ORLANDO, FLA.—The Wheeler Loyalty Club got a taste of J.J. Haines’ “Customer Driven” message in the southern-most points of its territory, at its second convention here. 108 attendees representing 75 accounts, a 25% growth in membership over last year’s numbers, converged on the Wyndham resort for business and technology seminars, introductions to representatives from the distributor’s vendors, and a product showcase.
Since the purchase of Wheeler in 2009, the Florida division is enjoying the benefits of joining the industry’s largest distributor. “The power of the Loyalty Club program promotes creative and innovative business solutions through education, technology and value products. One distinction in the Wheeler product offering is the focus on color, style and price points for the Florida market,” said Rosana Chaidez, general manager, Wheeler Division. “We try to keep our program consistent so we can leverage the strength of one program in both markets.”
One value that remains unchanged at Wheeler is the connection to those who do business with the division. “The relationship we have with our customers is most important,” Chaidez continued. “We see them time and time again and treat each other like friends.” However, the business relationship still takes priority. “We work hard to earn their business and we do it by offering excellent services and the right products at competitive prices.”
Wheeler and Haines executives made a point to honor all elements of the equation, including the vendors, by recognizing attending representatives from each exhibiting company during convention, thanking them for their business. Among those in attendance was Anderson Hardwood’s president Don Finkell.
“Florida is a leading demographic for the nation, and has been one of the top three markets for Anderson over the years,” he told members. “As we sit here today, I know business hasn’t been tougher anywhere else…but there is still business to capture. What you sell, from us through Wheeler, is our credibility. We’ve been here a long time: We know what we’re doing and how we’re going to follow through.”
Members attested to the difficult market conditions in their state, where competition is fierce. Matt Jorgensen, owner of Foundation Flooring in Pompano Beach, Fla., said there is a floor covering store in his area every 50 to 100 yards. “I could walk to at least 12 stores from my own,” he said. However, the support received from Wheeler helps him succeed, with seminars on beating your competition, financing options and web services. Scott Roy, J.J.
Haines’ vice president of sales, gave a presentation on capturing sales in your area by leveraging knowledge of the market. “End users will never get the answers they want at the big boxes or Lumber Liquidators,” he advised.
The presentation resonated with members. “Scott [Roy] gave us the tools to compete with big players,” Jorgensen said. “I opened my store in a recession, and things are going well and we’re growing. I’m aware of my competition but not fearful.”
Through the combined efforts of all parties in the Wheeler operation, business is doing well, said Mike Thomas, western regional sales manager. “The market isn’t growing here, but our share is. The value we bring to these dealers outweighs our competition.”
Tom Ferris, Floor Specialists of Wellington, Fla., said his most valued service from Wheeler is its financing, which saves him more than the program he last utilized from a major mill. “In addition to the better rates, Wheeler has down-to- earth people who work with us to address our needs,” he said, comparing the distributor to the dozen others he buys from. “Wheeler is one of the more sound distributors. It has [almost] everything I need, shipped when I want it. There was no Loyalty Club before [the Haines acquisition] and they are probably more attentive than ever.”
The Wheeler purchase seems to have worked in everyone’s favor. Thomas, a 17-year Wheeler veteran, said the company has always been customer driven but didn’t have the backing that J.J. Haines brought. “It took an established, well-liked company and took it to another level,” he said.
Wheeler Loyalty Club Retailer of the Year, Claudio Benedi of Artistic Wood Flooring in Miami, has joined similar “loyalty” clubs with other distributors but within a year’s time they start to fizzle out. “It’s ongoing, it’s motivating, and my rep really looks after my account,” he said. “They always show me ways to improve and if they see something in my showroom that doesn’t look right, they suggest something they’ve seen that works.”
Financing is also a strong point in the Wheeler/Benedi relationship. “They helped me through the rough times and asked what I needed,” Benedi said. “When things slowed down, some companies ran away but Wheeler stepped up to the plate with what I needed.”