Flooring America follows direction of diversification

HomeNewsFlooring America follows direction of diversification

Focus on new dealer opportunities, fashion meeting technology

By Jenna Lippin

The Flooring America and CCA executive team at summer conneXtion.

Dallas—Diversification was the name of the game at the Flooring America summer conneXtion convention, held here July 13-14. With seven new members brought on over the last six months, the group realizes how important it is to continue to attract retailers and keep existing Flooring America dealers happy and enthusiastic.

Opportunities for Flooring America members now stretch beyond flooring to provide consumers with a full service remodel opportunity. Riding on the success of the kitchen and bath program that has had major momentum over the last 18 months, members now have the option to offer window treatments, cabinets, closet systems and soon a major paint supplier will be added to the mix.

“We have to diversify, capture more of Mrs. Smith’s pocketbook, so we need that one-stop design center concept,” said Keith Spano, Flooring America president. “Cabinets, paint, closet systems, etc.—everything for home. She trusts us, knows our legacy, our community involvement. We have to widen our net to stay relevant at retail for the long term.”

While some members may be resistant to taking on these other categories, it helps that numerous Flooring America dealers have already had success with the programs. “We’ve got over 100 members doing cabinets right now,” Spano said. Those getting into expanded opportunities “don’t need to make the same mistakes someone else did just starting out. They can start at the 50-yard line instead of the 20-yard line because they have knowledge from the group. We tell them if they’re not a little afraid, they are not pushing hard enough.”

But plenty of members are making that push. Patrick Flaherty, for example, owner of Flaherty’s Flooring America with two Houston-area locations, is bringing cabinets into his business after he was presented the opportunity at the show. He noted the importance of diversifying to keep up in the industry and how helpful it can be to be the customer’s one-stop shop. “I think if you don’t diversify you’re going to die. We have a great privilege of having great customers that have known us for many years so they trust us. I think if they come back for cabinets, countertops, etc., it’s more logical because they are going to someone they trust.”

While a remodel project that goes beyond flooring may require some additional effort, the benefits outweigh the added responsibility. “The ticket is bigger,” Flaherty said. “There is more management of the job, but customers won’t nitpick. With just a floor, they are doing a $3,000 kitchen project and they’re nitpicking over 5 cents a foot. With a big kitchen remodel they see the overall big picture and won’t pick on little things.”

Maxine Schneider, co-owner of Schneider’s Flooring America in Vernon, Conn., has been particularly successful with granite countertops, and in the last three months has started an expansion into closet systems. The store increased its showroom space to 5,000 square feet last year, which now includes a design center that features cabinets, countertops and other kitchen elements.

“It’s important to diversify because our customers come in and are usually looking for someone to do the whole project,” Schneider said. “They maybe don’t know we will offer paint, closets and countertops, but those are things they need. We encourage our salespeople to be alert, to sell the tile and carpet, but to also talk about other things we offer.”

After losing business to another neighborhood dealer, Schneider realized it made sense to keep additional opportunity in store. “We’ve been having a lot of people coming in and doing bathrooms and kitchens looking for granite or quartz. They are upgrading, getting rid of laminate and putting in [better products], so why not offer more? We were sending the business down the street and now we’re keeping it for ourselves. We need to keep the customer in our store; if she goes somewhere else, somebody else will sell her.”

Keeping up in digital

Flooring America continues to be a leader in digital, with some of the most advanced web and social media initiatives in the industry. Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, stresses the importance of remaining ahead of the curve in technology, particularly because of the evolving shopping habits of today’s consumer and the entrance of the millennial generation into the flooring market.

“This group is so much more open to change, so much more open to different things,” he said. “When we started FAST and social media programs they were nervous. Now you don’t see a single member

Kitchen cabinets are a source of additional business for Flooring America members.

walking around without an iPad. Time lets it happen. An overall survey showed our members are more tech savvy because of everything we’ve been pushing on them over the last four years, more open to change.”

The group will soon relaunch member websites, which will be “cutting edge” thanks to their fully responsive formats, meaning users will have the same experience on an iPhone, tablet or desktop computer. The sites are customizable for each member, whether it is brand driven or a highly promotional store. Search engine optimization (SEO) will also be enhanced to help Flooring America stores to be found organically.

“I think we are seeing an evolution right now in our industry in general,” Spano noted. “We’ve got people retiring and there is a new generation coming up. Everything we do speaks to the millennials. They expect app-based, digital programs, they get it, and I think it positions us well for growth in the future.”

Darrel Black, owner of Flooring America of Milledgeville in Milledgeville, Ga., is one member who appreciates the importance of social media, particularly because of the value it holds for today’s technologically savvy consumer. “It’s not anything new really, but it’s important and seems to be growing. [The group] mentioned one thing that really struck me, which is that people used to go shopping, but now they are constantly shopping—on the Internet, on their mobile phones, it is always there. They are constantly seeing new things and getting ideas. Social media is a monster out there, but it can be a monster for you instead of against you.”

Digital developments help illustrate Flooring America serving as the launch pad for fashion and technology coming together, with the belief that home fashion starts with the floor. “The floor is the canvas with which every room starts,” Spano noted. “When you take a floor out of a room scene and replace it with concrete, it shows its [importance]. We are in the home fashion business. That’s what we do.”

In other news…

*Flooring America is expanding its cause marketing beyond the widely successful Pets for Patriots initiative. Members can now choose which charitable organizations they to which they would like to support, whether it is time, funds or the donation of goods, through the Installing Happiness Project. The group will provide personalized marketing campaigns for each store.

*The Floor Trader franchise will be managed by Flooring America, taking it back to its roots. The group plans to make the co-op a true cash and carry outlet, on par with Flooring America’s structure. The official launch of the new stores will take place Sept. 1.

*Inhabit is the new exclusive hard surface brand for Flooring America members, designed with the goal of providing freedom to select product that’s right for each retailer’s individual market while maintaining a consistent brand message.

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