By Steven Feldman
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands—Phil Koufidakis, president of Phoenix area retailer Baker Bros., has been elected president of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA). He will succeed Jim Mudd, president of Sam Kinnairds in Louisville, Ky., at the end of the year.
In addition, Darren Braunstein, vice president, Worldwide Wholesale Flooring in Edison, N.J., and Penny Carnino, general manager, Grigsby’s Carpets in Tulsa, Okla., were re-elected vice president and secretary, respectively. Jason McSwain, president of McSwain’s Carpets in Cincinnati, was elected treasurer, succeeding the retiring Tom Hadinger.
Koufidakis brings a unique perspective to NFA’s leadership with his nine years in retail, following 20-plus years on the manufacturer side of the business. Specifically, he held regional sales positions with Philadelphia Carpets, Evans & Black, and World Carpets before becoming vice president of sales for Stanton Carpets.
In 2003, Koufidakis made the switch to retail when the owner of Baker Bros., a longtime friend, asked him to relocate from New York. “He basically handed me the keys and told me to run the business.” Two years later he was given the opportunity to buy in. “It’s been a tremendous trial and error experience, and far more satisfying and creative than the manufacturing side. I tell people I switched sides of the industry and country in one shot.”
Koufidakis, who previously served on the NFA board from 2009 to 2011, told FCNews he embraces the opportunity to lead the group for the next two years. In fact, he likens it to a call of duty. “When I came on board, Sam Roberts was the NFA president, and he told me this was a group run by the group, and we all have to take turns and serve. He was absolutely right. I always felt whatever the group wanted me to do, I would do. If the group thinks I can do a good job as president, then I serve. It’s an honor they think that way.”
Among his immediate goals will be to encourage more NFA members to participate at a higher level. “We have so many great people in the group, so if I have to recruit them to become more involved, so be it.”
Generally speaking, Koufidakis said he tends to lean toward a more long-term view than short-term with regard to his decisions. “You have to look at all opportunities and determine whether we are taking short-term gain for long-term pain. The industry continues to change and the NFA has to remain at the forefront. The group needs to align with the right partners, and we have to bring even more value to those partners. I’ve been on the manufacturer side longer than the retail side, so I have an appreciation for what both sides need.”
Another area Koufidakis may explore is group branding. “There’s a private label somewhere. It would be nice to have equity on a brand we own. As the industry changes, you never know what brands will still be available. There is an opportunity to merchandise the right way. We can’t do it big to start, but we can find opportunities like Armstrong’s Lifetime Luxury Wood.”
Over the years, there has been much debate about NFA requirements with regard to its size, raising the $10 million threshold for membership, how to handle members who fall below it, and the process by which any member can block any potential member. Of these, Koufidakis is most passionate about “the block. “I’m a big advocate of “the block.” Once the proprietary nature of a trading market disappears, so does the exchanging of ideas. It’s important everyone here has the confidence to share, because once it goes, the ideas go with it. That is one of the major forces of the group.”
He also has no desire to increase NFA’s size just to get bigger. “Once the downturn came, we may have thought of it more quantitatively than qualitatively. But we are not going to add just to say we got bigger. We will continue to look at markets where we don’t have members. There are still a lot of strong, unaligned retailers out there.”
Koufidakis does not envision raising the minimum criteria for inclusion, but said if a member falls below the level, that member is not supporting the NFA, its vendors or what the group is doing. “I’m not going to be afraid to call people out if I see them not buying from core vendors.”
He is also not afraid to tackle sensitive issues, like Dreamweavers/Engineered Floors’ bid to become a Tier 1 vendor. The carpet committee has endorsed the move, noting Dreamweavers is already Tier 2 and many members already do business with it. They acknowledge this could breed disappointment from some existing vendors. Ultimately, the issue will be decided by NFA’s board.
“It’s the same for every vendor,” Koufidakis said. “If they can bring to NFA something over and above what individual members can get on their own, we will review it. We are here to do what’s best for the group, and if XYZ company can give us a great program, we have to consider it.”
The other industry hot button is Invista’s foray into polyester with the Stainmaster brand. As such, Invista outlined the program to NFA members. “I feel it needed something to compete,” Koufidakis said. “Invista polyester is not positioned to compete against unbranded polyester, but against the basic-branded product. The idea is to sell a heavier, basic product with the same warranty for less money. It’s like Mercedes going down to the $25,000 model. There are people who just want the brand.”
In other NFA news…
•The group announced another carpet roll buy in 2013. This time, no fiber will be excluded. It will be open to all producers and carpet mills. “This won’t just be a Stainamster roll buy,” he said. All members will be asked to submit their most preferred specs, then we will approach our vendors asking for the best value.”
•In laminate, NFA is up double digits with Shaw and Mannington. The group has been trying to put a laminate truckload program together for some time.
•NFA welcomed MSI as a new Tier 1 supplier. MSI is strong in marble and granite, and competitive at the lower end.
•NFA members, on average, have seen a 15% uptick in business this year, but some tempered it by reminding the group of the decreases in recent years.