NRF connects retailers, suppliers

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March market well attended in New England

March 28/April 4, 2016; Volume 30, Number 20

By Steven Feldman

Uncasville, Conn.—It’s been going on for more than 20 years and it only gets bigger and better. NRF Distributors’ pre-spring market held here again attracted a large throng of retailers seeking to capitalize on the wholesaler’s mission of bringing Surfaces to those who did not or could not make the trip west in January.

“I always try to tell people we are bringing Surfaces to you,” said Terry Gray, senior vice president of marketing of the New England distributor. “Not everyone can go to Las Vegas, and those who do don’t always have access to all product lines. Surfaces is a successful show; it’s just a very expensive destination for someone from New England to attend.”

Gray said every year she looks to introduce the distributor’s largest customers to the “right” people. “This market allows retailers to get the business cards of some key individuals who they can call year round if they ever have an issue. They may never have the chance to meet these people at Surfaces. The long-term relationship building at this event is just as important for these dealers as purchasing product.”

While about 350 dealers registered for this mini-market, a number “pretty consistent” from years past, Gray is expecting the event to serve as a springboard for a strong year given the consensus sentiment of attendees. “We usually sell about $1 million at this event, but I think this year may be better because the vibe around the show is very optimistic. People are talking about how good business is. That is the takeaway. The economic turn has happened for most of these dealers.”

A relatively new debit card promotion is one of the initiatives NRF is highlighting this year. Retail salespeople sign up for the card, on which the store owner signs off. Every time the RSA sells an eligible product during a particular promotional period, NRF adds money to the debit card. Currently about 600 salespeople are participating across 300 locations. Vendors kick in a certain amount per square foot if they want a particular product included in one month’s special, and NRF will promote that offering.

As one of the 10 largest flooring distributors in the U.S., NRF is projecting 6% growth in 2016 from a base of about $130 million in 2015. Of course, much of that growth is coming from LVT, where Tarkett is the bell cow with EarthWerks and Johnsonite also contributing. But wood has been a growth area, as well, by virtue of NRF’s approximate 15 suppliers led by Somerset. “They have a great diversity of product,” Gray said. “It’s a great looking line and the merchandising vehicles are good.” Other wood suppliers in the NRF stable include Hallmark, Lauzon and Harris Wood.

But talk to Gray and she will tell you the biggest key to NRF’s success is an 80-item private-label carpet line—NRF Select—from eight manufacturers that is stocked in every color. “This was put together seven years ago and represents the best of the best. Retailers can have their orders within a week.” In addition, NRF distributes carpet from Lexmark and Godfrey Hirst.

She also believes customer service is something that separates NRF from other distributors. That’s because owner Norman Pomerleau came from a retail environment. “Because of his retail background, he understands you have to get it there when you say you will get it there. That philosophy trickles down to the person who answers the phone.” An in-house computer system and 270,000 square feet of warehouse space helps elevate the service quotient. “Because we do our own programming, we can change or fix things immediately. We never used [industry standard systems like] Dancik or Gartman.”

With an arsenal of more than 50 brands, providing the proper service for each may seem difficult. NRF alleviates the issue by employing product managers in every division as well as salespeople. “So every account could have up to four people calling on them,” Gray said. “That also makes each salesman an expert in his field. The average salesman has been at NRF for 20 years.” Some brands have their own dedicated salespeople. “In the case of Hallmark, for example, we hired a product specialist. We have collections that are so successful we put one person on the line.”

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