Canada Nufloors is a retail group with a unique structure and a group that has shifted gears over the past year or so to make sure all of its cylinders are firing at maximum efficiency. The group has arranged itself in a way that is quite uncommon in this industry because it replaced its general manager with a board of directors that is made up of its retail members, placing them at the center of developing a direction and specific programs and managing the day-to-day business.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Cynthia Dean, the group’s director of accounting and member services, and learned more about this organization and its way of doing things. You can listen to this interview in the podcasts section of our website. The following is excerpts from that interview.

TF: To make sure we are all on the same wavelength, tell us about Canada Nufloors group.

Dean: The group celebrated its 10th anniversary the year before last. It’s really a group of independent retailers that have come together. The really important element is that they keep their individuality with the Nufloors group taking responsibility for marketing, website development, branding and with a great deal of the decision making being left up to the membership. In fact, the organization is run by a board of directors, which is elected from its members.

TF: Can we draw a distinction between Nufloor and what would normally be defined in this industry as a buying group?

Dean: We don’t consider ourselves a buying group; instead we consider ourselves more of a marketing group. Our focus is really on creating marketing and branding as well as business development. We do some group buying but it’s not our focus.

TF: Tell us more about the structure of the Nufloor board of directors.

Dean: We set up this system about two-and-a-half years ago when we decided to get away from having a general manager in favor of having the organization run by a board of directors. We have always had a board of directors but previously they worked with the general manager.

The board then decided to form subcommittees, which are: the supplier committee, recruitment committee, branding/marketing committee, technology committee and finance committee, and staff works with board members.

We feel that members are the ones closest to the business and when someone comes up with an idea, it’s discussed by everyone. The arrangement seems to be working very efficiently for all of the members and there are no plans to initiate any changes.

TF: It also sounds very interesting operating without a general manager.

Dean: It is, but again, what we have learned is that by having the board in place, because they are the actual store owners and really understand the business better than anyone else, their expertise is valued highly by the entire group. The concept has worked out really well.

TF: Talk about recruitment of new members.

Dean: Previously we were not extremely successful at recruiting new members. In setting up the recruitment committee, we were able to discuss the advantages we are able to offer in terms of value to new members and we feel that we have a great package to demonstrate to prospective members the advantages of joining Nufloor. The entire program has worked out very well.

TF: One of the recent features that the group has launched is a new website. Tell us about that.

Dean: The website has been up now for more than a year and we go through it periodically and revamp it. One of the great advantages with the site is that it is controlled to a large extent by the members, in that they can change their homepage and post special sales they are holding; we also provide special graphics to support those sales. Members also have the ability to update their specials as frequently as they desire. The specials pages are formatted so they can be search by category. Many of our stores have been extremely successful with this feature. It provides a real call to action when consumers visit our site.

TF: In this the digital age, I see a retailer’s website as an extremely important element of the entire business.

Dean: Our retailers depend on the website, realizing that customers start the shopping process online. We make sure that all members come up at least first or second on a Google search for their area. It’s extremely important for us to manage search engine optimization.

TF: What are the prime elements that you feel are absolutely necessities for an effective website?

Dean: Customers are definitely looking for images and references, and one of the factors we feel very strongly about now is making sure that reviews are included as well. This area has been a challenge for some of our stores — being confident enough to ask a customer to put reviews online. We are aware that the first thing prospects do in the demographic we are aiming at is to get online, see who comes up in their search and then look for reviews because they want to gain a certain degree of confidence in the company they will ultimately work with. Reviews have become an extremely important element for any website.

TF: Technology is an absolute necessity to be successful today, but there are still many that are afraid of it and take some coaxing to embrace it.

Dean: Technology changes so quickly that it’s difficult for anyone to keep up with. As a result, we have formed a special subcommittee called the Next Generation Group. Many members have brought their sons and daughters into the business with the plan to eventually have them take over. This group helps us gain insight into the technologies that they would use as well as the ad messages they would respond to. The idea here is to set up a system that helps keep us abreast of the wants and needs of next generation of consumers and store owners.

TF: I visited the Nufloors site before we talked and one of the features I really liked was the Idea Gallery.

Dean: People love this section of the site, and the Idea Gallery concept is a very popular approach that consumers take in making decisions about their project. They gather a number of ideas and then select one before they visit a store. There are also a number of places consumers can go to gather ideas, such as Houzz, that offer a wide variety of ideas.

TF: What are your thoughts as to retailers’ mindset about joining a group?

Dean: The bottom line is that, if they see a benefit in joining the group, they will join. Many of the retailers we talked with felt very strongly about maintaining their independence and a prime reason they have not joined a group is that they value that independence. That has become a major Nufloors selling point in that they can maintain their independence but also can get support from a group, a group of like-minded people with whom they can discuss issues, they can also take advantage of a wide range of marketing materials and an extremely effective website. Nufloors is not a profit center; funds that are left over after all of the year’s projects are completed go back to the members.

TF: It appears that service is at the center of building a retail business. What are your thoughts on service?

Dean: If you go online, you will find that just about every retailer will say that they have great customer service. For us, however, it was identifying what exactly good service looks like. We ask the question, what makes for a beautiful experience for the customer and what are the small and large elements that make that experience a good one? One of the biggest points is just keeping in touch. Nothing annoys a customer more than having something promised and not delivered or not receiving a call that has been promised. And even though we are focusing more and more on millennials, baby boomers are downsizing their homes and buying condos, which offers the potential of two projects. And for this demographic customer service is key. Retailers have to make sure they do what they say and what they intend to do. For us it’s really identifying what constitutes good customer service and making sure that each of our members are able to deliver that great service.