CCA: Members embrace integration, new initiatives

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By Ken Ryan Aurora, Colo.—It was 18 months in the making, but the first in-person gathering of CCA Global flooring retailers was well worth the wait.

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Carpet One president, John Gilbert (left), with Flooring America/Canada president, Keith Spano, agreed that the integration of the groups was an important step for the co-op.

To say the three-day CCA convention here at the Gaylord Rockies was a welcomed respite from the day-to-day grind of retailing would be a gross understatement. Business is booming for the group, and the mood here reflected that. In fact, Rick Bennet, CCA’s co-CEO, called the current conditions “the best business” in 20-25 years for the co-op.

Things didn’t look so promising in March 2020, Bennet noted. At that time, as the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the co-op was contemplating a 50% drop in business and 15% attrition rate. Fast forward to July 2021 and not one store among the 1,000+ closed, and aggregate sales are solidly up double digits.

“We are not Amazon, but we are not Princess Cruises either,” Bennet said, predicting that the business surge for flooring dealers would last at least through the calendar year, perhaps longer.

Members basked in the good times that was shared in the Rockies. “I have never been to any convention that resonated with such positive energy,” said Kevin Frazier, president of Frazier’s Carpet One Floor & Home in Knoxville, Tenn. “All three days absolutely hummed with enthusiasm, optimism and hope.”

Rob Elder, co-owner of Hiller’s Flooring America, Rochester, Minn., echoed that sentiment. “Speaking for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. There was lots of excitement, tons of action and innovation.”

Conference togetherness

Rather than splitting the convention into two parts—Flooring America/Canada, Floor Trader and IDG, followed by Carpet One Floor & Home—CCA presented its first truly integrated convention in at least 15 years (not counting last year’s virtual conference).

The integration is likely the template for future shows, and especially programs for members. Keith Spano, president of Flooring America/Canada, Floor Trader and IDG, said that historically CCA “worked in silo divisions. In this uber-competitive world, we need to work collaboratively. Our members deserve the best of both sides of the house.”

John Gilbert, president of Carpet One Floor & Home, said the purpose of the co-op is to create scale, which is exactly what this integration can do for the respective retail members who are not just competing with other independents, but with major chains like Floor & Décor.

Members seemed to embrace the synergy. “There is so much power behind the integration of Flooring America and Carpet One, not just in terms of convention but in terms of coordinated leadership on a daily basis,” said Casey Dillabaugh, president of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America, Boise, Idaho. “I believe Flooring America sees the benefits that size and scale can bring from Carpet One, and I believe Carpet One sees the benefits of innovation and growth that Flooring America brings. In most aspects, this is a win/win proposition.”

Bobby Merideth, president of Flooring America OKC in Oklahoma City, added that the integration between the various brands was well done. “Associating with fellow Carpet One members as a friend rather than a foe while simultaneously being able to retain our own individual brand identities was key to pulling it off.”

Programs, initiatives

During the conference, CCA executives touted the forthcoming Retail 2.0 initiative, which officials view as one of the most significant in CCA history as it entails new merchandising, digital tools and other ways to enhance the in-store experience.

Select members from Flooring America and Carpet One are testing Retail 2.0 in their stores. A more robust rollout is planned for the January convention, with perhaps 150 members taking it on. How fast it gets fully implemented is largely dependent on member buy-in. Spano told FCNews that the feedback at convention was “overwhelmingly positive,” adding, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t step on the gas a little bit on this [roll out]. One member came up to me and said, ‘Why are you slowing down on this? We need it now.’”

The Vertical Connection Carpet One Floor & Home, Columbia, Md., is one of the beta testers. “Retail 2.0 is an important initiative,” said Adam Joss, president. “We all recognize that the world has changed, and consumers have changed—we have to change, too. I believe the best retailers are always refining their approach to connect with consumers. I’m glad to see CCA taking the lead here.”

Other members also said they are excited about Retail 2.0’s potential. “Without question, Retail 2.0 is the most comprehensive program yet,” Flooring America’s Merideth said. “It will enable the flooring industry to put its fashion foot forward rather than simply being a utilitarian component of the building industry.”

CCA retailers were similarly impressed with availability of digital price tags, which, they said, will help them re-price inventory in a fraction of the time compared to the old way. And, in an environment of periodic price hikes, the program is coming at just the right time.

Vendors enthused

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Karndean’s John Callahan (second from left) and Bill Anderson (far right), welcome Jan Tudor (far left) of Tudor Floors & More Carpet One Floor & Home and Michael Potempa and Paul Wisnoski, both of Carpet Interiors Carpet One Floor & Home.

Combining the retail groups at convention was enthusiastically greeted by suppliers who said the single trade show for Flooring America/Carpet One members was a seamless and more efficient way to conduct business. Kelly Oberschlake, senior director of national accounts for Mohawk Industries, called the integration “fantastic,” adding: “the energy level is high and the turnout has been great. Just the simplification of not having to switch out the displays from Flooring America to Carpet One is so efficient.”

The integration generated significant foot traffic at the booths, and vendors were often swamped with retailer inquiries. “I didn’t know what to expect, but people came to buy,” said Don Karlin, director of broadloom sales for Nourison. “Turnout has been great. I have a pocket full of orders; great for ROI.”

Other takeaways

  • Two years ago, CCA had deemphasized the laminate category to where it was barely relevant. Today, laminate sales among group members have doubled. “The laminate category never died off, it just shifted from independent dealers to home centers,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate for Mannington. “Now, it has shifted back again to the independents. I just wish we could keep up with demand.”
  • LVT now represents the largest category at CCA, surpassing residential carpet for the first time.
  • Still the resurgence in carpet is real, Bennet said. “We are holding onto that business while our competitors are moving to hard surface. Carpet is our sweet spot.”
  • CCA is looking to reduce the number of private label brands it offers members. Its research found that consumers are not enamored of private label names as much as they are product aesthetics. Gilbert cited the Kirkland brand at Costco as an example of a one-brand approach that resonates with customers. The Kirkland brand carries everything from food to clothes and is practically synonymous with the warehouse store.
  • As to whether the integration of programs will create competition between Flooring America and Carpet One members who have locations in the same market, Gilbert said he wasn’t worried. “We polled our members and while the competitive overlap exists it is not enough to overcome [the benefits of the integration]. CCA is all about scale, and what the integration does is gives us scale.”

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