NEW ORLEANS—The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) does as much for its membership as any floor covering organization. But so much of its actions are behind the scenes, thus, many floor covering retailers are unaware of the full scope of available benefits.
For example, WFCA realizes floor covering is not always top of mind when consumers are designing a room in the home. In addition, the shopping process for flooring can be intimidating. As such, WFCA continues to put a premium on raising awareness and educating consumers about floor covering.
According to Leah Gross-Harmon, who handles public relations for WFCA, the organization utilizes 700 media outlets—magazines, newspapers, blogs, wire services—to drive traffic to wfca.org, which provides education and subsequently drives consumers to WFCA member stores. “The idea is to get out the word if you want to find out something about floor covering, come to us first and we will direct you to a local dealer who abides by a code of conduct and will treat you fairly.”
WFCA is also the legislative advocate for flooring retailers. To that end, it recently engaged Story Partners in Washington, D.C., as its new legislative counsel, ending its relationship with Steptoe and Johnson. “We have an organization with members in virtually every congressional district in the country, but they are not great check writers when it comes to influencing political decisions,” said Chris Davis, WFCA president and CEO. “So we decided to go with a group that is more public affairs orient- ed than a law firm.”
Story Partners is currently engaged in tracking any legislation that can affect WFCA members, both on federal and state levels. “For example, if something happens in New Hampshire related to floor covering, it will pop up on their screen and they will let us know,” Davis said. “It’s both a legislative and regulatory watch —things the EPA, ITC and DOC will enact. These types of things affect dealers as much as any new legislation.”
One example of legislation is the proposed Main Street Fairness Act being spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill). The mindset behind the bill is that brick and mortar retailers are at a disadvantage when they compete with Internet companies from outside their state. “In California, for example, there is 8.75% sales tax but an Internet provider out- side the state does not pay,” Davis said. “This is significant because even Amazon is selling laminate flooring these days.”
Retailers aren’t the only ones suffering, Davis said. “State governments are losing a tremendous amount of revenue with the enormous growth in online transactions.”
Two coalitions have been formed: one defending the current status, companies like overstock.com and other web-based retailers, and the other—Best Buy, Target, Home Depot, Walmart and small business retailers—in favor of taxing the online providers.
“WFCA supports a level playing field,” Davis said. “We are interested in having the Internet companies pay their fair share of taxes like everyone else.”
However, WFCA will wait for Sen. Durban to introduce the bill before officially coming out in support of it. “There may be some aspects of the bill that could be unpleasant for the retail community. So we are taking a wait-and-see approach.”
Things are moving forward on the B2B front, but it is not without its challenges. Aaron Pirner, president of the Floor Covering Business to Business (fcB2B) association, noted a budget short-fall this year. But the intent is to work with some other key organizations, such as the Carpet & Rug Institute, North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors and Ceramic Tile Distributors Association. “They are getting benefits, so we want to convince them to increase their financial participation,” he said.
The focus is on increasing B2B usage, but that’s a hard number to track. It is known, however, that most of top 20 flooring distributors are using B2B, which suggests enough retailers are using it for them to make the investment, Pirner said.
Terry Wheat, president of RFMS, admitted the economy has taken its toll on B2B usage. “There are about 2,200 installations of our software, and about 900 are using B2B. The downturn in the economy has hurt. A retailer may have had a back office person using B2B, but that person is no longer with the company. The wife of the owner is now the back office person, and she has no clue. It’s a matter of her going back to doing things the way she did 15 years ago.”
Carpet installation standard
Tom Jennings, who represents WFCA on the consensus committee helping to create the Carpet Installation Standard Development IICRC S600, said the process is about a year away from getting ANSI adopted. The best thing, he said, is the mills are agreeing to standards, which they may enforce with warranties.
The next piece of the puzzle is how this will be brought to market. “A successfully marketed product assumes added value,” Jennings said. “That’s a great thing for WFCA dealers, especially because it gives the end user confidence.”
He noted there have never been installation standards for carpet, such as for bow, pattern match, etc. “This is something that has been lacking in the industry. We only had CRI-104 and -105, which were not really standards. This will be a legal document and include every type of installation—woven, tufted, etc.” He added inspectors are also certain to benefit. “The feeling has been inspectors have been pro manufacturer because they are the ones who pay for it. This will take some of that away.”
Jennings admits it will take some time before this is implemented. “The mills will be ready to put it in the warranties; if not installed to the standard they will not accept claims. But there needs to be a period of time to allow installers to be certified before they can implement it.”
Other WFCA initiatives
WFCA is investigating the social media phenomenon, determining to what extent it should get involved and where the opportunities lie. “We are going to engage a research firm and find out how consumers are using social media in the flooring purchase process,” Davis said. “The object is to determine how dealers should embrace it. For example, they shouldn’t tweet about their vacation. Rather, they should communicate a special deal.”
While on the subject of communication vehicles, WFCA is exploring the idea of developing a network for like-sized members. “We know networking is one of the biggest benefits of belonging to organizations,” Davis said. “So if networking is such a big deal, we need to find a way to get these people together. We don’t do a convention anymore, so that networking opportunity is no more for our members.”
Davis added WFCA has to figure out the best way to do it and where. “I doubt it can be done online. Most people will tell you the eyeballing is necessary. Maybe we will host some type of event at Surfaces.”
Speaking of membership, he said WFCA is taking a new tact. “We’re always looking to increase membership, and in the past would simply look to increase the rolls.” Now, the idea is to create the type of organization that people want to join. “Instead of focusing on people joining the organization, we will take on tasks in cooperation with other entities that can impact the entire breadth of the industry and retailers will look at the organization as a solutions provider worth being a part of.”