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Sika USA's Mike Croes on the Opportunities of a Manufacturer Selling to Distributors

Posted By NAFCD, Friday, November 10, 2017

Mike Croes, Sika USA's Vice President of Sales for Interior Finishing, sees the floor coverings industry as a business of both challenges and opportunities. He has been with Sika since 2005, having previously served as the company's Western District Manager for Interior Finishing. Sika manufactures and sells to distributors flooring installation supplies and accessories -- a real growth area for NAFCD. Croes' segment services the industry with self-leveling underlayments, moisture mitigation products, and wood flooring adhesives.

One of the biggest challenges of the moment that he sees is "fast-paced, design-built construction." Croes explains, "We have large projects with tight time frames. This challenges products to 'set' faster, manufacturers to react faster, and distribution to service faster." Such projects are becoming increasingly plentiful in the larger U.S. cities. For sure, he added, "I see the greatest opportunity in the major cities. They are growing in population and in the volume of homes being built."

With the pace accelerating and the competition intensifying, Croes says this is where a company like Sika USA really tries to set itself apart from the competition. "The Sika approach to the market is focusing on projects and being an extension of the distribution sales team," he said. "Sika manufactures projects for many phases of the building, such as: roofing, window fenestrations, waterproofing, insulation, air barriers, joint sealants, and coatings just to name a few. This level of exposure allows the flooring contractors to use a manufacturer that the general contractors and architects can trust."

From Croes' vantage point, he is able to offer an experienced perspective on the current state of manufacturer-distributor relations. "This needs to be a partnership," he stated. "Distributors want to sell products that fit best into their business model, and we need to align our products to distributors that service the markets where our products are being used or can be used."

He is also able to remark on the benefits and importance of continued innovation in the industry. The real buzzword going around the business now is "efficiency." He commented, "We have launched a new line of self-leveling and prep products this year, and the goal was efficiency. We now have a line of products that allow floor covering to be installed faster, and a movement to take products that are traditionally installed on your hands and knees that can now be installed standing up."

He and Sika also see the value in industry representation, which is why the company became a member of NAFCD in recent years and why Croes will be joining the association's Board of Directors for 2018. Earlier this year, Sika became an NAFCD Education Supporter, which has positioned the company as a supplier willing to help support the education of their customers. "We saw the value," Croes said, "and wanted to support the organization in this way."

Croes is especially eager to start his board service. He concluded, "I am looking forward to understanding what the distributors are looking for in an organization, so we can make that happen and create a stronger industry."

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Taiga Building Products' Sven Johnson on Meeting the Challenges of the Day

Posted By NAFCD, Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sven Johnson currently serves as General Manager, Flooring Division of Taiga Building Products, providing leadership and responsibility for sales, marketing, and profitability of the division. Taiga services its retail customers with 15 warehouse distribution locations across Canada with two additional locations in Northern California. Taiga is a relatively new NAFCD member company, and flooring is a fairly small part of its product mix. But the Canadian company is looking to grow the division with Johnson's help.

They have the right man, for sure. Johnson has over three decades of experience in the flooring business. As such, he is a great resource to talk to when discussing the industry's current challenges and future opportunities. We sat down with him recently to discuss such matters and more. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: What do you see as our industry's biggest challenge of the moment?

SVEN JOHNSON: Margin discipline. I say this because the world has become very small making an abundance of product easily accessible and available in the marketplace. The various costs associated with distribution ensuring dependable delivery and services to today’s consumer puts margin discipline as a key factor in running the day-to-day operation of a healthy distribution organization. Today’s flooring industry has some of the best quality, price-valued products ever seen in the industry. The value proposition in providing quality products and dependable services while exceeding customer expectations comes with a cost, though. It will be those distributors who have the right people dedicated to their company’s "secret sauce" of margin discipline, who will be the leaders in their marketplace.

NAFCD: Would you say that improving services to meet today's market demand is also one of today's major challenges?

SJ: Yes, I will speak specifically to hard surface. Using one example, the market buzz is luxury vinyl. Here in Canada, it's certainly a product that has gained popularity and usage in many markets. It's become more and more a part of our interior décor. The most important area of service improvement will be keeping up with product and installation knowledge. When there is such a heavy supply of material, you must remain focused on the basics and make sure the product promotion is correctly specified and properly utilized in the space it is intended for. That is the number one area to improve.

Also, the timing, logistics, and having product arrive safe and sound and delivered on the date specified are becoming more and more important, especially with the advancement of technology. That facet of the business is where a lot of attention will need to be applied. Providing efficient and effective delivery of material to the market and ultimately to the consumer when called upon is key.

NAFCD: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

SJ: The people, both inside the company and externally. I love the business aspect of helping customers, especially when we are called upon in a time of need. My tagline is: "People deal with people." What really got us here today is the relationships with our customers, built on trust over the many years. It becomes a business partnership with some having fostered into lifelong friendships.

NAFCD: How has the business changed since you first got involved?

SJ: The biggest change has been just the amount of product available, the amount of accessible product. As a distributor — call us the "middle man" — we are in this channel where we are obviously trying to improve our value while keeping the channel organized and efficient. Every one of us in that straight and narrow channel to the market has to make a profit. When there is so much product and the channel of distribution gets clouded or broken and becomes scattered, the challenge becomes: "How do you put margin back into every one of those channel providers?" And by channel providers, I'm talking manufacturer to distributor to retailer to end user, the consumer. As a mentor of mine once said, "One may think you can eliminate the distributor, but you cannot eliminate the cost of distribution."

NAFCD: What advice would you have to anyone entering the flooring industry today?

SJ: It is a very exciting business. It's always changing. There are always new challenges. There is emotion attached to it. You get to influence people and environments with color and design. So, always put your best foot forward. This is a very professional industry. Do your best to always stay professional. Integrity is key.

NAFCD: You serve on NAFCD's board. How has the association been of value to you personally and to your company, in general?

SJ: NAFCD's value is second to none. You are surrounded by dedicated and professional people with a wealth of industry knowledge who desire to share business advice and ideas. We are always looking to improve and support one another and the industry. NAFCD and the executive team are so willing to serve and provide the necessary tools to help us grow as business individuals and companies alike. I believe the association will someday become an all-inclusive network of services and knowledge, with an efficient and effective resource base for all distributors to access.

NAFCD: What has you most excited about the fourth quarter of 2017 and the new year ahead?

SJ: The dawn of new products and fashion trends to be ready to go to market for 2018 makes our business exciting, while helping our retail partners become more relevant in their local markets to become profitable for many years to come. The fourth quarter is going to finish strong with our company forecasts, and we are very optimistic for 2018.

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Distributor Marketing Expert, Yuki Conlon, on Google My Business

Posted By NAFCD, Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I Googled My Business and ________ is Wrong! Why Can’t I Fix It?

By: Yuki Conlon, President, JAST Media

It never ceases to amaze me how frequently we hear this - and not just from smaller outfits. If you think this doesn’t affect you or your most profitable partners, think again. Here are just a few situations large multi-location material distribution companies have come to us to solve in the last few months:

“The phone number’s been wrong on there for years.”
“It’s been saying that location is permanently closed for months now. It never closed.”
“I don’t know why it says we do pool supplies there, we’re strictly floors at all our locations.”

Everyone reading this has certainly done a Google Search for a company and have seen that company’s business information neatly displayed by Google on a right-hand panel or in Google Maps with basic business information - phone number, address, hours, products/services offered, hours, and sometimes photos.

Needless to say, having accurate info appear is a no-brainer. I’ve heard countless stories of CSRs getting irate calls because a driver is at the wrong address as shown on Google. And yet the number of companies who have lost control of their Google Business listings, and have allowed inaccurate information to show for lengthy periods of time is absolutely staggering. Today I lay out the steps to recover your account.

Claiming your page links your Google My Business account to your business listing, granting you administrative access to fix wrong information, add products and services offered, and more. 

  1. Navigate to Google.com/Business and login with the Google account you wish to use to manage your business To avoid issues in the future we suggest using a company admin account such as admin@company.com, not your personal account like joe@company.com.
  2. Search for your business and select it from the drop-down list
  3. Once selected, a dialogue box should appear to let you know that your business has already been claimed by someone else.
  4. Click “Request Ownership” and complete the associated form, including details of your professional identity, relation to the business, contact information, why you need managerial access and, lastly, the steps they should take to either add you as a listing manager or transfer ownership over to you entirely.

If the present listing owner fails to respond after 7 days, contact support through your request’s confirmation email and Google will help mediate the matter further. Despite any perceived ego, Google My Business support is surprisingly responsive and available to assist you if you experience trouble completing the request on your own.

Once you have both verified and claimed your company within Google’s business listing, you will be allowed to read and respond to customer feedback, post photos, update contact information, and more. When replying to customer comments and review, always be sure to keep your responses calm, professional, friendly, and thankful, however emotionally-fueled their two cents might be.

And if you’ve tried this and need help - or haven’t tried anything at all and are just overwhelmed don’t hesitate to reach out to JAST. We’re happy to help.

Yuki Conlon is president of JAST Media, a digital marketing agency that specializes in online strategy for distributors and manufacturers. NAFCD members are eligible for discounts on JAST Media's comprehensive web marketing and branding solutions, including website design, branding, direct mailing, trade show materials and video production. Learn more  about NAFCD’s partnership with JAST Media.

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Regional VP Richmond Is Quite the Catch at Fishman Flooring Solutions

Posted By NAFCD, Thursday, September 21, 2017

Shane Richmond currently serves as Regional Vice President of Fishman Flooring Solutions' Mid-Atlantic Region. In that position, he is responsible for managing, directing, and coordinating all sales and branch operations in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia, and the District of Columbia, as well as ensuring that the customers throughout the region are pleased with the service they receive from the Fishman team. The regional VP position also means he is heavily involved in long-term strategic planning for the firm overall.

Richmond has been a decision-maker in the flooring industry for more than 25 years. He joined Fishman in 1997 as Assistant Manager of the company’s Raleigh, N.C., location. Since that time, he has held a number of positions with increasing responsibility for the Baltimore-based company. Before being named to his current post, he was the company’s Regional Manager for the Carolinas. Prior to that, he served for over a decade as Territory Business Manager for Fishman’s Charlotte, N.C., branch.

We sat down with Richmond recently to discuss what makes Fishman such a respected player in our industry, as well as to discuss where he sees the business headed. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: What makes your company stand out in the marketplace? What makes it a special place to serve and work at?

SHANE RICHMOND: One thing that makes Fishman Flooring Solutions special is the fact that it is 100-percent employee-owned. So, our customers know that when they are working with a Fishman employee, they are working directly with an owner of the firm. At Fishman, our stated promise is to delight our customers with every product, service, and solution that we provide. We take this promise very seriously. We’re focused on our customers every day and believe that the better we understand their needs, the better we can recommend the right solutions to them. It’s that customer focus that I think also makes Fishman special.

NAFCD: What do you think are our industry’s one or two biggest challenges at the moment?

SR: I think that, by and large, floor covering distributors face challenges similar to many other industries. Recruiting and retaining excellent employees is key to maintaining service levels with customers. With low unemployment across many parts of the country, recruiting presents a particular challenge.

I’d say a second challenge is how to stay abreast of the many new technologies and cutting-edge products that are continually introduced into our marketplace. The best flooring distributors are those who invest time and dollars in understanding these new technologies and products, so they can knowledgeably advise their customers about them.

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

SR: Distributor-manufacturer relations are constantly evolving. In the past, manufacturers mostly relied on distributors to get their products to the floor covering dealer. Distributors committed local inventory and delivery to accomplish this.

Today, manufacturers are looking to their distributors to bring value to their brand. Distributors are challenged to do more than inventory products and ship them to customers. We are expected to be experts on the products that we carry. We help floor covering dealers find solutions to their project needs. This often means providing installers with technical details about products and where they can and should be used. It also means that we’re tasked with working with architecture and design firms and facility managers to help get products specified on projects.

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

SR: At Fishman, we are constantly looking at ways to make our team more efficient. Whether it’s a new transportation management system or better phones at our 35 locations, we’re continuously updating our technology to better serve our customers.

NAFCD: Finally, how has NAFCD been of value to your firm and to you personally?

SR: NAFCD provides a unique opportunity for distributors and manufacturers to interact outside our everyday business environment. Association events allow us to surround ourselves with peers from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities that affect all of us. At Fishman, NAFCD events are very much about learning and sharing. We send team members to these events every year.

Learning and sharing also apply to me personally. I have attended both Distribution Management University and the University for Innovative Distribution. These experiences provided me with valuable knowledge specific to the wholesale distribution industry. And I always look forward to the information sharing that takes place when I participate in NAFCD board activities or other NAFCD events.

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Distributor Marketing Expert, Yuki Conlon, on Omni- and Multi-Channel Marketing

Posted By NAFCD, Thursday, September 14, 2017

Brand New Buzzwords, Same Old Problems, and Real Actionables

By: Yuki Conlon, President, JAST Media

Omni channel. Multi channel. Cross channel. Marketers love hot new buzzwords. Buzzwords make consumers feel pampered, call retailers to action, and put brands under immense pressure to pivot their marketing strategies just as fast as new trendy buzzwords roll in. In fact the only thing we marketers love more than new buzzwords … is two.

Anyone who is responsible for driving sales at any stage of the supply chain should be asking themselves these two questions when they hear new marketing buzzwords: 

  • What does it mean?
  • Is it actionable for me?

Multi Channel Marketing is using a healthy mix of different distribution and promotional channels to market and sell to a consumer. For example, a brand may have products available to view and purchase in retail displays, on their website, from a product catalogue, and from an e-tailer like Amazon. The goal of multi-channel marketing is simply to make it easy for a consumer to buy the brand’s products wherever or however they prefer to shop. In fact if you’re reading this, whether you’re a manufacturer or distributor, you are probably already supporting some level of Multi Channel Marketing. See? Just a new buzzword, not actually a new trend!

Omni Channel Marketing is taking all of those avenues to market and sell to a consumer and overlapping them to immerse buyers in your brand’s storytelling before, during, and even after the buying process. For example, a buyer looking at your brand of tile in a big box store may use the text codes provided on the display rack to text themselves color swatches, then search for your brand on their phone, compare prices and reviews on e-tailers. After leaving the store they may see ads for your brand follow them around the web on their home and office computers and on their cell phones, and will find an attractive cross-selling offer in their inbox, with ongoing messaging ultimately steering them to make their purchase at the online/retail store/clearance warehouse of their preference.

Now if you’re shaking your head because this isn’t actionable for you at the manufacturer/distributor level, you’re not necessarily wrong. But to assume there’s nothing actionable here for you is entirely wrong. 

The daily fight for consumers’ attention is a bloodbath and retailers stand on the frontlines daily. Meanwhile manufacturers and distributors have had the luxury of slow or sometimes no response to the rapidly shifting demands of their end consumers. In order for retailers and B2C businesses to market themselves to consumers and trade professionals effectively, they need collateral that not only represents your products, but builds confidence and affinity in your brand.

A handful of major brands support the marketing and sales activities that drive sales to buyers and industry professionals exceptionally well with media vaults and asset libraries filled with room scenes, product photos, sell sheets, on-trend installation inspiration, and more. But the vast majority of building materials brands have little to no collateral that can be used for even the simplest of marketing initiatives.

Whether they're working on multi-channel or omni-channel marketing strategies, or even simple traditional campaigns, retailers trying to keep up with the frantic pace of consumer marketing will use what they have available to them - usually a limited set of collateral from a shortlist of major brands.

Ask yourself when was the last time you (or the some of the brands you represent) sent a fresh batch of current, on-trend room scene graphics for use on retailer websites or social media pages? Updated tech docs with aspirational installation photos or renderings? If a homeowner walked in to a retailer today and was interested in learning more about your private label lines or wanted to make sure they could easily find warranty or maintenance & care info prior to committing, what would they see when they Googled your brand name?

Even though you sit at or near the top of the supply chain, if you’re not actively supporting the marketing and sales activities that are happening at the bottom that are driving sales to homeowners, businesses, and industry professionals, you’re leaving room for your competitors to do a better job, giving them the space to drive more pull-through demand and ultimately scoop up your market share.

 

Yuki Conlon is president of JAST Media, a digital marketing agency that specializes in online strategy for distributors and manufacturers. NAFCD members are eligible for discounts on JAST Media's comprehensive web marketing and branding solutions, including website design, branding, direct mailing, trade show materials and video production. Learn more about NAFCD’s partnership with JAST Media.

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Spartan Surfaces' Jablon on His Company's Non-Traditional Approach to Flooring

Posted By NAFCD, Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kevin Jablon is the owner of Spartan Surfaces, a specialty flooring distributor headquartered in Bel Air, Md. The company was founded in 2007 with an emphasis on specifying products through the A&D community. Jablon recently sat down with us to discuss Spartan's non-traditional approach and where he sees the business headed. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: Spartan has succeeded by promoting the brands of your sales consultants at the same level as those of your suppliers. What went into setting this strategy and how has your approach to the business changed over the past decade?

KEVIN JABLON: We formed our company in 2007 as a commercial flooring rep group. We had limited resources and did not represent the most well-known brands in the marketplace. To separate ourselves, we made it a point to hire high-profile reps that had great relationships with architects and designers. It was my responsibility to make sure I put them in a place to be the most successful.

NAFCD: For those NAFCD members reading this who would like to become more design-oriented, what advice would you have for them?

KJ:We prioritize the design community the same way most distributors prioritize their contractors and retailers. The contract community is extremely important to us, but everything starts at the specification level at Spartan.

NAFCD: Are you seeing any trends in the various markets your company is servicing?

KJ: The multi-family market segment is a big focus of our company. We call on developers, property managers and specifiers throughout the segment. We are seeing a trend shifting from new construction multi-family towards renovation work. We feel that the renovation market will be robust for a long period of time.

NAFCD: Spartan has morphed into a stocking distributor over the past few years. Can you elaborate?

KJ: We realized we had pretty good market penetration in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., marketplace. We had solid relationships with the dealer community, but we couldn’t service them properly without local inventory for fast track products. We invested in trucks, a new software system, and an internal distribution team to best serve our customers. We now stock and deliver daily the following products: Johnsonite, Tarkett, AzRock, Schonox, Ecore, ProtectAll, and XL Adhesives.

NAFCD: Was there some advice given to you early on in your flooring career that has stuck with you?

KJ: You may not always be the smartest person in the room, but don’t let anyone outwork you. Take business seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

NAFCD: How important is it to have a fun and creative work environment, and what are some of the ways leadership can foster that?

KJ: Extremely important. We believe that culture trumps strategy. We want to attract the best talent and, in order to do so, you must have a great working environment.

NAFCD: How has being involved with the NAFCD been of benefit to you personally and your company, in general?

KJ: Last year was our first year as a member of the association. We look forward to getting more involved in the upcoming year. Any opportunity that I have to sit down and discuss best practices with other distributors, I am all about it.

NAFCD: Lastly, what has you most excited about the remainder of 2017 and beyond?

KJ: We are constantly looking at new ways to reinvent ourselves as a company. On a business level, the rest of 2017 looks to be pretty strong. On a personal level, I feel very fortunate that I get to do something that I love every day.

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NAFCD Announces New Partnership with Digital Marketing Agency JAST Media

Posted By NAFCD, Friday, July 21, 2017

The North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) is pleased to announce a new partnership with JAST Media, a leading Portland-based digital marketing agency that specializes in online strategy for distributors and manufacturers.

JAST Media offers distributors and manufacturers comprehensive web marketing and branding solutions. From websites to room scenes, private label brand assets, eCommerce platforms and more, JAST Media has a demonstrated history of building innovative solutions delivered by industry leading designers, developers and marketing strategists.

The new partnership leverages JAST Media’s expertise and experience to assist in educating and informing NAFCD members on opportunities to leverage digital marketing to achieve sales goals and execute corporate strategy. JAST will deliver content and training to members via a variety of mediums.

“NAFCD's coveted roster of industry leading distributors and manufacturers brought together in an open yet tightly-knit setting is the perfect event to meet new contacts and form lasting connections. The relationships we've built from attending NAFCD events have been unparalleled,” says Yuki Conlon, President of JAST Media.

NAFCD’s partnership with JAST Media will provide distributor and manufacturer members with discounts on marketing services including website design, branding, direct mailing, trade show materials and video production.

“Partnering with JAST Media will give our members the resources to better market their businesses and stay relevant in a competitive digital landscape,” says NAFCD Executive Vice President Kevin Gammonley. “We hope this partnership will accelerate our member’s digital marketing efforts which will help to drive sales growth.”

More information on this new partnership can be found at www.nafcd.org.

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Russell Rogg Raises the Roof at Metroflor

Posted By NAFCD, Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Back in March, Russell Rogg celebrated his sixth year as president and CEO of Metroflor Corporation. Before joining Metroflor, he spent more than a decade with Wilsonart International, holding a variety of decision-making positions in both their decorative surfaces and flooring divisions. Throughout his career, Rogg has focused on key tenants from a manufacturers' perspective, delivering exceptional product quality, creating differentiation and uniqueness, and selling through independent distribution with integrity and trust.

We sat down with the married father of two recently to discuss the industry's challenges of the moment, where he thinks the business is headed, and how he plans to impact that business as an NAFCD board member. What follows is our chat:

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

RUSSELL ROGG: Much has been said and discussed surrounding the shortage of qualified, trained installers that our industry is facing. But I believe that organizations such as INSTALL, the FCICA, the WFCA, and perhaps others will creatively develop programs that will entice younger generations to consider floor covering installation as a career. It's even being discussed amongst the leadership at NAFCD how our group can play a role in this effort, whether independently or in conjunction with another association that is leading a particular effort. To be successful, it may have to begin at the high school level, where programs can be offered that promote technical trades as viable career paths. With that said, this issue is on the radar of so many that I believe, over time, we as an industry will tackle the challenge and will address this need.

Aside from this, what I'm troubled by most is our industry’s tendency to devalue the valuable. Meaning, manufacturers continually strive to innovate, make products more authentic, solve problems, and perform longer. And yet when this occurs, the channel defaults to "price" as being the differentiator. Consumers are not always interested in the lowest price. They are interested in value for their money, and that's different than a "low price." It seems that many retail sales associates "presume" their customer is looking for a "lower-price." So, they ask their distributor for a "lower price," who in turn asks their manufacturer for a "lower price." And so the downward spiral begins. So, while the installer shortage is real and must be addressed, I also believe that "sales training" at all levels -- manufacturer, distributor, retailer -- is required to stem this unfortunate scenario that seems to occur time and time again. I might also add that while I provided an example that begins with the "retailer," it also occurs in the opposite direction . . . where a manufacturer can start the downward price-spiral.

NAFCD: Looking ahead to the second half of 2017 and beyond, where do you see opportunity?

RR: For Metroflor Corporation, we are focusing on opportunities in the commercial segment with our Aspecta branded LVT portfolio. We now offer three collections: Aspecta One, Five & Ten, with One & Five being dryback, glue-down LVT and Ten being a rigid-floating LVT built on our Isocore Technology platform. We endeavored to build this portfolio in 2014 with the launch of Aspecta Five. Now, we believe we have a very powerful program to attack all key commercial segments such as Healthcare, Education, Corporate, Hospitality, and Retail. All three of these collections, which encompass over 200 skus, are inventoried in the USA at our distribution center in Savannah, Ga, so as to provide nationwide service in a matter of days.

In addition to our commercial efforts, in 2016, Metroflor launched a new merchandising system called the Metroflor Selection Center, which was offered in conjunction with an Aligned Dealer Program for select retailers throughout the country. Our goal is to continue driving customers to and through this retail network, while simultaneously providing them with new products, sales collaterals, and training -- in essence, creating a network of highly trained and educated retailers to whom we can drive consumers who are interested in our products.

NAFCD: What makes your company stand out from the competition?

RR: We try to stand out through our “Specialist” mentality. Unlike many other brands in the industry, we focus on one category: LVT. We think this focus results in greater credibility for our people, our products, and our company when we promote Metroflor-branded goods. We believe ourselves to be experts in how we manufacture LVT, and this expertise is evident in what we publish and communicate related to our products through materials such as Tech-Data Sheets, Environmental Data Sheets, Installation Manuals, HPDs, and so forth.

NAFCD: Have you implemented any innovative strategies or approaches when it comes to your distributor partnerships that you would be willing to share with the readership?

RR: Over the years, we have done a few things to work with our distributors in what I would call a "collaborative manner." To address inventory challenges with our distributor network, we have created "Master Distributor" programs whereby we work collaboratively with a particular distributor to underwrite their ability to sell to "other" distributors in our network at a price that is not cost prohibitive. Currently, we have two such programs in place, with Ohio Valley Flooring acting as our Konecto master distributor and Triwest, acting as our Engage Genesis master distributor. These programs allow us to offer a broad assortment of skus which might otherwise be impossible for smaller-market distributors. The Master Distributor enjoys "margin" on these transactions and it helps them with inventory turns. For the purchasing distributor, it allows them to enhance their service posture without the corresponding inventory demands.

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

I cannot speak to other distributor-manufacturer relations. But, in our case, I feel very good about our current situation. We are blessed to be supported by some of the best distributors in North America, and I think that they would echo that they’re happy with the support that we provide in kind.

For Metroflor, we believe in and recognize the value that our distributors add in the sales and service process. They carry deep inventories, they offer credit, they offer sales and product training, many offer spec-sales support and ultimately, they have local relationships that win business. We know that to best penetrate a marketplace, we need great distribution. Fortunately for us, we are aligned quite nicely.

NAFCD: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

RR: Building relationships! My fondest memories and deepest pride derive from the relationships that I’ve built with colleagues with whom I’ve worked with in the past and work with now. And, of course, from the relationships that I’ve formed with our distributors and our factories. It’s said all the time: "It’s a relationship business." That's definitely true!

NAFCD: What is still challenging for you?

RR: E-mail! I have to find a way to be less inundated by a barrage of non-productive and non-critical e-mails that hamper my ability to do what I need to do. This is my biggest challenge!

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

RR: Whether with Wilsonart or now with Metroflor, the organizations for which I've worked have always been strong supporters of the NAFCD. I think it's a great opportunity for me, as a manufacturer, to see and hear about the challenges that distribution faces and think about ways that we can help distribution be more effective in the future. Manufacturers always have strategies that we'd like to employ. But unless we can have an unbiased perspective -- i.e., looking at things from the eyes of a distributor -- we will never be able to implement those strategies successfully.

NAFCD: You are a new member of NAFCD's board, yes? What drew you to board service, and what impact would you like to have?

RR: I was drawn to the board for two primary reasons. First, current President Heidi Cronin is a long-time friend and industry colleague for whom I have a great deal of respect. To be part of the NAFCD board along with Heidi was an easy decision. Second, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed in my career, and much of that I owe to my experiences with independent distribution. This is a small way to give back!

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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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NAFCD Releases Spring Flooring Industry Updates

Posted By NAFCD, Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) has released two spring 2017 flooring industry reports, compiled by the Cleveland Research Company. These reports are available to all NAFCD members.

The Q1 Flooring Industry Update and the May 2017 Flooring Industry Update are designed to give industry professionals a comprehensive overview of current growth rates, developing trends, economic forecasts and more.

“These reports are especially relevant to NAFCD members because they will shape the way companies develop strategies for business growth and success,” says NAFCD Executive Vice President Kevin Gammonley. “Our hope is to give our members the tools to operate at optimal efficiency in the current economic landscape and these reports are key to those insights.”

Important themes that stand out in the Q1 report are: (1) total U.S. flooring industry growth rates eased roughly 3 points in Q1 compared to the upside performance in Q4 (up roughly 1 percent through late March versus Q4 up in the 4 percent range year/year), (2) homebuilder shipments have remained the most impressive piece of the U.S. flooring industry year-to-year, an area with estimated sales growth of 8-10 percent, and (3) the industry is seeing strong acceptance for flooring price increases year-to-date, estimating the Q1 carpet price increase is on pace for 85 percent or higher realization with the low-end of the U.S. market particularly impressive.

Trends that stand out in the May report are: (1) U.S. flooring demand looks better in the last 30-60 days after pause in January/February, (2) hard surface share gains can add to organic growth through 2017, and (3) price increase traction across surfaces year-to-date, near-term cost pressure looks stable.

NAFCD members can read the full reports in the online NAFCD Research Center at www.NAFCD.org.

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