Flooring America, Flooring Canada, International Design Guild and The Floor Trader hosted Building Buzz, the second annual independent retailer-focused social media and digital conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Dallas.

Featuring a lineup of social media and marketing experts from North America, the event helped independent retailers understand what they can do to make their brands be seen and be heard in local markets.

“We strive to always be one step ahead of the competition and no other cooperative offers its members a dedicated social and digital media conference that delivers thoughtful and actionable strategies that can be applied to their businesses immediately to maximize sales and drive growth,” said Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing & advertising for Flooring America, Flooring Canada International Design Guild, and The Floor Trader Group.

At the conference, members learned how to supplement the social and digital programs provided through the co-op, such as FAST, a proprietary local social media syndication platform, and G1, a Google search and search engine optimization platform. Members learned how to post, tweet, pin and snap their way to a larger and more effective social media presence on a local level.

We sat down with Keith Spano, president of Flooring America, Flooring Canada and The Floor Trader; and Frank Chiera, senior vp, marketing and advertising, to learn more about what’s new with the business.

FT: You’ve emphasized building buzz digitally with your membership. Why this focus?

Chiera: Getting to the consumer has changed so dramatically. We used to be able to run traditional advertising and see the register ring—life was good. Today it’s much harder to engage a new audience, so the digital marketing side has become more and more important. We have been preaching this to the membership for five years, and so they are used to it, and it was a great opportunity for us to develop the conference on day one that was just focused on digital.

FT: What are the key points that members should keep in mind this year?

Spano: We have a few because we have three companies that we are serving. We have Flooring America/Flooring Canada, which occupies the full-service flooring segment; International Design Guild, which services the luxury segment; and Floor Trader Outlet which is our outlet—value, cash and carry, not installation. So, in each one of those programs we have been working on the marketing side. Building Buzz was all about digital marketing.

Chiera: We found in our business, from a marketing standpoint in pushing out content, that every buyer is different. A lot of digital marketing to our members is nebulous. It’s the zone they are least comfortable in, so it’s our job to help them with that. We’ve created a lot of proprietary programs through the years to reinforce that.

Our job is to bring members things they couldn’t do on their own. It would be way too costly, especially digital marketing, social media automation, CRM system, new websites. We are getting amazing feedback on their new websites, so all of that is there. Four years ago, members would say social media is not important to me.

It’s nice to see the lightbulbs going off for members. We have 90% participation in the social media automation program. That is unheard of. We have 55% to 60% of members doing paid search. Last year it was 45%. They are totally getting it.

We are moving towards more video content. We have created a series of DIY videos for consumers so that they can see how to install laminate tile, hardwood, etcetera. It’s better to have that third-party endorsement to see someone who knows what they are doing.

Spano: I think the nice thing is that we have developed a lot of trust. When Frank stood on the stage four years ago and said we are going to post syndicated social media content on 12 channels and we are going to do it for you but it’s going to look like it’s from you, our members looked at us like we were crazy. Now they get it and they trust us. You can’t get that overnight.

FT: Why is change so important?

Chiera: It’s a huge point: if we are not getting them to move where the puck is, then they are going to be left behind. We are going to take them where they ought to be— not necessarily where they want to be. On the Flooring America side, we are showcasing the Vision 20/20 showroom design, which is an iteration of what we did in 2008 in the original launch. It’s fresh and Apple-esque and it is bringing in a new cooler, fresher design to the showrooms. The design center and the focal wall where our Tribute program, which we are excite about because it’ s our goal to be that one-stop-shop design center concept where she can get her flooring, windows, closet, cabinets, paint—everything in one place.

FT: Are you encouraging your retailers to get into all of these areas?

Spano: They are taking pieces that they are appropriate to them. Every one of our members is an entrepreneur. They are all fiercely independent and we don’t paint programs with a broad brush—as much as humanely possible. We like them to customize it for their purpose. We set the table, so to speak, and they pick what they want to eat, so we have to have all these different program.

On the Floor Trader side, we have a coming out party. Floor Trader Outlet has been redesigned to serve the consumer looking for value, new and improved from all standpoints — positioning, merchandising and product.

FT: How is your membership growing?

Spano: We have goals: This show we have six new Flooring America prospects, two new IDG prospects and a discovery day on the Floor Trader side where we had 24 members from Flooring America and Carpet One attend so that they could look at Floor Trader.

They think they can be their own competition in their market. It’s really a different consumer. If you have a Flooring America and a Floor Trader, you are talking to a different consumer. Look at the popularity of TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack. They are perceived outlet; it is perceived as a deal because it is an outlet. We have members who have outlets a pitching wedge away from their full-service stores and there is not a lot of crossover between the two. There is a certain consumer that gravitates toward a full-service store and a certain consumer that gravitates toward the outlet prices. We feel there is an outstanding opportunity for all three business models. That is the beauty of our market. They all play off each other.