October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9
By Steven Feldman
It’s a pretty rare occurrence these days when a big story breaks in the flooring industry. It’s not like 20 years ago when every five minutes Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu and/or Armstrong were making significant acquisitions.
So with that, consider this issue of FCNews somewhat of a throwback. In most weeks, the presentation of our Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award would be in the lead spot. But in this case, Pierre Thabet, CEO of Boa Franc, a most deserving winner, had to step aside. In just about any other issue, the fact that Empire suddenly shuttered every one of its brick and mortar stores would merit top billing. But those two stories were usurped by Engineered Floors’ intent to purchase Beaulieu America and all its assets.
A little perspective on all three. First, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Thabet joins an illustrious group that includes Sandy Mishkin of CCA Global; Don Miller of Roppe; Ralph Boe, Jeff Lorberbaum and Don Finkell. Thabet has built a company with quality as its hallmark, not to mention high style and design. The Mirage brand is synonymous with quality, and a tour of the Boa Franc facility illustrates why. Thabet has also probably done as much for the city of St. Georges, Quebec, as anyone. He checks all the boxes when it comes to this award.
Now Empire. If you’re a flooring retailer, give yourself a pat on the back, have a drink. While Empire closed only two locations on Long Island, one in Virginia and a couple of store-within-a-store prototypes in JC Penney, it proved a salient point—just because a mammoth company tries to encroach upon your turf, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful. Empire learned what all of you did from day one—it ain’t easy. It validates what you do day in and day out. I am not privy to any of the discussions that were held in the boardroom, but it stands to reason that a lack of success fueled the decision to lock the doors. Word on the street is the stores just did not meet expectations. Bottom line: No one knows the retail business as well as you. And having that local presence still means a lot.
Now Beaulieu. Where do I begin? There’s not enough space here for every one of my thoughts, and I may devote a column to this down the road. In short: It’s a bit ironic that Engineered Floors is the intended buyer given the birth of that company greatly contributed to the downward spiral as another serious competitor in a mature industry.
Next, Carl Bouckaert, a true gentleman, a favorite of retailers, a man who built the company into the only privately held billion-dollar mill. Once he reached the peak of the mountain, he had to deal with negative forces: a faltering economy as well as challenges that result from co-owning a family business when the family itself is going through its own trials and tribulations. No need to elaborate.
This was not the first time the company had its back against the wall. The most recent time was in the early 2000s, and Bouckaert hired the aforementioned Ralph Boe, who turned the company around, in part by rationalizing SKUs and hiring strong sales and marketing leaders. But “family dynamics” led to Boe’s departure and the appointment of Karl Vercruyssen, Boe’s polar opposite. It wasn’t long before Vercruyssen was also an ex-CEO. And by then the debt had grown to a point where people were outwardly questioning the company’s life span.
What happens next? Only time will tell. Beaulieu has good products. The commercial division was once well into the nine figures. Now a man named Mr. Shaw gets to fix things. Rumor has it the Coronet name will be resurrected. Who knows?
Just another issue of FCNews.