Women in Flooring: Lisa Browning- Adding value to industry giants

September 21, 2015

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.16.33 PMGrowing up just outside of Dalton in Walker County, it may have been inevitable that Lisa Browning—now executive director of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA)—would end up in the flooring industry. However, what was not predicted was Browning’s work with some of the biggest names in flooring, from Carpets of Dalton to Carpet One to Abbey, establishing family-like relationships with industry legends.

It started in 1982 when Browning took a position in the claims department for Interloom (which was acquired by Beaulieu), where she gained product knowledge on the manufacturing side of wool and polypropylene carpet. After being promoted to credit and claims manager there, in 1987 she moved on to Carpets of Dalton, working for Lamar and Jerry Hennon in the accounting department. At the time, Carpets of Dalton had an all-male sales force, but eventually the team realized it needed a female’s perspective.

“One day one of the salesmen came to me and said his customer—a female—wanted another woman’s opinion to help her with her carpet selection,” Browning recalled. “The customer had fabric swatches and a pillow from her sofa, so I selected carpet samples from the showroom that I thought coordinated well. After narrowing it down based on her [preferences], she made her selection. This continued for several weeks with customers before Jerry asked me to go into sales.”

From there Browning was trained on carpet construction and fiber types before selling on the showroom floor. She also worked as an assistant to the hard surface buyer at Carpets of Dalton to gain additional knowledge on wood, vinyl and ceramic.

In 1991 Browning’s then husband was transferred to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for his job; once there, he called Manny Llerena [with Color Tile at the time] in downtown Fort Worth as an assistant carpet buyer was needed there. Browning went to interview with Larry Nagle, who was president of Color Tile.

“I was very nervous,” she said. “Larry handed me an 18 x 27 carpet sample with no labels. He asked me the face weight; I told him it was around 60 ounces. He asked me the cost and I told him $8.00 to $9.00 depending on if it was branded or unbranded nylon. I knew I was close. Larry did not say a word and asked me to go wait in Manny’s office. A few minutes later he told me I had the job.”

During her time at Color Tile, Browning became involved in private labeling and merchandising, traveling with Llerena, Nagle and Charlie Dilks—chief product officer of CCA Global Partners who was then in charge of Color Tile Canada—to Dalton to meet with manufacturer executives, including Randy Merritt of Shaw, Jeff Lorberbaum of Mohawk, Carl Bouckaert of Beaulieu, and many more prominent industry figures.

Nagle helped Browning expand her knowledge in product construction and cost, and after five years with Color Tile she moved on to Carpet One in Atlanta after getting divorced. “I was hired by Sandy Mishkin [president of CCA Global Partners] to be the hard surface buyer for Carpet One. During my time there I travelled to Wilsonart, Armstrong and Mannington and learned that side of the business. Merchandising and private labeling was more difficult with hard surface. The manufacturer’s brand was important.”

Browning’s next career move came sort of unexpectedly in 1997 when she met Abbey Carpet executive team members Phil Gutierrez, chairman and CEO, and Steve Silverman, president and COO, at a World Carpets show in Florida. “We talked about the industry, hard surface, some suppliers. The neScreen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.19.14 PMxt week I got back to work and they called and asked if I wanted to come meet with them. I wasn’t looking to make a change—I was happy with what I was doing—but I was going down to Coverings in Orlando so I said I would come a day early and meet with them. While I was there they offered me a job, and I accepted that night.”

As the hard surface buyer for Abbey, Browning said she faced a challenge because the group did not private label hard surface, meaning members found more difficulty in offering consumers something they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. “I went to the manufacturers and developed the ‘No questions asked 60-day replacement guarantee’ in which Abbey would replace any product a consumer didn’t like with product of equal value from the same manufacturer. We developed marketing for dealers to use in their showrooms and it was a huge success.” She was soon promoted to vice president of merchandising and member service, working closely with Gutierrez and Silverman on all aspects of product, merchandising and customer service.

Browning developed a personal relationship with Abbey leadership, as well. After remarrying and living in Florida without any other family, Gutierrez and Silverman “spent a lot of time with my family and me. Phil took us on trips to places that I would never have been able to go to. They treated us like their family.”

Despite her successful run with Abbey, Browning decided to take a break from work in October 2006 when her son was finished with school. While she did, in fact, plan on going back to work, she wanted “to try something new.” An opportunity quickly came thanks to Tom Hadinger of Hadinger Flooring in Naples, Fla. “When Tom heard that I was no longer working for Abbey, he asked if I would be interested in going to work for the NFA. At the time I knew nothing about it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into flooring after being out of it for only about a month. After speaking with Sam Roberts [owner of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors in Houston], then NFA president, and flying to Atlanta to meet with the NFA’s board of directors, I accepted the position in December.”

The NFA was and is still run by members, with its officers elected for two-year terms. As the group grew, responsibilities took up more of members’ and elected officials’ time, which is why they decided to create the executive director position held by Browning. “I remember Sam telling me to take the job and we will figure it out together. His term as president was scheduled to end but he agreed to stay on an additional year to work with me in the new position.”

Browning said the best part of her job is working with NFA members, witnessing first-hand the passion they have about their businesses and their willingness to share with each other. Her responsibilities include “all aspects of a one-person office,” working closely with vendors that she has known since starting her career in floor covering and negotiating vendor agreements, product, display programs and promotions. “I am also the accounting department…the meeting planner [and]…the communications department.”

Clearly Browning has established deep roots in the flooring industry, despite its reputation as the proverbial “boys’ club.” While she agreed the flooring world is still dominated by men, it has progressed since her entrée in 1982. At all the companies for which she has worked—with the exception of the NFA—Browning said she was “the only female in the room during meetings, and it was very intimidating being this country girl from Dalton. In the beginning I would sit there and not comment unless I was asked a question. Larry and Manny started asking my opinion more and more, and as time went on I gained confidence and felt more comfortable just being myself and sharing in the conversations.”

She noted that retailers and manufacturers alike have now realized that as a style, color, design and lifestyle business, there is a need for more females in the flooring industry. While that need is evident now, she knows her success came because of those who took a chance on her—before an increasing female presence. “From starting out in sales at Carpets of Dalton to Larry Nagle taking a risk when he had someone else in mind for the position. I have been very fortunate that every time I landed a job, my bosses really taught me. Everybody wants to be successful, but I was always more worried about adding value to wherever I’m working. I don’t want to be easily replaced.”

What words of wisdom does Browning offer professional women making names for themselves today? “Don’t be overly sensitive. Have a thick skin. Do not stay silent; be active in meetings and speak your [mind] when you have the knowledge. Be confident but not cocky.”

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