In January, National Floor Trends announced the launching of a spectacular partnership. The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) entered into an exclusive and exciting partnership with National Floor Trends magazine (NFT) and the BNP Media Market Research Division. It's a partnership with a mind blowing goal: To disseminate information that will help floor covering retailers/contractors develop and apply a host of "Best Practices" in key areas of their operations.

For nearly 50 years, I've reported, reviewed, analyzed, spoken about and commented on many significant industry events, projects, advances and programs, none more exciting or dynamic than this project. It's important to recognize that this project isn't confined to the ivory tower. It's at the ground level where the action is for the people involved in the industry. It will produce a database of information like nothing ever seen before in this industry.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research, the brains of a wide range of retailers, contractors, manufacturers and distributors will be picked to explore, identify and make available industry best practices. It is a win-win situation for all who recognize, take advantage of and use the information that will regularly gush from this multi-faceted partnership's pipeline.

To begin with a qualitative research study was conducted. The overall purpose: To explore key industry issues among professional floor covering retailers/contractors that impact the industry as a whole. I repeat, impact the industry as a whole, not just a few but impact the industry as a whole.

The three issues identified as most critical to explore initially are: 1) B2B software and the impact of e-commerce on overall business operations; 2) claims resolution; and 3) customer satisfaction and relationship management. Over the next year the industry's acceptance of the B2B flooring initiative; ways to improve manufacturer quality; the need for standardized claims resolution; and how to enhance customer satisfaction will be explored.

How about that for openers? How about that for taking off the gloves and getting into the meat and potatoes of uncovering ways to give retailers/contractors the opportunity to really grow their businesses efficiently and profitably? How about that for facing head-on many of the critical issues that have been in the industry for too long without sustainable resolution? How about that for meeting the biggest challenge retailers/contractors face: Staying competitive.

The first phase, which put B2B under the microscope, has been completed. It consisted of focus groups conducted in Irvine, Calif., Baltimore and Chicago this past December. Each session included retailers whose annual sales ranged from $500,000 to $20 million. Early research indicates retailers believe in the old adage, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." Many retailers are small operations that think their business model is working well. They don't want to risk incorporating an unproven technology that might get in the way of servicing their customers. Widespread use of B2B software appears to be a function of evolution more than revolution. Stay tuned as we learn more from this research.

Phase two begins soon with sample groups that include WFCA members, NFT subscribers and independent retailers. They will complete questionnaires to further investigate this round of industry issues.

Always of concern: Will the results of the research be readily available? The answer is: Very accessible. The research results will appear quarterly in NFT in a new section called "FC Best Practices." It will also be available on the NFT and WFCA websites.

This skillfully crafted partnership's program holds every promise of delivering to retailers and contractors news they can use in the form of tools and resources that will make them more competitive in the changing, challenging world of floor coverings. A plus: It gives all retailers a voice that will be heard.

It's an opportunity of a lifetime, one that all should latch onto.