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.”
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.”
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.”
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.