People making a difference 2023

Home Featured Post People making a difference 2023

A pioneer, an innovator, a forward thinker, a young leader willing to challenge the status quo. These are some of the terms used to describe the individuals who appear on FCNews’ People Making a Difference list for 2023, a yearly roundup of those shaping the industry in some form.

The list virtually covers the flooring eco-system—with manufacturing, technology, distribution and installation all represented this year, along with an outlier. No matter their company affiliation or title, many of the honorees share at least one thing in common: They are having an impact on the flooring industry.

Bart Van der Stockt: A Pioneer in Flooring Technologies and Licensing 

By Floris Koopmans

At Unilin, innovation has always been part of our DNA. Bart Van der Stockt is a true believer that everything hinges on innovation. Not only within our company but also by sharing our expertise with anyone looking to innovate. A few times, through its licensing business under Bart’s leadership, Unilin has shown that innovations can truly revolutionize an industry.

Bart‘s ability to identify and license innovative technologies has transformed the sector in ways that were previously thought impossible. He has helped push the industry toward greater innovative advancements that made products better. The technologies that we have licensed throughout the years have helped manufacturers produce flooring products that are more durable, longer lasting and require less maintenance than traditional materials.

I have seen firsthand how his ability to identify and license groundbreaking technologies, as well as his skill in choosing the right partners, has been key to our success. His approach to the industry has set us apart from the competition and positioned us as leaders in the field.

Bart’s determination has had a significant impact on the flooring industry. It’s a privilege for me to collaborate with him and work toward advancing the industry with new technologies and solutions.

Floris Koopmans is the sales director of Unilin Technologies

People making a differenceCarole Cross: Innovation Through Collaboration

By Dave Geipel

Carole Cross is an expert in the ever-evolving world of digital marketing and has been making a difference in the flooring industry for years. She first made her mark by creating the highly innovative and successful Armstrong Elite leads program. Now, almost 20 years later, she is founder and CEO of Mobile Marketing and is still generating leads and helping clients grow their businesses.

Mobile Marketing creates digital solutions for companies both large and small that give them a competitive advantage. Carole believes differentiation is the key to helping win in any marketplace, and it’s been key to Mobile Marketing’s success as well.

Innovation is at the heart of everything Mobile Marketing does. Carole gets especially excited about finding solutions and solving challenges that make a real difference in the lives of her customers. She also believes in the power of partnership. Yes, she believes her team members at Mobile Marketing are the experts on all things digital, but her clients are the experts on their business and their goals. It’s when they work together that the magic happens and their businesses grow.

That same sense of partnership has helped Carole build tremendous relationships throughout the industry—with retailers, manufacturers, distributors and even other digital service providers. Through collaboration and integration, many companies and customers throughout the industry benefit from her experience and expertise.

Dave Geipel is the vice president of sales and marketing at Mobile Marketing

People making a differenceJon England: Relationship Builder

By Dan Mandel

As a member of the Shaw Flooring Network and a long-time COREtec customer, I have been closely connected to various Shaw leaders and have had the opportunity to build relationships with some truly incredible people, Jon England is one of them.

After connecting with Jon at the NFA meeting in St. Kitts last month, it became immediately apparent that Jon has big goals for COREtec and strategic plans that will help him and his team achieve those goals.

One of the key takeaways from my conversation with Jon was his commitment to building stronger partnerships within the industry. In the flooring industry, it’s not just about having a good product but also having a leader who can effectively convey the brand’s message and vision. So far in his new role, Jon has been a breath of fresh air for industry insiders. His enthusiasm, ideas and plans of action make him stand out and these qualities instill a sense of confidence in retailers such as myself.

But what really sets Jon apart is his focus on relationships. Shaw as a whole has always had a family-oriented culture, and Jon has made it a priority to maintain that sense of connection and community within COREtec and with its customers. For Jon, it’s not just about making a sale; it’s about building a relationship and creating a lasting connection with the people he works with, whether that be at Shaw or in the industry. A family man and passionate leader, it’s clear that Jon goes above and beyond for all things in life.

Jon’s leadership has helped solidify COREtec’s position as a top player in the industry, and as he continues to build partnerships and drive innovation, there’s no doubt he will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the flooring industry.

Dan Mandel is the owner/president of Sterling Carpet & Flooring in Orange County, Calif.

Dan Natkin: A Rare Talent

By Jeff Striegel

In 2001, Dan was recruited by Armstrong to manage its distribution center, but he quickly ascended to sourced product operations manager and onto wood product manager. This is where Dan really developed his affinity for managing the wood flooring category.

Looking to make a career change, Dan’s next endeavor was joining the Mannington team, where in a very short order he again ascended the ranks being promoted from director of hardwood flooring to senior director and eventually to VP product management. Under Dan’s direction, we watched as he brought his leadership style to transform and evolve the Mannington wood and laminate lines during that time. So it was no surprise that when Boen/Bauwerk was searching for a CEO to lead the company’s efforts in the U.S. market they chose Dan.

Dan is an avid industry participant in several associations including over 10 years with the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), most recently serving as president. He has also actively involved with the National Wood Flooring Association and currently serves on the board as a director.

When Dan isn’t working, you’ll probably find him pursuing one of his many interests, which include scuba diving, being an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan, camping, reading, helping both his boys become Eagle Scouts, cooking or developing a new beer as brew chef for his nano brewery, Death of the Fox Brewing Company, which he started in 2017.

Jeff Striegel is president of Elias Wilf, a top-20 flooring distributor

People making a differenceTom Taylor: Servant Leadership

By Kevin Jablon

Tom Taylor has been in the retail environment since the age of 16 when he began his career at a Miami Home Depot store. Over the past 40 years, he has exemplified servant leadership as his career path grew.

A deep listener, Tom has an affinity for hiring great people and helping them excel at their highest level. His ability to mentor and delegate has allowed him to ensure associates are in the best position for their skills set while prioritizing hiring from within.

As CEO and member of the board at Floor & Decor since December 2012, Tom continues to prioritize his time in each of its 194 warehouse-format stores and five design studios across 36 states. He empowers all store managers, or CEM’s (chief executive merchants), to take ownership of their retail location, thus instilling an entrepreneurial spirit that can be seen in the product selection and day-to-day operations.

A passionate servant-leader, Tom has spent his career focusing on the growth and well-being of his team and their overarching communities. This model has provided continued successes for all who are lucky enough to work under his leadership. In May 2021, Tom’s vision to purchase Spartan Surfaces came to fruition. Two years into the acquisition, he continues to protect Spartan’s culture and strategies, allowing them to continue down the path of growth and success.

Kevin Jablon is the founder and CEO of Spartan Surfaces

A.J. Warne: An Emerging Leader

By Kevin Gammonley

A.J. Warne is not your typical volunteer leader. Most noticeable is that he is typically the youngest individual in the room. Additionally, he is highly confident for his age. Most visible is the passion that comes through when he is working to gain consensus on an issue in which he is personally invested.

One such issue is the distribution channel’s need to recruit and promote diverse individuals into positions of authority. A.J. has a keen understanding of the opportunity for flooring distributors to grow by serving the unique needs of an ever-diversifying customer base. To capitalize, A.J. feels strongly that distributors must elevate staff members that mirror the audience they are attempting to serve.

A.J. Warne is not bashful. As witnessed during his recent acceptance speech for the role of NAFCD president, A.J. shook up the audience comprising hundreds of the industry’s most senior distribution executives—many of whom have industry experience twice as long as A.J. has been alive. Regardless, A.J. captured the room’s respect with an impassioned and articulate rallying call.

I have worked with hundreds of volunteer leaders over the course of my career. A.J. represents a new breed that respects history but is extremely comfortable mixing up the status quo and inviting different voices to the table. NAFCD will benefit greatly from A.J.’s fresh approach, and I am privileged to be supporting the effort.

Kevin Gammonley is executive vice president of the NAFCD

Brian Carson: The Right Man for The Job

By Chris King

Brian Carson has served as president and CEO of AHF Products for more than four years, but he has been involved in the flooring business for 30-plus years. He has always been an approachable leader who stretches the idea of what is possible not only for the business but also for all who work at AHF Products. He inspires the team every day to out-think, out-innovate, out-execute and out-hustle the pack. As a company, we move fast, analyze quickly and act with clarity and certainty and continually adapt and adjust as we learn more—all that starts from the top.

Brian began as a production line engineer in the Lancaster, Pa., flooring plant, which AHF Products now owns as a part of the recent Armstrong Flooring acquisition. Next he became a plant manager in Lancaster before moving to the (then Armstrong World Industries) Kankakee, Ill., facility as a plant manager (also a plant that AHF Products now owns) where we currently make vinyl composition tile. But his vision extends beyond that—these sites are also becoming key producers of not only Armstrong Flooring-branded vinyl flooring but for 13 other product lines that AHF Products manufactures.

Under Brian’s leadership, we now boast 14 brands as part of the AHF portfolio. We have grown, added jobs and broadened our customer base. Furthermore, we have made significant investments over the last four years to grow both organically and through acquisition. It all starts with innovation and differentiation. Each brand and product category has differentiated styling, features and benefits so all are profitable for our retail and distribution partners. Creating value for our customers is our No. 1 job each and every day.

Chris King is senior vice president, sales and marketing at AHF Products

Dave Garden: The Driving Force

By John McHale

Dave Garden embodies the power of personal responsibility and taking action to make a difference. As director of education at the International Certified Floor Covering Installers Association (CFI), he is a shining example of the meaning behind the motto: “If it is to be, it is up to me,” which holds a special significance to the CFI community.

Dave’s passion and dedication has been a driving force in the industry for more than two decades, constantly pushing for excellence and inspiring others to do the same. Dave’s journey began when he received his first certification from CFI in 1999. Since then, he has been certified in all carpet categories, hardwood, laminate, LVP 1-11 and ceramic I. He serves as a member of the CFI certification team and the CFI advisory board, and he is NWFA certified.

Dave’s passion for CFI and its mission is undeniable. He is the proud owner of a CFI 50+ jacket, denoting his participation in many events and receipt of the coveted Charles Gress Award. He has been instrumental in developing many of CFI’s extended training programs, including FCEF’s 15-week accredited technical college flooring course.

But Dave’s impact goes beyond his work with CFI. He is a devoted husband and father of three, a Michigan University Wolverines season ticket holder and Detroit Lions fan. Dave is also very active in his church and numerous organizations.

John McHale is director of operations for CFI

People making a differenceScott Humphrey: Tireless Advocate

By Steve Abernathy

The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) has achieved tremendous growth and influence under the leadership of CEO, Scott Humphrey, who reached his 10-year milestone of service in March 2023. Since joining the WFCA in 2013, Scott has been a tireless advocate for making a positive impact in the industry, and his unwavering determination has shaped the DNA of the organization.

Scott is a dedicated champion who puts his personal “why” at the forefront of everything he does. His steadfast resolve to establish a lasting impact and to make a difference has propelled the WFCA to revolutionize the association and ignited momentum for change—achieving countless milestones and accolades. The organization has become an industry activist, spearheading impactful initiatives committed to addressing critical issues that impact professional flooring dealers and the overall industry.

Scott successfully broadened the WFCA’s influence by incorporating other entities such as fcB2b, CFI and FCIF management under the WFCA umbrella. He also formed the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF), the first industry-wide initiative to address the installation crisis and guided the industry with crisis management during the pandemic.

Scott’s exceptional leadership skills have also earned him a reputation as a dynamic, charismatic and inspirational leader. He is renowned for delivering powerful presentations and often uses storytelling to inspire and teach. He shares his insights with the industry through his recurring series, “Leadership Live,” and serves on the board of directors for the FCIF and FCEF.

Steve Abernathy is the COO of the WFCA

Kaye Whitener: Dedication Personified

By Jim Aaron

When I accepted the role of executive director of the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) in March 2021, there was already one other employee in place—Kaye Whitener.

I didn’t know Kaye at the time, so I really didn’t know what to expect from this employee who came along with the deal. I only hoped she had the same kind of work ethic as I do. I hoped that this person would be the type to do the things that needed to be done without being asked and that she would be as passionate as I was about this very important initiative.

I learned quickly that Kaye was—and is—all that and more.

Kaye is determined and tireless. I believe if Kaye ever worked a 40-hour week it would feel like a vacation to her. I can say without hesitation that without Kaye on the FCEF team, we would not have achieved the many successes and milestones we have in just two years.

Kaye has a true heart for this industry and it’s that passion that fuels her commitment to give so much of herself to the mission of the FCEF. We still have a long way to go in the effort to recruit, train and place enough flooring installers to match the demand for installed floors, but with Kaye on the FCEF team, I know we’ll get there.

Jim Aaron is executive director of the Floor Covering Education Foundation

People making a differenceErik Kempf: Forward Thinker

By Chris Palmer

Erik Kempf’s dedication to Leggett & Platt’s values is what makes him an extraordinary leader. He’s forward thinking with a grounded personality. This allows him to lead our company through challenging times.

His willingness to explore new innovations keeps us ahead of our competition when delivering the best customer experience possible. A top focus is to make sure we’re constantly adapting to changes in the floor covering industry. Erik’s “what’s next” attitude creates an environment of positive collaboration across the business unit.

Since joining Leggett & Platt, Erik has been in the regional sales manager role, VP of sales and now president of the division. His multi-faceted background in both manufacturing and sales allows him to thrive as president of Leggett & Platt’s Flooring Products division. Erik’s demeanor and intuition have created an environment where the entire team is always focused and working hard to do things the right way. Waking up each day with this in mind allows us all to be on the same page and working toward the same goal.

Erik’s customer-first attitude will continue to help L&P succeed while always finding ways to improve. This will continue to make us the first choice for carpet cushion and hard surface underlayment needs.

Chris Palmer is vice president of sales at Leggett & Platt

James Lesslie: It’s All About Our People

By Mike Sanderson

At Engineered Floors, we have fun. While we take our work seriously and pursue our passion of providing the most innovative flooring solutions available, we also recognize the importance of our people and culture.

A culture of innovation provides the foundation from which we build our success. Whether it’s a product or a process, innovation requires a culture of mutual respect, creative thought and the ability to recognize and overcome adversity.

This isn’t something we just simply say, it is woven into the fabric of who we are as a company, and James Lesslie, our COO, practices what he preaches.

James attributes our success not only to our quality, service and innovation but also to those who make it happen every day, whether you drive a truck, answer the phone or take an order. We do it together.

As a part of our executive leadership, James has always stressed the importance of remaining humble through our success and thankful for the opportunity to serve our customers and the community in which we live.

James has often said: “It was the people who ignited my desire to work at Engineered Floors, to learn from the best” … and yes, have a little fun along the way.

Mike Sanderson is vice president of marketing at Engineered Floors

People making a differenceJonathan Cohen: Committed to Excellence

By Sy Cohen

Since taking the reins in March of 2014 as president and CEO of Stanton, my son Jonathan has proven to be a leader with a clear vision of how to move the company forward through innovation, communication and technology.

Growing up in the carpet business has empowered Jonathan with knowledge, business acumen, a strong sales and marketing vision and a tenacious desire for continued success—he learned from the ground up.

Jonathan has earned the reputation of being a highly respected business executive, both internally and externally, who always puts the customer first. He is committed to providing our business partners the very best in service, design and quality and has built an excellent team in the process.

Stanton has grown to be one of the leading high-end carpet and flooring manufacturers in the world, with employees that are passionate about the business, and Jonathan has played a critical role in shaping the growth and success of the company.

Driving expansion with new acquisitions and entry into new product categories has helped the company to innovate and continue to evolve and broaden our product assortment. Jonathan spearheaded our entry into the hard surface category in 2020, and that move has proven incredibly successful in opening the company to new accounts and added distribution channels.

Jonathan is always looking at ways to make doing business with Stanton easy and efficient. His leadership skills and his ability to inspire and motivate those around him are unsurpassed.

To say that I am proud is an understatement, for he has grown the company to be bigger, better and more important to our customers than I ever imagined. I know with him leading the way, Stanton will continue to be a major influential player in our space.

Sy Cohen is chairman and founder of Stanton Carpet

Reggie Tucker: The consummate professional

By Steven Feldman

He knows more about hardwood and laminate flooring than just about every product manager. He is the consummate professional. He is well liked and equally well respected. He is trusted. He is first in line to lend a helping hand. He is unflappable. He makes everyone around him better—professionally and personally. His name is Reggie Tucker, and he is the man who lends the steady hand that steers the FCNews ship on a daily basis.

I actually had the fortune to hire Reggie not once but twice—nearly 30 years ago when I was a young managing editor at FCW, and then again about seven years ago over here after years of coaxing. As the executive editor of FCNews, Reggie not only manages the day-to-day operations and the staff, but also plays an integral part in shaping the content of this magazine. That in itself is an enormous responsibility when you are an industry leader, the publication on which most retailers rely to be better at what they do.

When Reggie is on the road covering industry events, he is the eyes and ears for me and my co-publisher, Dustin Aaronson. We could not ask for someone to better represent us as the window to this entire publication. Equally important, his editorial skills and leadership allow me to focus on being a publisher and not chained to my desk.

How iconic has Reggie become during his time in the industry? Everyone knows “Reggie.” Last name not needed. Think Madonna. Drake. Beyonce. Lebron. Elvis. Denzel. Prince. Kobe. Ringo. His star shines just as bright on the flooring stage.”

Steven Feldman is the co-publisher and editorial director of FCNews

People making a differenceEric Erickson: Evolving with the Times

By Nick Brown

Domestic SPC manufacturing has evolved quickly over the past three years for United Surface Solutions (USS). From in-line lamination to digital printing, USS has quickly become the leader in domestic manufacturing. Under the direction of Eric Erickson, USS has been able to evolve over the past few years to stay ahead of the market. With all the challenges that come with starting a manufacturing facility, USS has been able to work through those challenges—along with the understanding that the market is changing and evolving and so should product development.

Eric has a great understanding of the market’s needs and the evolution that is needed to stay ahead of the competition. USS has been able to breakthrough with the launch of a first-to-market, domestic, digitally printed SPC product. Attributes such as the visual clarity of the printed product, AC5 wear layer with exceptional scratch resistance and the 250-square-foot pattern repeat are a few of the many attributes that separate digitally printed products from traditional film SPC products.

Along with staying ahead of the industry in product development, the main focus for Eric at USS has always been to supply our customers with high-quality products and to provide exceptional service for them to be successful in the marketplace.

Nick Brown is vice president of sales at United Surface Solutions

Mark Casper: Putting Customers First

By Kevin Gammonley

I have known and worked with Mark for 20 years. Mark’s extensive experience in the flooring industry spans over three decades, having been introduced to the business by his father. He takes great pride in his work and is deeply committed to cultivating strong relationships with customers.

Having worked in various roles throughout his career, Mark has gained valuable insight into the capabilities of manufacturers and the needs of consumers. His passion for design, color and fashion trends makes Hallmark Floors the ideal workplace for him. The owners focus on customer engagement and innovation resonates with Mark’s values, and he excels in this dynamic environment.

Hallmark Floors marketing efforts have successfully reached millions of customers across the country by utilizing social media platforms and partnering with influencers, solidifying their position as pioneers in driving industry trends. As Mark looks to the future, he is eager to continue making significant contributions to Hallmark’s success and playing an essential role in the company’s growth.

Daniel Puertas, director of East Coast and Midwest sales, Hallmark Floors

People making a differenceDan Koh: The Model CEO 

By Dave Thorsen

If you were to see a newspaper headline or highlights on LinkedIn about Dan Koh of Nox Corp., you would be immediately impressed with his accomplishments: MBA from one of the most celebrated business schools—Northwestern Kellog School of Management—one of the youngest vice presidents ever at LG and now president and CEO of Nox Corp.

You might say he has had a charmed life thus far. However, when you break through the façade and get to know Dan a little better, you begin to see the deep complexities and the intellect that makes him so successful.

Upon taking the helm at Nox Corp., Dan has made it his mission to continuously learn and grow by gaining an appreciation for how his customers think as well as understanding the challenges that his peers in the industry have faced—and also from his father, a deeply respected flooring icon.

Dan has evolved into an impressive leader within the flooring industry by staying connected to its people, technology and innovation. His level of detail and involvement in nothing short of amazing. I’ve always said that the best salespeople, managers and even CEOs use their desire for precision and detail to enhance their expertise in every facet of their business. Dan truly is the backstop in his company when it comes to quality. He allows no deviation from being the best manufacturer with the highest reputation for quality there is in the industry. When a company has a CEO with that level of involvement and knowledge, it is not only impressive but it is also reassuring that you’re doing business with the right person.

David Thoresen is senior vice president, product and innovation, business development at Nox Corp.

John Wu: A Charismatic Leader

ports used to track ingredients in Novalis products down to 0.01%, John continues to raise the bar in an ever-changing industry while simultaneously growing the company’s international footprint.

In just the past three years, Novalis has opened its North American Innovation Center in Dalton as well as multiple manufacturing sites worldwide. Novalis is now home to more than 1,200 employees and boasts 50 export destinations across six continents. Despite the company’s rapid development, John maintains the same level of humility and ingenuity he’s always had—prioritizing a safe, dynamic and family-focused culture for all.

So, what’s next for Novalis? While we don’t know what tomorrow may hold, we can say for certain that the future looks bright with John and C.C. at the helm. On behalf of the entire organization, I want to congratulate John on this very well-deserved recognition. It is our honor and privilege to work alongside him.

Steve Ehrlich is vice president-business & operations at Novalis

People making a differenceJerome Powell: Straddling a Fine Line

The Federal Reserve—the independent agency responsible for setting monetary policy in the U.S.—raised eyebrows last year when it openly stated that it would willingly accept the trade-off of potentially higher unemployment to achieve its target rate of 2% inflation. (Excuse me?!?) That was back in August of 2022, when inflation was hovering around the 9% mark.

Ten months and multiple interest rate hikes totaling 5 percentage points later, inflation is down to 4.9% as of May 10. While U.S. consumers have largely been able to weather the impact of higher interest rates over the past few months, there’s no denying the cumulative effect is beginning to take its toll. Higher interest rates impact everything from the cost to finance a mortgage to auto loans to the rates that credit card companies charge consumers. We’ve seen a steady decline in mortgage applications as 30-year rates climbed to upwards of 7%—nearly twice what they were in 2019. Higher rates also cut into profitability for the nation’s home builders—a sector that was already dealing with higher material costs. In addition to the well-publicized bank failures, we’re also seeing layoffs across the tech sector and, more recently, the construction trades.

Many respected economists have questioned the logic behind the pace of the interest rate hikes, noting that the Fed—led by chairman, Jerome Powell—has not allowed enough time between hikes to gauge the short- and long-term impacts on the overall economy. While unemployment remains historically low at 3.4% and hiring relatively robust (253,000 jobs created in April), the question is how long that will last in the face of uncertainty surrounding the interest rate situation.

People making a differenceThomas Baert: Challenging the Status Quo

By John Rietveldt

Thomas is one of the pillars of our great industry. His respected position is merited as only a few have shown such immense commitment to innovation and value creation for so long.

Thomas has made it his business to innovate and develop products designed to meet consumer demands. He has propelled CFL into the global arena as a recognized leader as well as a front-runner in new materials, especially when it comes to hard surface products and visual attributes.

I have known Thomas for over 10 years. We have had many lively discussions as business associates but also as sparring partners, debating and bouncing ideas off one another. It’s no coincidence that CFL and i4F are long-standing business and technology partners. We share a passion for innovation and a vision on how a sustainable flooring industry’s future should look like.

Thomas believed from the beginning that easy installation was key and that a drop-lock technology would take over the LVT and laminate market. He was one of the first ones to lead this transformation.

If I had to describe Thomas in one word, I would say that he is an explorer! Exploring new materials, new manufacturing techniques as well as new horizons. I would add that he is loyal, constructive, committed and always open to new ideas and solutions oriented.

Thomas deserves this recognition as he has truly made a difference. I am convinced that his actions over the years have positively impacted the global flooring industry and will continue to do so for many years to come.

John Rietveldt is the founder and CEO of i4F

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May 8/15, 2023

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