October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10
By Ken Ryan
It’s easy to spot Norman Pomerleau, founder and president of NRF, at an NRF Northeast Floorcovering Market (NEFM); he can be found by the carpet displays, likely holding court with customers.
To say Pomerleau is partial to carpet would be an understatement. “Norman could be walking the show floor with us but if he sees us heading toward the hardwood displays, he leaves us,” said Denis Lebel, co-owner of Sherm Arnold’s Flooring & Kitchen, a Lewiston, Maine-based dealer.
The flooring distribution market may be embracing more hard surfaces to keep current with trends, but Pomerleau never abandoned the carpet category. While many of the industry’s top 20 flooring dealers have little or no presence in carpet, NRF increased its overall mix to 25.1% carpet in 2015 compared with 24.4% in 2014. NRF also holds 25.1% in resilient, the hottest category in flooring.
“Norman never gave up on carpet,” said Terry Pomerleau Gray, senior vice president at NRF. “Norman loves carpet, it’s No. 1. And No. 2, it is a service.”
Gray reflected on a time in the 1970s when Bob Shaw, then CEO of Shaw Industries, called Pomerleau to inform him that Shaw would be selling direct. Other mills followed suit and soon distributors were switching to hard surfaces.
However, NRF continued to sell carpet. His model was to buy truckloads to get a better price and save on freight. A strong service component allowed NRF to command a slightly higher price than the mill.
NRF is the exclusive distributor of Lexmark Carpet in an eight-state region of the Northeast. The mill’s Tailored by Lexmark boutique collection of patterned goods has been one of the most successful soft surface introductions in 2015 and NRF has helped drive that business to hundreds of its retailers.
Tom Mathis, vice president of the residential division of Lexmark, credits NRF’s stellar sales team for that success, as well as the steadfast vision of the founder. “Norman never lost his foothold in carpet,” he said. “A lot of distributors got out of it. NRF never did and today it is one of the strongest carpet distributors in the country.”
Of the top 20 distributors NRF has the largest percentage of carpet. BPI, which was out of the carpet business from 1998 to 2005, returned in 2006 and has seen that percentage of the business increase to about 10%. Carpet accounts for 7% of Swiff-Train, which has been in the carpet business since the 1960s.
While Pomerleau acknowledges the gains hard surfaces have made (at 28.8%, hardwood is NRF’s largest product category), and how his company has adapted to those changes, he maintains there is no better value for the consumer than carpet. “There are so many applications where carpet is the better surface. It’s still the best thing out there.”