Being the biggest and best, no matter the profession or discipline, takes a great deal of hard work and perseverance. But it also means never sitting on one’s laurels. This is especially true in business where new pressures pop up everyday and those who adapt and take advantage of the opportunities offered them are usually the ones who end up on top.

One other thing the biggest and best realize, they got to where they are in part by their own tenacity, but also because of teamwork. When it comes to flooring retailers there are numerous teams, from employees to vendor partnership to local community organizations to affiliations with national groups.

So it is with the members of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA), a group of 41 of the industry’s largest, most successful retailers, who, while maintaining their own independent identities have slowly morphed into a cohesive organization many longtime members would not have thought possible 20, even 10 years ago.

This is not a bad thing, in fact, coming out of its most recent convention, members were singing the praises of the newfound benefits they are experiencing.

Gary Cissell, director of operations, Bob’s Carpet & Flooring Mart, said the group “continues to evolve and change with each passing year. It seems it continues to adapt to our changing environment, placing the needs of our members at the top of its goals and objectives.”

Jim Mudd, president of Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring, agreed NFA has not only “evolved” but has done so in a way to where it is “offering a great deal more to help the membership overall and a tremendous amount more for me personally.”

Jeff Macco, CEO of Macco’s Floor Covering Center, said, as a group, “we’re as strong as we’ve ever been. The committee structure is great; it has a lot of people doing more things, which gives everyone the opportunity to see many more offerings and options. The NFA has never been better for us.”

When it comes to NFA’s leadership structure, Sam Roberts of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors notes it does not have a large paid staff of employees and executives running the organization. “We’re not a few deciding for everyone; we’re doing it collectively. The members are involved in many ares of putting things together for the benefit of the group. But the beauty of NFA is nothing is mandatory and while we all work together everyone is still able to maintain their full independence on how they operate their business.”

Phil Koufidakis, president of Baker Bros. and NFA’s current president, pointed out what really makes the group so strong is it is filled with “extremely giving people who genuinely help each other’s business grow. For me, I get on the plane after the meeting and easily write down 20 things I got from other members that will help me in my own day-to-day business.”

When it came to this year’s spring meeting in San Antonio Cissell said it was “probably one of the most efficient and effective ones I have attended.” He cited the group’s best practices discussion as “extremely beneficial [and] always results in a couple of implementable ideas—sum of which I have already shared with our team. We also, had a cost savings presentation regarding energy consumption and reduction within our business. And, as a result, we have already taken steps to evaluate our energy usage and ways to reduce costs.”

When it came to what was being presented to the group by its vendors, members said suppliers came to the meeting with a number of great products and programs.

“Our vendors really stepped it up and came to the table prepared,” Koufidakis said.

Some of the areas members cited most was a financing program from Shaw, USFloor’s CoreTec product presentation, hard surface programs from Armstrong, Congoleum and Mannington, along with news that suppliers like Emser Tile were expanding their distribution range, thus allowing more members to take advantage of their offerings.

“I haven’t done business with Emser,” Macco noted, “now I’ll be able to so it will give me another nice option to offer consumers.”

One of the big things to come out of the meeting was the continued expansion of products under a private label called Lifetime Luxury. The program already contained wood, laminate and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) products but, for the first time, it now has a carpet component consisting of a number of smaller suppliers, as NFA already has special programs with the industry’s largest mills and brands.

Another area that makes this program different than most coming out in the past few years—and what also sets the membership apart from the pack—is, except for a couple of products containing polyester, it is generally an all nylon offering.

Members pointed out they specifically wanted a program like this as it gives them another way to differentiate themselves from an ever growing competitive market, while still being able to offer their customers high-quality products with a great deal of value built into them.

“We’re all icons in our own markets, and many of our members already do their own private labeling, which is fantastic” Koufidakis expalined. “But this allows us to take our economies of scale and leverage them for the benefit of the group by giving anyone who desires to a brand to use with some core vendors that might not get the push they [deserve].” He noted the goal for the label is “to build an internal brand over the long haul for the group to use as a best in class showcase.”

Mudd said adding the carpet component to the program was “something we need. We’re already running strong with the rest of the program as it allows us to compete against all the Internet sellers. People can shop a product down like crazy.”

Macco said having a complete private label offering is a “big step” for the group. The difference with the NFA having it though is “it is still up to the indivisual member to take it.” For him, though, he was was happy to have it as he pointed to the likes of the boxes when it comes to the company’s main competitors. “We compete against them on a regular basis. By creating our own brand it gives us another way to help us and our salespeople.”

He noted when a customer walks into a store, there are three brands at work: The salesperson, the business’ repuation and whatever brand of product is being sold. “Each one is an important component in making a sale but in this case we now have something tangible we can explain to her what makes it better and can also explain what it means to be an NFA member. Right now NFA means zero to her, but if we can build it there is tremendous potential.”

Along with being able to give his salespeople a more “value-ladden story to tell,” Roberts noted enhancements to programs such as this are valuable to the group as a whole. Besides the benefit to individual members, it helps build long-term relationships with suppliers. “We can’t remain exclusive to just one brand, that’s not feasible in this day. We’re getting one more bucket that drives value and efficiency and it allows us to add vendors you’re supporting to a core program without a tremendous amount of duplication.”

Put simply, he said the idea is to create programs that are “win-win for us and our mill partners. The group has done a good job of putting vehicles in place with all of our best manufacturers that afford inherent advantages in our individual market places. I think our initiatives with virtually every major vendor have yielded exclusive elements that we are all leveraging to our advantage.”