GHENT, N. Y.—Sonna Calandrino was a remarkable woman. She had a flair for fashion, a keen sense of style and a profound desire to help people. That combination of talents endeared her to floor covering retailers, distributors and manufacturers. Her entrepreneurial efforts brought her a chain of stores and her business skills propelled her to the forefront of the retail arena. Beyond the showroom, she was a consultant, a compelling speaker and a popular columnist. Her career in the flooring industry spanned more than three decades and came to an end May 23, when she succumbed to breast and bone cancer, both of which were undiagnosed for years. She was 63.
Born in Great Barrington, Mass., in 1947, Calandrino grew up in Copake, N. Y., and attended Roe-Jan High School, graduating in 1965. She spent her early years around Lake Copake, a summer getaway, and was an avid gymnast and continued to be an accomplished water skier until two years ago.
She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, after which she worked in the cosmetic industry with Estee Lauder and other major companies. Ultimately, she returned to the Upstate area and opened 10 retail stores in Hudson, Schenectady, Albany and Troy, N.Y., and North Adams and Pittsfield, Mass.
Calandrino had written a regular column dedicated to assisting retailers in becoming more professional and eventually more profitable. “Sonna was unique. She was a gifted stylist and had the uncanny ability to teach, motivate and elevate retailers, and they seemed to never get enough of her,” said Al Wahnon, editor and publisher of Floor Covering News. “I remember she came to me in 1981 with the idea of writing a weekly column for retailers. Her enthusiasm was infectious and she made the concept seem intriguing. She was definitely the first woman retailer to write a successful column in a major publication and might be the first retailer to do so—man or woman. Her accomplishments are unequalled and they will be long remembered. I am saddened by her passing and the industry is diminished.” In 2006, when commemorating its 20th anniversary, Floor Covering News named Sonna Calandrino one of the top 20 most influential women in the industry.
Calandrino built a strong reputation in the industry and, with a colleague, founded and published Fabulous Floors magazine. Now in its eighth year, Fabulous Floors is the first consumer publication devoted to flooring as a key interior design element. She was also president of Peachtree Communications, a consulting firm specializing in advertising, public relations, merchandising and training solely for the flooring industry, at which she continued to work right up to a few days prior to her hospitalization.
“Though struggling for many months,” said her husband, Richard Howland, “Sonna rebounded after the New Year and took the helm of the spring issue of Fabulous Floors. Her influence and contributions in this issue are obvious. In retrospect, her partners and staff believe Sonna knew this would be her farewell issue.”
Calandrino’s client list is a who’s who of the industry, he noted. “Among other achievements, she was the initial architect of Mohawk University’s course structure and later spent nearly a decade creating and launching Mohawk Floorscapes,” Howland said.
“Sonna was someone who immediately impressed everyone she met, for one reason,” said David Duncan, vice president of marketing for Mohawk. “When you spoke to her, you knew that she wanted you to succeed. And I believe that shows in almost everything she did for Mohawk Industries, and for the flooring industry in general. Look at what she accomplished—she didn’t just create new ideas for selling or fashion. She changed how we think—about our customers, about our business, about ourselves.
“You don’t have to go far at Mohawk to see the mark she has left,” he continued, “Mohawk Floorscapes, Mohawk University, dozens of consumer publications—she gave us new and energetic ways to relate to our customers. In the early years of Mohawk University, Sonna was instrumental in developing the business of managing a training department. And again in the early planning stages of Mohawk Floorscapes, we called upon Sonna for her expertise and guidance.
“Best of all, she did it with style, with professionalism, and with a love for our business that renewed the enthusiasm of everyone around her,” Duncan added. “She will be dearly missed.”
Calandrino was a fixture at industry events, keynoting conventions and seminars, crisscrossing the country with her upbeat, positive messages of education, profitability and the excitement of the fashion presented by flooring of all kinds. “Often, when it became obvious that her messages, research and materials had been used or imitated by others,” said Howland, “Sonna was always philosophical, stating that the important thing was the message and moving the industry along to a new level.
“In the end, though, Sonna truly loved this industry and the people in it,” he concluded. “She felt that she could make an impact with education at every point she came in contact with the industry, whether it was a small installer or retailer or the head of the largest corporations in the business. Sonna could be firm, but not combative. She could stand up for herself and her beliefs, especially knowing that getting the message through would benefit others. She was giving in so many ways. I’d ask that those she left behind find and value her messages. To those who are just coming up, ‘you missed it.’”
In addition to Howland, her business partner of more than 13 years and husband of nearly two years, Calandrino is survived by her sister, Lisbeth Calandrino. An open house celebration of her life and achievements was held at her home here for friends, family and business associates on June 4.
Despite her high profile, Calandrino was a very private person. At her request, there was no funeral. Her family has requested that donations in her name be given to:
The Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF)
2211 E. Howell Ave. Anaheim, Calif. 92806.
Also, in her memory Mohawk University is establishing a Sonna Calandrino Memorial Scholarship that will provide at least five scholarships to flooring retailers for a Mohawk University class. “It is our way of recognizing, long term, the impact Sonna had on the industry, on flooring retailers, and on Mohawk,” concluded Duncan.