Evan Hackel, president of Carpet One Floor & Home (pictured left) addresses members during the retail co-op's summer meeting in Cincinnati.

Flooring America president Vinnie Virga performs with an R&B band to open his group's meeting.

Strategies designed to help their membership overcome sluggish business conditions dominated the agenda at the summer conventions of two major floor covering retail groups operated by CCA Global Partners. During their back-to-back meeting in Cincinnati, the leadership of Carpet One Floor & Home and its sister co-op Flooring America/Canada each unveiled plans aimed at helping members navigate through turbulent times. While the two approaches were markedly different, the message was consistent:  A savvy retailer can use the current conditions to gain market share and create a stronger, more efficient operation.  

Carpet One

The theme adopted for the meeting, “Turn it on: The Carpet One Network” was intended as a reminder that the 1,000 store retail group is a major force in the flooring industry.  Members were urged to leverage their brand identity and embrace the growing assortment of programs offered by headquarters. While acknowledging that some members have had difficulty keeping up with the changes introduced, the Carpet One management team suggested that the down turn was opportunity to draw customers away from the competition.

“There’s one of two things you can do when the economy is very tough,” said Carpet One president Evan Hackel, addressing the membership.  “People can pull back or push forward. “  In an effort to convey the urgency of  current market conditions, Hackel noted that there is no shortage of competitors-both traditional and non-traditional-“who want to put us out of business .”  He went on to list five areas members should focus on: store design, merchandising, marketing, in-store execution, and  operational excellence.

Among the new initiatives discussed was a deal with a global distributor, BlueLinx, that will enable individual member stores to import hardwood, laminate and cork flooring in quantities ranging from a single carton to multiple containers. Also in the offing is a “Customer First” program aimed at enhancing the shopping experience and distinguishing Carpet One from the competition. The multi-faceted program is being launched in response to research that indicated consumers do not always see a clear distinction between Carpet One and its many competitors.

While Carpet One has been steadily building its presence on the Internet in recent years, the co-op is determined to increase the portion of sales placed by shoppers online. While the move reflects consumer shopping patterns, it is also a response to research that indicates the average flooring order purchased online is typically the dollar volume of  orders placed in the actual store. Acccording to Hackel the new efforts reflect the mindset of  consumers who are keenly aware there are numerous options for buying flooring. “We want to to simply ther buying process for consumers,” he said.

Flooring America

Members representing the 580 stores that comprise the Flooring America/Flooring Canada co-op were encouraged to stress their expertise in floor covering while focusing on the fundamentals of business. The approach was tied to the company’s forward looking Vision 2008 initiative and was reflected in the theme adopted for the meeting: “Learn it! Do it! Summer Jam 2007.”

Mindful that many in the audience were concerned about the current market conditions, the president of Flooring America Vinnie Virga began the meeting on an upbeat note by playing piano in a rhythm and blues band comprised of people in the flooring business.  He also pointed to the results of the internal research that suggests most stores are experiencing an increase. The research found that 51% of the stores had experienced a rise in sales over  the past year while 30% were flat. Of the 19% of the store base that  has seen sales dip, Virga assured that the declines were “mostly minor.” After revealing the stats, he triumphantly told members “You are outperforming the market.”

In an effort to give members a point of difference from competitors, the co-op introduced a line of private label ceramic tile called Design Distinctions and a rebond cushion program called StarCushion.  Also announced at the meeting was Flooring America’s first national TV ad campaign that is tied to an updated logo and the slogan “With  you every step of the way.”