What will it take to succeed as an independent flooring retailer in the future? John Gilbert, president of Carpet One, and Keith Spano, president of Flooring America, Flooring Canada, International Design Guild and The Floor Trader, offered Floor Trends some insight on the groups' Retail 2.0 strategy, which addresses consumers' desire to shop when, where, and how they want through digital technology, marketing, and the in-store experience.

Floor Trends: What's your take on what you've shared with your retailers at summer convention in Nashville, Tennessee? 

Spano: We knew this was a massive lift. It's a massive undertaking to ask 1,200 stores to undo what they currently have and reinvest in a big way, especially while the economy is trending down or on a correction. 

Floor Trends: You started this project in 2019. What kind of research did it take to come up with this strategy? 

Spano: The average cycle for flooring is seven to 10 years. We had done consumer research 20 years ago, and we have our agencies working on things a weekly, daily basis. But when we started talking about the consumer change and the fact that there's a lot of noise out there—there's a lot of competition for the consumer's dollar, and how she shops is really critical. We spent a lot of money and a lot of time find out exactly what the consumer was thinking. 

Gilbert: We used two different companies, and I don't think we were terribly surprised by the results. A revelation was that even as simple as we thought the consumer would want the experience, they actually want it simpler. It was actually reassuring because it's consistent with my experience in other industries where you cannot overestimate how simple people want their transaction to be.

It's not just about the fixtures, although that's a big part of it. It's also about the website and honing in on that consumer journey. We were trying to tighten up the online versus the in-store and connect that in a more seamless way. 

Floor Trends: What are some insights you learned about the consumer? 

Gilbert: Once you get a consumer anywhere in that purchase cycle with a higher set of expectations, a simpler product assortment that meets their needs very specifically, that they can do most of their research journey online without having deal with the sales pro—ultimately, when they get to the store, they are treated with respect and dignity and don't feel like they're being sold. We think of our sales pro more as a project manager. You end up with a much more professional relationship and the customer feels more in control. When a customer doesn't feel in control of their spending, they will pull back.

Floor Trends: Has data has become the currency in today's retail strategy?

Gilbert: Most of our members are on our marketing platforms in one way or another, but then there's transactional data in our POS system that is equal to or even more valuable to the marketing data. We also have our CRM [customer relationship management] platform, called DRIVE, which is integrated with RFMS. Our point-of-sales system marries up to our CRM system. All of our marketing automation triggers when the customer goes into the sales funnel—whether they come in via phone, formally walk in to the store, or connect online— no one goes lost. Our sales pros can keep up with their opportunities, and their managers can see and keep up with the sales pro. So they see check and balance.

Spano: What's the most important thing? Know your business.

Gilbert: Members are coming with us on that quest for data and understanding. We're extracting insights from the data, and that's very useful for us and going forward. Ten years from now—there's no way anybody other than Home Depot, Lowe's or Floor & Decor, which are company-owned businesses—but independent businesses aspiring to compete with this are going to have a really hard time. We're going to know that showroom. We're also going to know data about showrooms that are like it, and we'll able to tell that showroom do this and it'll help you in these four ways.