DALTON—She was hailed as a pioneer, a teacher, a visionary, and praised for her courage, determination and caring nature, but most of all she was called a friend to everyone throughout the supply chain—from the top mill executive to Mrs. Consumer herself.
That was Sonna Calandrino, and industry leaders from near and far came to Trevitt Hall and the Wink Theatre here to pay tribute to the late industry advocate who passed away May 23 after an extended battle with cancer. Dalton mayor David Pennington, said it is people like Sonna and the work she did that made the city “a better place.” As a retailer, columnist, educator, speaker, consultant and founder of the consumer magazine Fabulous Floors Calandrino spent more than 35 years helping to raise the professionalism of the industry and perception of its products. In doing so, she touched people from all walks, and those efforts were seen during the subdued tribute.
Bob Holdsworth of consulting firm Wheelhouse, who worked with Calandrino in creating Mohawk’s Floorscapes retail group, said “she could do it all. There was no other retailer or person I ever met like Sonna.” Her unique ability to connect with people on an emotional level, he added, allowed her to “make you feel like you were the most important person in the room—no matter if you were the chairman or the janitor.”
Al Wahnon, Floor Covering News’ editor and founder, called her the “patron saint of the flooring retailer. She was determined to enhance [their] lives and businesses….and she accomplished it masterfully, with inspiration, education and training.”
Like many, Calandrino’s relationship with Wahnon was special. But in this case also unique, as he was the first person who hired her as a columnist—the industry’s first—back in 1981, and also was responsible for getting her first speaking gig in front of an industry association.
“Sonna was selfless, caring, compassionate…the quintessential professional,” he said. “She was deeply committed to improving businesses, consumer relations and bottom lines— profitability.
“This could be seen,” Wahnon added, “in every column she wrote, every speech she delivered, every class she taught, every seminar she held and every consultation she offered.”
In addition to co-creating Floorscapes, Calandrino was “instrumental” in developing the curriculum for Mohawk University (MU), said Jeff Lorberbaum, Mohawk’s chairman and CEO. “Her relationship with us helped change the way we do business, from how we display products to how we market them.”
She was a pioneer, he added, not just as a businesswoman, but in how she built lasting relationships. “Sonna had the courage to speak out to the industry and implore us to sell to the female consumer—and she did it with passion and integrity.”
To help keep her vision alive, as well as to commemorate her relationship with Mohawk, he announced the establishment of the Sonna Calandrino Memorial Scholarship for retailers wanting to take an MU class.
Mike Zoellner, Mohawk’s vice president of marketing services, told FCNews applicants can apply through MU or be nominated by other dealers. Recipients are selected by an advisory board of retailers and an MU rep.
The scholarship, Lorberbaum added, “is our way of recognizing long term the impact Sonna had on the industry, on retailers and on Mohawk.”
Nia Cherry, associate director of industry partners and business development for the American Association of Interior Designers (ASID), called Calandrino outgoing, loving, a visionary and a friend. Because she strived to have everyone working together, including designers, Cherry presented the association’s Industry Partner Merit Award posthumously to Calandrino’s family.
As ASID’s highest honor, the award is given to those who have shown “outstanding, significant and exemplary service to their…profession,” and have made “contributions of such importance they have significantly enhanced the profession.” Cherry noted, “I don’t think there’s anyone of importance in the industry Sonna didn’t know, which is why we’ll be seeing the fruits of her work for years to come.”
LaShon McGinnis, manager of market development for Shaw’s Flooring Network, noted how Calandrino “brought people together. She had an uncanny vision on how the industry should and could work.”
Calandrino’s sister, fellow consultant and writer, Lisbeth, urged those in attendance to continue Sonna’s legacy. “Sonna represented the future; she never listened to critics or naysayers and always challenged us to move beyond our comfort zone…[and] if the industry truly changes it will be because of us.”