This move set the industry on a road that would free retailers from having to call 800 numbers or send a fax to place an order, an approach that has had its share of shortcomings including errors and wasted time. The practice very definitely put the industry behind the times when compared with many other industries. All this was the precursor of the formation of the Floor Covering Business To Business Association (fcB2B).
The concept of B2B permits industry software systems to communicate seamlessly and automatically with suppliers, exchanging everyday documents, including purchase orders and invoices, and do it in a fraction of the time than the traditional phone call or fax.
In 2006 industry associations including the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI), the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD), the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) came together to form fcB2B, which in turn developed the technology and set the standards to make this idea become a reality.
Since its formation the association has set up proprietary specs, developed standards and created the documents that make the system work, including a price catalog, a purchase order, an acknowledgment, an advanced shipping notice, a functional acknowledgement and an invoice, and adding enhancements each year.
We had an opportunity to attend the group’s most recent annual meeting in Atlanta and ask its co-presidents, Aaron Pirner, CEO of CAP Carpet, and Mitch Dancik, chairman of Dancik International, to bring us up to date on the association and the latest technology it has been working on.
The following are some excerpts from the video interview of this conversation with them that you may find interesting. You can find the complete three-part video in the archives section on the TalkFloor.com website, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’ website, floortrendsmag.com.
TF: About a year ago we talked about the web services efforts fcB2B had just launched. Bring us up to date on the progress of that effort and the most important developments that have been made over the past 12 months.
Pirner: The most important and exciting outcome for the organization is the place we are in now with regard to the customer experience. Think of the phases the customer goes through: The dreaming phase, the pacifying phase, the active buying phase and then they get to the quote and deposit phase.
One of our web services teams has been working very hard improving the customer experience and its being implemented this year in stock check and stock availability.
In our industry time always matters. And we are very excited this is going to be one of the really strong deliverables. In the past, we have talked about back office; today we are talking about issues in front of the customer. That’s what this web services initiative is all about, and the first element of this initiative that is now out. And it’s really going to help our customers to be able to answer one of the key questions they always ask: How soon will I be able to get this?
TF: How soon will they be able to get this?
Dancik: I think the most exciting thing that has happened this year is we have a retailer in the room that has been using the first web services, which is stock check and inventory inquiry. She has been using it now for a year, so she was definitely an early adopter.
Her operation has 50 salespeople, it’s a large retail operation and she addressed the group at this meeting. She is definitely over the moon about this. There is a Holy Grail question we asked her about web services: Do you think you can get to the point where you can enter an order on your iPhone from the sales floor? Her answer without hesitation was, absolutely.
That means salespeople have everything they need when they are with a customer and they are closing the sale using B2B. The boring part of B2B was yesterday, the exciting part is today.
The second most exciting part about B2B, for me, is that manufacturers can start to put their brands forward with it. For years, B2B was this boring stuff in the back office, getting POs and the paperwork, elements which never excited retail owners or manufacturers—it was just more infrastructure stuff.
Now everything they do in marketing can be put front and center with B2B. Just imagine, a salesperson on the sales floor who perhaps is not well informed about the detail specification and the trim pieces that go with a particular product, now he can press a button—the same button whether it’s Shaw, Mohawk or Armstrong—and he gets not just what is in stock but all of the marketing information the manufacturer wants to put forward and has spent a fortune on. Up to now, to get that information you had to go to the [manufacturer’s] website, and who wants to go to a website when you’re in the middle of a sale? You want to get that answer immediately. Introducing brand into B2B is very exciting.
Pirner: The most important thing is that we have implementation opportunities that are out there. Now it’s all about individual dealers and understanding they need more business, and this is a way to help support the customer and to get a ‘yes’ response. It’s a very simple implementation.
Many of them have industry specific software, and there are people aware at the software companies who can provide support, can train and can help with development. It’s really as easy as flipping on a light switch. Hopefully it will not have a steep learning curve.
TF: Talking about B2B technology, what is the loss factor because the floor covering industry does lag behind so many other industries?
Pirner: There are two areas we have to look at specifically. One is what happens if customers do not have all of the information they need to make an informed purchase decision? A friend of mine, an industry icon, [the late] Herb Wolk of Cadillac Carpet once told me the answer to the question is that time happens. And we don’t want time to happen.
People are impatient. They are busy, two income families. So the better we do in supporting what customers want and need now, not over time the more success we’re going to have growing our businesses. There are an awful lot of people that leave the buying process because they don’t get everything they need.
The second opportunity we have is really all about having a much more professional sales force. Meaning, if retailers have the information they need so they can share it in a valuable way with the customer and they care about their customer and want them to buy the right product for the right reasons, for the right application, usage and life stage they are in, then this tool is for you.
TF: It seems to me that some in this industry have been slow to get in the B2B parade. Do you think web services will speed up that process?
Dancik: I believe so, if you think of B2B as a bit of a horse race among different companies with different levels of technical savvy. If you have a horse race from the backroom perspective it’s not a very exciting thing to watch. But when it’s on the sales floor that’s a horse race I don’t think anyone is going to be left out of.
We certainly have an adoption issue with B2B. Part of that is because it’s hard to explain. It has been more about cost cutting. Now you’re going to have a horse race that says, I’m a manufacturer and the customer can’t see all the goodness that we are putting forward, but they can see the other guy’s goodness. I think that’s a pretty powerful statement that will get marketing people, salespeople and CEOs in the mix.
TF: The new B2B tools we have been talking about create a great opportunity, especially for the big guys. What are the possibilities? What do you see happening going forward?
Pirner: I think the most important possibility is that we now have a way that we can collaborate together to increase the ability to grow our businesses and do it together, especially if I am the owner of a floor covering store and I’m using a customer relationship management software and I’m trying to manage the sales process effectively to take care of the customer in the most intimate way.
When a customer is asking the question, when will these goods be available, you are really very close to the deposit phase of a sale. There is now, through B2B web services, a means that answers that question and makes for closing the sale faster.
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this interesting interview than space permits. To see the three-part conversation in its entirety visit TalkFloor.com, click on the TalkFloor TV logo and scroll down to the parts titled, “FC/B2B’s Mitch Dancik & Aaron Pirner talk about Web Services.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at email@example.com, or Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org.