By Ken Ryan Sarasota, Fla.— FCA Network conferences are not your ordinary buying group meetings. Instead, these are intimate gatherings more resembling a family outing than business conference. Here at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, members brought their families and participated in activities, from networking to beach parties.
“Each and every member couldn’t say enough about how the event went, and I couldn’t have expected more from the vendors,” Olga Robertson, FCA Network president, told FCNews. “At these conventions everyone knows each other. It doesn’t have a corporate feel to it.”
The event, themed “Reset, Refocus, Renew,” resonated with retail members and vendors who took advantage of the in-person meeting to connect and catch up. This year’s meeting was more special following two COVID-19-forced postponements. Several retailers said the best part of the conference was simply being able to spend quality time with fellow retailers while sharing stories and information.
Twenty-year member, Carlton Billingsley, co-owner of Floors and More, Benton, Ark., said he appreciated the intimacy of the group. “We share as much information with each other that a large group would. What’s neat about FCA is that we’re selling to the consumer, who is a woman, and our group is run by women, which gives us a leg up on the competition. We have a great staff that takes care of us. If we do have an issue, which is rare, it is taken care of right away.”
FCA Network enjoyed a successful 2020 that saw members grow about 10% despite the pause in March and April when showrooms closed and shipments stopped. The 10% gain followed a successful 2019, and the momentum has continued in 2021 despite challenges with raw material prices increases, freight costs and product availability.
Keynote address talks business
Each FCA Network convention starts with a keynote address from a major flooring executive. This year, James Lesslie, president of the commercial division of Engineered Floors, spoke about the meteoric rise of EF in its 10+ years; he also gave his thoughts on where the flooring industry stands today.
A few takeaways:
- The pace of LVT/P growth will slow somewhat this year;
- Solution-dyed PET is changing the game while polypropylene will exit the industry in 2022;
- The PET bus is coming. “You have two choices—get on the bus or get run over by it.”
- Ocean freight looks to be a longer-term issue. “Our freight rates have more than tripled,” he said;
- Residential spending is still expected to be strong but residential comps compared with 2020 will be more difficult to achieve in the second half of 2021;
- In commercial, the effect of hybrid work options on office space will evolve; most big companies are looking at hybrids in which some people work from home while others are in the office.
- Major metro areas are still not feeling the recovery. “Commercial is very constrained in the big markets,” he said;
- Raw material shortages are massive and have caused service issues at a much higher level than the residential business.
New members speak out
FCA Network is never about the quantity of members or adding retailers just for the sake of adding. Prospective members must fit the close-knit culture that was forged more than two decades ago when the group was founded. As such, prospects are carefully chosen. At this year’s event, five new members were introduced.
Newcomers Trent and Megan Pingel of Pingel’s Home Center in Pella, Iowa, said they faced a quandary as reps in their market who wouldn’t return their phone calls, much less agree to take them on. Finally, a Shaw rep told them to contact FCA. “Olga gave us a shot when no one else would,” Megan Pingel said. “We would not be where we are without Olga and FCA, which is great because our business is really busy these days.”
Trent Pingel added, “This is our first convention, and these three or four hours have been informative; it’s nice that companies answer our questions and don’t blow us off.”
Sara Lee is another new retailer to the group. She and her husband, Aaron, operate a start-up, Pocatello Flooring, in Pocatello, Idaho. “Pairing with Olga and her team gave us leverage where we had none,” she said. “How do you get a credit reference when we didn’t have any? For us, this opportunity has been huge. We opened our doors in October 2020, during COVID-19, which was weird. Our first year, a lot of people didn’t know we were open; but with the help of FCA, they have provided so much guidance—displays, floor plans—literally so many things to help us.”
The Pingels and Lees represent the type of people Robertson said she loves to help—ambitious people just looking for an opportunity. “I’m looking for younger entrepreneurs,” she said. “I know I can help them grow their business and be more profitable. That’s what keeps me going—making a difference in a dealer’s life. If I can help them live the American dream, because everyone is entitled to their share, that’s what I want to do. Some of the new members couldn’t get open lines of credit to start their business. For me, getting open lines of credit is the easy part. You then must be committed to the programs and embrace what we do. My job is to make my dealers competitive in their respective marketplaces, which sounds simple but is not easy to do. The [new retailers] need to be competitive with the LVPs, with their solution-dyed polys. We focus on the larger players, the larger vendors. It is a business of relationships and we have been able to maintain good, strong relationships with our vendors.”
Vendors take advantage of deals
While summer isn’t the typical season for buying, several vendors said they were happy with the results. Happy Feet, for example, got orders from people they weren’t doing business with. Phenix Flooring’s Signature Home with Microban was a great story at convention. “This is a really good group for us,” said Jason Hair, vice president of sales for Phenix. “We launched a new program with them, Signature Home with Microban—1/2 nylon, 1/2 polyester—all with Microban.”
Robertson said the network’s business with Phenix “is about the explode.” Engineered Floor’s Signature Home with Pet Safe was another new program that excited dealers at the convention. Bellwether members Mohawk, Shaw and Mannington were similarly busy at their booths during the two days of retailer meetings, which took place in 25-minute intervals.
For Sara Livensparger, manager of West Bay Floor Source in Cleveland, this was her first convention. “It’s a whole new world for me, but it is fun,” she said. “We were still in the midst of COVID-19 when I joined last July. I want to learn about the new products and just network with people here. It’s worked out great.”