by Steven Feldman
Houston—Evolve. That was the buzzword at the Flooring America/Flooring Canada convention held here just days before the start of Surfaces 2012. Throughout the three-day event, members were challenged to refocus their efforts toward meeting the needs of today’s evolving consumer.
According to Keith Spano, president of Flooring America, to better serve the unique needs and challenges of consumers, members must embrace new marketing efforts, new communications techniques, new technologies, and new systems and practices that will “refocus their local efforts and go where the consumers are today.”
Part of Flooring America’s commitment to refocus and evolve was the November hiring of Frank Chiera as vice president of marketing and advertising. Chiera, who at one time held a similar position with Flooring America’s sister group Carpet One, has expertise in developing online footprints in digital marketing and social media combined with traditional marketing and advertising efforts.
“Technology has evolved and the consumer has evolved,” Chiera said. “Now we must evolve as retailers and communicate globally on a local, one-to-one level.”
One way in which Chiera believes Flooring America members must evolve is to capitalize on what he calls the new, friend-to-friend Relationship Era of marketing. “The new relationship is more pull and less push. While reaching the consumer with general media stimulus and traditional advertising will continue as part of the overall mix, we must now think in new terms of cultivating relationships by helping members create one-on-one conversations that greatly influence consumer decisions today.”
Seeking to help make Flooring America and Flooring Canada members the industry leaders in social media marketing, the group unveiled FAST—Flooring America Social Tools —which will be launched in phases. The initial thrust will be Twitter-focused. “It’s a lot easier to digest than Facebook; Tweets are limited to 140 characters,” Chiera said, adding the optimum number of Tweets per day is five of which two or three are re-Tweets.
“The best part is we will execute it for them,” he said. “We know at the end of the day they are great retailers. They know product and how to service the customer but they are not marketing experts.”
Chiera noted the key to social media is content. “It’s less about pimping your own brand and more about creating compelling content consumers want to interact with. Zappos hardly talks about shoes in its social media. It talks about trends.”
The strategy will allow members to take advantage of the new global opportunities while maintaining their focus on servicing their customers at the local level. “We are putting that local spin on everything we do,” Spano said. “We are making sure anything we put out is from Ed’s Flooring America and not Flooring America corporate. We are telling members to be active in their communities by leveraging relationships. Join Rotary, the chamber of commerce, church.”
That ties into Phase I of the social media strategy, which is about impressions and branding the store at the local level. “Later on it will be about engaging the customer,” Chiera said.
This local approach is validated by none other than Walmart, which is in the process of creating 3,500 individual Facebook pages for its stores, Chiara said. “It is anything but a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
The local theme extends to marketing, where Flooring America unveiled to members one of the most dynamic initiatives it has ever undertaken, one that leverages the Flooring America brand and ties in to something near and dear to people’s hearts. The group is partnering with Pets for Patriots, an organization that aligns soldiers who are coming back from war with a dog or cat that would otherwise be euthanized or taken to a shelter.
“We will talk about Pets for Patriots on a local level,” Spano said. Each Flooring America store will match a suggested $1 contribution by the customer that would go to Pets for Patriots. “We think our members will embrace it and it can become one of the biggest PR initiatives in CCA Global history.
“The second thing is typing our brand name with this patriotic cause. It really is the mom and apple pie thing.”
The program will work similar to the Ronald McDonald House or Jimmy Fund. “It is a simple program for the store to execute,” Spano said. “It ties into being engaged in the community. Everything we are talking about on a marketing level is on a local level.”
‘MOM’ knows best
Also unveiled at convention was the Members Optimizing Members (MOM) program, a best practices and sharing network allowing members to learn, grow and adapt marketing programs, communications, sales techniques and operating procedures that are achieving success in other marketplaces. At convention, six members were chosen to share one of their best practices from over 100 submissions.
Servicing the customer was the focus of one best practice. “People say you can’t hang your hat on service,” Chiera said. “But look at a company like Zappos that built its business on customer service, offering free shipping both ways. Zappos built its brand with zero ad dollars into a billion dollar company. It proves if we treat the customer with the utmost respect and bend over backwards, we will get that customer for life and she will tell 10 of her friends. Zappos built its model through social media.”
The bottom line, Chiera said, is Flooring America members may never outspend its competitors, but they can certainly outsmart them. “Let the consumers talk on your behalf. Let them become brand advocates. And that expands virally. It’s an exponential message.”
One of the highlights of the show from a merchandising standpoint was the new Evolutions merchandising system. The system has been uniquely crafted to change, grow and adapt to new product innovations and changing styles in flooring fashions.
Spano noted instead of buying new displays every time technology or styles change, Evolutions is completely adaptable, saving members significant money in the future. The system offers ultimate flexibility and ease, reconfiguring in form and function from island display to wall unit based on the member’s needs. The Floorcraft display will be Flooring America’s first foray into this system, Spano said.
Flooring America also forged into the main street arena via the launch of Core Elements, a hard surface program from Mannington.