By Ken Ryan—Orlando—Nearly 20 months since their last face-to-face meeting, Alliance Flooring held a “Family Reunion” here in Rosen Shingle Creek, where members shared their experiences from the darkest days of the pandemic, but most importantly focused on their huge successes since then .
Alliance Flooring’s previous live event took place in March 2020, just days before COVID-19 shut down the flooring industry for weeks. After a difficult April, the road to recovery started in May and is not ending. Indeed, instead of losing members during the pandemic, the group added 11; in total, 36 stores are still open between March 2020 and today.
In addition, instead of sales declines in 2020, Alliance Flooring retailers achieved an average gain of 10% over 2019. Many Alliance dealers predict a record-breaking 2021, and some have already achieved this.
“2020 was our biggest year in retail history, growing 12% in 2019,” said Josh Elder, president-owner of Gainesville CarpetsPlus ColorTile in Florida. “We see 20% growth in 2021 versus 2020.” In the few years since Elder took over the family business, sales have nearly doubled to about $8 million.
Similarly, CarpetsPlus Colortile of Wyoming in Thayne and Carpet Exchange in Lockport, NY, have already surpassed the 2020 numbers with several weeks to fill those numbers. Still others spoke of keeping up with demand, which has been made more difficult by delivery delays in ports and rising commodity prices.
With all that to unpack, Alliance execs thought it was about time they reunited.
“The purpose of this conference was to get together, network and shop,” said Ron Dunn, co-CEO and founder.
Kevin Logue, executive vice president of marketing, agreed. “It’s been way too long for us to get together,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s a relationship business and you have to talk face-to-face and see monsters and colors. This [gathering] is difficult to replicate digitally.”
Ryan Dunn, executive vice president of sales, said turnout exceeded expectations even as a few dozen members were stranded at Southeast airports due to a problem with Southwest Airlines.
The turnout included new members, including Beasley Floor Company in Charleston, SC, who left another purchasing group to join Alliance Flooring. “I’m glad I made the move,” said owner Billy Beasley. “There is a different atmosphere here than in some other groups. I have nothing but good things to say. Everyone here is welcoming; no one is a stranger.”
Ryan Dunn said Alliance continues to receive inquiries from affiliated and non-affiliated dealers about joining the group, which currently has about 300 retailers. “I feel very strongly about our group and the need to protect our membership,” Ryan said. “When you have something special like us, you have to protect it. We are a very open group. We are all smarter than any of us, and we love to share ideas. We don’t just let anyone in. We are looking for someone with the right heart who can come in and add to the group.”
Kevin Logue agreed, adding: “We see a huge opportunity for member growth in second and third generation companies. We are getting a lot of interest and calls from retailers, in cases where the company is about to transition to a second or third generation, and they are looking for exciting, young vibrant leadership to join them.”
As Ron Dunn noted, “This group is the light, and this light can shine for the rest of the industry.”
Tom Lape, former president of Mohawk Residential who is winding down his tenure there, shared his thoughts on the flooring industry and where he sees potential opportunities and challenges. Lape told the audience that the flooring industry will continue to thrive, especially in the mid-to-high end segment. Specifically, he said, “Carpet becomes one of your most profitable producers because it has to be installed. It’s in everyone’s interest to keep that business robust.”
However, Lape also added that demand will generally decline, and then asked these questions. “How do you stimulate demand when demand starts to decline? How are you going to stand out in the market when demand shrinks? You look at the other man.”