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AJ Warne on the Future of Flooring

Posted By NAFCD, Wednesday, June 21, 2017

AJ Warne currently serves as Director of Resilient Sales for the Abraham Linc Corporation, a service-oriented floor covering distributor based in West Virginia. At age 27, he is also one of the youngest members ever to be named to the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors' (NAFCD's) board of directors. We recently sat down with him to discuss the challenges facing our industry, the importance of attracting more Millennials to the business, and his experience attending the association's University of Innovative Distribution program. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: What do you see is our industry's one or two biggest challenges of the moment?

AJ WARNE: I believe our industry’s biggest challenge over the next 10 years will be the changing of the guard in all positions of every type of flooring organization. I do not see Millennials entering our industry at a rate that will be sustainable as the Baby Boomers prepare to leave the work force. I see this as a problem in sales positions in retail stores as well as for distribution and manufacturing positions, but I see the primary pain point in the skilled installation trade. Skilled mechanics are not passing on those skills to a large enough pool of apprentices to fuel the future of our industry. We need to work together to incentivize young people to choose this industry, for our own, collective future.

NAFCD: What is your assessment of the current state of distributor-manufacturer relations?

AJW: Distributor-manufacturer relations could always be better, but I believe that the majority, and a growing number of manufacturers see the indispensable value that regional, wholesale distribution brings. Who would be able to replicate the local knowledge, inventory, and logistics on a national scale successfully without sacrificing the very things that are important to the incoming generation of consumers? Going are the days of "5-10 business days," and manufacturers have to rely on regional distribution to allow them to focus on their core competencies.

NAFCD What makes your company stand out in the marketplace?

AJW: We obsess over the minutia of getting the order right. We define the perfect order as "the customer receiving what they want, when they want it, damage and dirty-free." We measure the perfect order with our "perfect order index" and know to one-hundredth of 1 percent how we are consistently performing. This index is at the top of mind for managers making decisions, our customer service personnel pacing orders, and our logistics teams picking and fulfilling orders. We believe that this is the characteristic that makes us important to our customers.

NAFCD: Have you implemented any new technology that is driving efficiency?

AJW: Technology must be constantly evolving. Organizations can rarely build a sustainable competitive advantage based on technology, but can easily be left in the dust without being up to date enough to satisfy the masses.

NAFCD: How has NAFCD been of value to your firm relative to you personally and your company, in general?

AJW: Abraham Linc benefits from NAFCD membership through its annual conference and through related service organizations. This year, we’ve partnered with Jast Media to revamp our Web presence, and we are reaping the rewards of working with an industry-specific Web design company. Additionally, our executive management uses and values the industry benchmarking report. Personally, I have benefitted from NAFCD through networking opportunities and the educational sessions provided at the annual conference.

NAFCD: How important is getting more Millennials interested in our industry? Do you have ideas about how to attract more of Generation Y to flooring?

AJW: Millennials are the future. If our industry does not find ways to attract, retain, and promote the leaders of tomorrow, we will be left behind. In 20 years, most of the leaders of the companies I deal with on a daily basis will be in their mid to late 70s, whereas the oldest of the Millennials will be in their early to mid-50s. The leaders of today need to waste no time training the future leaders of their organizations.

NAFCD: You have attended NAFCD's four-day University of Innovative Distribution (UID) program, correct? How did you like the program and what did you learn from it?

AJW: I attended UID in March and found the program to be very useful. I think the program was a great opportunity to disconnect from my everyday responsibilities and to look at my business with a more objective perspective than is possible from the trenches. I learned useful strategies for positively affecting sales performance, profitability, and hiring practices. I gained particular insights into the strategies that some companies are using to manage Millennials in their work force. Jim Pancero, an upcoming speaker at the NAFCD Conference in Colorado Springs, provided a particularly useful insight into the difference between working with Millennials and working with Baby Boomers. When Baby Boomers would play sports as children, they would organize themselves and play ball in their neighborhood. They would spend one-third of the time picking teams, one-third of the time playing, and one-third of the time arguing about the rules. These Boomers always knew where they stood in the pecking order of athletic dominance. They learned to stand up for themselves, and they spent time organizing the competition for themselves.

Millennials played on well-organized sports teams with coaches and snacks. They were given instruction from a young age about how to play those sports and given consistent feedback about participating as a group to reach group success. As a result, the Millennials learned how to work together on a team and how to correct course with feedback. I think this simple analogy really helped me understand what values various members of my team come to the table with, and it has contributed to my effectiveness in my organization.

NAFCD: Do you feel it is a good program for your industry professionals to participate in and why?

AJW: I believe UID is a crucial program for the health and future of our industry. We can get mired into the details of our organizational goals and objectives and miss out on ways to incrementally improve ourselves and our respective companies without time to retreat and reflect. I learned from other industries who may have similar or different challenges and similar or different successes. The diversity of experiences in the room lead to greater outcomes than would’ve likely been found in a room full of my industry peers, and definitely greater outcomes than anyone could hope to achieve in a room with their organizational peers.

NAFCD: What has you most excited about the second half of 2017?

AJW: I am looking forward to NAFCD’s Annual Convention in Colorado Springs, of course.

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