Thirty years ago, three industry veterans—Howard Brodsky, Sandy Mishkin and the late Alan Greenberg—got together and put a business plan together for a retailer-owned cooperative designed to give the independent dealer a chance to level the playing field against the larger, national players in the industry.

The year was 1985 and the notion of a retail buying group—be it a franchise or co-op—was a pretty foreign concept but 13 forward-thinking dealers liked what they saw and signed up. Thirty years later, Carpet One Floor and Home now has more than 900 members representing approximately 1,000 locations across the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“Thirty years together; it’s time to celebrate,” said Eric Demaree, Carpet One’s president, as he kicked off the group’s winter convention which paid tribute to the group’s three decades of success but also laid the foundation for the coming years with a host of innovative products, programs and services all designed to do what Carpet One has been wanting to do from Day 1: “Help our members succeed.”

Brodsky, chairman and co-CEO of Carpet One’s parent, CCA Global Partners, and Mishkin, president, each said the key to the company’s success has been its ability to keep its focus on “putting our members first. It’s something we’ve always done, and something we continue to do.”

Mishkin noted that formula is essential considering how much the industry—and society—has changed since the group started. “There are so many things we are doing today and have at our disposal from when I was a retailer, it’s truly amazing. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is our philosophy of making sure our members come first because their success means we, our suppliers and the industry are successful.”

Terri Daniels, vice president of public relations, said forget about how much as changed since 1985, just look at the last decade, noting “who would have thought social media would be a key component to your marketing strategy; today it is a part of life and we need it to be a part of our business.”

Charles Whitt of Whitt Carpet One Floor & Home in Salem, Va., said one of the things he loves about Carpet One and a key to its success has been its ability to always bring “innovative products and concepts to us. It’s Carpet One’s forté to be on the leading edge.”

One of those innovations is the SelectAFloor merchandising system. Introduced in 2001, Whitt said it has been “a real differentiator for us. If a salesperson can’t find a product anyplace else in the store he can find it in Select-AFloor—it’s really a great merchandising aid.”

At 14 years old, the system remains a stalwart for Whitt and most of the group. So much so that Theresa Fisher, Carpet One’s senior vice president of visual merchandising, said, “Members and suppliers both said it’s a backbone of their selling. The problem was, after so many years, people were using it in different ways and we wanted to not only create consistency across the membership we also wanted the unit to remain relevant based on how much companies already loved it.”

So for more than a year, Carpet One has been speaking to members, designers and suppliers about it and Fisher said it was finally time for a makeover. The basic concept is still the same, in that with the commercial pod the unit measures 63 linear feet and can incorporate a staggering 280 sample cards.

While the pods remain their messages have been updated to reflect today’s lifestyles such as Inspired, Confident, Eclectic, Stylish, Tried & True, and include numerous graphical trend elements both as attention grabbers as well as idea helpers.

“We gathered info from our members to see how they were using the display,” Fisher explained, we then worked with designers and suppliers to re-create it into a unit that helps make the selling and buying process easier for members and consumers. Once a direction was set, we went to Dalton and the mills really got behind it. It’s a big investment for them but it shows the value and importance they see in this system.”

While all the products in the system remain private labeled for Carpet One, suppliers like Darren Boe of Beaulieu was “very happy” with the new SelectAFloor, noting the company has a prominent position with 25% of the samples belonging to the mill. “That’s really big for us. We know the system was a big push by Carpet One and we are really excited to be such a big part of it as it is something the members really use as a go-to resource in their stores.”

Along with renaming and updating the graphics, one of the biggest changes was in the sample cards. “We wanted to make them work harder,” she said. To so do, a few simple “tweaks” were done but as Whitt and other members noted, they make a “big difference” in how a salesperson can assist customers.

For example, the handles were moved from the sides to the top, and icons representing the product’s various attributes are positioned on the front so both the salesperson and consumer can see while looking at the sample. “Between the lifestyle graphics, which really focus on the floor, along with the easy to understand icons and a more user-friendly board, the whole system is designed to help members and their customers understand and see the latest trends,” Fisher said.

In addition to the revamped SelectAFloor, members were exposed to an array of innovative products including Shaw’s new LifeGuard Carpet Protection System, along with new luxury vinyl products bearing a waterproof message. The result is a new category of products being marketing under CCA’s exclusive “H20” brand.

Jim Aaron, Carpet One’s vice president of merchandising, said, along with representing some “amazing technology” the H20 display system, for carpet as an example, is “all first class, and our speed to market will help separate our members from the competition. Not only is the display itself impressive, so is the demonstration showing consumers how the product works.”

With the changing landscape of retail—especially since the Great Recession—Mishkin said the need to innovate is a key to “sustain our success. Even everyday, mundane things have innovative, such as measuring cups.”

As such, he said these products when combined with Carpet One’s exclusive Healthier Living Installation (HLI) system are two things he would have like to have “when I was a retailer. If I had a store today I would do [certain] demos because a presentation without a demonstration is just a conversation.”

Along with having a beautiful home, Mishkin noted how consumers still want their floors to perform according to their lifestyles, and they also want to ensure their home is healthy for their children and pets. “This is what the customer wants, and when you can visually demonstrate to her the performance levels of these H20 products and the positive effect our HLI system will have on their home you will instill confidence in her that she is not only selecting the right products but in the right store. Put simply, H20 + HLI = success.”

Gary Bronat of Carpet One of the Hamptons in Long Island, N.Y., said even before the H20 products, the HLI system has gained him new business. “We just started getting into commercial and bid on a nursing home. Our price was a bit higher because of the HLI system but the folks at the home loved the concept and it helped us win the job—as well as get even more business from them.”

Beyond products, Carpet One continues to build and expand its marketing strategy and helping members better understand the power of social media through its One Stop Digital program.

As Daniels noted, in the 60 seconds it took her to walk to the front of the stage “2.5 million pieces of content were added to Facebook alone. Today, 72% of Internet users use social media—and its universe is growing and evolving. And so is Carpet One as this year we have created national promotions and programs that will help you raise your awareness across all the major channels—and in ways that are both engaging and fun for the consumer.”

In the end, Demaree said Carpet One continues today what it started out doing 30 years ago: Finding ways to help the independent dealer be successful in his local market.

In fact, whether it is Carpet One or some other buying group, he said in today’s business climate it behooves the stand-alone, independent retailer to “explore the advantages” of being in an organization. “When you think about what is going on today and what will be taking place over the next five or so years, most independents won’t be able to stay in business. Being aligned allows you to spend time on your business while still maintaining your independence. If I were a specialty dealer I would never pass up the opportunity to at least listen and explore what is being offered. There are many clean, non-conflicting channels, like what CCA offers, and for the members they get a four to six month head start with the newest, most innovative products and programs to help them succeed. For us, that’s been our mantra for 30 years and it’s not going to change.”