Canada Nufloors Group, based in Delta, British Columbia, is a buying cooperative that works hard to maintain the independence of every single member. Founded 12 years ago, the company is member owned with a general direction set by its six-member-comprised board. With 21 members now in the system, each one with an equal vote, the company finds its primary strength is the unique nature of every member company and their willingness to share best practices amongst themselves.
Still, with 21 strong voices covering all segments from residential retail and commercial to restoration and insurance, each with valid points about business and product direction, and each with an equal vote, there is a strong need for someone to help direct a cohesive approach that can grow the company. Since Nufloors’ inception, that someone has been Debbie Smith, director of administration.
At its founding, Smith brought more than 20 years of flooring experience to the fledgling business—she started her career with United Carpet Group in the ‘80s. Together with Cynthia Dean, director of accounting, she focuses the wants and needs of all the members and puts together an operations plan and budget every year.
“We represent small, medium and large stores with sales ranging from $1 million to $16 million,” Smith said. “Because they’ve been able to diversify in various markets, we have seen continued growth [across the chain] even when one area of the market may be down.”
It helps that Nufloors has agreements in place with more than 50 vendors for pricing and products for its member stores, which allows individual stores to adjust their product mix when necessary and adapt to a fluid marketplace.
Knowing its members’ strong sense of independence, Smith notes the group’s focus, however, is more toward networking and sharing information with other members.
“Auto-ships are the opposite of who we are,” she explained. “Every store decides for itself which Nufloors suppliers to market and sell based on its own unique and individual market and relationships. There are no dealer-mandated programs, no mandated displays or requirements to buy from certain suppliers. Individual owners know their markets better than corporate and this approach gives them the freedom to build and support their own growth.”
In addition to the increased buying power offered, the company provides its members with vendor rebates based on individual purchases, as well as a one-stop shop for marketing support and growing their businesses.
Smith says the company has created a uniform web presence with sites designed to highlight the broader scope of Nufloors’ offerings, and at the same time, showcase product and vendor lines which are unique to individual locations. The company also assists in members’ search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, use of social media platforms and provides links for easy access to its suppliers.
Dean notes the company also helps member stores with their team training programs, linking owners with vendor resources, as well as providing templates for policy and procedure manuals.
“We offer pamphlets [in Word format] of different store policies they may want to use,” she said. “They can adjust policies and procedures to meet the needs of their own stores for everything from sales process to employee procedures. We keep it fairly general as a template to help them get started.”
Member Ralph Winterholt, Nufloors Sherwood Park, Alberta, joined the cooperative at its inception in 2005. Having worked as an installer for two decades before opening his showroom with two partners, Winterholt wanted to set his own direction without some of the oversight offered by other chains.
“We found you are more or less told how to market [by some of the other groups] and that didn’t quite appeal to us,” he recalled. “We wanted something where we could work a little more independently and have the option of selecting suppliers ourselves.”
One of the biggest values Winterholt finds in the company is the level of knowledge sharing with other members.
“We get together with a lot of like-minded people with the same goals and aspirations,” he said. “We constantly swap ideas and get the creative juices flowing. It comes down to communication; l couldn’t imagine going out on your own without a group of stores to talk to and brainstorm for fresh ideas.”
Interestingly, although some of its members were at one time installers, most operate with the traditional model utilizing installation teams as subcontractors. The external stress of changing tax classifications domestically has not yet reached the Canadian market, and their installers remain fiercely independent in their own right.
Smith noted the majority of its members are not stocking dealers, but it is highly dependent upon their product mix with stores focused on hard surfaces less likely to carry inventory beyond samples.
With the current market trends toward luxury vinyl tile, and continued growth in hardwoods and ceramic tile, soft surfaces represent approximately 40 percent of Winterholt’s sales, an amount Dean notes is consistent with the number of dealers in the system that carry stock.
One other value Winterholt and other members find with Canada Nufloors’ business model is its head office does not operate as a profit center. Although there is a cost to join and monthly fees to cover operating costs and initiatives, the company returns any excess money after those expenses to its members annually.
Members find the approach works well for them in Canada’s disparate market. Although the country is fairly large, the overall population of the country is still less than the number of people in California. Accordingly, Nufloors’ 21 stores, with locations from Western Ontario to British Columbia, already reach a significant percentage of the population. However, there is plenty of room for growth with Canada’s two most densely populous regions of Toronto and Montreal not represented by Nufloors retailers, as well not having stores in other large urban centers Ottawa and Quebec City.
As the cooperative moves east, the focus is to build organically, prioritizing future growth in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan as it makes its way toward the Atlantic Ocean. Smith and Dean said the highly selective company’s plans are to increase by two stores per year over the next few years to move further east and serve those markets. The relatively young company’s growth plans do not currently extend to the U.S., however.