Three months ago Shaw Floors named Annie Cowart vice president of residential marketing. Annie Cowart has 20-plus years with Shaw under her belt in a wide array of roles, most recently on the commercial side as vice president of customer experience. Annie Cowart brings a fresh perspective with an immediate goal of becoming the best company to deal with by facilitating the experience and creating a seamless relationship with the dealer. Annie Cowart recently sat down with Floor Covering News publisher, Steven Feldman, to discuss her view of the future, goals and objectives and more.
What do you think you bring to the table?
I have a very diversified history at Shaw. I started in logistics. I’ve worked in local distribution, regional distribution, customer service, inside sales and the commercial division. So I think I bring a very different perspective. I also have such a passion for our customers. My last role set me up for success in this role from the standpoint of really understanding how important it is to know what is important to our customers. Then, internally, we can look at ways in which we can be easier to do business with and continue to look for ways to create a better and differentiated experience. So it’s diversity of knowledge and passion for our retailers and customers.
How do you make the experience better for the retailer from the manufacturer’s standpoint?
Three things: I think you have to intently listen to the retailers; you need to have a pulse on what’s happening in their businesses; and you really need to understand how they want to do business. Not everybody wants a face-to-face experience. Some people want a digital experience, some people want a combination. And it’s understanding the challenges they’re facing every day and then looking for ways to solve those problems before they even recognize they have them. So, whether it’s service issues, communication issues, quality or product, we need to be in front of those things. But you can’t group everybody together. That’s why our sales team is so important, the individual relationships they have with our retailers, bringing that knowledge back to us so we can look for ways to not only differentiate but also create personalization for those retailers.
One of the things I’ve been focused on is that digital piece. This is an industry where we have a lot of family businesses, and generational things are changing. We need to understand how they want to do business with us and how they want to connect. It’s going to continue to evolve, so we have to understand not just the flooring needs but also the business needs of our retailers and help support them in different ways as their businesses change.
What initiatives would you like to put forward to help that retailer increase profitability?
I would like to become a stronger partner to our dealers by business planning with them in ways that may be different than we’ve done in the past. We probably can get more data given Shaw’s size and scale, but how can we bring information to them, saying: “Hey, in your market this is the total addressable market of opportunity, and these are the different types of consumers in this market. Let’s talk about your mix. You have a certain percentage of people in this community that are luxury, you have a certain percentage of people that are in your mid-level and you have a certain percentage of opportunity from a value or maybe even multifamily perspective.”
You give them more of a business plan and create the partnership, then create the right kind of mix—whether it’s the carpet seller and hard surface seller coming in together. I feel that’s a big opportunity for us to be more invested in our retailers’ business. That’s where that art and science blend becomes important. You have to show some of the data we have with the story and the opportunity, and that builds trust. The biggest piece of that relationship is trust.
The second thing would be to create a digital experience for our retailers. So, continuously upgrading our digital experience that helps with product selection, to ask lifestyle questions to help guide that decision making for that RSA or that dealer. I’ve gotten on some websites where they ask me more things about my personality or values in order to curate a selection. So it’s not necessarily, “What colors do you like?” It’s more like, “What makes up Annie Cowart when it comes to the purchasing?” Because if you walk into my house, you’re definitely going to see a style. So how do you ask some questions that create more of a personalized relationship? I think there’s going to be a lot of technology advancements with AI that are going to make this better and easier, and I want us to lead there.
What are your goals and objectives short and long term?
We have several brands. I think over time we tend to bring things into Big Shaw. My biggest goal is to start creating better differentiation among those brands that give a retailer destinations for their consumers to go into. I want people to understand exactly what Shaw Floors means, and what consumers need to be driven there. And then to have a destination for the premium A/T customer and really understand how to direct them there. I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit. We are all things to all people, but each brand isn’t all things to all people. Each brand has distinctive focus for the consumer—and we want our retailers to feel connected to that as an experience.
Anderson and Tuftex were combined into one high-end brand. But there’s been less marketing, less focus. What are your plans?
I’m excited about the opportunity with Anderson Tuftex. I wouldn’t disagree with what you said, but I want to really focus in on that designer look and elevate that piece. We tried to expand into Classics—which is a great line—but it expanded more into mainstream. I want us to focus on the other parts of our collection that make a statement. I remember when we came out with A/T; it was bold and exciting and it brought a different feeling. How do we reinvigorate that and focus on the high design and our premium customers?
Talk a little bit about the decision not to attend Surfaces.
What we want to do this year is expand and focus more of our energy on in-market events, but they won’t be the traditional event. It’s going to have more of an upgraded feel where we can create intimate engagement with our customers. We want it to be more experiential. We want it to be more connected. We want it to feel a little bit more regional where each event has its own local flare, because each market may need to be a little different. We’re still going to have a presence at Surfaces, we just haven’t fully defined what that is yet.
Are you doing more regionals?
I can’t remember the exact number. It’s seven or eight. And then we’re going to have some showcases, too.
Are you concerned that your customers will be spending their time at Surfaces at your competitors’ booths?
That’s definitely something we have thought about. And this isn’t necessarily a long-term statement. We decided to try something different this year, and we want to see what kind of impact we can make with a more intentional connection, which we can own and create some of our own excitement around. I think there’s value in both, so we’re going to take this year to evaluate the two [approaches] and see which works best for us.
I put 12,000 retailers in this room and give you five minutes with them. What do you tell them?
I don’t know that I’d tell them anything. I’d be listening.