Dalton— The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) will induct three industry leaders to its Hall of Fame. The inductees are the late Reginald (Reg) Burnett, president of RBI International Carpet Consultants; the late David Gheesling, founder, president and CEO of FEI Group; and Tom Jennings, professional trainer, speaker and retail consultant and former vice president of development of the WFCA.
Burnett and Jennings’ formal induction into the Hall of Fame will take place at the Spring WFCA board of directors meeting in San Diego, Calif. Gheesling will be honored in September during his celebration of life in Georgia.
“The WFCA Hall of Fame was brought to life for one reason: to give credit and recognition to the instrumental individuals that have helped shape this industry into what it is today,” said Scott Humphrey, president and CEO of WFCA. “Each of this year’s inductees led with passion, integrity and, most of all, a dedication to the betterment of the floor covering industry during their illustrious careers. They dreamed big, advocated tirelessly and have left indelible marks on this industry’s landscape. We are proud to welcome them into the WFCA Hall of Fame.”
Reg Burnett, who passed away in 2013, was a visionary leader, internationally known carpet expert and a consummate professional. Born and educated in England, Burnett moved to the U.S. in 1957. During the next 15 years, he studied synthetic fibers and worked in the American carpet and man-made fiber industry. He founded the RBI Carpet Consulting business in Dalton in 1967 and changed it to RBI International in 1969. Under Burnett’s leadership, the company grew to a staff of 22 permanent specialists working with more than 250 companies around the world. He remained managing president until his retirement in 2002.
With a career spanning over 50 years, Burnett earned the respect and friendship of other industry leaders, not only in Dalton, but throughout the world. He had an uncanny ability to predict major shifts in the industry. Decades before it happened, he predicted the industry’s consolidation from over 400 manufacturers to fewer than 50, three or four mega mills would dominate and vertical integration of many of the medium and large mills.
In addition to his professional achievements, Burnett donated much of his time to a multitude of industry and community endeavors. He was a member of the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) and Carpet Manufacturing Marketing Association (CMMA), was active in the Dalton Rotary Club, was a Paul Harris fellow, a Rotary Education fellow and a member of the First United Methodist Church.
The industry lost a true visionary when Gheesling passed away suddenly in Nov. 2020. His sharp mind, keen eye, passionate drive and kind spirit catapulted him to be an industry legend.
Gheesling began his career selling industrial equipment before becoming involved in the flooring industry. He worked at both Mohawk Industries and Abbey Carpet and Floor before co-founding FloorExpo Inc., today known as FEI Group—the nation’s largest network of flooring contractors, cabinetry and countertop dealers, decorative hardware and plumbing showrooms and roofing business owners. He remained president and CEO until his death.
In 1988, along with colleagues, Tim Joyce, Andy Hogan and Randy McNatt, Gheesling founded FloorExpo, Inc., to serve the residential contract market, a market that was untapped by the rising tide of buying groups in the 1990s. What started as a focus just on flooring quickly expanded and currently has five divisions: Home Solutions by FloorExpo, Multi-Family Solutions by FloorExpo, KBx, K&B Alliance and Exterior Contractor Alliance and services all 50 states across its five divisions.
A key component of the FEI success is the group’s emphasis on culture, led by Gheesling. He has been responsible for cultivating lasting relationships between contactors, builders and suppliers, and by nurturing and growing membership with an exclusive group of business owners. He instilled the company’s core values throughout the organization and guided with an attitude of gratitude and positivity. These values have propelled FEI Group to be the fast-growing, multifaceted company it is today.
In addition to his corporate duties, Gheesling also served on the board of the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF). He was philanthropic in many causes he strongly believed in. He had an abiding passion for meteorites, which led him to giving countless hours to educate children in the classroom about space. He was a member of the International Meteorite Collectors Association (IMCA), a board member/director at Tellus Museum, a founding member of Meteorite Association of Georgia and founder/board member of the Scott G. Mishkin Foundation.
Gheesling was a visionary—full of great optimism, creative strategy, business acumen, a gifted speaker and had an authentic connectedness that attributed to a natural leadership few people possess, yet he was known by all to be approachable, personable and down-to-earth. He took great pride in his roles as brother, uncle, CEO and friend, but perhaps more important than anything, he cherished his role as father.
Tom Jennings is a lifelong member of the flooring industry. He was born into his family’s retail business, Bud Jennings Carpet One, Inc., which he sold in 2006. He is a recognized retail expert, customer service guru, sales coach, mentor, columnist and speaker. He has spent more than a decade traveling the country, teaching store owners, managers and staff the nuts-and-bolt skills they need to run successful retail businesses.
With his goal of raising the professionalism of retailers and installers, Jennings made this his hallmark and branched out on his own as a professional trainer, speaker and consultant. As his reputation grew for his retail mastery, Jennings joined the WFCA in 2013 as vice president of professional development where he remained until 2019. Jennings currently works as a consultant to the industry and is well known through speaking engagements, published articles and his weekly video series, “Tom’s Tips,” hosted by the WFCA.
A champion of the floor covering industry, Jennings has made a lasting, positive imprint, most notably with his mantra, “They say that champions don’t do one thing 100% better than their competitors, rather they do a hundred things 1% better.” His customer-centric strategy is infused throughout every department of the business and focuses on getting the fundamentals right—from merchandising to store design, from sales practices and customer service to marketing and installation.
Jennings is a notoriously strong advocate for installation training for sales professionals, as well as installers, focusing on the value that professional installation brings to the customer. He co-founded the first local association of American Flooring Association (AFA) in Kansas City (HAFA) in 1980. Jennings was supportive and involved throughout the formative years of the International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) in Kansas City, which the WFCA now has brought under its umbrella. He is the recipient of CFI’s Chris Davis Award in 2014 for his dedication to promoting quality flooring installation.
In addition to his professional achievements, Jennings has lent his knowledge, talents and labors to many in the flooring industry throughout the decades. He has served on many industry boards and councils, such as the Retail Floorcovering Institute (RFI), a predecessor of the current World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), WFCA president, WFCA Services Inc. chairman, industry chairman for ANSI SLOO Standards Committee, Floor Covering Consumer Credit Association and multiple advisory boards.