By Matthew Spieler
San Antonio—As the economy picks up steam members of the Alliance Flooring network were encouraged to take control of their destinies by being the driver and making a difference.
The days of just hanging a sign and having people come in are over, noted Ron Dunn, co-CEO of Alliance. “You need to drive to it; it doesn’t come to you.”
With many members of the network’s buying groups—CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Carpetland Color Tile, Floorco and CleanTouch Pro—reporting a strong quarter for the first time in years and projections for the rest of the year looking bright, he said the focus of this year’s convention was to have members understand in order to drive business in this new economy it means doing things your competition is not doing and being accountable for the things you and your business does.
Part of that means to get outside your place of business and be more involved in the local community, Dunn explained, part of it has to do with going above and beyond what is expected, part of it has to do with being an effective leader and surrounding yourself with talented people. Put simply, it involves accepting things have changed and committing to changing you and your company in order to succeed in the post-recession world.
In this new economy Dunn told the audience, “Don’t sell flooring, sell yourself. If they like you they will buy from you.”
Jeff Henderson, marketing consultant, pointed out since the recession, people have been asking, “How can we find more customers?” On the surface it makes sense but the problem with this question is, “there is such a thing as the wrong customer and just as many businesses die from the wrong customer as they do from too few.”
The question, therefore, should be, “How do we get more of the right customers?” He said the difference between them is “The right customer pays full price, shops more often and tells others about the business; the wrong customer undercuts the business, shops only when there is a sale and tells others about the deal, not you.”
To find how to get the right customer, Henderson said to look outside your industry. “Chick-fil-A studied Ritz Carlton, not McDonald’s.” What you will find is the successful businesses employ a relational strategy, not a transactional one. “We sometimes forget business is about people, they are real, they are not a sale. Your competitor may match your product and price but not you.”
Keynote speaker and former baseball MVP Dale Murphy emphasized one of the best ways to make a difference is to go back to the fundamentals.
Using examples from his all-star career, he pointed out three things that hold true in any profession—don’t quit, as you never know what will happen; swing hard in case you hit it, which is basically having the attitude of always giving it your all and going for it, and have good relationships, a fundamental thing in all walks of life, treating people with the Golden Rule.
With sessions on leadership, providing superior customer service and taking cues from those who are successful, attendees were given plenty of ammo to make a difference. On the topics of leadership and sharing best practices, Alliance has started to compile a book of “Proven Ways,” strategies and programs members have employed to add to their bottom lines. Given to all attendees, Dunn said the book is a “living” document that will be regularly updated with successful ideas directly from members.
When it came time to do business, both suppliers and members responded. Dunn said sales from the Rush Hour event were up 33% over last year and based on initial reaction from the trade show, “Everyone is excited. There is a great deal of optimism from both the members and suppliers.”
Fred Giuggio, vice president of Formica, agreed with Dunn’s assessment. “The dealers are more positive. They’re also more focused on their business and not the boxes. A couple of years ago there was a lot of pouting, now they are focused on their business and growing it their way. We had a really good Rush Hour, which tells me the stocking dealers are excited and have had a good reaction today.”
Mary Young of Howard Young Flooring in Milton, Fla., said the convention “fired her up” and “between the motivation we get from here and what we have on the books back home, we’re really excited about the rest of the year.”
Others, such as Josh Elders of Gainesville CarpetPlus Color Tile in Gainesville, Fla., were excited about the numerous soft carpet options, such as those featuring Invista’s new TruSoft fiber. “It’s incredible how they have been able to make these products so soft yet still be durable.”
Curt Schultze, Invista’s director of national accounts, noted, “We’ve seen a lot of interest from members in TruSoft. Most everyone has bought the displays from Shaw and Dixie—the two mills currently licensed for TruSoft.”
Shaw’s John Godwin, executive vice president of sales, added, “We’ve been very busy all day. TruSoft is our featured display and just about everyone has taken it on. Everyone is really upbeat and focused on getting ready for the spring.”