Nov. 18/25 2013, Volume 27/number 15
By Ken Ryan
Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery in Louisville, Ky., said he could remember the early days of the FEI Group—then known as FloorExpo—when “a small room of guys” gathered for a pep talk from organization leaders.
“They told us what the future might look like if we all rowed the boat in the same direction,” Freadreacea recalled. “Well, today, you would need a cruise ship to put us all in the same boat with the way this organization has grown.”
Fifteen years since the launch of FloorExpo, the organization of builder and multifamily flooring contractors held its national convention in Cabo San Lucas. A record 340 attendees turned out for the conference, which celebrated 15 years as well as the best in the last six for group members.
“The espirit de corps was very good,” said FEI Group president Jay Smith. “People were very excited about business in what has been a nice year for the builder and apartment markets.”
Redi Carpet, one of the largest multifamily flooring specialists in the U.S. covering nearly 20 markets, was honored as MultiFamily Solutions Member of the Year. “We’ve been in the group almost from the beginning and it just keeps getting better and better,” said Jerry Hosko, president, Redi Carpet. FloorExpo (FEI) does a terrific job of bringing its members together in a manner that makes it very easy to network. The management team also works very hard to bring something new to the members each year and continues to work on our behalf to find the very best products and values available from our approved vendors.”
Other members spoke at how sharing ideas and best practices help them in their own markets. “Being a part of FEI means that I get to measure my business against the best and brightest in our industry,” said Brian Givens, president, Capital Carpets, Washington, D.C.
Many FEI Group members believe the group is a major factor in their companies’ success. For example, Jake Manaster, president of Contract Carpet in Los Angeles, said, “I feel like I have what I need to succeed when I devote time to FEI. [The group] is the secret weapon to successful outcomes for our business.”
Rick Forbes, president at Roy Lomas Carpet of Pennsylvania, noted how integral information from FEI and its members is to his business. “The information we get from FEI and other members is priceless. It gives us a benchmark that we can measure against our company. Everyone wants to see others perform well.”
Freadreacea said he couldn’t think of another flooring trade group that does as much to make each and every member successful and shares that success like FEI does. “I come back from the convention each year excited about what the future will hold and what possibilities lie ahead,” he said. The FEI conference drilled down into key areas that affect members, including the rising price of raw materials, the scarcity of labor and the pressure on profit margins.
“In recent years there has been a lot of cost and overhead reduction on the part of our members to get costs down so they could survive,” Smith said. “Now we are super lean.”
With top-line revenues rising, the challenge is to generate greater profit margin. Discussed at FEI were ways to do that, including raising prices. “We discussed some successful techniques,” Smith noted. “Some members have had some degree of success in raising prices, but it is still very difficult to do.”
For others, discussing labor was a major topic of interest. “We picked up some good ideas on how we might do a better job of meeting the labor challenges when we hit the busy season again next summer,” Hosko said.
The multifamily unit focused on the continuity of its offerings across the country and the importance of a consistent branding message as it relates to national accounts. “We have a very robust national accounts program where we drive business on behalf of our members, and do so in a consistent manner, no matter where they are located,” Smith explained.
On the builder side, there was significant emphasis on driving upgrade business from the base level. To that end, FEI introduced DESIGNeD, an iPad optimized program that lets builders show their customers how best to prepare for their design appointments. The program describes the features, benefits and limitations of the various selections available to customers and lists the requirements needed to maintain the finishes once installed, ultimately enhancing the design center experience.
“As a group, we want to extend the momentum that we built in 2013 and make a few dollars for a change, especially on the builder side,” Smith said. “They deserve it. It has been a tough five-year window and they have been working really hard through it.”
Smith added that new home construction was up 18% in 2013 versus 2012. Continued growth is expected in 2014, albeit not at 2013 levels. “We see continued improvement, but choppy in nature,” he said. “We may not match this year’s growth, but that is OK. It is still going to be up.
“Overall, we see things steady. The apartment/multifamily segment is stable. Occupancy rates are high. We had good turns during the summer season in 2013, and we expect more of the same [in 2014]. We see multifamily as steadier than builder.”
Celebrating 15 years
Dave Gheesling, CEO of the FEI Group, reflected on the first 15 years of the organization and marveled at its consistency. “We’ve had almost zero attrition in our 15 years,” he said. “It speaks to our group, the type of people we have in it. They are really into it—they think of it as their organization.
“It’s been an amazing 15 years with what we think are the finest individuals in the floor covering industry,” Gheesling continued. “It’s been up, it’s been down, and its up again, but it’s been an incredible ride. We have had a lot of fun with a great group of people, and we are all bullish on the next 15 years. We think our best days are yet to come.”