January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15
By Ken Ryan
National Harbor, Md.—When Flooring America leaders Keith Spano, president, and Frank Chiera, vice president of marketing and advertising, first made technology a priority, it would be accurate to say not all group members shared the same passion.
Spano and Chiera are two young executives who saw how the digital space was transforming business and knew their flooring dealers needed to embrace it or be left behind.
“The beauty is our members trust us,” Spano told FCNews at Flooring America’s winter conneXtion, held Jan. 5 and 6 here.
“In terms of digital/social media we started with a drip and slowly turned on the faucet,” Chiera said, with Spano adding, “Now it is a full-blown fire hose.”
For example, Flooring America started Twitter three years ago. Today, the co-op is managing 11 social media channels and publishing content across 500 stores. “We got [members] to understand the value—now we are at a point of what is next,” Spano said. “It’s about bringing technology and fashion together.”
Flooring America’s two biggest introductions at conneXtion were Shaw’s H2O waterproof innovation for both carpet and hard surfaces, and a social media/digital event called SocialCon, which takes place in April.
Signage throughout the trade show floor heralded H2O, which features an exclusive backing that is impervious to liquids. Several demonstrations were conducted to show the technology’s prowess. H2O will be included in Tigressa SoftStyle carpet from Shaw, and Downs, its waterproof enhanced vinyl plank.
“We are excited about the new H2O product lines,” said Sergei Petrenjko, president of Flooring America of Grand Rapids. “It gives us products that are unique and exclusive.”
Chris Green, president of Great Southeast Flooring America in Melbourne, Fla., also praised the H2O launch. “For a product innovation, I feel H2O can be a game changer within our industry like Stainmaster was when it was introduced. Flooring America continues to keep members ahead of our competitors through their online marketing and exclusive brands.”
Casey Dillabaugh, president of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America in Boise, Idaho, said H2O has the look of a winner. “It’s very demonstrable; you can pour a bucket of water on a piece of carpet and it won’t seep through. It’s a great story to tell, and great for the active household. I also have a feeling installers are going to love it. There is no reason to think it won’t be a hit.”
Members also expressed enthusiasm about the SocialCon initiative. SocialCon is a two-day conference designed to help members and sales professionals navigate the rapid changes in social media. Chiera said SocialCon has two purposes: to explain why social media/digital is important in the first place, and to enlighten members on how they can effectively use it to generate more business.
Flooring America’s 30-under-30 council developed the idea of SocialCon. Spano said the group of millennial retail owners and managers serves as an incubator to vet new digital/social media strategies for the co-op.
Sam Chesher, owner of Carpet Wise Flooring America in Longmont, Colo., thought SocialCon was the most intriguing program introduced at conneXtion. “I feel this program will engage the younger people to help them become more involved in our industry and consider it as a career option.”
Merchandising remains a priority for Flooring America in 2015, which was expressed through several product launches at the show, including a comprehensive Stainmaster program and new Innovia carpet update with original Forever Clean carpet styles.
In marketing, Flooring America presented new features to its F.A.S.T. (Flooring America Social Tools) automated social media program that will provide members with advanced functionality, including a more robust operating tool, enhanced reporting and tracking, and improved flexibility and control over publishing content.
Also at conneXtion, “The Most Recommended Flooring Store in Town” campaign was unveiled. This new program emphasizes the reaction of customers when they buy from member retailers, helping promote positive feedback for Flooring America stores.
Flooring America executives also introduced “Enhancements to My Floor Store,” a review app that leverages the review platform from Bazaavoice rating and review software. The result: Members will be able to more easily manage brand sentiment in real time and increase online reviews. “We have a goal to achieve 20,000 reviews by the end of 2015,” Chiera said. “Our partnership with Bazaarvoice gives members access to leading platforms for reviews and SEO [search engine optimization] and allows us to take advantage of a more robust system to continue to elevate our brand recognition.”
In response to these advances, Dillabaugh said he believes Flooring America is the “best-suited” co-op in terms of being positioned for the changing buying demographics. “It’s good to be constantly going and growing. It’s fun to be with a flooring cooperative that’s always looking to better your business.”
Flooring America has added four new members since September. Of its roughly 500 total locations, 47 are in Canada, and Spano said the group is on “uber offense” to increase membership north of the border.
“We look for [potential] retailers who are not afraid to do things differently and who can ‘wow’ consumers, giving them an experience they won’t get anywhere else.”
Spano added that Flooring America is trying to attract the millennial customer and include them earlier in the buying cycle.
In addition, there is an effort under way to expand into non-flooring categories and be the one-stop-shop design concept for customers looking to do a complete home design project. Currently there are about 70 Flooring America stores in multiple categories. “It’s a niche we want to fill,” Spano noted.