by Vinnie Virga
When Floor Covering News approached me about writing a column, what excited me most was the chance to potentially continue helping independent flooring retailers. Well, if I were you, my first question would be what qualifies me to give advice?
My background starts off probably not unlike many of yours. My father owned carpet and furniture stores that both my brother and I worked in during our childhood. Many weekends and summers were spent cleaning the store, cutting carpets, loading out installers and delivering products to customers’ homes. Here I learned the importance of hard work, doing whatever it takes to get the job done and of having good systems in place.
After graduating college I worked for a regional flooring company called Carpet Giant. When I started, the store was struggling to break $500,000 per year, but before long volume had tripled and I was running the operation. I learned the importance of strong selling skills, why estimating more is so much better than less, and how important great installers are to your ongoing success.
Soon we became a New York Carpet World franchise and then were swallowed whole by the huge chain. During those years I helped to open or relocate nine stores, and we hired and trained so many employees and installers. I learned about the importance of marketing consistently, urgency in your advertising, teaching salespeople to always ask for the order, great software and how to maximize the production of installations.
Soon, we were part of Shaw, which was amazing when it came to controlled experimentation, trusting no assumptions and watching the data. When it became clear it was selling I joined CCA Global Partners and learned about the importance of strategic partnerships, the value of detailed business planning and forecasting, and how momentum can impact a business.
I eventually became president of Flooring America and then president of CCA’s retail groups and learned many things. What stands out most is the power of collaboration and how if you really listened to independent dealers you can harness their challenges and turn them into competitive advantages.
Over the years I’ve visited ‘ hundreds of stores, reviewed the financials for many more and consulted on many turnarounds. Today, the more I looked at my opportunities the more convinced I became the best one was in the flooring industry. All the data and consumer research in the last 12 months point to dramatic ongoing change in how consumers purchase big ticket items like flooring. The market has split with the customer either elevating her big ticket purchases as a justified luxury in which she is willing to pay a premium, or the much more common need to get a great value. In the absence of either she will simply not part with her discretionary dollars.
Ironically, today I have come full circle—operating Big Bob’s stores in a format very similar to my father’s business or Carpet Giant, a stocking, value-oriented retailer. Big Bob’s has a great name that resonates well with our core demographic; it has a talented, dedicated buying staff in Dalton; it is a low-cost franchise group to join with few automatic programs or required fees; it gives us our autonomy yet is there to help when we need it, and its position of excel- lent value will serve well for many years to come.
I opened my first store in Auburn, Mass., last month and am already in negotiations for additional locations. I found the low rent rates available today combined with the ability to lock in long-term options to purchase these buildings allow me to take one of the largest fixed costs for a retail flooring business and make it affordable.
That’s me. I welcome getting to know you; email me at VinnieVirga@gmail.com or go to facebook.com/VinnieVirga or on Twitter at twitter.com/vinnievirga.