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