FCA Network In The News

Published: 04/01/2022

FCA Network: Dealers boast ‘staying power’ amid adversity

“Big Ideas in the Big Easy” was the theme of the FCA Network spring meeting here, and retail members certainly had their choice of big—and bold—ideas to incorporate into their business.

From tax strategies to a new QR code system for updating showroom pricing to smart approaches for recruiting and retaining employees, members said the conference agenda offered plenty of takeaways to implement back home.

For Jerry Wilson, manager of Walker’s Floor & Design, Twin Falls, Idaho, it was learning new tax laws from Roman and Bart Basi that he took to heart. “As soon as the session on new tax laws was over, I called our bookkeeper and told her we are changing our company from an LLC to a C Corp., to lower our tax burden,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a huge thing for us.”

For Katrina Coy, co-owner of Classic Carpet & Flooring, Howell, Mich., and Sara Lee, co-owner of Pocatello Flooring in Pocatello, Idaho, having access to the new QR system for showroom pricing is a potential game changer given how frequently prices are increasing. “We have a small staff and we have people every day manually changing price,” Coy said. “This will save us on time and make us much more efficient.”

Lee lauded the QR system for its ease and simplicity. It was her second convention since joining FCA last year, and she said she was eager to learn new ways to advance her business. She even attended the opening reception in her wedding dress, just hours after getting married to Aaron, her new husband and business partner.

Network members thriving

FCA retailers Carlton Billingsley (far left) and Dan Billingsley discuss products with Happy Feet’s CJ Johnson, Ladonna Hamlin and Casey Johnson.

The 24th annual FCA Network convention provided members with a chance to share ideas and discuss their continuing success, which continued despite myriad challenges.

Robertson said as a group FCA members were up 22%-24% from 2021 vs. 2020 and are off to a strong start in 2022. “It’s been going gangbusters,” she told FCNews. “The consumer is willing to spend money and invest in her home. Consumers are still buying; inflation hasn’t scared any of them yet. Consumers see the value of their home continuing to go up, and when you see that, you can invest more. At some point things will settle down. But, in the meantime, I tell members to make hay while the sun shines.”

FCA Network members said just keeping up with the pace of business has been all consuming. Matt Bliemeister, owner of Cincinnati Floor & Window Coverings, Loveland, Ohio, marveled at the patience customers have been showing during the ongoing supply chain slowdown. “We used to be two to three weeks out with some products but are now four to eight weeks out, and no one is balking,” he said. “Business has been strong across the board, really in every category. 2021 was our best year ever, and we’re still going like gangbusters.”

Robertson told members they have learned valuable lessons since COVID-19, namely the importance of perseverance and resiliency. “We have had the staying power despite the adversity,” Robertson said. And given the domestic challenges as well as the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe, Robertson urged members to “focus on what you can control and keep a hopeful approach. We have much to be thankful for. We’re all here together to take us to the next level.”

Members new and old said they are seeing their businesses reach heights not seen before. Bob Gaither, owner of Quality Carpet & Flooring, Akron, Ohio, was one of the first members of FCA Network, joining the group 23 years ago. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “The first two years I didn’t really embrace the business. Back then, I had [good] sales but was losing money. I called up Olga and did everything she said I should do about running my business, and it turned my business completely around. The rebates alone put my two daughters through college.”

Round-robin trade show

The traditional trade show featured a round-robin format, with retailers spending 20 minutes at each booth to ensure that every vendor would be seen. The format drew praise from supplier executives. “In a normal show environment, you’re hopeful that someone will come by and visit with you; this format ensures they will,” said Bill Waters, regional vice president at The Dixie Group.

Jay Kopelson, vice president of national accounts for Mannington, echoed that sentiment. “It’s a great format because you get one-on-one time with dealers and can focus on what’s new and if there are any new opportunities. It’s a good way to make new connections.”

The vendor presentation included a good amount of buying, with FCA’s new Signature Home PetSafe—a private label display from Shaw—resonating with members. “Most everyone has taken on the display,” said Ann McDermott, vice president of national sales for Shaw Industries. “This is not your normal PET. In fact, we don’t call it PET. It’s a high-performance yarn system.”

By Ken Ryan—New Orleans

Published: 03/22/2022

Robertson earns FCNews’ Lifetime Achievement Award

Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, will be honored later this month with Floor Covering News’ ninth annual Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award. In doing so, Robertson becomes the first female to win this award. The award will be presented to Robertson at FCA Network’s annual convention in New Orleans on March 29.

“When FCNews launched this award back in 2010, the idea was to honor individuals who had not yet received industry- wide recognition, specifically but not limited to the WFCA Hall of Fame,” said Steven Feldman, publisher. “I couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate to take home the 2021 award than Olga, and there is no one more appropriate to be the first woman to be honored with this award. She has paved the way for so many women to be given the chance to excel in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.”

The journey

Robertson was instilled with the importance of commitment practically from the day she was born. As a young girl raised in a blue-collar family with a strong work ethic, there was simply no excuse for not working hard and taking education seriously. Word has it she had a perfect attendance record for 12 years throughout Catholic school.

Her father worked at a steel mill and taught her not to expect something for nothing. Her mother always told her she could be anything she wanted to be. “So, at an early age, I knew if I worked hard and applied myself I could make more money than my father,” Robertson said. “I learned the important lesson that to live the American Dream required discipline, a lot of determination and the right opportunities.”

When Robertson was first approached about joining the flooring world in the early 1970s, she was reluctant to get on board. The only knowledge she had of flooring at the time was that her mom ordered carpet from someone and he ran away with her money.

But she eventually found her way to Floor Covering Associates (FCA) in 1978 with her first job scheduling installers and managing inventory. “She was doing the job effectively within 15 minutes and I never had to intervene once,” said Bob Hill, founder and chairman. “She took over and always knew what to do. She’s just been incredible from the beginning.”

Hill recognized Robertson’s talents and work ethic and gave her opportunities to both learn and grow. Eventually Robertson was elevated to a high-level merchandising position, where she was responsible for all the carpet buying before becoming president of FCA. In 1998, Robertson became president of FCA Network, which has grown to about 80 members.

Along the way, Robertson built a reputation of being one of the industry’s toughest negotiators. “When she first started negotiating with suppliers, she would beat them so down that I would have to say, ‘You have to leave them with something so they come back,’” Hill recalled. “But she is terrific at it. She knows where to stop.”

Robertson has also built a reputation of always honoring her commitments. “She never welshes on a deal,” Hill said. “And that’s something I think is rare in business in general.”

Another attribute, Hill said, is that her memory is second to none. “She could look at a piece of carpet and 10 years later still remember the name of it, what it looked like and identify it,” he said. “She never forgets a face or a name. We would go to Surfaces together and run into somebody that we hadn’t seen for a while and I would have to whisper to her, ‘Who’s that?’ She’d always know who it was. She just has an amazing mind.”

But perhaps her greatest achievement over the last 40-plus years has been paving the way for women to make their mark and excel in this industry. “When we all started out, this was a male-dominated business,” Hill said. “She came in and held her own with all the men and never gave it a second thought.”

Bob Weiss, CEO of All-Tile, put it in perspective: “Olga is very smart and tuned in to what’s going on. She is a trail-blazer. She is someone who broke through glass ceilings. There is so much discussion these days about women in flooring. Olga would be on the Mt. Rushmore of women in flooring. She is the torch bearer.”

Ann McDermott, vice president national accounts for Shaw Industries, called Robertson a “legend” who commands the respect of the highest-level executives, with whom she has built the strongest relationships. She recounted a story from a few years ago: “Olga had come to Shaw to review our new products. We’re working on this big program. She loved the program but said to me, ‘You don’t have the marketing right;You don’t have the name right.’ So we go to dinner that night—me, her, Vance [Bell] and Randy [Merritt]. She starts saying we should call it Life Happens. Randy calls marketing and says, ‘You need to change the name. I don’t care. You need to change the name. I’m sitting here with a customer and I told her I changed it.’ That’s the power of Olga.”

A number of years ago, Merritt said: “Olga is a student of the industry. She is, at her core, a buyer and merchant. She knows as much about product and styles as anyone in the industry because she works very hard at it. At Shaw, we always look to seek out her thoughts on new products in development as she has a keen sense of style, value and what the consumer is looking for.”

Rise of FCA Network

FCA Network was launched in 1998 after Bob Hill posed this question to his management team: How do we grow our business and increase our buying power without any capital investment? Hill and Robertson knew the retail business and saw an opportunity to offer their expertise to dominant players in secondary markets while leveraging their expertise in buying, merchandising, advertising and marketing. FCA wanted to provide retailers in those smaller markets an opportunity to have all the services the big groups provide for a lot less money while simultaneously increasing FCA’s buying power and stature in the industry.

That’s how and why FCA Network was formed. It started as a regional group in the greater Cleveland area by Rich Sebastian, who happened to be president of the Northeast Ohio Floorcovering Association and began FCA Network with 12 members in Ohio.

FCA Network’s selling proposition was that it was a successful Top 25 retailer helping other retailers. Its firsthand understanding of retailers’ struggles along with an immeasurable amount of industry knowledge gives FCA Network the ability to create the best opportunities for its members at any level. But when you ask our members what they value most it’s networking with fellow retailers just like them. Its family-like culture makes them feel welcome and that they are not just a number.

While not as large as Carpet One, Abbey or CarpetsPlus, FCA is unique if only because of Robertson. “In addition to the standard things that a buying group does, such as pricing and merchandising and marketing, Olga takes a personal interest in each member,” Hill said. “We have something called third-party intervention; if one of our dealers has a dispute with a manufacturer over a return or claim, he or she calls Olga and she gets it resolved for them. She takes a real personal interest, and with her clout she’s able to get stuff done that the average dealer cannot. Sometimes a lot of these reps treat the dealer like crap, and Olga stands behind them and takes care of them like they’re her children.”

Here’s an example: There was an FCA Network dealer who had been doing well, and then he somehow got himself into debt and was on his way out of business. Robertson intervened, first by having a talk with him and getting him to make a couple of commitments. Then she called suppliers and worked out a payment plan without him having to file Chapter 11. She straightened out the whole problem, and today’s he’s one of FCA Network’s best dealers.

Robertson is steadfast in her belief that the Network helps support her retail members through extraordinary buying power, partnership and individualized branding. Over the past 24 years, she has helped push FCA Network into the future with programs such as new marketing and hiring campaigns focused on drawing younger entrepreneurs into the business, growing the group’s membership and much more.


Robertson’s commitment goes beyond flooring. She supports a cause called Facing Disability, a foundation that connects families dealing with spinal cord injuries with the life experiences of more than 100 family members who are living with a spinal cord injury every day, and to provide medical information and resources. The organization was started by Hill after his daughter was injured in a swimming pool accident when she was 22. “We all work at it, and it’s been rewarding,” he said.

Robertson: In good company

Floor Covering News established the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 to recognize those people who have not only made significant contributions to the floor covering industry but, more importantly, worked toward its betterment and made a difference over a sustained period of time. Simply stated, the award is intended to recognize service and leadership that is of a scope and duration to be considered a lifetime achievement.

“What we really wanted to do was to honor those people who have dedicated their life to improving the floor covering industry,” said Steven Feldman, FCNews publisher and editorial director. “At the same time, we wanted to pay homage to this publication’s founder, Al Wahnon, who was a co-founder of the FCIF and an original member of the WFCA Hall of Fame.”

Olga Robertson, the 2022 award recipient, joins the ranks of past winners:

  • Sandy Mishkin, co-founder and president of CCA Global Partners
  • Ralph Boe, carpet industry mainstay
  • Don Miller, owner of Roppe
  • Jeff Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO of Mohawk Industries
  • Don Finkell, founder of American OEM and former CEO of Anderson Hardwood
  • Pierre Thabet, founder and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand
  • Michael Goldberg, president and CEO of Rite Rug, largest independent flooring dealer in U.S.
  • Piet Dossche, founder of USFloors, mastermind behind COREtec and father of WPC

---By Steven Feldman

Published: 07/29/2021

FCA Network: Members celebrate good times at Convention 2021 in Sarasota

 FCA Network conferences are not your ordinary buying group meetings. Instead, these are intimate gatherings more resembling a family outing than business conference. Here at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, members brought their families and participated in activities, from networking to beach parties.

“Each and every member couldn’t say enough about how the event went, and I couldn’t have expected more from the vendors,” Olga Robertson, FCA Network president, told FCNews. “At these conventions everyone knows each other. It doesn’t have a corporate feel to it.”

The event, themed “Reset, Refocus, Renew,” resonated with retail members and vendors who took advantage of the in-person meeting to connect and catch up. This year’s meeting was more special following two COVID-19-forced postponements. Several retailers said the best part of the conference was simply being able to spend quality time with fellow retailers while sharing stories and information.

Twenty-year member, Carlton Billingsley, co-owner of Floors and More, Benton, Ark., said he appreciated the intimacy of the group. “We share as much information with each other that a large group would. What’s neat about FCA is that we’re selling to the consumer, who is a woman, and our group is run by women, which gives us a leg up on the competition. We have a great staff that takes care of us. If we do have an issue, which is rare, it is taken care of right away.”

FCA Network enjoyed a successful 2020 that saw members grow about 10% despite the pause in March and April when showrooms closed and shipments stopped. The 10% gain followed a successful 2019, and the momentum has continued in 2021 despite challenges with raw material prices increases, freight costs and product availability.

Keynote address talks business

FCA Network
James Lesslie, president of the commercial division of Engineered Floors, gives his take on trends that will impact the flooring industry.

Each FCA Network convention starts with a keynote address from a major flooring executive. This year, James Lesslie, president of the commercial division of Engineered Floors, spoke about the meteoric rise of EF in its 10+ years; he also gave his thoughts on where the flooring industry stands today.

A few takeaways:

  • The pace of LVT/P growth will slow somewhat this year;
  • Solution-dyed PET is changing the game while polypropylene will exit the industry in 2022;
  • The PET bus is coming. “You have two choices—get on the bus or get run over by it.”
  • Ocean freight looks to be a longer-term issue. “Our freight rates have more than tripled,” he said;
  • Residential spending is still expected to be strong but residential comps compared with 2020 will be more difficult to achieve in the second half of 2021;
  • In commercial, the effect of hybrid work options on office space will evolve; most big companies are looking at hybrids in which some people work from home while others are in the office.
  • Major metro areas are still not feeling the recovery. “Commercial is very constrained in the big markets,” he said;
  • Raw material shortages are massive and have caused service issues at a much higher level than the residential business.

New members speak out

FCA Network
Olga Robertson (left), president of the FCA Network, with new member Sara Lee.

FCA Network is never about the quantity of members or adding retailers just for the sake of adding. Prospective members must fit the close-knit culture that was forged more than two decades ago when the group was founded. As such, prospects are carefully chosen. At this year’s event, five new members were introduced.

Newcomers Trent and Megan Pingel of Pingel’s Home Center in Pella, Iowa, said they faced a quandary as reps in their market who wouldn’t return their phone calls, much less agree to take them on. Finally, a Shaw rep told them to contact FCA. “Olga gave us a shot when no one else would,” Megan Pingel said. “We would not be where we are without Olga and FCA, which is great because our business is really busy these days.”

Trent Pingel added, “This is our first convention, and these three or four hours have been informative; it’s nice that companies answer our questions and don’t blow us off.”

Sara Lee is another new retailer to the group. She and her husband, Aaron, operate a start-up, Pocatello Flooring, in Pocatello, Idaho. “Pairing with Olga and her team gave us leverage where we had none,” she said. “How do you get a credit reference when we didn’t have any? For us, this opportunity has been huge. We opened our doors in October 2020, during COVID-19, which was weird. Our first year, a lot of people didn’t know we were open; but with the help of FCA, they have provided so much guidance—displays, floor plans—literally so many things to help us.”

The Pingels and Lees represent the type of people Robertson said she loves to help—ambitious people just looking for an opportunity. “I’m looking for younger entrepreneurs,” she said. “I know I can help them grow their business and be more profitable. That’s what keeps me going—making a difference in a dealer’s life. If I can help them live the American dream, because everyone is entitled to their share, that’s what I want to do. Some of the new members couldn’t get open lines of credit to start their business. For me, getting open lines of credit is the easy part. You then must be committed to the programs and embrace what we do. My job is to make my dealers competitive in their respective marketplaces, which sounds simple but is not easy to do. The [new retailers] need to be competitive with the LVPs, with their solution-dyed polys. We focus on the larger players, the larger vendors. It is a business of relationships and we have been able to maintain good, strong relationships with our vendors.”

Vendors take advantage of deals

FCA Network
Mannington’s Jay Kopelson (right) speaks with dealers during the trade show portion of the conference.

While summer isn’t the typical season for buying, several vendors said they were happy with the results. Happy Feet, for example, got orders from people they weren’t doing business with. Phenix Flooring’s Signature Home with Microban was a great story at convention. “This is a really good group for us,” said Jason Hair, vice president of sales for Phenix. “We launched a new program with them, Signature Home with Microban—1/2 nylon, 1/2 polyester—all with Microban.”

Robertson said the network’s business with Phenix “is about the explode.” Engineered Floor’s Signature Home with Pet Safe was another new program that excited dealers at the convention. Bellwether members Mohawk, Shaw and Mannington were similarly busy at their booths during the two days of retailer meetings, which took place in 25-minute intervals.

For Sara Livensparger, manager of West Bay Floor Source in Cleveland, this was her first convention. “It’s a whole new world for me, but it is fun,” she said. “We were still in the midst of COVID-19 when I joined last July. I want to learn about the new products and just network with people here. It’s worked out great.”

By Ken Ryan Sarasota, Fla.

Published: 07/22/2020

FCA Network 2020 Convention Cancelled

FCA Network has made the decision to cancel its annual convention due to the ongoing pandemic.

The convention was previously postponed from April to September at The Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, said, "cancelling the event is not only the smart thing to do but the right thing to do."

Plans for Spring 2021 Convention are in the works. 

Published: 03/21/2020

FCA Network 2020 Spring Convention: Postponed

FCA Network has postponed their annual spring convention to September. The event will still be held at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida.

This highly anticipated event will feature expert flooring industry presentations; exciting new products; flooring industry trends; sales, promotional and marketing strategies; and invaluable networking with fellow retailers, manufacturers and support staff.

When not working, attendees and their families can plan on soaking up the stunning oceanside atmosphere with white-sand beaches, heated gulf-front pools, championship golf courses, luxurious waterfront dining, relaxing spa treatments, an average April temperature of 82 degrees - and so much more!

Published: 12/11/2019

Olga Robertson Earns CFA Person Of The Year Award

The Chicago Floor Covering Association is pleased to announce the recipient of this year’s prestigious Person Of The Year Award. The honor will go to Olga Robertson, President of FCA Network, headquartered in Shorewood, IL. 

The FCA Network Buying Group boasts 62 licensed dealers nationwide. FCA Network was founded in 2006 when Bob Hill and Olga recognized a need in our industry for retailers in secondary markets to band together as a group. 

Olga has been a member of the CFA since 1990 and has accomplished many ‘firsts’ in regard to women in leadership positions in our industry! She is an extremely well-informed, astute buyer and has achieved much in her long floor covering career.

Olga will be honored at the CFA Presidential Awards Dinner held Saturday, January 11, 2020 at Abbington Banquets, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A commemorative program book is planned for the event that will allow friends and business associates to congratulate Olga on this distinguished award and also serve as a fundraiser for the CFA Scholarship fund. The CFA Scholarship fund has helped hundreds of CFA Members’ children and grandchildren supplement funds to attend college. 

If you would like to participate in this philanthropic fundraiser and send a congratulatory message to Olga in the Program Book, please go to the CFA website to complete a form. If you have any questions, contact Cynthia Bernardi at 708-205-4109.

Published: 04/26/2019

Retail Education: Top merchandising tips to make a lasting impression

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23
By Lindsay Baillie

Properly merchandising product can assist flooring dealers and RSAs in selling their best products while also instilling confidence in the consumer. For example, flooring displayed at the front of a store is guaranteed to catch the consumer’s eyes while a product in the back corner may never get any attention.

Following are several merchandising tips from top flooring retailers across the United States.

Keep your showroom up to date. Savvy retailers say a good-looking showroom with various styles can help build a customer’s trust and push her to see the store as both fashionable and knowledgeable.

“Having a uniform showroom is often a challenge in our industry,” said Missy Montgomery, showroom manager, Montgomery’s CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Venice, Fla. “We can carry many different products, but the key is to not saturate the showroom. We have our showroom laid out in sections such as wood, carpet, tile, LVP, area rugs, commercial, etc.”

Display the right products. As new flooring continues to enter the market, determining which products to display can be taxing. “Every square inch is money,” Montgomeryexplained. “Go through your showroom on a minimum of a semi-annual basis and allocate the dollars to the racks. Not moving the product? It is time to switch it up.”

Nick Freadreacea, president, The Flooring Gallery, Louisville, Ky., urges dealers to remember that in most cases less is more. “The first thing most stores need to do is eliminate all the displays and sampling that are not producing sales for them. Each year, we measure every product and display for their return per square foot. If something is not performing, we move it out. Larger aisles and a comfortable shopping environment are more important than having non-producing displays.”

How these products are displayed are also important. For example, Carlton Billingsley, owner, Floors & More, Benton, Ark., suggested higher-end products should reflect and demand a higher price in merchandising. “FCA Network has cherry wood displays for our higher end products, black metal frames for the mid-level products and stacker/white boards for the builder business,” he explained. “Showcase the product you want to sell in larger samples, room scenes, photos of finished projects, etc., so the consumer knows this product is important to you and maybe it should be to them, too.”

Once a dealer has selected a product and the ideal display vehicle, now it’s time to consider showroom placement. Most dealers suggest focusing on the most important items by featuring them more prominently. “Give those items the largest sample possible and place them in the most visible areas,” Freadreacea said. “Picture your showroom as a store in a mall, and they always put the items they want to feature on endcaps or in the best lighting.”

At Carpet Gallery of Akron and Quality Carpet & Flooring, higher-end products are the stars of the retail floor—and it shows. “Place some of your best products right by the front door so [customers] can see them when they first enter,” said Robert Gaither, owner. “We then like to mix in some better products with the mid-range and economy products after that. I don’t like to lead people to the far corner of the showroom to show them the economy material. Doing that might embarrass them if that is all they can afford

Published: 04/10/2019

Members ‘Get on Board’ with the programs

FCA Network: Members ‘Get on Board’ with the programs

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22
By Lindsay Baillie

Chattanooga, Tenn.—The momentum of FCA Network’s 20th anniversary conference in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, last year seemed to spill over into the group’s annual meeting this year as enthusiastic members gathered to network, share best practices and learn about new products and programs.

According to Olga Robertson, president, FCA Network, roughly 80% of members were in attendance. “We have come off a very successful 2018,” she told members during the general session. “In the next three days we hope to inspire confidence for what’s in store in the coming year.”

To that end, the three-day convention, themed “Get on Board...Your Destination is Clear,” kicked off with a keynote from Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors and executive vice president of hard surfaces, Shaw Industries, who urged members to become disrupters in their markets. The event also featured an interactive presentation from Bob Phibbs, owner of The Retail Doctor, a retail consulting company. In his spirited talk, he shared ways the group can compete in today’s aggressive landscape. 

One of the main highlights of the conference actually took place off-site. FCA Network arranged mill tours to Shaw Industries’ LVP plant and Engineered Floors’ Dreamweaver carpet manufacturing facility—hence the selection of Chattanooga as a conference site, given its proximity to the major carpet mills. “For many of the members this is their first time visiting a mill,” Robertson explained. “And because of the tours, we have some members who brought their sales team with them.”

Patrick Ginley, partner, J & P Custom Floor Covering, Ridgeville, Ohio, and a member of FCA Network for 16 years, told FCNews this was his first opportunity to see a mill. “After 40 years in the business I was excited to go,” he said. “It was pretty neat, and I learned more about the products.”

Buddy Mitchell, owner, Simply Floors, Wheat Ridge, Colo., and a FCA Network member for four years, shared in Ginley’s enthusiasm. “I’m excited about the mill tours. I’ve never been to one before.”

New vendors, products
Members also had the opportunity to spend time with the network’s key vendor partners during the product showcase. Here, FCA Network dealers were given approximately 20 minutes to discuss new products and deals with exhibitors in a round-robin format.

“We got such great response from members in Puerto Vallarta that we decided to do the round-robin format again,” Robertson said. “It gives the members an opportunity to see everyone, and the vendors do more business in this format.”

Several products caught members’ eyes. Two of which were new COREtec introductions from USFloors. Dan Billingsley, president, Billingsley Floors & More, Benton, Ark., and one of the biggest COREtec dealers in Arkansas, loved the new Stone and Wood products. So much so that he’s allocating half of his showroom to COREtec. “We decided COREtec was moving so fast that we thought we should make it our main source when you walk in,” he explained. “It’s easier to install and maintain. A lot of people don’t like the grout. I see COREtec Tile going in showers before long.”

Simply Floors’ Mitchell believes Shaw’s latest waterproof product, Repel Hardwood, will be the next big thing. “I think that is going to be as big as WPC is—I really do,” he said. “If they can keep that wood from peeling off and warping, it will be as big or even bigger than COREtec.”

New to the vendor showcase this year is Wallace Baxter, a subsidiary of FCA that was created by Bob Hill, FCA founder, as a way to provide digital marketing solutions to the flooring retailer as well as FCA Network members. The company offers flooring dealers customized websites that reflect their stores’ local identity. What’s more, it assists dealers with digital marketing, lead generation, growing reviews and maintaining social media sites.

“Just as there is synergy between FCA and FCA Network, and the members benefit from our buying power, the same accrues with Wallace Baxter,” Robertson told FCNews. “Wallace Baxter already does lead generation and marketing on websites for FCA. What they do is already proven. From that standpoint, the members should have the same confidence they have in us on the buying and merchandising side with marketing to the consumer in a digital platform provided by Wallace Baxter. They have access to all of that talent, and the price of admission is fairly inexpensive.”

Members welcomed the new vendor. “After having a conversation with Wallace Baxter about our challenges with Google, they were able to tell me what I needed to hear,” said Gary Battaglia, owner of Holland, Mich.-based Michigan Tile. “We already have a website, but we’re looking to build on it. We also are looking to get advertising information that will make us grow.”

Membership has its privileges
FCA Network constantly looks for ways to provide value to its members not only during convention but throughout the year as well. “One of the network’s greatest advantages and differentiators is we are successful retailers helping other retailers,” Robertson explained. 

Interestingly, many members start their journey to FCA Network with a Google search. This is true for Simply Floors’ Mitchell, who Googled “flooring buying groups” and saw a video of Robertson roughly four years ago. “I looked at the video and called and she answered the phone,” Mitchell told FCNews. “Olga is so hands on and it’s such a close-knit family. I don’t know what it’s like to run a flooring business that is not part of a buying group. Networking is a big key. You can ask dealers who have been in the business for 30 to 40 years how they do things and what has worked.”

Matt Pratt, president of Plymouth, Ind.-based Pratt’s Floor Covering, a member for the past four years, heard of FCA Network through word of mouth from another member. “I was talking to him and he said how great this organization was for him and his business. It has made us more competitive with all the competition and box stores. It also helped increase our margins. Instead of trying to sell volume at a low price we are able to increase our margins. The fact that they negotiate as a group with the mills helps.”

When Floors & More’s Billingsley was asked to join the group 15 years ago, he took into account the friendly atmosphere as well as the cost of entry. “Everyone was super nice, warm, friendly and we just felt that was the group we wanted to go with. Everyone was going with buying groups and we had a decision to make. The cost factor was a big part, too. You can get with FCA Network for a reasonable price.”

Twenty years ago, Robert Gaither, president, Quality Carpet & Flooring, Akron, Ohio, joined FCA Network with the hopes of gaining some direction and help in organizing his business. Now he’s working fewer hours and making more money. “The business is more organized,” he said. “They give us the tools to succeed. It’s a nice group of people.”

For dealers like David Turner, owner of Buy Floors Direct—which operates three locations in Tennessee—FCA Network provides useful knowledge and valuable marketing expertise. “Based on our research and being in the industry for years and knowing a lot of the opportunities and options, we sought out FCA Network,” he told FCNews. “We do so much hard surface on a large scale, but for our soft surface products I still needed someone to take the time to research the market and breakdown everyone’s products to find out what made sense for us. What we needed was someone to do the matrix to fit the right products in the right places, and we also needed a systematic selling system. They’re lean and they’re good, and there’s just not a lot of fluff and waste. It is a very efficient, effective selling system.”

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: