and against a backdrop of an improving economy and more favorable housing numbers, the outlook is indeed bright for the group. “I really believe there are unlimited opportunities for us,” Robertson told members. “We all have to step up our games because the status quo is not a business strategy. Retail is getting more complex every day. Creative thinking, networking and the strength of our product assortment are what are needed. FCA has the muscle to help [members] survive and thrive.”

Jerry LagowskiDennis Thiets, senior vice president of residential sales for Mohawk Industries, a keynote speaker, tapped into Robertson’s positive outlook in his address, saying, “There is once again reason for optimism all around us. If you look at consumer confidence, for example, the most optimistic of all age groups is 35 and under, which is very encouraging for our industry.”

Ninety percent of membership attended the Chicago event, which is par for the course, and yet a rather significant statistic considering the conference is not mandatory. “Our members are here because they want to be here,” Robertson said. “They are committed to this business.” As with everything with this group, no program or product is mandated; retailers remain autonomous in how they want to run their business. FCA Network is there to provide the necessary support through professional assistance.

Bob Gaither, owner of The Carpet Gallery and Quality Carpet & Flooring, Akron, Ohio, was one of the original members of FCA Network. He said each convention gives him a renewed sense of purpose. “I wouldn’t call it a pep talk, but I think it is a shot in the arm when I come here—and when I get back to the office I am fired up. I remember Bob Hill [FCA Associates founder] saying 15 years ago that if you did things the same way you did them a year ago, then you are doing something wrong. This group is constantly evolving with products and programs, which they have to do because the industry is evolving.”

Supplier executives who took part in the vendor trade show said FCA Network’s can-do spirit starts at the top. “While a lot of groups help out with their buying power, Olga does that and more—she helps them with their merchandising and store layout,” said Ann McDermott, vice president of national accounts for Shaw Industries. “Many of the smaller dealers in this group who may not have known where to turn if they have a problem can count on Olga. She takes care of their needs. She’ll go into their stores and give them a facelift. She really beautifies their stores.”

Joe Ross, regional vice president of sales for the north central region, Phenix, noted, “Olga always tries to create a unique venue to inspire her members in a different way, whether it is product assortment, merchandising or digital platforms.”

Robertson is happy to oblige. “FCA Network is a partner in our members’ success; helping them improver their profitability while maintaining their local identity.”

Published: 01/02/2018

Olga Robertson President FCA Network

Meet  Olga Robertson , president of FCA Network, an alliance of floor covering retailers. She is one of very few women leaders in the floor covering industry. In her role with FCA Network, she is fiercely focused on the success of her members.

I first met Olga when she participated in a panel discussion at Surfaces. I describe that presentation in Lis Calandrino – Tips From the Trade.

Only recently did I have the opportunity to work closely with Olga in preparation for the 2011 FCA Network annual convention [described in FCA Network 2011 Annual Convention Focused on ‘Getting More for Less and FCA Network Annual Convention Presentations]. I witnessed firsthand her intense passion.

Olga graciously agreed to participate in this Woman in Flooring interview.

C.B.: Olga, please tell me about yourself and your background.

OR: My parents immigrated to this country because they wanted to make a better life for themselves and their family. I was born in Naples, Italy, the first of 4 children.  My sisters were born in this country. Dad worked at the steel mill and mom worked at home. As a young girl, raised in a lower middle class family with a strong work ethic, there was simply no excuse for not working hard and taking your education seriously. I was privileged to have a parochial education for 12 years with 4 years in an all girls’ high school… actually that was the best time of my life.

One thing my father always said to me, which I never really understood until I was in the workplace, was “not to expect something for nothing.” Mom, the disciplinarian and the nurturer, always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. So at a very early age I knew that if I worked hard and applied myself I could make more money than my father… Unfortunately not many young people coming out of college today will be able to do that based on the statistics that we are so painfully aware of. I learned the important lesson that to live the American Dream required discipline, a lot of determination and the right opportunities… and this is where Bob Hill comes into the picture.

C.B.: How did you get started in the flooring business?

OR: I was raising my daughter on my own after my divorce…I needed to make more money and I was talking to a friend who was doing installation work for Bob Hill who said “I know a guy looking for a girl to work on the order desk”…that’s exactly what he said. He told me about a position that was available at FCA, a floor covering store in Shorewood. I told him absolutely not…..the only experience I had with floor covering was the time my mother put a deposit down on two rooms of carpet and the guy ran off with everyone’s deposits….as you know flooring people were on par with used car salesmen at that time…

Anyway, I finally called Bob and started one week later right after Christmas… on January 3, 1978. He was willing to pay me $15.00 more per week and I thought, sure, I can do this and continue to look for something else. If you hear Bob Hill tell the story I was there for 30 seconds and started running the place… It wasn’t quite like that, but I was fortunate to be hired by someone who recognized my talents and work ethic early on and gave me so many opportunities to prove myself.  I adopted an attitude of listening and learning from other successful people.

C.B.: What is FCA Network?

OR: FCA Network is a group of licensed retailers across the country who benefit from our buying power and expertise in the floor covering business. We offer all the same things that other groups do for a lot less. Our USP [Unique Selling Proposition] is that we are successful retailers helping other retailers. I like to say that we are the smaller group that THINKS BIG. We also intervene on behalf of our members to resolve claims and expedite orders because we know first hand how difficult it is to sell the customer the first time much less have to do it a second time because the mills can’t ship product.

C.B.: What do you like most about the flooring business?

OR: What I like most are the people in the industry….. That’s why I stayed in this industry. There are some really fine people in this business:  Carl Bouckaert, Ralph BoeVance Bell, Randy MerrittJohn Godwin to name just a few. I’m blessed to have met and worked with talented and passionate people just like you. I’ve worked with and learned from the best.

C.B.: What do you like least about the flooring business?

OR: I could live without the customers…..:-)! I suppose it’s the challenges we all face in an imperfect world that seem to be even more intense or magnified in retail floor covering. In order to satisfy a customer you must do everything perfectly…. 100% in an imperfect world is a very tall order. You have to count on so many people to do everything 100% all along the chain…. It’s not easy.

C.B.: What would you do differently to improve the flooring retail experience?

OR: Have QR tags on every sample from every supplier. We would download our custom app to whatever mobile platform with information from all our vendors and have immediate access to our pricing, specifications, inventory, etc. Wouldn’t that be a great sales tool…. and so cool!

I’m struggling with this because there’s a pre-supposition that I would have some form of control over the retail experience from the stand-point of a teacher, coach or manager. This is “old school” but I believe it’s the student’s responsibility to learn not the teachers to teach.

Teachers, Coaches, Managers should inspire. This is a business for self-starters and entrepreneurs.  It’s not for the timid.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

C.B.: How do you see blogs and social media affecting the flooring industry and your members?

OR: That’s the $64,000 question.  I don’t know.

I do know that there’s a lot of talk about it, a whole lot written about it, and no one wants to be left behind.  I suppose when the pain of not utilizing social media tools is greater than the pain of doing it, we’ll move that ball forward.

C.B.: Any parting words of advice?

OR: Yes, stay positive, keep smiling and don’t take yourself too seriously. You know our motto: have fun, make more money and have more fun!

Thank you, Olga!

Comments, questions, reactions? What advice do you have for succeeding in business today? How do you balance customer expectations with the realities of your industry? How would you use QR codes to facilitate supply chain communications?

Published: 01/01/2018

25 Flooring Women to Reckon With! FCN Anniversary Issue

25 Flooring Women to Reckon With Article

Talk about exciting news!…  Floor Covering News has just published its 25th anniversary issue – dated May 16/23, 2011. It’s an impressive 132 page issue filled with milestones recapping the last twenty-five years in the floor covering industry. It also highlights 25 flooring women to reckon with!

Check it out by clicking on this link for the digital issue of Floor Covering News’ 25th anniversary edition.

This issue of FCN includes reference to each of the 25 amazing women who are propelling the flooring industry forward… [Olga Robertson included!]  Several are women I have interviewed for my  Women in Flooring  series: