Most years I attend both the winter and summer Carpet One conventions, which, by the way, are extremely well produced affairs that rival the production of anything that the people in Hollywood can put together. They’re big, they’re loud and they’re packed with informative speakers, educational session, new marketing ideas, new products and a trade show with dozens and dozens of suppliers.
This summer, however, because of a previously made commitment prior to knowing the dates of the Carpet One affair, its summer convention went on without me.
Not actually being on the scene for the get-together to get a thorough reading of the events at this convention I did the next best thing and called Carpet One’s president, Eric Demaree, for an interview.
The following are some excerpts from the conversation, but you can listen to it in its entirety by going to the TalkFloor website, located via the Floor Trends website at floortrendsmag.com/talkfloor.
TF: How would you describe this summer’s convention?
Demaree: It was very well received. We had about 78% of our members attend and we built the convention around the theme, “Impact Performance.” The entire tone of the convention was sharing best practices, both from third-party experts—we had some outstanding speakers such as Dennis Snow, who spent 20 years with the Disney Institute, teach and training customer service excellence at Disney—and among Carpet One members themselves. Snow was a keynote speaker and shared some practical and tactical ways our members could take what Disney has learned over the years and take it back to their stores to dramatically improve the “magical customer” experience.
Also at convention we made a great many visual presentations about what “really good” really looks like by showing comparisons of a good store versus a great store—both from the exterior and the interior viewpoint. It looked at the way displays are shown and the way samples are priced and, then, of course, we had our valued suppliers showing their introductions and products they are bringing to the market.
TF: You mentioned the in-store experience and its importance to retailers today. I expect most consumers in today’s marketplace have a pretty high sophistication level in terms of in-store appearance and judge independent retailers against the big national retailer players like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and others.
Demaree: Even though consumers spend a great deal of time online doing research and empowering themselves with information and product knowledge, 90-plus percent are still going into a physical store environment. Most of the research today such as that from Paco Underhill or Disney’s Snow will tell us to look at your business through the lens of your customer, examining not only how the store looks, but how it feels, even how it smells. All points are critically important.
TF: You mentioned the networking opportunities that are available at convention. Networking opportunities are available to Carpet One members throughout the year as well, aren’t they?
Demaree: We actually have five networking groups available to members. [Our] advisory counsel helps us set the strategic direction of the organization going forward.
We have regional network groups—about 40 of them—where members in the same geographic areas meet. They not only network but they also share advertising, make group buys together, share best practices and do group promotions.
We also have business network groups where businesses of like size and kind can get together. For example, luxury, high-end retailers meet and discuss practices.
We also have business counsels where we bring members in to offer their input on merchandise and other areas. In fact, we have done a total revision of the Carpet One SelectAFloor merchandising system. For this revision we brought in 12 members for their input then we brought in 12 sales professionals for their input.
TF: What kind of year has 2015 been for Carpet One members?
Demaree: Everybody is up. We just asked that question on a poll. Every region is up, some in double digits. As a company we are 6.5% to 7% ahead of plan, which we are very excited about. We are also very optimistic about next year.
Editor’s note: Later in the interview Demaree was asked about the growth and where it is coming from. He noted members are taking market share but couldn’t say exactly from where.
TF: After years with tentative progress I expect the kind of growth you have enjoyed so far this year has put a great deal of pressure on your members, especially in the area of installation. Are you finding this to be the case?
Demaree: Yes. The thing that is preventing us from opening even more storefronts is installation. And it’s becoming an even more serious problem. I would hope the major manufacturers could find a way to really support some statewide efforts to develop more qualified installers and get them in the pipeline.
We have been actively talking with several organizations. Nothing has come to fruition as of yet, but we are hopeful by sometime next year we will have a model that will bring some installers into the business.
This is a very serious issue we have collectively as an industry—and we all need to go to work on.
TF: What about the prospect of an individual retailer hiring installers and taking it upon [itself] to recruit at local schools or elsewhere and bring these young people in an employee helpers to learn the trade? This is a model that has worked for many retailers. What are your thoughts on this as a way for many retailers to solve their individual installation problems?
Demaree: It’s a model that requires an owner with the time, the ability and the financial wherewithal to organize some type of system to bring in qualified recruits, to train them and make sure when they go out in the field they have a livable wage and a job.
Many of our members feed the pipeline by hiring young people, putting them on the payroll and have them work with a seasoned crew and get them up and running.
TF: Digital marketing is a hot topic. What is the latest in this area with Carpet One, and what did you talk about at convention with regard to digital marketing?
Demaree: We have a program called One Stop Digital Plus. It is a program that does everything for an owner. We want our owners to focus on their customers, their employees and how to diversify their businesses so they can sustain profitable growth.
One of the beauties of belonging to the organization is it goes way beyond the pricing of particular products. The digital program includes everything—a total website and content management.
We are also everywhere social media touches the consumer. We are able to achieve this with the help of third-party experts we have under contract [plus] our own internal team.
TF: What would you say is the propensity at this point for retailers to join retail groups? Retailers who up to this point have elected not to join a group?
Demaree: We recently had a retailer join, primarily because of the marketing options we offer. We had another member who recently joined because of the value added services. He had lost a very large contract job to one of our members because that member offered an installation system that is proprietary and exclusive to Carpet One. That retailer called me and said, “I really want to talk to you guys.” When he saw all the added benefits and the differentiation he joined.
Another [dealer], a very successful retailer, recently joined because [he was] bringing on additional family members and needed help on how to transition the business in a manageable way to the next generation of owners. And we offer that expertise.
TF: There will no doubt be more and more pressure on Carpet One members and other independent retailers going forward, not only from the big box players but from the major online players. One option many retailers are thinking about is expanding into non-flooring products—countertops, cabinets, paint and other options. What are your thoughts about retailers getting into to these areas?
Demaree: My advice would be for any retailer to make sure first they are diversified in the flooring business. I would tell them to build out their core competency. If they’re weak in multifamily, builder, Main Street, commercial or restoration, make sure they are firing on all eight cylinders inside the flooring business.
If they have the financial capacity and the wherewithal, and they understand the requirements for diversification, they are then in a position to move forward.
We have turnkey programs in each of these expansion areas. If a retailer wants to get into bathroom remodeling we can show them how to do it. We can take them through it in four months and they can be up and running. We have done it for a half dozen members so far this year.
TF: Do you think the future for many in the floor covering business is diversification?
Demaree: I don’t think so. It really depends on a number of elements: The retailer’s size, market share and how much advertising the company does. Specialty floor covering stores can still do very well.
I tell members all the time that traffic count is everything. If your traffic starts to die down, you better analyze it. Is it because you are not advertising enough, not spending enough, not advertising in the right places or because you’re not closing enough?
Diversification could be one of many different strategies that an owner should look at.
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this interesting conversation than space permits. Check out the entire three-part interview, “Eric Demaree, President, Carpet One" by clicking here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or Matthew Spieler at email@example.com.