By Megan Salzano—Phoenix—Abbey Carpet & Floor’s 61st annual convention, held here Feb. 23-25, gave members the chance to discuss hot topics such as new products and the ever-evolving digital age, but it also brought something new to the table that attendees said helped reenergize the room—a convergence of both its Abbey and Floors To Go members.
Furthering its focus on “Partners in Excellence,” the organization sought to drive increased communication between its full member collective by joining the two groups. Up until this point, the organization’s two groups attended an extended version of the event, but separately. Abbey members would meet with suppliers—and each other—for the first three days, while Floors To Go members would arrive on the last three days.
“It certainly makes sense for both organizations,” Bill Wilson, vice president, marketing and advertising, Abbey Carpet & Floor, told FCNews. “We have such a strong bond and strong partnership with both groups. Our services are equal to them. They’ve always enjoyed networking with fellow members, and they are all successful retailers. Now they get to take advantage of having those numbers. They all have success stories, and sharing those stories is something that strengthens our group.”
Retailers at the show said the added retailer-to-retailer connections were a major plus this time around. “We like it a lot,” said Sam O’Krent, principal, O’Krent’s Abbey Flooring Center, San Antonio. “It makes sense to have more retailers to talk to. There’s no difference between Abbey and Floors To Go. We’re all in the retail business; we all have the same issues. The more people you can talk to the better. There’s no downside to it, in our opinion.”
Members also noted an increased level of energy at the show, which helped uplift the mood and attendance overall. “I like the merger,” said Robert Rogers, owner, Carpet Trends, Rye, N.Y. “I was always on the tail end of the show, being a Floors To Go member. I was here after everybody else had a lot of fun. Everybody was tired, and they all wanted to go home. Now that it’s merged together, I think it makes a lot more sense. I think it’s still intimate, but it used to be very quiet and low energy.”
Vendors also took note of the change and voiced positive experiences with the merger. Some noted the increased energy levels and added buying power, while others touted the benefits of a shorter show—less time away from the office and obvious reinvestments into the event itself.
Piet Dossche, CEO, USFloors, said, “I think it’s really the best thing they’ve ever done because it really shows the strength of the entire group rather than splitting it up. Each group was excited to meet the other. I think there’s been good comradery and good activity. Not only is it good for Abbey and Floors To Go, but it’s good for the vendor community. You have two to three days where activity is meaningful, whereas, in the past, we stretched it over a week.”
Scott Sandlin, vice president, business development, hard surface, Shaw Industries, noted the shows increased energy. “I think when you have more people buying there’s a buzz, and when there’s a buzz people keep buying and selling improves. People feed off energy, so I love it. To me, more upbeat, more efficient and having more energy is always better.”
Keith Anderson, senior vice president of sales, Congoleum, said the increased energy was definitely welcome, but he also noted the benefits of a shorter show. “In the past, the show itself was one full week. Add two days on each end for setup and tear down. Now, we’re able to bring four guys to this show whereas we would bring six to split it up and get our people back in the field. I’m glad they took all of that into consideration.”
A new portal to success
Not only did Abbey Carpet & Floor merge its two groups in an effort to grow retailer interactions, but it also provided tools to help in that endeavor. Ted Dlugokienski, CFO, Abbey Carpet & Floor, said since it might be difficult to pick everyone’s brain over a three-day period, the organization set up a new electronic portal to capture ideas during the show—these ideas would be disseminated to all members after the convention.
“Think of this portal as your one best idea—a suggestion box of sorts,” he explained. “A place where you can highlight your successes and share the necessary steps as well as any hurdles that you might have overcome in order to have that success. Maybe a staffing or commission structure, inventory or pricing strategy, capturing market share—the list is virtually endless and we welcome them all. Don’t be shy, be proud. And by all means, if more than one thought or idea comes to mind, have at it and let us all share in your success.”
The portals were accessible on the convention floor at the computer kiosks and marketing services area. The portal was also accessible through the convention app, further demonstrating the organization’s digital mindset.
Speaking of digital
The conversation surrounding digital marketing and advertising and its importance to a retailer’s business has been happening for years now, but at this year’s show the conversation clearly evolved from “why” to “how” as more retailers took to the Internet to grow their businesses. In order to help retailers answer the question of “how,” the organization put a heavy focus on its digital initiatives and laid out several programs available to its members.
“Digital marketing technology continues to be one of the most strategic investments a company can make,” Wilson said. “The way consumers research and formulate opinions and make decisions on where to shop has changed dramatically over a very short period of time. This shift has brought about the need for businesses to not only have a digital presence, but also to be in front of the consumer at the moment she begins her research to the moment she is ready to find a source location. This is where digital marketing is born and continues to evolve pretty much at break-neck speeds.”
Retailers at the convention agreed that digital has become increasingly more important to the success of their businesses. “I think any company or organization that doesn’t think about that as part of their business is going to be out of it,” said Heather Dorman of Flagship Floors, League City, Texas. “That’s what the world is moving toward. There are multiple touch points now. If you can’t offer those and you’re not up to speed, you’re going to lose business. You have to make that a big part of your business.”
A few of the major programs the organization touted were social media engagement, digital display advertising and remarketing. The organization also noted its pay per click program, now in its fifth year, as its most successful program to date. “These are ever-evolving programs,” Wilson noted. “They’ve all been developed with one common thread as it relates to the consumer shopping experience: your website. These are designed to get the consumer onto your website as soon as possible and deliver content to them.”
Heather Schandl, owner/ designer, Floor Express Abbey Carpet, Tumwater, Wash., told FCNews that the store utilizes many of the organization’s digital programs, and was there to learn more. “We make an investment every month on digital, and I love it. A lot of people who call my shop will refer to something they’ve seen on the website. They’ve already done their research and then they come and search it out with us. That’s something they’re helping us manage.”
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the organization rolled out website analytical reporting—information collected to supply a benchmark to explore possibilities in digital marketing. Wilson noted that the information obtained by such analytics could even help reshape current strategies.
Moving forward, Wilson said the organization is currently working on new website technology that it hopes to launch in the near future. “You can’t let that sit, you have to continually invest in website technology to deliver that consumer experience, and we’re working fast and furious to develop and implement some new technology,” he explained.
The convention’s goal is also to align retailers with both established and new vendor partners in an effort to grow the businesses of both. This year, the convention welcomed four new vendors and a host of new products from returning vendors.
To help members navigate the myriad new products, Hardy noted an updated Brand Showcase that helped retailers navigate new private label programs.
In addition to private-label programs, a variety of new products were introduced to members. USFloors, for example, launched 24 exclusive COREtec offerings, including 12 COREtec ProPlus, an SPC product, and 12 COREtec Plus Enhanced, a WPC product. “The products are 100% exclusive to Abbey and Floors To Go,” Dossche told FCNews. “We wanted to do that with COREtec because it gives retailers an opportunity. When a consumer comes in and asks for COREtec, or a waterproof product, RSAs can take that consumer to the display knowing for sure that she’s not going to shop somewhere else because it’s not available anywhere else. For retailers, it’s an opportunity for them to keep their margins up and keep the profitability at a higher level.”
Joseph LaMaestra, sales manager, A&J Flooring Outlet, Turnersville, N.J., said USFloors is a go-to source. “COREtec—that’s a home run. We love it. We have all the displays. In fact, we bought five pallets of COREtec yesterday.”
New vendors to the show included Peerless Carpets, Anderson Tuftex, HRI Rugs and SLCC Flooring. Retailers noted several collections of interest from each new vendor. However, the constant flurry of dealers at the SLCC booth was hard to miss. By the end of the convention, the manufacturer was a force to be reckoned with. “This has probably been one of the best shows I’ve ever had,” said Chris Dillion, vice president, marketing and sales, SLCC Flooring. “There hasn’t been a time where there’s been nobody at the booth. I’m really pleased, and you can really feel a good vibe here.”
Sean Beville, vice president, Kent Island Abbey Floor Covering, Stevensville, Md., said the store was particularly impressed with the company’s WPC product. “Their prices are landed and the looks they have are what people are looking for in our area. Where we are specifically in Maryland, a lot of people live near the water, too; it’s a wet area. The engineered products need to resist the water. That’s what we need and that’s what people are asking for, and they have it. We picked up all of their stuff.”
At the finish line, both vendors and retailers touted the show’s success. Wilson added, “I’m in my 20th year with the company and I get reenergized when I see their energy coming in here, and I saw that yesterday and today. I’ve heard business is very good, and that’s exciting to hear. What we hope they take away from this is that we are their partner, and everything we’ve put together and organized and orchestrated and negotiated is on their behalf to better their businesses.”