Broadlume has been a company on the move for the past few years and certainly an organization to watch in the floor covering industry, which is why we sat down with the company’s CEO Todd Saunders.
The following are excerpts of a conversation with Saunders, which you can listen to in its entirety at floortrendsmag.com.
TF: What would you say is the prime element that caused retailers to embrace technology now more than prior to the pandemic?
Saunders: I think it was the unknown, retailers were asking, what is going to happen, and how long is this going to last? I think consumers in a way pushed it on retailers. Consumers wanted work to be done but many retail stores were not open. Consumers still had the demand, but retailers were not necessarily able to service them. Consumers have been pushing our industry forward, they still wanted to buy and generally do it with technology.
TF: Broadlume is the parent of FloorForce, FlooringStores and Creating Your Space, which you acquired earlier this year. What are their functions and how do you see them working together under the Broadlume umbrella?
Saunders: Adhawk was the business we started with I started Adhawk after I left Google and we acquired Floor Force. Adhawk changed its name to Broadlume as the parent company. We don’t do any business outside of flooring. All of our customers are 100 percent flooring. So, you have Broadlume the parent company of Creating Your Space and Floor Force, which have been in business for the last 10 or 20 years, respectively. And again, both those companies are focused on digital retailing and hoping the independent retail community do everything from web sites to CRM (consumer relationship management) to lead management, to product visualization, to chat. Our job is to help retailers generate more business.
Floorstores.com is a consumer-facing site. It is an aggregate site of all of our retailers, working on building an audience to help our retailers generate more leads. That’s what all of our initiatives come out to be at the end of the day, we only build things that we think are going to help our retailers sell more flooring.
TF: Talk about the company’s goals at this point.
Saunders: We work with over 2,000 independent retailers today and have almost doubled our business this year alone. Our goal is always internally to not just grow the business itself, as in adding more customers, but we want to add more value to our current customers. Many companies are only focused on adding new customers. Yes, we have to do that to help the business grow, but this year for us was really meant to focus on how we can add more value and grow our offerings to our current customers.
TF: Talk about each one of the units, Creating Your Space, Floor Force, and FlooringStores and their function as well as the services they offer the flooring community.
Saunders: Floor Force and Creating Your Space have been in this industry for a long time, many of their offerings are really the same way. They have grown a little bit separately, so we have some small features that are a little different in each unit. Prices at Creating Your Space are a little bit higher so we can do a little bit more customization. But now that we’ve integrated the two companies has become one really powerful platform because we’re taking the best parts of each and putting them together.
Looking at FlooringStores.com, retailers’ number one request for us the generation of more leads? And obviously we help them with Google, digital advertising, and a number of other ways but we wanted to find another way. As a result, we also hired our own writers who product messages on this consumer facing website to generate leads that go to the landing pages to all of our retailers.
TF: So, what is it going to take for that to happen, for this technology to get developed?
Saunders: I think it’s going to take retailers. The retailers sell the and install the floor covering it’s all up to them. If we get enough retailer’s voices that are loud enough and say, “We want to be in this next era. We want to have product catalogs that are always accurate,” it will happen. We go to some of our retailer sites and spend so much time making them look beautiful rather than developing new tools. Also, some of the swatches on retailer websites looks like someone took a picture with their 10-year-old cell phone. Getting better quality product images is very important. There are some great scanning companies in the industry and keeping product inventory up to date is something we just need to do. And I think the retailers themselves just need to make their voices heard.
TF: Is fcB2B an element in this whole conversation?
Saunders: Yes. We work closely with fcB2B. I think their initiatives are and what they are working on is great. But it’s going to take more than 10 or 20 people on a committee. It’s going to take all 2,000 of our retailers and all retailers in the industry making their voices heard, not just a small committee. It needs to be a revolution, not a committee.
fcB2B focused on the transaction and the inventory. The issue is there is an entirely different way to pull the marketing catalog and the product images and marrying those two is really difficult. We also have the difficult problem revolving around private labeling and there are tons of private labeling. So, it all becomes very, very confusing. A singular problem gets multiplied a thousand times into a thousand problems as a result of private labeling. So that’s really something that we have to work through.
I think the best thing that we can do is make one feed that ties inventory and pricing and marketing images all together and that will allow technology to grow faster. The reason that you don’t see new technology providers enter this space is because without the catalog, you can’t build a great CRM (consumer relationship management), you can’t build a great ERP (enterprise resource planning system), you can’t build a great website. If we were able to make this easier, we can then spend more of our resources and other software companies can spend more of their resources in building new features and products rather than constantly trying just to maintain.
TF: What’s needed to at least hasten this process?
Saunders: We’re seeing a lot of the next generation of retailers come in and make their voices heard. The first thing is that retailers just need to speak up. Retailers have all the power. At the end of the day, the retailers are the ones that are selling the product and are influencing the consumer to buy those products. So, number one, retailers need to speak up.
Number two, we need to welcome the next generation of technology and retailers into this space. Again, I love fcB2B, I think they’re doing a great job. But there needs to be new faces, not the same ones that have done it over the last 50 years. I think we are so used to this industry doing things the way that we’ve done them before. We have to be ok with doing things a little bit differently. And that’s why we’re excited. I think that’s our opportunity. A lot of us come from the flooring industry, and we bring a different perspective from Google or the automotive industry and other industries. We are happy to be the one that’s shaking the cage a little bit to try to make it better for retailers.
TF: I’ve had many people I have interviewed tell me that the retail floor covering industry lags behind many other retail segments out there. I suspect that that’s true. How far behind are we talking about, would you say?
Saunders: Twenty years. And I mean that honestly. But in that 20-year gap, but there are some very obvious things we can do to get only five years behind. And I’m not necessarily worried about the last five because that represents small differences. We can do some huge things that will move us very, very quickly. And again, it all starts with the product images, a product catalog, and keeping better inventory. Those types of things will move us much ahead much faster.
TF: I noticed that the organization just hired on its first chief product officer, which indicates emphasis being placed on new products. Talk about some of the new products that will be on your drawing board.
Saunders: The first one will be sampling. We are partners with a lot of manufacturers that offer sampling on our retailer’s websites. Go to Home Depot, Lowe’s or any of the box stores and you can click a button and get a free sample shipped to you right away. So, we’re going to be launching sampling. Another one is immersive chat. A lot of dealers have realized that people don’t just shop nine to five or six. There are lots of consumers that are at home in her bed at 11 o’clock at night and want to chat with someone about a purchase, or even at work. At work many can’t make a phone call to the store, but they can chat and do online communication. So, we’re launching some of that.
Other things we’re looking at is product visualization and really, what we’re trying to do is build best in class technology suite. What we want to be able to do is say a particular person came to your website then went into your showroom and ended up purchasing so we can get full attribution, understanding of what your ROIC (return on invested capital) is from all of your different marketing efforts. That’s really the goal of all the technology we’re building.
TF: What is your take on the floor covering sector in general, its health, its future? They tell me that the number of independent retailers in this sector has declined over the last decade. Is it part of your mission to reverse that?
Saunders: Yes, we have a mission at the company. I mean, we will never work with the box stores. You heard it from me. We will never provide technology to any box store. It is our job to fight for the independent retailers. A lot of the families represented in our company are in small businesses, and we see that opportunity here as well. If I look at what’s happening now and I look at what’s happening in the future, I really do think that for the independent retailers the best is yet to come.
Here’s how I look at this. Independent retailers have been able to maintain their own. Forty five percent of floor covering sales end up going through the independent. Although the number of stores has decreased the total volume of sales has roughly been about half for a long period of time. So, the fact that the independent retailer community can stay at about half of the revenue while not having little technology and not having any of the tools to compare with the tools Home Depot has. They’re getting good product feeds from all the manufacturers. They have a hundred million dollars in the technology every single year. They’re doing sampling, they’re doing all these other things and we’re still halving them.
So, imagine what it’s going to look like in a year or two years down the road where we have the same tools they do, they should stand no chance.
Saunders: I think the independent retailer community will grow in size. I also think there’s this opportunity where consumers shop at the independent retailer, they’re spending, let’s say, $5,000 on their floors. They trust that they have built a relationship with the retailer. They trust that person. That person’s in their home. And once you’re in their home, that consumer is doing a remodel, or they have just moved. And our retailers have the opportunity to follow that consumer down their whole remodel path.
TF: Going forward, what are your expectations for the floor covering industry? What is it going to look like in 10 years? What are your goals for 10 years from now?