Volume 27/number 19; January 20/27, 2014
By Louis Iannaco
Expert retailers dish on how to tackle the show
What are the best ways to navigate the many aisles that comprise Surfaces? How should retailers maximize their time at the show? To help answer these questions and other related inquiries, FCNews has compiled a few tips from several of the most successful floor covering dealers in the country—flooring veterans with plenty of experience on how to shop the industry’s premier event.
1.Schedule appointments with vendors you don’t usually see at home, taking the time to explore new companies and products.
Michael Longwill, president of Airbase Carpet Mart in New Castle, Del., usually spends three days at the show. He warns that if you’re not careful, you can fill your days with appointments with existing suppliers you can always see at home. He suggests setting up meetings for the first two days and leaving the last day to fill in what was missed or to look for new suppliers, different products and ideas.
“It’s easy to set appointments with people you know and are comfortable with, but it’s difficult to get out of your comfort zone and go into booths where you don’t know anyone or anything about the product,” he explained. “That’s the exciting and difficult part. My advice to new and veteran Surfaces attendees is to push yourselves out of your comfort zone.”
2.Network with retailers from different parts of the country. Pick the brains of your peers to find out how similar problems are solved.
Lou Morano, president of Capitol Carpet & Tile in Boynton Beach, Fla., who, like Longwill, shops all three days of the show, said retailers should try to think of any challenges they have in business. He then suggested they call their suppliers and ask them to reach out to other flooring dealers similar in size and operation (who don’t do business in the competing area) that do a good job in the areas in which there are challenges.
“Ask them if they could put you in touch with them to meet at the show,” he explained. “This has been a huge success in helping us with our business. The suppliers are glad to do it and the other flooring dealers are usually equally glad to help.”
3.Allow for 15 extra minutes at each appointment (many times reps run late for various reasons, and you may, too). Also, make sure you leave 10 to 15 minutes between each appointment.
“This will allow time for getting to the next space, bathroom breaks and interruptions from people you will see on the way to meetings,” Morano said.
Some retailers, such as Sam Roberts of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors in Houston, will make only “first thing in the morning” or very late meeting times. “I found I was losing a lot of time waiting for vendors that were running late with prior appointments,” he said.
4.Be specific with your game plan and what you want from the show, always placing a priority on finding something that will differentiate your store(s) from the competition.
Aaron Pirner, CEO of CAP Carpet in Wichita, Kan., whose team typically spends two full days at the show, said, “We have a buying team and product maps for our business units, which is basically an existing plan to sell. We approach the show with specific goals in mind. We look for product innovation that might be impactful to our business.”
Phil Koufidakis, principal of the five-store Baker Bros. chain in Arizona and president of the National Flooring Alliance (NFA), agreed the best way to maximize time at Surfaces is to have a plan. For him, this includes appointments with known vendors coupled with some free time to review new items and unknown vendors. Koufidakis takes the time to explore product, “whether it is something we may be specifically looking for or something we have seen or heard about, typically from one of my NFA brethren.”
5.If you are affiliated with a buying group, use your time at Surfaces to search for products and ideas your group doesn’t already provide.
Sam O’Krent, principal of O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center in San Antonio, has been attending Surfaces from the beginning. “We take a somewhat different approach. Since we’re part of Abbey, our primary purpose at Surfaces is to spend time with vendors who are not part of Abbey. Additionally, we typically spend Monday at the World Market Center shopping for area rugs.”
6.Understand that attending Surfaces is critical to your business and plan on making the trek to Las Vegas every year.
Capitol Carpet & Tile’s Morano said, “There is a saying: ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ This is a perfect example of thinking you don’t need to go to industry conventions because you aren’t sure if it’s worth it. To be successful and profitable you need to be ahead of the curve, forward thinking. Understand that you need to consistently refresh, improve and change things to be current/relevant. We must take time to work on our business and implement improvements. Otherwise, we’ll either not be as profitable as possible or not be here at all.”