When buying groups were being formed en masse in the 1990s, two of the primary reasons retailers flocked to join were the lure of increased rebates and greater purchasing power allowing them to buy products at lower prices.

While these are still two important factors for dealers to become affiliated with a group, as these organizations matured many long-time members will say the networking opportunities afforded by the groups are possibly the most important aspects of belonging.

Every group provides its members with some form of networking opportunities, usually in the form of annual, even biannual conventions. In the case of Alliance Flooring, the umbrella company for such buying groups as CarpetsPlusColorTile, Carpetland USA, Floorco and Clean Touch Pro, it takes networking to what many members call the next level with its member summit meetings.

Summits are multi-day events hosted by a franchise member who literally opens his store up to the rest of the membership, showing them everything from how they run their day-to-day operations to their long-term strategies for being the successes they’ve become.

This year’s event was hosted by Mark and Mary Ann Dougherty, owners of Hoosier CarpetsPlusColorTile in Bloomington, Ind., who opened their business in 1994 after each had worked in another flooring operation since 1978 and 1980, respectively.

At the start of the summit, the Doughertys told their peers their history and how Hoosier Floor Covering started out in a 12 x 12-foot office space inside a warehouse with just two employees with no outside signage. Because of the many contacts both had made in their previous jobs, they were able to build a clientele that included builder and commercial accounts. In 1999, they moved to a location with signage, and two years later joined CarpetsPlusColorTile. They now have two locations in Bloomington with 13 employees, six of whom are family members.

Following the Doughertys’ history lesson, the membership was broken into three groups in order to tour the store in an orderly fashion as three individual “stations” were set up—Warehouse Operations, Paper Flow and Sales & Showroom—and manned by Hoosier CarpetsPlusemployees to inform attendees how this successful store runs its operation.

Before breaking off on the tour, Ron Dunn, co-CEO of Alliance, told the gathering of retailers, “A big part of our group is networking. As you’re networking with other members, walking through the store, share with each other. Tell each other what you’re getting from what you’re experiencing. Our goal is that each of you get two or three things you can take back to your store and use.”

To help stress how the Doughertys run their business, even some of the stations were broken into mini stations. For example, the Sales & Showroom section was broken up into a few shorter presentations. Mark Breedlove, general manager, and Kate Doyle, retail and builder sales, discussed builder and retail, while Trevor Mullis and Sheldon Beasley gave a presentation on commercial sales, and Cody Burgess gave some background on marketing, social media and how to sell to different age groups including baby boomers and millenials.

When asked what she thought the No. 1 most important thing about selling is, Doyle simply said, “Relationships. Just being a real person and not pushy. Being involved in the community is also very important.”

The Paper Flow presentation was made by Hoosier’s Diane McEvilly, controller and human resources manager, and Kim Madison, accounts receivable manager. During their sessions, they talked about how to handle special situations that could bog down cash flow, c.o.d.s, the differences in residential, builder and commercial accounts, and even the software they use.

McEvilly emphasized the importance of good paper flow by stating how it “can affect your bottom line and the efficiency of every department—it really can.”

At the Warehouse Operations station the company’s Jon Hunt and Jeff Metzger spoke. Hunt talked about the importance of a good paper trail, recycling carpet and pad and scheduling installers using live-update calendar software that all in the company share on their smart phones. He also said each installer only sees his own schedule.

Meanwhile Metzger spoke about his process for receiving, delivering and checking freight.

Though this was the Warehouse Operations station, Hunt stressed the importance of a paper trail: “A clear paper trail protects me, the client and our company. We do the majority of our product ordering online and by email.”

He also commented about the retailer’s recycling efforts, “We’ve partnered with Kruse Carpet Recycling and by keeping those things out of our dumpsters has saved us a lot of money and also kept it out of Bloomington’s landfills. We also sell our pallets and carpet cores.”


Store No. 2

After everyone had gone through the three stations, the group loaded up on buses and traveled to downtown Bloomington to the Doughertys’ second location.

While touring the showroom they learned this location is just the right size for the community it serves.

In fact, store manager Kerry McEvilly noted they sell out of that location and many times they send customers to the larger showroom to see more options and product installation vignettes.

To show its appreciation to both the Doughertys for opening up their stores and to the members who took time away from their businesses to attend, Allience held a special reception and dinner at the Alexandar Hotel in nearby Indianapolis.

At the event, Dave Lee, owner of ColorTile & Carpet in Salem, Ore., was given a special award for being the member who traveled the farthest to attend the summit—2,306 miles.

The next day, members of the Hoosier CarpetsPlusColorTile staff, including the Doughertys, answered questions during a Q&A session.

Though the summit is about getting members to network and share best practices by seeing what a successful operation is doing, Alliance used the event to unveil an advertising and marketing initiative called Alliance Media Pro.

Kevin Logue, Alliance’s co-COO and vice president of marketing, said with the new program “our members can utilize professionally designed, coordinated advertising, and run amazing advertising campaigns with ease and for far less money if they did it on their own.”

Jon Logue, co-CEO of the group, noted the program features many things members asked for at the organization’s convention in March. At that event, Logue led an advisory board group that discussed advertising and social media and how Alliance could help.

He explained how each of Alliance’s top four executives—Ron and Ryan Dunn and Jon and Kevin Logue—met with a quarter of the group’s advisory board and “we each took a subject and discussed how we could make improvements to help the group. What came out of our discussions was Alliance Media Pro. We took all their suggestions and created a program that addressed what they said would be very useful on a day-to-day basis.”

Kevin Logue added, Alliance Media Pro offers participating members a new jingle for radio, TV and Internet usage; coordinating posters and POP kits; direct mail; newspaper and magazine ads; TV spots; radio spots; radio and TV scripts; website graphics, and social media posts to produce top of mind awareness in their local markets.”

David Ellis, Alliance’s advertising and public relations manager, who helped develop the program, told Floor Trends, “it covers it all—from traditional to digital to social—it’s all there for them to use. If they need a spot or ad customized, we can do it all in-house.”

He added, Alliance Media Pro “provides members with local marketing campaigns to address some of the biggest challenges they face, without the hassles of doing it all themselves. They have access to the ad creative and these campaigns help to control brand identity across all sales channels they utilize. Alliance Media Pro will save them time, money and headaches.”

Marty Mokry, owner of Advantage Carpet in Bridgeview, Ill, believes Media Pro will allow him “to be competitive in my market by targeting the younger consumer. I’m very excited and am anxious to get started.”

After the Summit, Mary Ann Dougherty hoped the people “who spent their money to get here and participate got something they can apply to their business, adding for her and the company “it’s been a phenomenal experience. We weren’t always good at what we do. It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning. But being a part of CarpetsPlusColorTile, where the sharing of ideas is done freely by all members was such a help to us starting out. And it’s always very educational [when we get together].”


Member Reaction

Based on what members were saying after the summit, Dougherty’s hopes were certainly answered.

Jamie Hornstra of Fred’s CarpetsPlusin Torrance, Calif., noted “This was my first summit experience and was the most beneficial event I have attended so far in my short flooring career. I learned so much information including getting to know members on a personal level and being able to discuss common issues from warehouse to c.o.d.s.”

Dave Lee of Color Tile of Salem in Salem, Ore, said, “I really enjoyed going to this summit. I have been concerned about the next generation called the millennials and them being groomed to purchase from big box stores. Learning to reach them is imperative in our future growth. I got a great deal out the question and answer panel. The Doughertys were excellent hosts with an excellent staff.”

Dan Buerkle of The Rug Market in Rochester, N.Y., called the summit “wonderful. The store was really nice and it looks great from the road. There were really good ideas one could take back to their store, but something that was very impressive to me, and not always mentioned is work chemistry and your team. The team worked together very well.”

As a first-time summit attendee, Shawn Yaeger, of CarpetsPlusof St. Louis in St. Louis, “didn’t know what to expect,” leaving him “anxious about leaving the store knowing my workload.” But in the end he was glad he attended because “it provided me the opportunity to see how the Dougherty’s ran their business and after returning, I am reflecting on how we can improve our store to make it even better. The information I gained was worth my taking the time to attend.”

Missy Bakker of CarpetsPlusof Rochester in Rochester, Minn., and another first-timer called the “the entire experience was amazing. There were so many ideas I brought back to implement. I thought it very beneficial to meet other members and for them to want to help you grow your business. We all shared things that worked, and things that didn’t work.”

For Tysen Rovig of CarpetsPlusColor Tile of Billings in Billings, Mont., the difference between the annual convention and the summit is something he can “appreciate. From someone who started brand new in flooring, and to have the opportunity to go to another store and learn their day-to-day operations—it was very informative and valuable to me. I learned what I do wrong and what I do right and will implement the new things I learned.”

At the end of the summit, Alliance paid special tribute to the member who shows “a noticeable willingness to participate, asks questions and shows interest in what is being presented,” with the Star of the Summit award. This year, there were two winners—Hornstra of Fred’s CarpetsPlus, and Mark Lundy of Floor Craft in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hornstra said Alliance’s acknowledgement is “a great idea to honor members who are wanting to take advantage and learn as much as possible from these events. I want to thank Alliance, and the Doughertys and their team for making a such a memorable event.”

Lastly, Ryan Dunn drew a name of a summit attendee Scott Melkonian, owner of Karen’s Advance Floors in Clarkston, Mich., for a free trip for two to Alliance’s next summit, currently set for 2014 in Bend, Ore, at Randy Reed’s ColorTile store.