When it comes to the typical floor covering store, many times the owners think of themselves as simple mom-and-pop operations. But at the recent Alliance Flooring convention, Ron Dunn, co-CEO, told the membership they are more than that—they are leaders, and not just of their business but in their communities.

The proof, he noted can be seen in many ways, such as the fact they navigated through and survived the Great Recession and are once again showing growth, or that many of the operations are run by second and third generation family members, meaning the business has a long-standing relationship with its employees and the community it serves.

Dunn was quick to add, beyond just being a leader, “if you have a store that does $2 million in annual sales, in the floor covering industry, you are a star—and if you do $3-, $4-, $5- or more million a year you are a superstar,” especially if it is done from a single location. Even if any of this is achieved with multiple locations it is “fantastic.”

He noted in today’s post-recession, fast-paced world many companies have gotten away from what made them successful in the first place and that is why conventions such as this are good because they act as “reminders of the people out there who still do it the right way.”

Robin Osterhaus of Flooring Frenzy in Owatonna, Minn, agreed noting the reason she “enjoys” attending the group’s annual convention is because “this is where I come to get rejuvenated.”

When it comes to being a leader, Dunn added whether you are were naturally born one or made yourself into one it makes no difference when it comes to the hard work and learning that is constantly needed to not only maintain a certain level but go beyond it—“like the people in this room who want to build upon the successes you’ve experienced.”

In 2013, Dunn did his third annual RV road trip visiting Alliance members around the country speaking to both the owners and employees about their business and about themselves. During this past trek, he asked two questions: What is character? What is important? From ownership to employee, the No.1 answer was integrity, but from the answers given Dunn was able to compile a list of other traits that kept coming up in terms of defining the characteristics of leadership, including compassion/caring, leading by example, teaching, being a visionary, being passionate about what they do, and making decisions when they need to be made and not procrastinating, which he called “the death of progress.”

Put simply, he said your “personality may get you in the door, but it is your character, your integrity that will bring you back.” And the same holds true for your customers as they want to do business with companies that do what they say and do it right the first time.

Alliance is the parent company of a handful of buying groups, including CarpetsPlus ColorTile, Carpetland USA, Floorco and CleanTouch Pro, and Dunn noted no matter the operation the last six years have “been so difficult. It forced [everyone] to slide back or at best stand still. But now things are starting to change, stores are opening and growth is happening.”

In fact, growth is happening within the Alliance network as Jon Logue, co-CEO, pointed out the group as a whole grew double digits in 2013 compared to 2012 and, even during the rough winter months that welcomed in 2014, many members enjoyed their best Februarys ever. “We are outpacing the industry and we’re hearing nothing but good things for 2014.”

And it is during this time, Dunn said, when being a leader is the most challenging as you are forced to make decisions like never before, including how one thinks and acts.

Jeff Henderson, marketing consultant formerly with Chick-fil-A, told the audience, “The greatest competitive advantage you have is you.” Everything rises and falls on leadership, he added, “and if you want to grow your business then it’s a question of how do you want to grow yourself. To be a great leader means to ask better questions; if you just complain you will stagnate.”

Henderson gave the group a list of 10 leadership questions, including what he feels is the most important question in challenging oneself to be better: What’s it like to be on the other side of me? “When you walk into a room there is a climate that follows you that you are unaware of and you need to know.”

As such, he told members to ask three entirely different people this question—spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. “You’re going to get some encouraging information, some surprising information and, in some cases your feelings will be hurt. That’s why this question requires courage, but it also shows your team the kind of leader you are: One who is humble but trying to improve, which in turn helps to inspire your team to improve itself.”

The aspect of recognizing oneself as a leader and that being a successful leader requires making difficult decisions was a central theme to this year’s convention, “Drive 2014 – Accelerate Your Leadership,” and one executives wanted to drive home because they challenged the members to not only accept the social media phenomenon taking place all around us, but to embrace where it is heading in order to be ahead of the curve—and thus the competition—when it fully arrives.

Logue noted, “We’re really going to beef up efforts in this area and help you take advantage of these trends” and pointed to the updated Alliance ProPlus marketing and website solutions program which combines the WebPro 2.0 Internet marketing solutions and MediaPro advertising and marketing solutions into one easy to use system.

Dunn said Web Pro was being updated and revamped with an overall re-design and extra features to make it “easier to update with a new content management system.” Meanwhile, with Media Pro, members “can utilize professionally designed, coordinated advertising, and run campaigns with ease and for far less money than if they did it on their own. It offers a new jingle for radio, TV and Internet usage, coordinating POP kits, direct mail, print ads, TV and radio spots and scripts, website graphics and social media.”

In challenging the group to think ahead, he unveiled a pilot program called Define Your Reach, an all-inclusive, in-house solution for member’s needs in social media, website maintenance and advertising. He said this will “help members by allowing them to spend most of their time on what they do best—flooring.”

Ryan Dunn, Alliance’s co-COO, said the group put together a number of member committees and one of them was to help understand their wants and needs when it came to social media and this is one of the items that came from it.

Ron Dunn noted, “We have lots of members spending lots of time and money trying to figure out social media and have become totally dissatisfied with it. So we decided to marry everything together into a turnkey program that allows them to do what they want—from doing it all by themselves to having us do it all.”

The big thing he pointed to was the smartphone. He held up his on the stage and told the members “this is where the future is. The most exciting thing is turning your phone into a selling tool,” because more people are starting to use their mobile devices to go on the Internet—whether it be to search for something or for social media—than traditional computers, even to the point of never leaving their home. “The phone has become their feet, and this is where you need to be if you want them to find you,” noting Alliance’s new social media platform allows members to do just that—and more.