FCA Network: Members celebrate good times
By Ken Ryan Sarasota, Florida.- FCA Network conferences are not your ordinary buying group meetings. Instead, these are intimate gatherings that are more like a family outing than a business conference. Here at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, members brought their families and participated in activities from networking to beach parties.
“Each member couldn’t say enough about the course of the event and I couldn’t have expected more from the vendors,” Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, told FCNews. “At these conventions, everyone knows each other. It doesn’t have a business look.”
The event, themed “Reset, Refocus, Renew”, resonated with retail members and merchants taking advantage of the face-to-face meeting to connect and catch up. This year’s meeting was more special after two forced postponements from COVID-19. Several retailers said the best part of the conference was just spending quality time with fellow retailers and sharing stories and information.
Twenty-year-old member, Carlton Billingsley, co-owner of Floors and More, Benton, Ark., said he appreciated the intimacy of the group. “We share as much information with each other as a large group would. The great thing about FCA is that we sell to the consumer, who is a woman, and our group is run by women, which gives us an edge over the competition. We have a great staff looking after us. If we have a problem, which is rare, it is solved immediately.”
FCA Network enjoyed a successful 2020 with membership growing by approximately 10%, despite the hiatus in March and April when showrooms closed and shipments stopped. The 10% gain followed a successful 2019 and momentum has continued into 2021 despite challenges with increases in raw material prices, freight costs and product availability.
Business Keynote Speech
Every FCA Network convention begins with a keynote address from a key floor manager. This year James Lesslie, president of Engineered Floors’ commercial division, spoke about EF’s meteoric rise in its 10+ years; he also gave his opinion on where the flooring industry stands today.
A few takeaways:
- The pace of LVT/P growth will slow slightly this year;
- Mass-dyed PET changes the game, while polypropylene will exit the industry by 2022;
- The PET bus is coming. “You have two choices: get on the bus or get run over by it.”
- Sea freight appears to be a long-term problem. “Our freight rates have more than tripled,” he said;
- Housing spending is still expected to be strong, but compared to 2020, it will be more difficult to build housing in the second half of 2021;
- In commercial, the effect of hybrid work options on office space will evolve; most large companies are looking at hybrids in which some people work from home while others are in the office.
- Major metropolises are still not feeling the recovery. “Commercial is very limited in the major markets,” he said;
- Raw material shortages are huge and have led to service problems at a much higher level than residential construction.
New members speaking
FCA Network is never about member count or adding retailers just about adding. Prospective members must fit into the tight-knit culture forged more than two decades ago when the group was founded. As such, prospects are carefully chosen. Five new members were introduced at this year’s event.
Newcomers Trent and Megan Pingel of Pingel’s Home Center in Pella, Iowa, said they faced a dilemma as representatives in their market failed to answer their calls, let alone take them. Finally, a representative from Shaw said they should contact FCA. “Olga gave us a chance when no one else would,” said Megan Pingel. “We wouldn’t be where we are without Olga and FCA, which is great because our company is very busy these days.”
Trent Pingel added: “This is our first convention, and these three or four hours have been informative; it’s nice that companies answer our questions and don’t blow us away.”
Sara Lee is another new retailer of the group. She and her husband, Aaron, run a start-up, Pocatello Flooring, in Pocatello, Idaho. “Linking with Olga and her team gave us leverage where we didn’t,” she said. “How do you get a credit reference if we didn’t have one? This opportunity was huge for us. We opened our doors in October 2020, during COVID-19, which was weird. Our first year a lot of people didn’t know we were open; but with the help of FCA they have provided so much guidance – displays, maps – literally so many things to help us.
The Pingels and Lees represent the kind of people Robertson said she likes to help: ambitious people just looking for an opportunity. “I’m looking for younger entrepreneurs,” she said. “I know I can help them grow their business and make it more profitable. That’s what keeps me going: making a difference in a dealer’s life. If I can help them live the American dream, because everyone is entitled to their share, I want to do it. Some new members could not get open lines of credit to start their business. It is easy for me to get open lines of credit. You then have to be committed to the programs and embrace what we do. My job is to make my dealers competitive in their respective markets, which sounds simple, but isn’t easy to do. The [new retailers] have to compete with the LVPs, with their solution-dyed polys. We focus on the bigger players, the bigger suppliers. It is a matter of relationships and we have been able to maintain good, strong relationships with our suppliers.”
Sellers take advantage of offers
While summer isn’t the typical season to buy, several sellers said they were happy with the results. For example, Happy Feet received orders from people with whom they did not do business. Phenix Flooring’s Signature Home with Microban was a great story at the convention. “This is a really good group for us,” said Jason Hair, Phenix vice president of sales. “We’ve launched a new program with them, Signature Home with Microban – 1/2 Nylon, 1/2 Polyester – all with Microban.”
Robertson said the network’s business with Phenix is ”about to explode.” Engineered Floor’s Signature Home with Pet Safe was another new program that thrilled dealers at the convention. Bellwether members Mohawk, Shaw and Mannington were similarly busy at their booths during the two-day store rendezvous, which took place at 25-minute intervals.
For Sara Livensparger, manager of West Bay Floor Source in Cleveland, this was her first convention. “It’s a whole new world for me, but it’s fun,” she said. “We were still in the midst of COVID-19 when I joined last July. I want to learn about the new products and just network with people here. It worked out great.”