Charlotte, N.C.—For the first time in two years, Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go held their annual convention in person, hosted jointly here earlier this month. Members and show management alike expressed relief that the 64th annual event was held face to face rather than virtually like the 2021 event.
Phil Gutierrez, CEO, put it succinctly: “It’s been two years since I last saw most of you, and two years is a long time. Hopefully this won’t happen again and we’ll be able to get together every year from now on.”
While the last two years held obvious challenges, Gutierrez noted the remarkable growth Abbey members experienced over the last year—those who embraced the group’s programs saw a staggering 31.4% increase versus 21% for those who did not.
Long-time members in attendance at the show attested to the impact the group has had on their businesses of late. Joe Sarubbi, Associated Abbey Carpet and Floor, Wappingers Falls, N.Y., who has been an Abbey member for 32 years, saw business expand by 35% in 2021 vs. 2020. “Abbey contributed hugely to that growth,” he told FCNews. “The digital marketing was a huge asset. We kept putting more money into our it, and the more we put in, the more response we’d get. I always said: ‘There’s a gold mine in Naples, Fla.—Abbey headquarters.’”
For Abbey, the in-person convention was a welcome venue to engage with members and continue to build on the momentum currently being felt within the industry. “I think everybody here is very optimistic,” Ted Dlugokienski, CFO, executive vice president of operations and secretary, Abbey Carpet & Floor, told FCNews. “We’re very optimistic about ’22. There’s a lot going on in the world and we’ll see how it all plays out. But we’d like to think we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can help our members set the stage to service the customer as they move forward.”
Focus on the future
The theme of this year’s event was “Focus on the Future,” which was represented in the group’s emphasis on elevating members’ digital prowess. The group also made a noticeable shift in its efforts to engage more fully with its member base in order to offer them the best possible strategies for success.
“From our perspective, I think what’s probably most exciting is the fact that we walked into this convention with a goal of trying to get our stores to engage with us more than ever,” Dlugokienski said. “Because we think we have a package of benefits that really makes us a one- stop shop. We’re dedicated to our members; dedicated to making them as successful as they possibly can be. And we have all the tools to make that happen.”
While the group touted many newly available and even power-house favorites in terms of product, it was the digital tools that took center stage at convention. “This year we’ve seen more of what we’ve been calling the ‘a-ha’ moments,” said Bill Wilson, vice president of marketing.
“Our members have been coming to the marketing booth to finally talk digital. Our digital programs are core to everything we do, and our members are now realizing they have to pay attention. It makes all the difference when it comes to reaching the consumer and having a positive consumer experience.”
What makes Abbey standout in terms of its digital offerings is the fact that every aspect of its digital package is baked into the cost of membership. Each Abbey member has instant access to a state-of-the-art website and various digital marketing tools such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising, social media management and marketing and much more. In addition, the group continues to manage and update each store’s digital and social media presence so store owners can focus on their business in store.
So, why should members look to Abbey’s in-house digital offerings instead of outside behemoth digital enterprises to manage their digital affairs? It’s all about quality and access. “First and most important, we are their franchise partner,” Wilson explained. “We are not in the business of selling advertising, and we don’t keep our doors open with the profit from advertising or marketing. We are a flooring franchise group. So, our approach is: How can we help you? How can we be the most effective advertiser for you at the lowest cost? Outside agencies are looking to sell advertising and move on to the next—they’re ‘set it and forget it.’ We really want to focus on what works, and we’re continually working with the members, month over month, on digital— that’s a huge difference.”
For Janice Clifton, owner, Abbey Carpets Unlimited, Napa Valley, Calif., the group’s digital tools are an essential part of her business. “Abbey is of prime importance to me for both their product merchandising and digital marketing,” she said. “Having the [digital marketing] taken off my shoulders so I can just focus on running my business is essential. And the results were very significant right in the beginning.”
Steve Delamore, owner, Abbey Carpet Blossom Valley Interiors, San Jose, Calif., said he is more than ready to ramp up his digital efforts with Abbey’s programs. “I’m definitely interested in Abbey’s digital marketing—the SEO, social media, all of it. Applying technology to floor covering is an important step forward. Plus, you don’t have to become an IT guy. We don’t really want to be IT people. Abbey does everything for us—that’s important.”
Welcoming the next generation
In addition to a focus on digital, Abbey made it a point to support the ever-growing pool of next-generation store owners become successful within the businesses they now run and the industry they now serve.
Something I found interesting over the last day and a half, having done this for 20-plus years, is to see the amount of generational transition,” Dlugokienski said. “And it’s indicative of the fact that we’ve got long-term members who are now here at convention with their adult children who are taking over the business. We have children on the show floor—I don’t remember the last time that happened.”
Wilson agreed, noting a continuing shift in generational succession. “Years ago, we saw a decline in children who were taking over their parents’ business as far as floor covering,” he said. “Over the past few years, that has just shifted. We have more young people here today at this convention who are already working in the store, if not already taking it over. And that resonates with the marketing we’re doing and the consumer that’s out there today—there’s a connection.”
Wilson added that it’s Abbey’s digital tools that will not only support the next generation but draw in new members seeking to amplify their efforts. “These folks are getting it,” he said. “They are saying, ‘We need to be plugged in.’ Their parents owned the store before and did a lot of TV/radio or traditional advertising—not that that was wrong—but they’re looking at ways to streamline their businesses, run it more effectively with less legwork. And that’s what we offer.”
In terms of new membership, Dlugokienski said comparing the last five years—minus the last two pandemic years—the group expects to exceed its growth over the next five. “I think we will exceed it because we’ve now got a more complete story. Our product story is still second to none. I’d put it up against anything. And [digital] is a huge component. I mean, the fact that it’s baked into membership is key. It’s mind blowing how much it costs to do on your own.”
Dealers find success
Abbey and Floors To Go members who were at convention attest to the benefits the group has afforded them over the years. From digital marketing to private-label product, to constant support and problem solving, dealers say membership is a truly a no-brainer.
“If you’ve got a problem, you call them, they’ll solve your problem,” Associated Abbey Carpet and Floor’s Sarubbi said. “They’ve resolved so many issues for me over the years. And the website is huge! I could never buy that website; I could never manage that website.”
For Abbey Carpets Unlimited’s Clifton, the store’s 25% growth over 2020 was due to membership in the group. “For the last two years, their support never wavered,” she said. “They kept bringing us product even when we couldn’t get to the convention. They were a strong support for you staying in business during the whole thing.”
For Paul Gearing, Gearing Floors to Go, Fort Meyers, Fla., being a part of the Abbey Floors To Go team is like family. “Being a smaller dealer, you get a little bit of clout because when the reps don’t do their jobs or you can’t find the proper pricing, you make one phone call to Abbey Floors To Go and they get you the solution. You don’t get that if you’re not in a group like this.”
Abbey Carpet Blossom Valley Interiors’ Delamore agreed, noting the support from Abbey is essential to his business. “I have a whole team of people behind me. If I have an issue with a vendor or just need advice in a situation, I can make one phone call and they’re there. And they’re not going to sell out and have some corporate takeover or something like that. The people at Abbey have been happy members for a long, long time. I think we’re all invested and we all want the same thing.”
He added that the unique thing about Abbey—as far as buy- ing groups go—is he’s able to keep his independence. “Abbey doesn’t really tell me what to do. They don’t auto-ship displays and then send an invoice in the mail. We get to make decisions regionally that are good for our stores. I like that because we’re all independent for a reason. We don’t really want other people telling us what to do. Other buying groups are not run the same way.”
Bill Sonntag, Suburban Floor Covering, White Bear Lake, Minn., also attested to the bene- fits of membership. “Everything about [membership] makes a difference. No. 1, the fact that it’s private labeled, because most stores aren’t. And if you aren’t, anybody can shop against you but you can’t shop against anybody. No. 2, the support. If I have a problem with a complaint or maybe a back order, within 20 minutes they’ve got it solved. If I’m just calling the mill, who am I? Just this little guy in Minnesota. It doesn’t cost to belong to Abbey, it pays.”