Flooring America's Gregg Dumont demonstrates the interactive features of the buying group's Home Emagination computer product database and design aid. Since its introduction last September, more than 12,000 Flooring America in-store customers have used Home Emagination to help select and purchase floor coverings.
During its Houston spring convention March 4-6, Flooring America unveiled a variety of initiatives mounted to build the Flooring America brand and differentiate members of the buying group from competing retail flooring operations.

Conducted under the "It's Showtime" theme, the convention saw the debut of Flooring America's new "With You Every Step of the Way" advertising tagline. The verbiage will now grace the buying group's revamped, softer and more personal advertising circulars, which feature photos of actual Flooring America salespeople from across the nation, and be reinforced in new in-store signage and advertising materials.

Also during the convention, members endorsed an effort to unify customer satisfaction programs to support national brand building. To this end, dealers agreed to distribute postage-paid evaluation cards to their customers. Once completed, the cards will be sent directly to Flooring America's corporate offices and the results disseminated among all members. Dealers also will complete annual self reviews designed to allow members to monitor their businesses against Flooring America brand standards.

In addition, the capabilities of Flooring America's interactive Home Emagination computer software were demonstrated for members. The program includes a searchable product database containing more than 10,000 SKUs, as well as color and design aids. Although the program is designed as a stand-alone feature that the dealer can access from a computer terminal in his showroom, a more stripped-down version is available on the newly redesigned flooring America Web site at FlooringAmerica.com.

Several products newly added to the Flooring America lineup also were introduced in Houston. Alloc products have replaced the Formica line in the buying group's laminate collection.

Previously available only in Europe, Balta's Naturcor Flex Floor is nearly twice as heavy as traditional vinyl sheet goods. Here Flooring America members peruse some of the line's 13 hardwood decors and 13 stone and ceramic patterns.
Also unveiled at the convention was the Naturcor Flex Floor, a heavy, vinyl-like floating floor from Balta U.S. that can be installed according to loose-lay installation methods and is guaranteed not to curl. Additionally, the company debuted Living Art, a 5/16-inch hardwood floor imported from China that can be glued over concrete subfloors or nailed in over wood substrates. Overall, strong sales in ceramic and stone prompted management to expand SKUs in those product categories by nearly 50 percent this year.

Finally, the buying group highlighted the success of its recently instituted Neighborhood Networks. Since its inception last autumn, more than 70 percent of Flooring America's members, which number in excess of 545 member-owned stores throughout the United States and Canada, have participated in a Neighborhood Network session either in person or via telephone conference call. The program allows members to share peer-tested best practices, compare notes and brainstorm solutions to mutual challenges.

More than 600 members and their affiliates registered to attend the Houston convention, and several hundred representatives of major flooring manufacturers also participated. The next Flooring America convention is scheduled for Aug. 25-28 in Memphis, Tenn.