By Reginald Tucker
Last month, Shaw Floors announced its biennial Shaw Flooring Network conference (SFN), originally scheduled to take place in Orlando in 2021, would instead take place virtually via of a series of online webinars and live educational presentations. According to the company, the decision to adopt this alternative format was made out of an abundance of caution to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
The virtual conference program, dubbed SFN Live, kicked off in earnest earlier this week as SFN management, guest speakers and aligned dealers convened to discuss plans and goals for the group, exchange best practices and share their views on the overall state of the flooring industry.
Danny Crutchfield, SFN vice president, launched the 90-minute program with an address to the scores of Shaw-aligned retailer members in attendance. “We are so excited to launch the ‘network’ for the network,” he told dealers. “It’s more than a virtual meeting—it’s more like a live broadcast. Our goal is to provide inspiration, to help each other learn and grow and come together to truly build community. That’s what it’s all about.”
Tough times often call for extreme measures. To that end, Shaw Floors sought to set the tone for the virtual event with a spirited motivational presentation from Jocko Willink, CEO of Echelon Front and a former Navy Seal, who drew on his combat and training experience to convey leadership lessons to retail store owners.
In his engaging presentation, Willink outlined specific steps dealers can employ right away to improve their businesses. Following are key tips based on his basic four laws of combat:
- Cover and move. “That means we are going to work together as a team,” he explained. “For example, if one person is shooting at the enemy, then the other person has to be moving toward the enemy. And once that person maneuvers to a better position and starts shooting, that allows the other team member to move to a better position.”
- Keep things simple. “Devise plans that are easy to understand and communicate those plans so everyone understands what is happening,” he said. “This way, everyone understands what you’re trying to do.”
- Prioritize and execute. “In business, on the battlefield or in life, there are going to be problems and challenges,” Willink noted. “If we try to handle all those problems at once, we won’t be able to fix any of those problems; we’ll be overwhelmed. The solution: Identify the biggest problem you’re facing and focus all your resources on that problem and work until you have that problem solved. Sometimes you have to take a step back and learn to detach yourself emotionally from the problem.”
- Decentralize command. “That means everybody leads,” he stressed. “The only way that can happen is if everybody on the team knows what the goal is. It’s important to understand the mission so you can adapt to what’s going on.”
Willink also discussed a concept called the “dichotomy of leadership,” which essentially means being pulled in two directions—something all managers and owners can relate to. “As leaders, we need to be aggressive in order to make things happen, but we have to be careful to avoid extremes,” he explained. “You have to find a balance somewhere in the middle.”
While floor covering retailers don’t necessarily deal with life and death experiences in their normal course of business, there are valuable takeaways from Willink’s presentation. In fact, Shaw said the former Navy Seal’s practices influenced the company’s decision-making process when it restructured its sales team last year.
“Today, a lot of our members probably feel the same pressures and anxieties, and they have to make some big decisions that will impact their businesses, communities, employees and families,” Crutchfield said. “In times of uncertainty, rapid change and new challenges, it all starts with leadership. Jocko is a great friend of Shaw; we use a lot of his concepts and principles to train our sales teams who now call on many of our members.”
Sharing best practices
Another highlight of the premiere SFN Live virtual conference was the segment that featured Shaw-aligned dealers who took the time to share some of the techniques and practices that have helped them achieve success in these challenging times.
Case in point is Fantastic Floors, based in Jacksonville, Fla. Owners Rusty and Leanna Williams talked about the leap of faith they took in opening a new location, completely remodeling their showroom and utilizing technology to its fullest potential. But they didn’t do it alone; they leaned on executive leadership at Shaw as well as other members.
“At SFN, the power is in the network,” said Rusty Williams. “All the contacts you make and the people you meet give you great ideas. We picked the brains of others in SFN and fellow owners to help us bring about our vision. The network is there for us to lean on when we need it. Shaw is a great partner.”
Leanna agreed. “Through the years, I feel like SFN has not only taught us so much about flooring but also about leadership and being business owners. I got a lot of ideas from attending the SFN conference in 2018. I took notes on everything I looked at. There were so many things that got my creativity flowing, such as the great room scenes they showed there. I emulated that in our showroom.”
Fantastic Floors generated such buzz with the grand opening of its new showroom that it drew interest from a local TV station that plans to feature the company in an upcoming segment later this month.
The Williams’ are not alone in their appreciation for the networking, tools and assistance SFN has provided. “Everyone—from the SFN group, my territory manager all the way up to Danny Crutchfield and Tim Baucom (Shaw Industries president)— treat us like family,” said Brian Peed, who co-owns The Floor Boys in Lexington, S.C., with his wife, Megan. “Looking at all the support we get, none of our other suppliers are doing that.”
With Shaw’s help, The Floor Boys was able to better leverage technology via the use of the manufacturer’s signature Floorvana program. In fact, in its local TV ads, it features a QR code that potential customers can scan with their smart phones to view room scenes showcasing various products.
At the same time, the retailer leverages social media by promoting different events on its electronic “billboard.” The retailer keeps online shoppers engaged by promoting special occasions and events such as Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and Valentine’s Day, or by honoring recent graduates by inviting them to share their graduation pictures on The Floor Boys’ Facebook page. “Although customers might not need flooring right away, they are more likely to remember us when they are ready to buy,” Megan stated.
The Floor Boys is also looking to drum up business by going after jobs that couldn’t open during the pandemic, i.e., restaurants, churches, etc. In addition, it is aggressively developing a mobile showroom division that started with one van last year with the goal of having 10 by 2021.
Another key segment of SFN Live was the retailer roundtable discussion. Here, select members talked about the value SFN provides as well as the challenges they’re facing in today’s changing retail environment.
“I want to see the network grow and take advantage of all the SFN has to offer,” said Jason Jabara, CEO of Jabara’s Carpet Outlet, Wichita, Kan. “Nobody else has the business development fund, SFN 365, SFN Live. The more we can get the word out and talk to dealers and encourage engagement, it’s going to benefit everybody.”
With respect to SFN Live programming, Jabara looked for takeaways from Willink’s presentation as well as the best practices segment. “One of my biggest problems is finding balance,” he admitted. “But I love hearing success stories from other businesses. I took some notes from the segment featuring The Floor Boys and Fantastic Floors, and I intend on putting them to use.”
Brent Ziegler, owner of H&R Carpets & Flooring, Waunakee, Wis., is in agreement. “I tend to take on all problems at once, but I’m working on that,” he said.
That’s where SFN membership can help, he noted. “As a retailer, if you have a question, you have a resource in the network. Find an SFN dealer, even if it’s not someone in your territory, to give you some ideas. I guarantee they will answer your question.”
For other dealers like Becky O’Brien, owner of Cherry City Interiors, Salem, Ore., innovation is the driver. “I’m all about implementing technology to improve my business,” she said. “And if you ever needed a push, then 2020 is it. It’s about utilizing the support that Shaw provides. When COVID-19 hit, there was a panic moment—no one knew what was happening, and all your plans and projections went out the window. I turned to other dealers to get feedback and hear the strategic messages they’re telling consumers.”
Crutchfield also provided his own message to dealers as he continues to pursue the goal of generating $1 billion in member sales. “We have a great opportunity to build that community deeper and more broadly because there’s more opportunity for people in our audience to participate and be a part of the network,” he said. “We all feel like we’re wired to be a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves.”
A message from Baucom
SFN Live wrapped up with a recorded message from Shaw Industries president, Tim Baucom, who reappeared live at the end of the program to take questions from retail attendees.
Following are excerpts of his message:
Baucom talked candidly about the challenges COVID-19 has presented over these last five months and what the company is doing in response. He talked about disruptions in the supply chain, particularly at three of five fiber plants where employee absenteeism has been problematic. In fact, he noted that more than 500 employees have missed time due to the virus.
“Our corporate operations have been hit especially hard in outlying communities where our fiber extrusion facilities are located,” he said. “Lower fiber extrusion has impacted all processes that follow.” In addition, hardwood production in Shaw’s prison facilities has slowed due to challenges with social distancing.
Despite all this, Baucom said he remains optimistic for the future. “We do see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Our LVT supply chain is flowing and inventory levels are growing. We are expanding our domestic production in north Georgia. We are investing to de-risk our supply chains and improve our customer experiences. Manufacturing and distribution teams are working courageously to increase production every week. We are aggressively hiring and training new associates.”
This is all against the backdrop of an economy that supports increasing flooring purchases. “The underlying fundamentals for the residential business are encouraging, and it should remain that way for the foreseeable future,” Baucom said. “Consumers are intensely focused on their homes, and interest rates are driving a surge of new construction, relocation and renovation.”