By Steven Feldman—Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, will be honored later this month with Floor Covering News’ ninth annual Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award. In doing so, Robertson becomes the first female to win this award. The award will be presented to Robertson at FCA Network’s annual convention in New Orleans on March 29.
“When FCNews launched this award back in 2010, the idea was to honor individuals who had not yet received industry- wide recognition, specifically but not limited to the WFCA Hall of Fame,” said Steven Feldman, publisher. “I couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate to take home the 2021 award than Olga, and there is no one more appropriate to be the first woman to be honored with this award. She has paved the way for so many women to be given the chance to excel in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.”
Robertson was instilled with the importance of commitment practically from the day she was born. As a young girl raised in a blue-collar family with a strong work ethic, there was simply no excuse for not working hard and taking education seriously. Word has it she had a perfect attendance record for 12 years throughout Catholic school.
Her father worked at a steel mill and taught her not to expect something for nothing. Her mother always told her she could be anything she wanted to be. “So, at an early age, I knew if I worked hard and applied myself I could make more money than my father,” Robertson said. “I learned the important lesson that to live the American Dream required discipline, a lot of determination and the right opportunities.”
When Robertson was first approached about joining the flooring world in the early 1970s, she was reluctant to get on board. The only knowledge she had of flooring at the time was that her mom ordered carpet from someone and he ran away with her money.
But she eventually found her way to Floor Covering Associates (FCA) in 1978 with her first job scheduling installers and managing inventory. “She was doing the job effectively within 15 minutes and I never had to intervene once,” said Bob Hill, founder and chairman. “She took over and always knew what to do. She’s just been incredible from the beginning.”
Hill recognized Robertson’s talents and work ethic and gave her opportunities to both learn and grow. Eventually Robertson was elevated to a high-level merchandising position, where she was responsible for all the carpet buying before becoming president of FCA. In 1998, Robertson became president of FCA Network, which has grown to about 80 members.
Along the way, Robertson built a reputation of being one of the industry’s toughest negotiators. “When she first started negotiating with suppliers, she would beat them so down that I would have to say, ‘You have to leave them with something so they come back,’” Hill recalled. “But she is terrific at it. She knows where to stop.”
Robertson has also built a reputation of always honoring her commitments. “She never welshes on a deal,” Hill said. “And that’s something I think is rare in business in general.”
Another attribute, Hill said, is that her memory is second to none. “She could look at a piece of carpet and 10 years later still remember the name of it, what it looked like and identify it,” he said. “She never forgets a face or a name. We would go to Surfaces together and run into somebody that we hadn’t seen for a while and I would have to whisper to her, ‘Who’s that?’ She’d always know who it was. She just has an amazing mind.”
But perhaps her greatest achievement over the last 40-plus years has been paving the way for women to make their mark and excel in this industry. “When we all started out, this was a male-dominated business,” Hill said. “She came in and held her own with all the men and never gave it a second thought.”
Bob Weiss, CEO of All-Tile, put it in perspective: “Olga is very smart and tuned in to what’s going on. She is a trail-blazer. She is someone who broke through glass ceilings. There is so much discussion these days about women in flooring. Olga would be on the Mt. Rushmore of women in flooring. She is the torch bearer.”
Ann McDermott, vice president national accounts for Shaw Industries, called Robertson a “legend” who commands the respect of the highest-level executives, with whom she has built the strongest relationships. She recounted a story from a few years ago: “Olga had come to Shaw to review our new products. We’re working on this big program. She loved the program but said to me, ‘You don’t have the marketing right;You don’t have the name right.’ So we go to dinner that night—me, her, Vance [Bell] and Randy [Merritt]. She starts saying we should call it Life Happens. Randy calls marketing and says, ‘You need to change the name. I don’t care. You need to change the name. I’m sitting here with a customer and I told her I changed it.’ That’s the power of Olga.”
A number of years ago, Merritt said: “Olga is a student of the industry. She is, at her core, a buyer and merchant. She knows as much about product and styles as anyone in the industry because she works very hard at it. At Shaw, we always look to seek out her thoughts on new products in development as she has a keen sense of style, value and what the consumer is looking for.”
Rise of FCA Network
FCA Network was launched in 1998 after Bob Hill posed this question to his management team: How do we grow our business and increase our buying power without any capital investment? Hill and Robertson knew the retail business and saw an opportunity to offer their expertise to dominant players in secondary markets while leveraging their expertise in buying, merchandising, advertising and marketing. FCA wanted to provide retailers in those smaller markets an opportunity to have all the services the big groups provide for a lot less money while simultaneously increasing FCA’s buying power and stature in the industry.
That’s how and why FCA Network was formed. It started as a regional group in the greater Cleveland area by Rich Sebastian, who happened to be president of the Northeast Ohio Floorcovering Association and began FCA Network with 12 members in Ohio.
FCA Network’s selling proposition was that it was a successful Top 25 retailer helping other retailers. Its firsthand understanding of retailers’ struggles along with an immeasurable amount of industry knowledge gives FCA Network the ability to create the best opportunities for its members at any level. But when you ask our members what they value most it’s networking with fellow retailers just like them. Its family-like culture makes them feel welcome and that they are not just a number.
While not as large as Carpet One, Abbey or CarpetsPlus, FCA is unique if only because of Robertson. “In addition to the standard things that a buying group does, such as pricing and merchandising and marketing, Olga takes a personal interest in each member,” Hill said. “We have something called third-party intervention; if one of our dealers has a dispute with a manufacturer over a return or claim, he or she calls Olga and she gets it resolved for them. She takes a real personal interest, and with her clout she’s able to get stuff done that the average dealer cannot. Sometimes a lot of these reps treat the dealer like crap, and Olga stands behind them and takes care of them like they’re her children.”
Here’s an example: There was an FCA Network dealer who had been doing well, and then he somehow got himself into debt and was on his way out of business. Robertson intervened, first by having a talk with him and getting him to make a couple of commitments. Then she called suppliers and worked out a payment plan without him having to file Chapter 11. She straightened out the whole problem, and today’s he’s one of FCA Network’s best dealers.
Robertson is steadfast in her belief that the Network helps support her retail members through extraordinary buying power, partnership and individualized branding. Over the past 24 years, she has helped push FCA Network into the future with programs such as new marketing and hiring campaigns focused on drawing younger entrepreneurs into the business, growing the group’s membership and much more.
Robertson’s commitment goes beyond flooring. She supports a cause called Facing Disability, a foundation that connects families dealing with spinal cord injuries with the life experiences of more than 100 family members who are living with a spinal cord injury every day, and to provide medical information and resources. The organization was started by Hill after his daughter was injured in a swimming pool accident when she was 22. “We all work at it, and it’s been rewarding,” he said.
Robertson: In good company
Floor Covering News established the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 to recognize those people who have not only made significant contributions to the floor covering industry but, more importantly, worked toward its betterment and made a difference over a sustained period of time. Simply stated, the award is intended to recognize service and leadership that is of a scope and duration to be considered a lifetime achievement.
“What we really wanted to do was to honor those people who have dedicated their life to improving the floor covering industry,” said Steven Feldman, FCNews publisher and editorial director. “At the same time, we wanted to pay homage to this publication’s founder, Al Wahnon, who was a co-founder of the FCIF and an original member of the WFCA Hall of Fame.”
Olga Robertson, the 2022 award recipient, joins the ranks of past winners:
- Sandy Mishkin, co-founder and president of CCA Global Partners
- Ralph Boe, carpet industry mainstay
- Don Miller, owner of Roppe
- Jeff Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO of Mohawk Industries
- Don Finkell, founder of American OEM and former CEO of Anderson Hardwood
- Pierre Thabet, founder and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand
- Michael Goldberg, president and CEO of Rite Rug, largest independent flooring dealer in U.S.
- Piet Dossche, founder of USFloors, mastermind behind COREtec and father of WPC