Shaw stresses ‘Unity’ to succeed in new economy, record crowd addressed at conference

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ORLANDO, FLA.—Working together has never been more important in light of the U.S. economy slowly coming out of its worst recession in 70 years and a new type of younger, more interactive consumer emerging in the marketplace. “Unity: Connect for Success” was the central message Shaw Industries presented to a record crowd of roughly 3,000 people at its biennial Shaw Flooring Network (SFN) conference here.

With approximately 2,600 people representing nearly 830 retail stores, the three-day event was filled with products, programs and services—many exclusive to the mill’s aligned members—designed to help drive consumer traffic into their stores.

“That’s the one thing most asked for by retailers,” said Randy Merritt, Shaw’s president. “While that’s been our focus the last few years, for 2011 we have a lot of exciting things on the table we feel will help drive consumer traffic.” Scott Humphrey, SFN director, told the crowd, “We’re stronger together than alone. We’re all looking for the right partner, one that will have our best interest at heart and work to make us successful but, at the same time, allowing us to maintain our independence. That’s why Shaw is not like the other groups. We don’t make extra money on things like over billing or this convention—we actually lose money on it. This is all about you and us trying to make it simple for you to do business. A big reason for this is the dealer council, which is very active and opinionated. Many of the products and pro- grams you see at this conference is a direct result of their input.”

Merritt added the convention’s theme is more than just a word by itself. “It’s in opportunity, and we’re trying to bring you ways to meet the transitions taking place. It’s in community—from our vendor partners, associates, speakers—we’re all here to help you succeed.”

While he admitted it is cliché to say, “The only way for us to be successful is if you are successful,” Merritt said it is truer than ever. “We can only grow if you prosper, so we have focused all our efforts on bringing you products, programs, technology, recognizable brands and more that will help drive consumers to your stores.”

Vance Bell, Shaw’s CEO, noted, “the prolonged recession, financial collapse, skyrocketing prices, rise of social media and other factors in recent years has had a major affect on end users. “Consumer behavior is undergoing tremendous change and we all have to change to meet these new attitudes.”

When it comes to change, he said not many industries have seen as much as flooring and, as a result, not many companies are in a position to help retailers understand the new consumer and win her business. “Since the peak of 2005, the industry has declined almost 40%. During this time, Shaw has worked hard to not put added strain on you. We maintained services and even raised our credit lines to help you be competitive.”

Bell added, while the recession has forced many companies to pull back and close business operations, “we have invested heavily during this time. In fact, Shaw has invested $1 billion in the last five years alone on new technologies, logistics, sustainability and more.” He stressed the $1 billion figure does not count acquisitions, which include three wood companies, including Anderson, “and now we are the second largest in the category and the fastest growing.”

In addition, he said the company is continuing to make “major investments” in the realm of social media because Shaw’s goal is to be a “complete industry leader, not just in products but service, support and technology.”

Social media, Bell, explained, is important in the package because it is the way the consumer is interacting with business. To retailers, he asked, “Are you ready for this new consumer attitude and the way she shops? She knows you more than ever, can find you anywhere and can learn about anything at the touch of a finger. Are you relevant to the under 40 consumer? You need to be on the leading edge of technology if you want to be.” In a nutshell, he told the audience, the last few years have been the toughest just about anyone has every seen but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “Are you prepared to meet the challenges ahead? Shaw is prepared to help you.”

Just how will Shaw help? Merritt said it goes beyond having the right product because “overall there are fewer prospects and for those that are out there, you need to get them into your store. The problem is, she is changing from the type of consumer we are and grew up on—Baby Boomers, people who use magazines and visit a number of stores for research, along with word-of-mouth advice from friends and family members—to one who is young, hip and lives in a different world in terms of how she shops. And if you are not part of her life today you risk going out of business.”

The only way for retailers to be a part of her life, he explained is if they are “connected. The only way she will find you is if you have a connected presence. She’s searching for deals—local coupons, Facebook Places & Deals and more. She is searching for a store that brings value to her purchase.”

Because today’s consumer is more connected than ever, “the implications of social networks are huge—it has taken word of mouth to a new level,” Merritt said. “It used to be thought of that she would tell three friends if she had a good experience and 10 if it was bad. Today, with social networking, she can tell hundreds, thousands, even millions of people all about her experiences in a matter of minutes.”

To illustrate how connected consumers are just to flooring, he pointed to Shaw’s efforts, for example, “We now regularly send out emails to over 350,000 consumers. Your next customer is on the Web looking for where to go. Will she find you?”

For dealers who still do not have a Web presence, or for those looking to upgrade, or for those who have one but want to connect with Shaw’s efforts, Merritt pointed to the mill’s Web Studio initiative as an affordable, easy way to get online in a professional manner. “This can help you drive traffic, even if you already have a dynamic site. This is where you’ll start everyday. Even though it is a new consumer and things are more technologically complex than ever, we are making it easier for her to find not only the right product but your store.”

While the SFN conference is still mostly on new products— and the mill did not disappoint with more than 350 introductions to begin 2011—Merritt implored attendees that if they do nothing else, “get involved the Web Studio program. If you don’t take advantage of new tools and technology you will be left behind.”

Jerry Huffman of Grove Supply Co. in China Grove, N.C., took what the mill executives said to heart. He had been a Shaw Flooring Aligned dealer but two years ago upgraded to a Shaw Design Center and has not looked back. “We come to these events with an open mind as we’re looking for ways to help grow our business. We signed up for the Web Studio because we felt it is important going forward.”

But in the end, it was still about the products and retailers overall were impressed with what was been shown to them, from soft to hard surface goods.

Mark Goldman of Paint Barn in Mercerville, N.J., came to the convention wanting to expand his wood and laminate offerings. “I’m really impressed with what Shaw has. It is a leader in laminate, from being U.S. made to its scratch-resist technology. In fact, we have a forklift and wanted to use it out front for a promotion and they have given us a good idea.” (Editor’s note: At convention, Shaw showed a video of a forklift on its laminate with Opti-Guard finish. It withstood the test.)

He was also interested in the secret shopper test Shaw did without telling dealers, a program that generated a great deal of interest from dealers once they found out it happened. “I’m really interested in learning from it. It’s hard to properly get the right people at the right times so I’m looking for- ward to seeing the analysis.”

Bill Shimon of Craft Master Flooring in Appleton, Wis., was glad to see Shaw getting into the resilient category and was “seriously thinking of taking on the Shaw vinyl program. We have three vendors right now and were thinking of dropping at least one. What they are showing here seems like a new generation and that extends the life of the flooring with what looks to be an easy way to make repairs.”

Kelly Krohn of Kelly’s Carpet & Furniture in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was one of the SFN dealers given a special invite to preview the new HGTV-branded collection Shaw developed with the cable TV network (FCNews, Jan. 10/17) and signed on immediately. “It is going to be like gangbusters. HGTV gives it instant credibility.”

While getting ready for the HGTV collection, she was not slowing down with the Shaw ClearTouch products, especially those under the Kathy Ireland brand, which was touting a more compact, consumer friendly color wall. “This line has been phenomenal for us. It’s a great value and we’ve never experienced a problem.”

Kathy Ireland herself was once again at the SFN event chatting with members about her branded flooring products. “I love these events more than anything,” she told FCNews. “I learn so much from talking to our retail partners and have such great respect for them. These are family businesses and they survived the hardest of times to be here. We’re learning from them on how we can provide better service, what they like about the displays, products and everything else.”

Like Shaw, she said her company is committed to helping retailers succeed whether it is products or services. The goal is to get people into stores and then get them excited by what they are seeing and touching. “That’s what makes Shaw such a good partner. It’s a very collaborative process that also includes our dealer council. We believe in Shaw and the SFN members and want to be there for them.”

-Matthew Spieler

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