Volume 26/Number 26; May 13/20, 2013
Similar to the difference between a boss and a leader, there is a distinction between someone who is a leader and someone who is a driver. A driver can be a leader, but it is someone who goes above and beyond a company or organization and works for the betterment of an industry or society. Remember Steve Jobs as someone who was both, but also think of Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel and how he helped change the fashion industry or Carroll Shelby in the automotive world.
In this issue, FCNews takes the first-ever look at some of the people who are “driving” the flooring industry toward a brighter future. This is not a Top 10 list or anything of the sort as next year we will present another list of industry personnel who deserve recognition for their efforts. Nor is it a list that says a particular person is better than another.
Rather it is a grouping of people from various sectors of the industry who are doing things to help change the industry.
Simple Marketing Now
The seeds of inspiration were sown at a Columbia University Marketing Innovation conference in 2004, an event attended by many intelligent and influential people. Christine Whittemore was in attendance, and one thing she noticed was everyone blogging.And soon so would Whittemore, whose foray into blogging — “Flooring the Consumer,” focused on marketing to women and the retail experience — would “fully immerse” her into the world of social media marketing.
Since the 2006 launch of Flooring the Consumer, she has added several companion blogs, is a contributing columnist, trade show speaker, and started her own company called Simple Marketing Now, an inbound marketing consultancy that helps organizations’ online presence via blogs, social media and content marketing.
The name Christine B. Whittemore can certainly be found online; a Google search of her name reveals two full pages of Whittemore-related entries — her LinkedIn account, Simple Marketing Now, Flooring the Consumer, Facebook, Coverings, Pinterest, VoiceAmerica talk radio, YouTube, Floor Covering Institute blog, and PROLibraries.com, all on the first page alone.
Whittemore has been speaking about the role of social media in the flooring industry for years. During her Surfaces appearances, she has seen an “evolution” in those embracing different social media platforms.
“There are definitely industries ahead of flooring but I am impressed with the evolution this industry has had with social media,” she said. “Business, as well as life, is all about building relationships and interacting with other people. Social media is perfect for this.”
She likens the community environment of social media platforms such as Facebook to the old general store concept, where groups with similar interests and backgrounds congregate.
Whittemore explained flooring retailers should build a social media strategy into their overall business models. “It’s better to be focused online rather than being all things to all people,” she said. “Social media is like Cablevision; there are a lot of channels, or in this case niches. Know where your customers are gathering — they may be totally enamored with Facebook while another group may be congregating on LinkedIn. Today your digital presence needs to be buttoned up.”
Vice president, residential styling
Joe Amato’s passion and penchant for artistic style and design can be traced to his grammar school days drawing and illustrating, sometimes using his textbooks and notebooks for practice.
“Many of the illustrations looked like flooring, but I didn’t think flooring would be a final destination for me,” Amato said.
Amato’s talents could have landed him in any number of fields, but he chose flooring and, more specifically, Mannington. “Mannington lets us be responsible for our designs. Not that you don’t have to defend what you’re presenting, but they give you the support throughout.”
For over 30 years, he’s been the mill’s style and design guru, leading a five-member team that has brought a unique sense of style to thousands of products.
His team seeks out unique materials that can turn a basic flooring surface into a uniquely different product. Amato travels with another Mannington representative to non-flooring related shows looking for trends as “two sets of eyes and perspectives” can view what may be the next NatureForm.
“NatureForm revolutionized sheet vinyl; never before had there been such realism, and Joe led this initiative,” said Mannington’s Kim Holm, president, Residential Business. “He pushed the envelope with designs that were unheard of. It’s a legacy that lives on in our vinyl line and what has kept Mannington at the forefront of style and design in all categories.”
Approaching every year with a clean slate, Amato said his team looks for that little special design, color or visual that is uniquely different and can separate a Mannington line from a competitor’s.
Director, retail development
Pami Bhullar said today’s consumer is armed with more knowledge and clout than ever before, and that puts the onus on retail sales associates (RSAs) to win her over.
Fortunately, Bhullar is there to assist, traveling 300 days a year to train dealers as Invista director, Aligned Retail Development.
“Consumers can now buy what they want, when they want it, where and from whom they want to buy it, so first impressions are very important; it is more important than ever to positively engage the customer,” Bhullar said.
“That’s why ‘May I help you?’ should be banned. It creates a wall and makes her think, ‘Here comes a salesperson who is going to take my money.’” He encourages RSAs to chit-chat to break the ice and then ask three important questions:
1. “Have you ever been to our store?” This allows RSAs to tell their store’s competitive advantage story.
2. “What kind of research, if any, have you done?” This allows RSAs to understand what she knows and with whom they are competing.
3. “Why are you changing your current flooring?” This allows RSAs to know her motivation.
Bhullar said selling is much more emotional than product and price, noting RSAs “have to engage the consumer in a compelling, personalized, customized fashion focused on her needs, which helps her find the right solution, so she will have a positive shopping experience…and tell her friends.”
Jon Pierce, general manager, Pierce Flooring & Design, said Bhullar is an example of what every salesperson should be. “He stays true to his plan. Once you’ve seen and heard Pami, you want to be like him as much as possible. Many on our staff have been ‘Pami-ized.’ The world needs more people like Pami Bhullar.”
Vice president, commercial sales and marketing officer
In 2006, Shaw Industries promoted long-time employee and industry veteran Tim Baucom to lead its commercial sales and marketing efforts. He took the reins and ran with them, helping turn the company, which was already the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, into a dominant force on the commercial side in nearly all arenas.
From design to innovation, and environmentalism to global expansion, Baucom’s accomplishments have not only boosted Shaw to new heights, including 32% growth in commercial sales since 2009, his moves have also helped drive the contract sector.
Under his leadership, Shaw introduced EcoWorx, the industry’s first non-PVC carpet tile backing. Its success drove Shaw to select this product as the company’s only tile backing used throughout the world. Baucom’s guidance helped Shaw become the first company to successfully roll out a global take-back program to collect used EcoWorx products for recycling. More recently, he helped lead the development of LokDots, a dry adhesive that performs in high moisture environments, eliminates odors and reduces packaging.
Beyond developing eco-friendly products, in the commercial world design is paramount. Similar to the environmental initiatives, Baucom has led a talented team of product designers; under his leadership Shaw not only won its first Best of NeoCon award for product design, but also continued to do so for 11 consecutive years.
In recent years Baucom has turned some of his attention to growing Shaw internationally. In fact, since 2006 sales outside the U.S. have grown 30% and later this summer it will open its first manufacturing plant in China with the purpose of servicing the growing Chinese market.
Randy Merritt, Shaw’s president, said Baucom is an “innovative thinker [who] has led the development of numerous products and processes that have ultimately changed the way the industry approaches product development and operations. His contributions are driving change in the industry and propelling us all forward.”
Chief product officer
Charlie Dilks’ position as chief product officer for CCA Global requires a historical knowledge of the industry; a global perspective; relationships that span retail, distribution and manufacturing, and an understanding of the unique mission of a buying cooperative.
Not required, but important to Dilks, is to have fun with all of these aspects of the job.
“Product is fun so we get to do some pretty exciting stuff,” he said. “Developing new programs and considering original products is not a science. You have to love product and possess a lot of intuition and be prepared to take some risks to be successful. You also must have a good strategic sense when evaluating vendors and product trends.”
Dilks once said, “Some of our best ideas and successes have been something we found just by chance.” Put another way, he explained, “Often we see value in a product or product attribute that differs from what a vendor views as value in his product. A vendor may develop a product or product program for the commercial market, for example something we see as having value in the residential category, perhaps for a performance driven initiative. “
Locking LVT was an example of a product that had unintended uses. Initially developed by a commercial vinyl tile manufacturer, CCA viewed this product as having a great deal of applicability for residential LVT. Dilks said CCA worked with IVC to develop a program for its member retailers.
Products chosen for CCA programs are based on a number of criteria, Dilks said. “We look for products that match what attributes the collection is communicating to the consumer—i.e., a performance-based wood program would require products that offer exceptional performance attributes; a high style collection would require fashionable products.”
Price, distribution and exclusivity each play a role and are factored into the selection process. “Having CCA members as a resource on product makes all of our jobs easier,” he noted. “Whether it’s pricing intelligence, feedback on vendors or their products, members offer an unfiltered resource of information that is irreplaceable.”
Howard Brodsky, founder and co-CEO of CCA Global Partners, said Dilks is well respected by staff, membership and the flooring industry for his accomplishments. “Charlie’s vast product knowledge and ability to work with the suppliers to drive innovative new products and programs makes him invaluable to CCA Global Partners.”
Senior vice president, marketing
There are many marketing executives in the industry—and then there is David Duncan. Mohawk’s senior vice president of marketing since 2006 is credited with some of flooring’s most creative and successful promotions in recent years, not only calling attention to the brand, but also helping to drive business through the roof.
Duncan’s marketing plan boils down to one question: “How do you take a limited budget and do extraordinary things with it?”
He claims some of his greatest accomplishments are around the SmartStrand brand, which is on its way to becoming a billion dollar franchise. Duncan was involved with not only the product’s naming, but how it’s positioned as the industry’s most innovative carpet in the last 30 years.
Arguably his greatest claim to fame was the Ricko the Rhino promotion. The idea was to take what Duncan believed to be an extraordinary product and put it in an extraordinary situation that was unexpected, something he believes is a key component of successful marketing. The campaign had a rhino live on SmartStrand carpet for 14 days, streaming it live via social media. If the carpet could withstand this wildlife, it could certainly handle any consumer’s wild life. “Even though it was only 14 days, it has lived on for four years. People still talk about it.”
Duncan believes the most successful marketing efforts combine the unexpected with creative relevance; that came together with Ricko the Rhino. “It broke a schema in the mind of the retailers and consumers, and got them to think about the product differently,” adding there are three other ingredients in strong marketing campaigns: “You have to make sure it is differentiated, pump in a lot of energy and tell a story. The most creative marketers are storytellers.”
Creative relevance was illustrated in two of Duncan’s SmartStrand Silk promotions—a flash mob during Surfaces dancing to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” and bringing Golden Retriever puppies to Mohawk’s aligned dealer convention to launch the product.
As the head of a major wood manufacturer between 1998 and earlier this year, Don Finkell certainly helped shape the category when it came to styles and innovations, from no-wax maintenance to pioneering the handscraped rustic look and helping the industry expand globally.
But it has been on the environmental front that Finkell’s legacy may well be remembered, as even after retiring from manufacturing he continues to fight to ensure the world’s forests remain a viable resource for generations. Chairman of the Hardwood Federation, Finkell was also head of the Research Foundation of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), which oversees the organization’s Responsible Procurement Program (RPP)—a third-party verified environmental standard he helped create that gives domestic suppliers a way to certify their products as sustainably harvested.
Finkell believes while the forests are meant to be enjoyed, without commercial value owners are tempted to clear cut and use the land for other uses which has proven to harm both the local land and the planet as a whole.
Therefore, as someone who believes the only protected forest is an economically productive forest, he has promoted responsible harvesting and use of tropical species by not only fighting for the passage of the Lacey Act Amendments but also for taking the common sense adoption of industry standards for exercising “due care” under Lacey.
In fact, he is also a member of a blue ribbon committee for the Unified Hardwood Promotion seeking to promote positive performance and environmental attributes. The committee is comprised of various industry leaders; he is only one of two people who represent the flooring industry.
Michael Martin, NWFA’s CEO, said Finkell was “instrumental in developing the NWFA’s RPP, which helped establish a step-wise approach to achieving FSC certification. This marked the first time the wood flooring industry worked with an environmental group to advance and promote responsible forestry. His passion for the environment, and for our industry, is evident in everything he does.”
Chief executive officer
Michael Martin can be called many things; a turnaround specialist or progressive thinker, for example. One thing is for sure: He is unafraid to make bold moves.
When Martin took over as head of the NWFA in 2011, the association’s Wood Flooring Expo was floundering amid declining exhibitor participation and decreasing attendance.
Turning around the Expo—in a still stagnant economy—was a difficult decision-making process because it required doing more than fixing the show itself. “The first project was restructuring our staff to better utilize their skill sets to fill mission-critical roles,” he explained.
“After that, the most important thing we had to work with was exhibitor and attendee feedback. We asked what they wanted, then rebuilt the show from the ground up based on their responses and suggestions. We had a volunteer committee of more than 30 to direct tasks, and then allocated the staff needed to implement the plan.”
His first show in 2012 grew by 30%. This year it grew another 20%. Trade Show Executive magazine recognized it as one the 50 fastest-growing shows in 2012 from more than 4,000 shows it evaluated.
“Recognition like this is great, of course, but we ultimately measure success based on exhibitor and attendee feedback, which has been overwhelmingly positive.”
When Martin first joined NWFA, Mullican Flooring president and CEO Neil Poland called him a “progressive thinker.” A reason for this description was Martin’s decision to move NWFA away from a “silo existence,” and to establish strong relationships with WFCA, NAFCD, CFI, Surfaces and other like-minded organizations.
“Especially in a down economy, we all have to pull together and strengthen our partnerships with other industry groups,” Martin noted. “By working together, we have a stronger presence in the industry and can bring more value to our member organizations.”
Vice president/government relations
Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI)
While the term “road warrior” may be applied to numerous people in the flooring industry few, if any, would argue the expression being associated with Jennifer Mendez.
Unlike the rest of CRI, she lives in the D.C. area and is responsible for directing government relations on the federal, state and local levels as well as interacting with government agencies and other Washington-based trade associations. In other words, she is literally crisscrossing the country representing the interests of the carpet industry and trying to educate legislators and their staffs—especially when it comes to the industry’s environmental record—to allow them to make informed decisions.
Being CRI’s only staff member to focus solely on issues at the state level can be daunting. At times this role involves interaction with county and city governments, and even school districts, in addition to leaders at the state level.
What many do not realize is laws passed in state legislatures, city councils and county boards, along with mandates from federal and state regulatory agencies, can all influence the way carpet is manufactured and used. As such, Mendez has made it her mission to ensure the carpet industry is represented in the best light possible. Since joining the organization 10 years ago, no adverse legislation has been passed.
She is not simply an observer of public policy; Mendez is a hands-on advocate and is involved in numerous national organizations and task forces. Last year, for example, she was elected treasurer of the State Government Affairs Council (SGAC), putting her on a path to be its chairman in 2014.
At the time of her election, Werner Braun, CRI’s president, called Mendez a “tireless advocate for the carpet industry and its employees. Her input with state legislatures on carpet-related issues has been invaluable.”
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE)
When CARE was created in 2002, Bob Peoples was named its executive director. While he stepped away from the organization for five years, he was “recycled” last summer when he returned to his former position. And like he did 11 years ago, it has been all hands on deck as he continues to help build an industry from scratch while finding solutions to problems.
Since returning, Peoples has been helping CARE, California and the rest of the country better understand the how’s and why’s of the state’s AB 2398 Carpet Recycling law. In only six quarters, a number of lessons have been learned but more understanding is needed for the program to work; Peoples is determined to prove it can.
For example, CARE issued a set of operational and storage guidelines in late 2012. The Rural County pilot in California was completed in February and under Peoples’ direction CARE is in the throes of designing a program to roll out to additional rural counties.
Because the people involved in the initiative come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, CARE has completely reworked its quarterly reporting spreadsheet to provide clear terminology and avoid double counting.
Outside of AB 2398, Peoples has been involved in helping the industry find a solution to the growing problem of post-consumer carpet (PCC) made from polyester (PET) as the fiber currently has no viable markets, similar to the case with PCC nylon.
John Votaw, owner of Southeastern Plastic Recovery in South Carolina, called Peoples “wicked smart. But he’s not arrogant about it. He’s very open and has no hidden agenda. To him, this is not just a job; he really wants carpet recycling to succeed with things like cardboard, cans, paper, etc.”
Director of flooring
Some people enjoy the spotlight, while others simply enjoy giving back to the industry that provided quality lives for them and their families. Larry Press is the perfect example of the latter. His contributions to the industry have affected just about every category, segment and level of flooring.
Born into the industry with his parents’ retail business, Press’ true calling and industry-wide contributions wouldn’t come until a few decades later, when in 1987 he became involved with ASTM International, which develops voluntary consensus standards with some 12,000 regulations currently used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, etc.
Press currently serves on six ASTM committees and numerous sub-committees—from adhesives, of which he wrote the first flooring standard this past year, to air quality and VOC emission standards, as well as evaluating moisture in concrete.
In 2009, he became one of five people in the 45-year history of ASTM’s Resilient Flooring Committee to be honored with an Award of Merit.
For the last 10 years Press has been the person who casts the vote for the U.S. on all flooring issues within the International Standards Organization (ISO).
He has also helped develop FCICA’s current installation curriculums, and has been helping INSTALL since its inception.
John McGrath, INSTALL’s director, said Press’ knowledge, experience and generosity are played out on a daily basis throughout the industry. “He is an unquestioned expert and valuable mentor…and a go-to guy for most technical questions.”
Peter Craig, a concrete industry expert, said Press is “without question one of the principle driving forces for improvement in the flooring industry…[h]is dedication and commitment to the industry are valued and respected by everyone who has had the opportunity to work with him.”
When it comes to people “getting it done,” few are doing as much as Robert Varden. He is more than the head of one of the industry’s leading training programs in CFI, Varden is someone who walks the walk when it comes to practicing and promoting professional, quality installation.
In 1995 he was certified by CFI for his skills, but has since gone on to become a Master II, the organization’s most demanding level of expertise and excellence. Varden even won the Best of the Best Flooring Installer Award at Surfaces. He is also the recipient of CFI’s Charles Gress Award, the group’s highest honor, for outstanding service in the field of flooring installation.
Before being named CFI’s executive director, Varden was a past president, and remains actively involved with the CFI Certification Team. He travels both nationally and internationally, training and educating installers on the proper techniques and tools required for a successful installation—be it residential or commercial.
Beyond CFI, Varden is chairman of the Pattern Carpet and Backings Chapter for the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) S-600 Standard, which is creating a new, nationally recognized set of carpet installation standards expected to be in place later this year.
His knowledge helped him become an industry expert for the state of California. He was involved in the research and development of the innovative Kool Glide Seaming System before moving to his current role as national sales director for tool manufacturer Personna, where he is continuing to inform the masses on quality installation.
In 2007, Varden negotiated a National Carpet Installation Training Program with Lowe’s that consisted of 46 two-day programs for installation contractors and sales associates for which he created the curriculum. Currently, he is working with CCA Global Partners on the creation and presentation of flooring installation programs to all member companies of the group.
Jim Walker, CFI’s CEO, said, “In leading the CFI training programs and addressing various entities, Varden presents all associate manufacturer products in the best interests of the installation and sales communities, providing training in an unbiased manner.”
As a charter inductee into the Industry Hall of Fame in 1992, Bob Shaw’s position as one of the industry’s most important figures had long been established.
But in 2009, in his mid 70s and while the country was in the middle of its worst recession in memory, Shaw decided it was once again time to take the wheel he had steered for many a decade and help drive the industry out of its doldrums. He not only formed Engineered Floors, a maker of polyester yarns, he invested in state-of-the-art equipment and built a facility that literally houses all production under one roof.
In late 2011, he acquired Dream Weaver Carpets, which turned Engineered from just a supplier to also a manufacturer, and has continued to make investments. Earlier this month he announced a five-year, $450 million expansion in northwest Georgia that will create 2,000 jobs.
He has pushed the innovation envelope with the likes of solution dyed polyester and even an ultra soft solution dyed polyester called PureSoft Cashmere. And, he has been able to do this while still providing a low-cost, dependable product that has allowed customers at all levels to make money, while forcing the rest of the industry to take notice and, to some extent, change its direction and thinking.
Tom Lape, residential and commercial president of Mohawk Industries, said even though Bob Shaw is a competitor, “Engineered Floors is an affirmation the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the U.S. carpet industry. While [Bob’s] entry has certainly created a few headaches, you have to respect his commitment to his vision.”