March 30/April 6, 2015; Volume 28/Number 20
By Amanda Haskin
Chicago—With the opening day of FCANetwork’s annual convention, held here March 20-22, coinciding, fittingly, with the first day of spring, Olga Robertson, president, did not hesitate to make this connection and assure members that the future of the group was equally bright.
“The worst is behind us and it’s a time for renewal, refocusing and recommitting,” she said. “The timing is absolutely perfect.”
This year’s event saw the largest attendance in the group’s history with a 90% participation rate. It featured a Monopoly theme, with a jail in the middle of the showroom and each vendor representing a different property on the game board. Attendees collected Monopoly money by placing orders and used it to bid on items donated by the various vendors, ranging from iPad minis to Godfrey Hirst’s stuffed sheep.
FCANetwork, known for being “the low-cost buying group with high-powered expertise,” was formed in 1998 with the goal of giving independent retailers a competitive advantage while allowing them to maintain their autonomy. The separator from other buying groups, according to Robertson, is that they are successful retailers helping other retailers. “We are in the trenches with them. We do the same things they do every day, so when they call me and say, ‘I’m going to take a cancellation unless we get this product in a timely manner,’ I know who to talk to in order to help them because I know what it’s like to lose an order.”
That first-hand understanding of retailers’ struggles, along with an immeasurable amount of industry knowledge, gives FCANetwork the ability to create the best opportunities for its members and allows them to elevate their businesses to levels unimaginable on their own.
“I joined in 1999 and FCANetwork has made a huge impact on our business with its buying program,” said Carlton Billingsley, owner of Floors and More in Benton, Ark. “They go out and negotiate the best of the best in products and price, so it gives us peace of mind and frees us up to do other things with our business. That is invaluable, and that alone pays for the membership.”
Bill Graybeal, owner of Graybeal’s Carpet Plus in Logansport, Ind., became a member in 1998. “It was at a time when a lot of the mills were going into retail, so we were concerned about having a bigger voice. I had been in business for a long time before joining and thought I knew how to run a store, how to negotiate prices. Olga and FCANetwork showed me I did not know as much as I thought. It has been the best business move I ever made.”
Powerful group, powerful leader
“I’ve been part of FCANetwork for 11 years,” said Dan Standeven, owner of Carpets Direct in Lincoln, Neb. “It comes down to three things: competitive advantage, pricing and the most powerful woman in the industry.”
Standeven was not alone in singing the praises of Robertson. Nearly every attendee was quick to bring up her fearless negotiating prowess, knowledge of the industry, and nurturing, hands-on approach to each member’s needs. While she may be known as a force to be reckoned with on the industry’s battlefields, she greeted each member by name with a mixture of motherly affection and down-to-earth joviality.
Buddy Mitchell, owner of Simply Floors in Denver, is one of FCANetwork’s newer members and said the decision to join was a no-brainer. “I saw an interview with Olga online, so I called and she actually answered. Well, that just blew me away. The next week I flew out here and joined.” Calls to FCANetwork’s 1-800 number are actually transferred straight to Robertson’s cell phone, and she always picks up.
Robertson made it clear the group is named the Network for a reason, in that the networking aspect has been vital to its (and its members’) success. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most has been talking to the other store owners and getting their insights,” Mitchell said. “The flooring industry is very competitive, so in your own market you’re very isolated. But I can talk to someone in Albuquerque who isn’t my competitor and we’re both having the same issue; I can ask what has worked for him. You have this kind of bond of brothers here.”
This sense of camaraderie was evident during convention. “I know almost everyone in this room,” Billingsley said. “Of course it’s a lot of work, but we also have so much fun.”
Graybeal added that it’s always fun and upbeat. “They have these great products, everyone is optimistic and the vendors seem to be in tune with what FCANetwork wants to do. It makes you fired up to go back to work and start selling this stuff.”
New additions, education
FCANetwork welcomed new vendors DreamWeaver, Emser Tile and Foss Carpet Tile. Shaw also received a lot of buzz, bringing its new Life Happens carpet with LifeGuard backing and its Anso “Awesome” Nylon colorwall. Other new offerings included Godfrey Hirst carpet with Stainmaster PetProtect, Provenza hardwood and revamped displays from USFloors and FCANetwork’s proprietary Taylor Wirth brand.
Keynote speaker Randy Merritt, president of Shaw Industries, talked about the economic climate, marketing to the millennial generation and the importance of locally owned small businesses. He concluded by saying that no one knows the business better than Robertson, and that members should be very confident in the products she and her team presented.
Merritt spent an entire day talking to members about their day-to-day concerns. “He was having so much fun that he stayed until the very end,” Robertson said. “Everyone found him so down-to-earth and approachable, and the members were excited to have this opportunity to meet a mill executive.”
Looking to the future
One of the reasons FCANetwork continues to offer personalized service to its members is that it has purposefully demonstrated a slow but deliberate growth. “It has been a labor of love for many years,” Robertson said. “Although we are profitable, it’s not a numbers game for us and it never has been. If I can add one quality dealer a month then I’m happy, but it has to be somebody who gets it and is going to fit in.
“If you look around the room, it’s like an extended family,” she continued. “Everyone gets along and helps each other. Our members joined because they wanted help with private labeling and pricing, and they wanted to have a broader assortment of products. My job is simply to create the perception they have it all and can do it all… in a smaller space.”
Robertson is confident she will still be able to give members that one-on-one attention even as the group continues to grow. When asked how she maintains her current level of energy and enthusiasm after all these years, she responded, “I get up every morning and say, ‘I’m going to make something happen today, even if it’s something little. I’m going to make someone smile; I’m going to do something productive.’ And you have to love what you do.”