By Steven Feldman
Volume 26/Number 26; May 13/20, 2013
(Exclusive to FCNews)
Asheville, N.C.—Presiding over his first World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) board meeting since becoming its president and CEO, Scott Humphrey professed the association’s stability while promising it would serve as the voice of the floor covering industry.
“We will be relevant in every aspect of this business,” he said. “And we will ensure people view this as a professional industry.”
With the aforementioned stability as the backdrop, Humphrey stressed the importance of WFCA being viewed as an organization in which one can be confident and trust. “The foundation laid by Chris Davis makes this transition very easy. I am thankful for what he did and thankful for the team he assembled.”
Once the new executive committee is installed July 1, Humphrey will meet with the group to set an action plan for one, three and five years out. “I like to look at what’s working and what’s not. I like to listen and then make changes. After the July meeting, I will have a better idea of our vision.”
Initially, he noted WFCA’s membership base must be rebuilt. He acknowledged it has decreased, citing an economy that claimed as much as 25% of the specialty retailer pool by some accounts, not to mention an unfilled CEO position for about 14 months.
But with 14,000 to 16,000 specialty retailers still in the game, coupled with the plethora of benefits WFCA membership brings, a great opportunity to grow that base abounds. Among those advantages are tuition reimbursement up to $500—nearly double the cost of membership—along with a dealer locator on the heavily trafficked WFCA website, which helps channel customers through their doors.
“We will develop incentives to attract new members,” he said. “We will eventually have someone focused on signing up new members; we will want these new members to utilize the services we offer.”
Humphrey will look into every WFCA program to determine what stays, what goes and what needs to be revamped—for example, certification. “Do we need to continue with certification? Does it have value? Do people know about it? The numbers are going down. If we continue, it probably has to look a little different.”
“We have a canvas ready to be painted,” he said. “Together, we will be much stronger than we can be individually. We will create a masterpiece.”
Marketplace Fairness Act
A portion of the meeting focused on the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill for which the WFCA lobbied heavily. The bill grants individual states the authority to compel online and catalog retailers, no matter where they are located, to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction, exactly as already required by local retailers. Right now, online sellers can effectively sell without charging sales tax as, under current law, they cannot be required to collect the taxes because they are not physically present in the state in which the purchasing consumer is residing.
The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, would level the playing field for brick-and- mortar retailers who must collect the tax at the time of transaction. The Act was recently passed in the Senate by a 69-27 vote and now falls to the House, where the outlook is far less certain. “We cultivated relationships on the House side long before the bill reached it,” said Paul Kanitra, lobbyit.com, which handles the WFCA’s lobbying efforts. “We think this will help as the bill moves through the chamber.”
Lobbyit.com conducted more than 40 meetings and congressional calls to promote the passage of this legislation in the Senate. “We have been as large a piece of the puzzle as eBay, Amazon, and others,” Kanitra said, adding that flooring retailers’ emails, phone calls and letters made a difference in getting the act passed in the Senate.
“House efforts will be crucial; we must keep doing what we have been doing,” he said. “GOP representatives have already begun criticizing the bill. They need a deeper understanding of this bill in general.”
During the WFCA meeting, Humphrey, Kanitra and WFCA counsel Jeff King conferenced with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We told him we appreciated his efforts,” King said, “and he was optimistic about what could be accomplished in the House. He did mention one of the ways to move the House is to contact the local chamber of commerce and mayor, in addition to reaching out to your local state representative. This is powerful because it develops that brick- and-mortar aspect of the bill.”
Assuming the House passes its version of the bill, Kanitra believes it will look different than the Senate version, where the size threshold for Internet companies collecting sales tax is higher. The Senate bill exempts companies with sales under $1 million. The House exemption may be $2 million or $5 million, he said.
New executive committee
The recent meeting also served to elect the WFCA executive committee and board of directors for 2013-14. Incoming chairman Janice Clifton, Abbey Carpets Unlimited, Napa, Calif., replaces former chair Harold Chapman, president of Bonitz Flooring Group, Columbia, S.C., who took the position of immediate past chairman. Clifton will be joined by Paul Johnson, Interiors One, Tulsa, Okla., vice chairman; Scott Walker, Walker’s Carpet One, Bellingham, Wash., CFO, and Mark Weaver, Carpet Weavers, Bloomington, Ill., secretary. Aaron Pirner, CAP Carpet, Wichita, Kan., was also elected to serve a one-year term on the executive committee. The terms begin July 1.
Each year WFCA elects a third of its board of directors for three-year terms. Newly elected were Jason Fromm, Carpet Spectrum, Lomita, Calif.; Melissa Murphy, Johnston Paint and Decorating, Colum-bia, Mo., and Dean Howell, MODA Floors and Interiors, Atlanta. Re-elected were Paul Johnson; Deb DeGraaf, De-Graaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Terry Wheat, Wheat’s Carpet One, Northport, Ala. Re-elected to a two-year term was Aaron Pirner.
In addition, the directors re-elected Bob Weiss, CEO of All Tile in Elk Grove Village, Ill., to serve another three-year term as associate director. And with Wheat stepping down as associate director and becoming a regular board member, Paul Murfin, CEO of IVC US, was tapped to serve out Wheat’s unexpiring term.
With the goal of increasing its relevancy to retailers, WFCA has embarked on a series of marketing initiatives designed to communicate its many benefits to retailers and, as a result, increase membership. “Membership in the WFCA is not a luxury; it’s a necessity,” said Tony King, Torus Marketing. “For what the WFCA offers retailers, its ludicrous that not every dealer is a member.”
Developed by Torus for WFCA, the educational program, “a practical guide to designing a positive consumer experience at every touch point,” is one of many formulated. This 60-page workbook walks through every consumer touch point with practical solutions and exercises designed to give the retailer a concrete path to improving the customer experience. It is the foundation of a half-day seminar that the Torus team presents around the country on behalf of the WFCA.
Torus also produces the bimonthly newsletter, “Solutions Now,” which is a holistic set of resources and tools for the WFCA membership and industry in general.
Other WFCA marketing initiatives include:
•The 360 degree marketing program, which is a suite of marketing tools—websites, email marketing, direct mail marketing—for the independent retailer that ensures each member has an efficient and inexpensive way of going to market.
•Trade advertising that communicates the initiatives WFCA is putting forth for membership.
•A Facebook page, which is a low cost way to communicate member benefits.
•The Gold Standard retailer award.
•Education and training.
WFCA recently completed the first of its multi-leg consumer media tour that included meetings with approximately 20 editors from Conde Nast, Hearst and Meredith titles in New York. Other legs include Birmingham, Ala. (Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines), Des Moines, Iowa (Better Homes and Gardens and its many special interest publications, Midwest Living, etc.), San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The purpose was to showcase a number of standout products that caught the eye of the WFCA team during Surfaces—all designed to put the spotlight on the floor covering industry.
“We have a unique advantage in dealing with press and consumers,” said Leah Gross-Harmon, public relations specialist. “We are not pushing any products, so we present unbiased information. We come with no agenda.”
This media initiative ties into the WFCA’s goal of being the unbiased resource of flooring information for consumers. In addition to the media tours, other avenues to achieve this goal include a regularly updated website with traffic driven in part by press releases and a popular blog. “Blogs can move the needle as they are highly influential in purchasing decisions,” Gross-Harmon said.
The WFCA also produces camera-ready articles for consumer publications, the latest of which focused on floor trends and was distributed to 10,000 magazines and newspapers across the country. “The exposure we have received is worth nearly $9 million if money was spent on ads,” she added.
Hall of Fame
Fritz Munzinger and Lavonne Pirner were officially inducted into WFCA’s Hall of Fame on the evening preceding the meeting. Pami Bhular introduced Munzinger, who he has known for 25 years and said has dedicated 52 years of his life to the flooring industry. “He’s been in this business since the crust of this earth was formed.”
Munzinger helped expand Baker Bros. from a four-store retailer in Phoenix to an 11-store giant. He also went on to become a pilot dealer for the DuPont Stainmaster Flooring Center Program. Additionally, Munzinger is credited for developing many of Stainmaster Carpet’s successful marketing programs
Pirner’s son, Aaron, introduced him at the Hall of Fame ceremony. After starting CAP Carpet in Wichita, Kan., Priner grew his small business into 19 different units that span the industry. The company has experienced double-digit annual growth since the early ’90s. He also served as president of the Retail Floorcovering Insti-tute (RFI) in 1982-83 and was a founding member of Carpet Co-op of America, later Carpet One. To this day, Pirner serves on the CCA board and acts as an outspoken advocate for dealers.
Developed more than 20 years ago to provide monetary assistance for industry members who have experienced catastrophic illness, the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF) has provided grants to 154 people, amounting to $3.2 million. WFCA took over the administrative and technical responsibilities in 2003, and virtually every dollar that comes in is given to recipients.
But ironically, since the recession, the number of people who have applied for grants has diminished. “That’s perplexing to say the least,” said Keith Campbell, chairman of Man-nington as well as the current FCIF chairman.
As such, the guidelines as to who qualifies for a grant have changed. “Maybe we were too restrictive,” Campbell said. “What [constitutes] a catastrophic medical illness vs. a normal medical illness? You could have diabetes, a back injury, etc.” Now FCIF has more grants in the pipeline. “We will have a webinar for manufacturers’ HR departments, and we also must reach out to retailers to let them know what is available.”