When it comes to buying groups, franchises or co-ops, conventions are generally the one way for the corporate entity to gather the members in one location and lay out the company’s agenda for the next six to 12 months. They are also a great place for vendors to interact with the membership by showing them some of their latestproductsand services—many of which are exclusive to that particular organization.

Conventions have also become a great way for the members themselves to get together and network with one another to discuss best practices as well as problems they are having and seeing if another member has gone through a similar situation and how it was handled. As a result, more groups are allotting more time at their conventions for the sole purpose of allowing the membership to network with itself.

Many years ago, before most groups truly understood the power of networking, executives at Alliance Flooring, the umbrella company for such buying groups as CarpetsPlus ColorTile, Carpetland USA, Floorco and Clean Touch Pro, recognized this and decided to take the concept directly into members’ stores with what is known as summit meetings.

Ron Dunn, co-CEO of CarpetsPlus ColorTile, said the multi-day summits enhance member businesses through more than just networking, sharing best practices and training. “These events are hosted by a member who opens his or her business for the benefit of the group.”

Retailers who host a summit literally open their business to visiting members by 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 CarpetsPlus ColorTile Summit was hosted by Randy Reed, owner of ColorTile in Bend and Redmond, Ore. Reed began his career in 1982 as a ColorTile salesperson, then after a career change, ended up back in floor covering where he opened his first ColorTile location in Bend in 1994.

In addition to touring his two stores and seeing how each operates, the group took part in a number of training and team-building sessions at the nearby Sunriver Resort.

Jim Brown, co-owner, CarpetsPlus ColorTile of Bloomington, Ill., said, “The networking provides so much information and knowledge. Everyone does things a little different. I will pull the things that were shared and implement what will work best for my store and market.”

At the event’s opening session Dunn said, “What questions do you want to have answered today? Take a moment and write down two or three questions you’d like to have answered before you leave and then let’s look forward to mining some nuggets to use in your stores.”

He noted, while the group is filled with community leaders and successful entrepreneurs, even leaders need to talk to other leaders to gain a different perspective—and even find ways to maintain their leadership skills. Like a coach of a sports team, while your message needs to be consistent, it also needs to be tweaked in order to keep the players—or employees—on the same page when it comes to maintaining your success.

 “There’s a lot of mojo in this group,” Dunn pointed out. “What is that? It’s the energy that makes you. If you’re a leader and lose your mojo, that’s a bad thing. If you’d like to take it to another level we can help but you have to communicate—talk to us, talk to your fellow members, talk to these guys (pointing to the Northwest ColorTile group, which besides Reed includes Rich Best of Medford, Ore.; Dave Lee of Salem, Ore.; Jim Paterson of North Bend, Ore.; Rick Shervey of Portland, Ore., and Steve Taylor of Kennewick, Wash.) and we’ll all try to help.”

Jon Logue, co-CEO of CarpetsPlus ColorTile, then recapped the history surrounding the CarpetsPlus acquisition of the ColorTile brand in 2002, the first meeting with these owners and how the working relationship has expanded and deepened since that time. He explained, “There was some apprehension as to how this all would be handled a dozen years back. But the transition to CarpetsPlus ColorTile allowed these guys to have a complete private-labeled carpet program. I think we all agree it’s worked out pretty well.”

Reed then began sharing a little about his business. He spoke about best practices in sales, operations, how to merchandise exclusive products and other keys to his company’s success. He also shared how he dealt with the eventual closing of ColorTile corporate in 1996, just two years after opening his store.

“We had to decide what to do,” Reed explained. “Being friends with the other franchise owners in this area made it possible to form a close network in which to set up new programs with the local distributors. We got together and talked about what we were going to have to do to stay in business. That’s really how we became such a close group. We’ve been going strong for almost 20 years now.”

The business savvy of the group of franchise owners helped them navigate their businesses through a difficult time and come out on top without any major corporate buying power or advertising help.

Taylor pointed out, “We were friends determined to succeed and do what was necessary, including importing products and sharing inventory. That’s when the buying group was formed.”

Reed added the group was vital to the survival of his business. “Without this group I would not be here today. I know that for a fact.”

Lee was also thankful for the group and the insight the other members provided. He also believed the acquisition of the ColorTile name by CarpetsPlus helped them not only survive but thrive by expanding their range of products to include such things as private-labeled carpet.

Other members also echoed the importance of being in the group. Best said, “Part of the benefit of the networking group we have in the Northwest is we’re all different. We all run different types of operations and have different operation styles. What we get out of the interaction is we all have different ideas about things and by sharing these things, it just makes us all stronger.”

Paterson added, “We trust each other totally. We’ve been through a lot together: We’ve been through the ColorTile closing, we’ve been through personal issues, so I can’t see how we could be any closer. We’re family.”

Shervey noted, “Never think you know it all. Most of the time, I have to try super hard to zip my mouth and listen. I hope to always learn something from a situation or carry forward an idea and improve on it. Always value teamwork. When a group sets out to achieve a common goal, it’s exciting to celebrate the team’s success.”

Dunn asked the Northwest members what advice each had for other members across the country.

Shervey advised the room that branding is key. “We are true to the ColorTile brand. Branding is so key, especially in the metro area of 3 million people where I am. People just won’t come to Rick’s Tile. The name ColorTile is big for us. It’s one of the top brands in the industry.”

They also had advice about starting a regional networking group. “Start small,” Reed said. “Start with a set goal.”

Lee interjected, “Get to know each other. Communicate. Call the other guys.”

Reed then added, “We meet about three times a year to discuss ideas on buys, among other business items.”

Taylor said, “You have more in common with each other than anybody else. Who else would want to talk about flooring all day? Share with each other.”

Sam Quandahl of Floor Coverings of Winona, in Winona, Minn., felt hearing from Reed and the other members of the Northwest group was invaluable. “Listening to their history and wisdom was interesting and entertaining—talk about getting the wheels turning upstairs. I got lots of fresh ideas: Display less, display better, display what you can make some money on.”

Reed also reflected on the value of his regional group, “They mean a great deal to me. I look up to them. It’s great to be able to share ideas. No one’s better than anyone else. I like to listen to my group here in the Northwest. If you get off-track, they’ll let you know. We’re like brothers really. We all have different styles but that’s what makes us so good. No one’s greedy. I look at them as coaches and my employees as my team.”

Store Visits

When it comes to these summits the biggest component and the thing attendees get the most from is visiting the store or stores of the host member. Even those who have opened their stores up for the other retailers say they get a great deal from these events.

At least year’s summit, hosts Mark and Mary Ann Dougherty, owners of Hoosier CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Bloomington, Ind., called it a “phenomenal experience.”

The idea sharing ramped up as members loaded the buses and headed to visit Reed’s Bend location, where he told the group to take photos and pick something they would like to try that might be a fit for their store. Members were able to tour the business and gather lots of valuable information about merchandising and specific programs Reed has brought into the store to help him compete with the big boxes for cash-n-carry business. They also discussed many other aspects of their business with Reed and the other owners.

After completing the Bend store tour, the group headed to Reed’s Redmond location where they were treated to another tour. Redmond is a city with over 52% of the population having moved there in the last 10 years. It’s a rapidly growing city and Reed decided to build a store there in 2006 to take advantage.

Members walked around the two-story operation taking photos and discussing ideas for what they would try in their stores. Staff was on hand to answer questions and suggesting ways to use what the other dealers were seeing.

After the second tour, the group gathered for a question and answer panel discussion with the six members of the Northwest ColorTile group. Dunn opened the session by reminding the group, “All of us are smarter than any of us.”

Among the many questions that were asked, were: Do you have installers on staff? How do you open a second location and make it work? The Dal-Tile Statements program was also discussed and received positive reviews from those who use it.

Speed Dating

The group started the next day out with a supplier round table event, which officials said was similar to the idea of speed dating as groups of members got a short period of time at a table with suppliers, with a break in between, and then rotated to the next table.

Suppliers thought this was a very productive session. Cole Hood, Mohawk’s director of national accounts, said, “I truly enjoyed the round table discussions. Too often we’re bouncing from place-to-place at conventions and don’t get to have meaningful conversations with members other than the immediate topics at hand. The round table afforded me the chance to hear what we do right, what we can improve on, and how to help the members and Mohawk get to the next level.”

Members also appreciated the change-of-pace event. Todd Ramsey, co-owner of 3 Kings CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Ft. Wayne, Ind., said, “The highlight for me was the supplier one-on-one. It was like merchandise dating times 10. We were able to ask questions and get answers that were quick and to the point, and I gained a great deal of knowledge.”

Kevin Logue, CarpetsPlus ColorTile’s co-COO and vice president of marketing, said the group “got a lot of positive feedback about the round table event from members and suppliers. We were able to come up with some great ideas by having everyone at the table together and lay the groundwork for an exciting new exclusive product launch in 2015.”

Pat Douds of Bob & Pete’s Floors in Canton, Ohio, really enjoyed the overall ability to network with other members, saying, “I took tons of notes from various members that I can use to improve or implement in our store. An example is how [Quandahl], does his estimating. I can take part of that and implement into our sales process.”

The evening culminated with Ryan Dunn, Carpets-Plus ColorTile’s co-COO and vice president of sales, drawing a name of a summit attendee for a free trip for two to the next summit, which is scheduled for 2015 in Pittsburgh, at Stacy Pape’s store, S & P Flooring. The lucky members were John and Wendy MacCheyne, owners of MacCheyne’s CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Fairbanks, Ark.