October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10
By Lindsay Baillie
San Antonio—When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That age-old adage best describes the main gist of FEI Group’s annual conference held here earlier this month. “Texas Tough,” the overarching theme of the conference, reflected the group’s positive growth despite challenges across the industry.
Business is indeed looking up for FEI Group, billed as the nation’s largest network of interior finish contractors and showrooms. Brands include Home Solutions by Floor Expo, Multi-Family Solutions by Floor Expo, KB—America’s Cabinet Experts and K&BA (Kitchen and Bath Alliance).
“Our members are doing well,” said Jay Smith, president, FEI Group, adding that members are outpacing the industry by approximately five points. “Builder is still seeing slow and steady, controlled growth. We expect to end the year approximately 10% up in starts.”
That positive outlook is based on the strength of key end-use markets such as multi-family. “The new construction segment is very strong right now,” said Graham Howerton, vice president, FEI Group. “The turn work is just as strong and robust as it was coming through this past summer. We had something along the lines of 311,000 starts in 2016. We’ll be around 340,000 starts this year.”
Improving economic indicators is not the only factor contributing to the group’s success. The sharing of best practices among members, along with the various networking activities available to members throughout the year, is also having a positive impact on member businesses.
Case in point is 17-year FEI Group member, Andy Mazur, owner, Carpets Plus of Connecticut, East Hartford. “FEI Group provides us the opportunity to talk with other people in the industry who don’t overlap with our territory. It also gives us the time to network with each other. Over time you get to know most of the people and there is a comfort level that opens up a rapport that is even better than just being a part of the organization.”
For other members, the learning opportunities available at national events is the draw. “I like the breakout sessions because they are very educational,” Matt Ketterman, owner, Got You Floored, Greensboro, N.C., said. “I picked two [sessions] I’m familiar with and one that I know nothing about to learn something new. I think there is always something to learn from our peers.”
Strength in numbers
FEI Group, a division of CCA Global Partners, supports a wide network of companies across a footprint that covers more than 200 markets. To that end, members benefit from collective negotiating strength, enabling them to buy “right” and serve their customers better.
That’s part of the allure for members such as David Whitaker, vice president, Johnson’s Commercial Flooring, Louisville, Ky. For him, the group’s buying power was the hook but the other members and networking opportunities were the line and sinker. “When we initially joined it was all about the buying power they provide with the manufacturers,” Whitaker explained. “But the reason we’ve stuck around is all the knowledge from all the other members—the ability to share that knowledge with everyone on a day-to-day basis.”
Other members also attest to the benefits that come with scale. Curly Kuldell, president of St. Louis-based Henges Interiors Services, an FEI member since 2002, described the relationships between members as similar to having a consultant group—just without the premium fee. “It’s not just about rebates,” he said. “It really is the strength of everyone in here and how we make it work together.”