FCA Network: Convention defines today’s consumer, carpet tile program unveiled

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CHICAGO—Don Lovato, Carpet Source USA, Albuquerque, N.M., was up double digits for a record year in 2010. James Sharp, Sharp Floors, Dallas, has had four measures per day over the last month. A claim by Steve Knisely, Wholesale Carpet, Fox River Grove, Ill., originally rejected by the mill, was overturned the next day and given credit for the entire job in question, including labor. As Tony Amato, Southwest Floors, Seven Hills, Ohio, said, winning isn’t just for Charlie Sheen. FCA Network members had a good year in 2010.

Addressing 90% of the group’s membership at convention here, Olga Robertson, president, said dealers are compelled to participate in programs established by FCA leadership. “We don’t tell you how to run your business, but to do the right thing is to support the programs and take advantage of the service and support we offer. I hear from many dealers that if they call us, they get what they need.”

Daryl Ciokiewicz, principal, Check’s Floorcrafters, Onalaska, Wis., won a job bid because his call to Robertson yielded the competitive pricing on an LVT product he needed to win. “I looked at our costs, told Olga about the situation and she came through with new pricing for us.”

Bob Johnson of Liberty Floor & Window Coverings, Griffith, Ind., experienced a similar pricing disparity with his competition and called Robertson and her staff for help. “Olga and her staff don’t try; they always help. Two quick calls got me the product I needed at $.03 less per foot than I had expected.”

Even John Godwin, vice president, sales and marketing, Shaw Residential, attested to the effectiveness of a phone call from FCA Network’s staff. “We have a motto at our office: She calls, we haul. You’ve got a great leader [in Olga], someone who is really in the game.”

Swift action on behalf of the group is also backed up by the business the group does with Shaw. Where the industry was only up 1%, Godwin said business with FCA Network was up by 4%. Though he acknowledged 2011 would be another difficult year, due mainly to rising costs of raw materials, he forecasted growth up to 5%.

FCA Network’s calculations yielded refreshing numbers as well. February 2011 was up 14% over the same period last year, according to Robertson. “Business for our dealers in Michigan is up, too, and we almost never hear good news from that part of the country. Yes, there are challenges and cut backs, but our members are holding their own.”

Shaking up the product mix

Building on that relationship, members were introduced to a commercial carpet tile program from Shaw, a private-labeled line with EcoWorx technology. Crediting the mill’s diverse product mix, Robertson said, “FCA has always been a big supporter of Shaw. It is always there to service us and give us the jump ball.”

Robertson was enthusiastic about the group’s official foray into the Main Street commercial arena. “When you look at that pricing [we’ve secured for our members] there are so many options. These carpet tiles have a great story to tell and you could almost install it yourself. The applications for rec rooms and basements are ideal. When you think about it, there isn’t much else you can buy at that price, and a lifetime warranty on that makes it a no-brainer.”

She is careful to diversify her supplier list, particularly when it comes to carpet—the majority of business for Network members. “From a buying standpoint I have to look at the strengths of Shaw, Mohawk and Beaulieu and have their best collections available to our dealers. We also do a lot with Phenix and Loopex.”

Communicating with the new consumer Convention served as an opportunity to get members comfortable with social networking with presentations from Maxine Lauer of market research firm Sphere Trending, and Christine Whittemore of Simple Marketing Now.

“Last year we exposed them to a dynamic presentation and this year we expanded on those takeaways,” Robertson said. “They need to be thinking about those consumers who aren’t their traditional customer.”

To shed some light on who that buyer is today, Lauer spoke at great length about the changes from the traditional buyer, often associated with the Baby Boomers, to the new consumer of Generation Y. “The sales approach for carpet is changing. You’re not selling; you’re educating. There’s a missing component with teaching vs. selling, and with 69% of consumers researching online, they think they know more.”

She said the new consumer is digital from birth and that has changed the way they look at information. They no longer read from left to right or top to bottom: They scan from the center and work their way out. “If you don’t have something in the first three feet of the center of your store that is bold and strong, you will lost their interest.”

Attention spans are shorter, too. The hippocampus—the middle part of the brain that relays information from both sides—of Generation Y has 20 times more impulses per second than any other group and has developed acute short-range hearing and poor long-range hearing. “If you’re not in their visual and auditory world, you’re missing out. They don’t relate the same way.”

Whittemore approached the other consumer paradigm; women. She identified them as a critical economic group: At 47% of the labor force spending $5 trillion to $7 trillion per year, women influence or make 83% of all consumer purchases. “Customers are women but it is a man’s world,” she explained. “We live in a world designed by men, intended for women.”

She continued the marketplace is confusing not only because of the gender paradox, but because it is designed as a place for experts, though most shoppers are not experts. “Purchase decisions are confusing and a big deal; a lot of money goes into them. Women have higher expectations and are able to articulate them more clearly.”

While websites and social media are an important part of the retail experience, she said the store is where the rubber meets the road. “It’s where people and goods come together. It leads to shopping but can make or break a purchase decision.”

-Emily Hooper

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