Like the proverbial Chinese menu, the offerings from the various groups—including those affiliated with manufacturers—permit their members to pick and choose the items they feel can best improve their business. Some members involve themselves in just about everything from soup to nuts, while others take advantage of relatively few of the services and options that are offered.
That’s really the prime advantage of the whole concept: Retailers remain independent, yet have a host of professional services and options at their disposal.
We had the opportunity to attend the recent CarpetsPlus ColorTile annual convention in Atlanta and found a group, which I would say is perhaps the most independent of the independent in our industry. We were able to talk with quite a few members at this get together and left with a very positive feeling about the direction and the levelheadedness of this organization.
We also had an opportunity at the convention to spend some time with Ron Dunn, the co-CEO at CarpetsPlus ColorTile. The following are excerpts of that conversation. 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: What kind of a year was 2014 for the CarpetsPlus group?
Dunn: It almost seemed to be a year that teased us a bit. It started off like  did with great growth but then somebody just shut the water off in about April. After that it was stagnant. After that we saw what I would call some flurries in the fall but nothing that was sustainable.
TF: We’ve seen that scenario repeatedly in the last several years. It would seem that floor covering retailers, like the ones who have traveled to Atlanta for this convention, are universally an optimistic lot.
Dunn: In reality, the ones that are still at it today are extremely resilient. Forty percent of the retailers that used to be operating in this industry have gone dark. We’ve been talking about that subject in the general session this morning. There is a great deal of resilience in our membership and they have been able to shift and make adjustments in their operations to make the best of any situation.
TF: Talk a little about the CarpetsPlus membership and the retailers that make up this group. Would you say there is a thread of commonality running through the group?
Dunn: Without question there is. It’s not so much size—our average member today is just shy of the $2 million mark. We were just over the $2.5 million mark before the bottom fell out. We have members that are below a million, we have members that have multi-stores and do in excess of $20 million. In terms of size we are all over the board.
The common thread, however, is the retailers who make up the group all have the desire to have a great business; they have a desire to keep learning, to treat their customers well to make a difference in their marketplace, and they have a desire to do things right.
When you get a group like that together it is really overwhelming because they network ideas and seek out best practices. Many members are extremely successful and they turn out to events like this because they want to keep learning.
TF: I talked with one of your members a little earlier and he told me that all the flooring retailers in his town were aligned with one group or another—either a buying group or a manufacturer’s group. I would guess it’s pretty tough these days to make it in this business without being aligned with one organization or another?
Dunn: There are still quite a few independents out there, but the mill programs, the programs of the major buying groups as well as the regional buying groups account for quite a few retailers.
What we are seeing is that there were a great many retailers who felt eight years ago they didn’t need a retail group. They were doing $5 million in business and life was good. Now that $5 million has turned into $3 million or less; they have had to let staff go and now they are talking with us and see a real benefit in joining.
Our industry has excellent groups. And to me it’s an extremely logical move. Why would you want to go at it alone when you can wake up in the morning and have other people there to make life easier and the business more profitable for you?
TF: How would you describe the organization’s product philosophy?
Dunn: Our approach is to go narrow and deep. We want to be important to our suppliers. We believe that provides for a win-win situation. Our suppliers are a big part of the equation. The reason suppliers like us as much as they do is that we out pace their growth. They will see that the growth of CarpetsPlusand Carpetland members (Editor’s note: Carpetland is a sister group to CarpetsPlus) during the year will be greater than their growth. As a result we select suppliers we can grow with, and will support us so we can support them.
Any time we bring on a new supplier it’s to fill in a gap that exists regionally or nationally that enhances our members and, in turn, helps to make them more successful, but not take away from existing suppliers.
TF: You talk to floor covering retailers every day, what would you say are their primary needs today?
Dunn: No question it’s figuring out how to get customers through their front door. Today, there is less foot traffic in most stores, unlike eight years ago when all you had to do was hang a sign out and people would come into your store.
Retailers need the most help in finding what promotions works, what advertising works, and finding the most effective ways to draw customers into their stores. Many also need to find a more effective way to tell their story—and do it quickly and concisely.
The Internet is what scares many retailers today. With the prime movement today toward the Internet, social media, dealing with search engines and searches that are done with smartphones, getting traffic to a retailer’s website is something that’s on most retailers’ minds. And it’s an area that we have devoted a great deal of resources to as well.
One of our members, Brad Flack of Flack’s Flooring, recently hired a specialist because he realized he was not doing as good a job as he would have liked with his online activities. He brought in a younger guy to help and the results have been extremely successful. One idea the specialist had was to launch a Halloween ugly carpet contest. The person who sent a picture of the ugliest carpet got free flooring. Brad had hundreds of people send in pictures. It was a lot of fun for everyone and it was a promotion that worked extremely well.
TF: I’m aware from sitting in during your general session that you have an eye for the future. [Share] some of the things you’re talking about with your members and some of the new directions you are contemplating?
Dunn: We are currently looking at our display system and how we can make it work more effectively for our members. It’s our goal to help consumers make a more educated decision when they buy floor coverings.
Our mission is to help our members better transfer their showrooms into what is really a breeding ground for floor covering education and inspiration. We have done a great deal of work with our selling system and we’ve also done a great deal with our new website and with our approach to social media.
We’re delving into what goes into creating the perfect experience for the customer when they visit our website and when they enter our showrooms and that’s what we’re trying to create.
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, “Ron Dunn, Co-CEO CarpetsPlus ColorTile.”
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