Taken at face value, the prospect of independent flooring retailers banding together might be unsettling to some suppliers. The store owners, after all, are likely to use their collective clout to secure deals no one member could ever hope to negotiate on his own. As any member of Carpet One can attest, there is strength in numbers.

Yet, while Carpet One has grown to become the single most important retail entity in specialty flooring, manufacturers credit the company and its members with advancing the industry as a whole. There is a wide consensus that the focus on quality flooring products and top-notch customer service has raised the bar for everyone in the industry.

"I admit this somewhat reluctantly, but they have made manufacturers like us better," says Frank Ready, president and CEO of Armstrong. "Carpet One can buy from anybody and they can do business with anybody, but they are always looking to create value for their members. In turn that forces us to always be looking at how we can create value for Carpet One. As a result, manufacturers are better than we were five or 10 years ago because of the competitive spirit and the way they push us for innovation. We have to look at different ways of thinking to keep up with them, quite honestly."

In general, manufacturers say Carpet One's biggest impact has been creating consistency of experience, not just for shoppers-but for vendors. Many who do business with the company say it is far more efficient to work with one umbrella entity than a highly fragmented universe of stores.

"They have changed the industry," says Don Finkell, CEO of Anderson. "They have focused on the independent floor covering retailer, helping them buy better and helping them stay on top of new products. Basically they have organized them into a force. So you don't have just a whole collection of independent retailers doing their own thing."

Suppliers say the changes ushered in by Carpet One reflect the vision of the founders. Given that Howard Brodsky and Alan Greenberg had each previously ran independent retail operations, the move to affect better buying strategies for stores seemed a logical development for the company.

"Alan, Howard, and all the Carpet One members are to be commended for their leadership role in the transformation of our industry," says Ed Williams, senior vp of marketing for Mohawk "We applaud their vision."

The Carpet One effect has not been limited to companies whose core business is floor covering. The emphasis on providing consumers with the information needed to make an informed decision has gone beyond flooring manufacturers.

"No one does a better job at value-added selling than Carpet One," says Jim Stevens, national sales manager for 3M Scotchgard Protective Products. He notes that the stain and soil resistant treatment marketed by his company has benefited from Carpet One's focus on educating consumers.

"This is one of the ways they make the independent retailer better," he says. "We have been a sponsor of some of their training programs and they have really helped their dealers understand the benefits of value-added features on a carpet. It can be a challenge to communicate specific benefits like Scotchgard, but Carpet One has such a strong focus on service. Part of that is informing consumers and that has helped build our brand."

‘Absolutely terrific partners'

The keepers of the Good Housekeeping brand say they are proud to be picky. Before they lend their venerable brand name to any product, they insist on a series of rigorous tests and an iron-clad guarantee that the deal will in no way compromise the brand's reputation for quality and integrity.

They look at opportunities all the time. They agree to only a handful.

And it was with this lofty criteria in mind that the Good Housekeeping name was added to a line of carpet marketed exclusively by Carpet One members beginning in 2003. While it certainly was not the first time the brand name was licensed to a household product, it was the first and only floor covering to be added to the fold.

"We always want to make certain that it is an appropriate brand extension," says Glen Ellen Brown, vp of brand development for Hearst Magazines, the publisher of Good Housekeeping, which is also responsible for the licensing deal with CCA Global Partners. "With Carpet One we evaluated the product for durability, safety and quality. We chose them. And they have been absolutely terrific partners."

Which begs the question: will the Good Housekeeping line be extended beyond the 25 styles now available? Are other flooring surfaces likely? "We are always looking for opportunities to extend the brand and build on a great relationship," says Brown.