by Jenna Lippin
Orlando, Fla.—Alliance Flooring, a retail-licensing group now representing more than 450 flooring retail locations across the U.S., hosted its annual convention, March 23 to 26 here under the theme “Drive 2013—Pillars of Success.”
The three pillars, People, Perception and Planning, were inspired by co-CEO Ron Dunn’s travels around the country. Over the last two summers, Dunn visited Alliance Flooring dealers in all regions of the U.S. During his excursion, he took note of what techniques and ideologies helped each company succeed.
Dunn noticed that dealers hold in high regard the people who have contributed to their companies’ success, hence the first pillar of People. When speaking with Alliance members while on the road, Dunn learned that many business owners focus on building strong teams. “When I asked owners what their strengths are they say, ‘Our people.’” Hiring the right individuals is just the first step in creating a solid sales force. “It’s about how you build,” Dunn continued. “Once a person is on board, how do you help them view the industry as a career? How do you train and empower the person?” Successful dealers know how to not only hire the right people, but also help them grow into thriving individuals who are invested in their careers and the flooring industry overall.
The second pillar, Perception, reflects the importance of a store’s image in its local community. When a business is positively viewed in its immediate geographic area, repeat customers are more likely and word of mouth advertising helps bring in new buyers at no cost. “It’s about bridging the gap,” noted Dunn. “How do you get the community’s perception of your store to match what your store desires?”
Lastly, the conference focused on the pillar of Planning. Setting goals and executing methods to achieve those desired outcomes rely upon having a plan in place. This idea was at the forefront of the educational aspect at the Alliance event. “What I heard a lot on the road was many store owners are getting away from planning,” Dunn said. “There’s some discipline and planning that we need to get back to. With planning, you’re not reacting to every little thing, and running a business that’s not running you.”
In addition to the Pillars of Success, highlighted products and merchandising were also at the forefront of the convention. Offerings were selected from both the hard and soft surface categories. Super soft nylon now features a flagship program for dealers called UltraTouch Satin (under the private UltraTouch brand), which includes a new display in a larger format with blanket samples. “We had an overwhelming response to this initiative,” said Kevin Logue, co-COO and vice president of marketing. “We believe super soft nylon is the way to get showrooms set for the pending [economic] recovery. The residential replacement customer will be in the market for super soft products.”
Soft carpet in triexta was also featured with the launch of Elite Performance Silk under the Elite Performance private brand. “These products have been proven winners for us, so it makes sense to roll out an extension,” he added.
On the hard side, Alliance has added to the LVT explosion by expanding its private-labeled ColorTile program. The product line now features both edge-to-edge and groutable LVT. “[LVT] is a huge category for us,” said Logue. “Floating floors have become increasingly popular over the last two years, and we have put a big focus on LVT and its merchandising.”
Another main feature at this year’s convention was Rush Hour, a tabletop event that focused on carpet and resilient roll specials instead of merchandising and displays, which are central elements throughout the event. According to Alliance representatives, suppliers sold a record number of rolls and pallets during the Rush Hour segment. Energy remained high throughout the hour and ended on an elevated note with the first-ever Alliance Flooring National Championship during the Elite 8 basketball speed shooting competition.
To promote continued education after the show, Alliance Flooring expanded upon the success of last year’s Proven Ways book and issued Proven Ways II to attendees. The volume is a compilation of advice and methodologies from dealers across the country and includes 58 separate entries. Each Alliance Flooring member is designated “a three- to four-page entry with insight into his or her world and how they’ve been successful,” Dunn explained.
“The Proven Ways book stressed the recession is coming to an end and growth is starting to come,” noted Ron Laguardia of CarpetsPlus ColorTile of New York.
The optimistic outlook for the economy was a common theme at the convention. Jon Logue, co-CEO of Alliance Flooring, spoke during the opening session about the so-called recovery coming our way, citing “a significant turnaround for 2013.” Noting that “mill shipments are up, GDP is up, housing starts are predicted to be up another 25% this year after a 28% increase in 2012, existing home sales, new home sales and the remodeling index are up double digits, plus interest rates remain low.”
Those who exemplify the three Pillars of Success and embody what it means to be an Alliance Flooring member were honored at this year’s convention with the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Retailer of the Year Award. This year, the group recognized Jerry Caputo, who began with Carpetland USA corporate and then went on to own a Carpetland USA store for 20 years, as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Josh and Stephen Elder of Gainesville CarpetsPlus in Gainesville, Fla., won Retailer of the Year for the group’s CarpetsPlus ColorTile division. Gene Podell of Carpetland USA with five locations in Virginia won for the Carpetland USA division.
In the end, the element of the Alliance Flooring convention that is most important to members is the camaraderie that comes with being part of the group. “We grow from interacting with our peers,” said Bill Smiddy, owner of Smiddy’s CarpetsPlus in Terre Haute, Ind. “We share ideas and speak openly with each other. We are really like a family. We compare information and ideas and carry them back to our own stores. That’s the value of getting people together—energy, pillars, but especially learning from the guy who has the store where the rubber really meets the road.”