April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23
By Steven Feldman
Cancun, Mexico—As the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) embarked on its spring meeting here last month, Dave Snedeker, president of the group and division merchandise manager, Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), set forth one mission: get a feel from each member as to how the NFA board can add value to the membership. At the end of the day, the answer was, in a word, diversification.
As successful as NFA members may be—after all, they comprise some of the biggest and best independent flooring retailers in the country—many have not ventured beyond their core business into products like window treatments, countertops and cabinets. “Some members are looking at [diversification],” Snedeker said. “Some are just starting in it. Some aren’t doing it at all. So we’re just trying to make the connections easier so they can decide if that’s the route they want to take.”
NFA will facilitate this by bringing these types of companies to their meetings and opening up the communication lines. “I can’t think of a better way given the format of our meetings than to bring in somebody like a countertop, cabinet or window coverings supplier,” said Deb DeGraaf, co-owner, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich. “We’re amongst a group of people we trust and value their input.”
DeGraaf sells window treatments and countertops. “We’ve grown our window treatment business quite a bit, but I would like to do more with it.”
Macco’s Floor Covering Center in Green Bay, Wis., sells neither cabinets, countertops nor window treatments, so there is plenty of opportunity to grow in these non-flooring categories. “There are a lot of sand boxes we’re not playing in right now that we need to explore,” said Jim Walters, president.
Likewise, diversification into non-flooring products is uncharted waters for Flooring 101 in Ventura County, Calif. “Like many in the group, we’re definitely looking at those avenues where we don’t participate now,” said Ian Newton, president. “The beauty of the group is sharing ideas. There are a lot of people out there making those first mistakes along the road that we can learn from. They can tell us what worked, what didn’t work and how to get there. It’s really an educational process for us all. With more hard surfaces being sold, we’re getting less frequency of that return customer. So we have to diversify the products we offer.”
Ambassador Floor Co. in St. Louis is another NFA member that currently sells only flooring. “In the past we’ve done other things; the recession knocked some of them down,” said Kelly Taylor, president. “But it’s time to take another look at it. As you talk to the rest of the group, I was surprised at the success some are having with window treatments.”
Nebraska Furniture Mart is, of course, involved in all categories as the retailer sells everything from furnishings to electronics. “We’re just on the cutting edge of the cabinet business, but we’ve done countertops for several years now,” Snedeker explained. “It’s a very big category for us.”
Paint is one relatively new category that might be of interest to NFA members. “We’ve talked about paint in the past,” Snedeker noted. “We have one member who’s very good at it. That’s the winning part of this group; if somebody is already doing it and doing it well, you can visit his store and see whether or not you can do it.”
Metroflor joins vendor ranks
With the demise of companies like Beaulieu and Royalty, the meeting marked the debut of Metroflor as a core vendor. “Metroflor does a decent business with a lot of our members,” Snedeker said. “They have a pretty solid line. They do good business in multifamily, and that’s where a lot of the business is going right now.”
Metroflor also has the ability to service everyone in the group. “That’s one thing we have to look at; people have to be able to cross the border into Canada and also be able to service the [entire] U.S. market,” Snedeker explained.
Metroflor had previously been a specialty vendor for a number of years, exhibiting at the afternoon showcase on Surfaces eve. “It’s almost like a vetting process,” DeGraaf said. “How did they perform and rate as a specialty vendor? If many of us believe a company is disorganized, they are not going to move up to the next level.”
Speaking of the Specialty Vendor Showcase, Cali Bamboo and Xintory were two companies that scored well with members. Cali Bamboo manufactures green building materials made primarily of bamboo and offered something unique to the group. Company president Doug Jackson has a good relationship with the group from his Tuftex days, Newton said.
Xintory is billed as the flooring industry’s first online marketplace to buy and sell drops, seconds and overstocked inventory. “I can see the concept being very valuable whether you want to get rid of something or find something,” DeGraaf said.
The one challenge NFA members continue to face is the same for all flooring retailers across the board: installation. The one variable is how NFA members attack the issue.
Nebraska Furniture Mart, for example, collaborated with the local community college for a training course. “We just graduated our first class; there were six who took the class and four of them are going to start with us,” Snedeker said. The class is taught by Nebraska Furniture Mart’s installation manager along with some installation experts employed by the retailer.
Flooring 101 is finding installation to be more of a challenge on the soft surface side, especially with the more intricate patterns. “We have a lot of good crews for hard surface,” Newton said. “You have to pay a lot more money. The challenge on the soft surface side is the jobs are smaller. You’re looking at 50-, 70-, 80-yard jobs now because carpet has gone to the bedrooms and the rest of the house is hard surface. A crew can’t make a living on 70 yards, so they end up doing two jobs in a day. The challenge now is servicing the customer between scheduling. So, we see a lot of challenges both on getting it installed correctly and making enough money for them.”