Focus on Leadership - April 2012

Interview by Kemp Harr


Russell Grizzle was born in Cartersville, Georgia and worked in carpet mills during summer break from college at Georgia Tech, where he studied chemical engineering.

After graduating in 1979, Grizzle went directly into Milliken’s management training program. He stayed with Milliken for 31 years—starting as a supervisor on the plant floor and ending as president of global flooring. In 2010, he parted ways with Milliken to become COO of Mannington, and he took over the reins as CEO when Tom Davis retired at the end of last year. Grizzle relishes Mannington’s commitment to serve the industry and strives to run an organization in which ideals and consistency are at the core of every decision and interaction. 

Q: What are Mannington’s strengths in the marketplace?
Mannington has three core strengths, starting with the breadth of our product offering. We offer award-winning style and design that translates across categories. In addition, we have both residential and commercial solutions, and we are a one source supplier to our commercial customers for both hard and soft surface products. 

We also take pride in our long-standing relationships with customers; we are a team. Mannington tries to be transparent, honest and true to our values—and this comes across to our customers. We have a reputation for doing the right thing and offering a quality product. 

Mannington has been in business for 97 years, doing the same thing under the same family ownership. Our mission statement is to be the best company in the industry to do business with. That comes down to people and being true to what you want to accomplish throughout the organization. As a competitor to Mannington in my prior life, I could see that as a big reason I wanted to come here. There is a personal touch here. People want to know your family, genuinely. If there is a problem in your personal life, you get enormous support here. We want it to resonate out to the world that we are genuine about who we are and what we do.

Q: How has the recession changed the floorcovering business?
 The recession has changed the face of our industry. Internally, we’ve had to work smarter and more efficiently than ever before.

More of our sales have been at the value end of the business—at the good end of a good, better, best offering. And overall, I think the end user is seeing more value in the products they have to choose from. It may or may not be a result of the recession, but customers are more educated about products and demand more from them at all price points. We have worked hard to build style, performance and other attributes, like recycled content, into our products to deliver that value. Overall, customers are spending their dollars more wisely and won’t settle for inferior product. They want the very best for their money and want their investment to last.  

On the commercial side, facility managers and the A&D community are looking for the process to be simpler. They want to deal with fewer people and have a reliable source that they can trust. That’s why our Choices That Work program seems to be making headway. We offer a complete portfolio of products, which makes invoicing simpler. We offer cove base, carpet, LVT, rubber and even entrance flooring. If there is a problem, which is rare, customers know who is responsible to take care of it. 

Q: Now that we’re starting to see some recovery, what has changed about today’s American consumer versus the American consumer of six years ago?
 Overall, the consumer is more value-conscious. No matter what the price point, she expects great style and long-lasting performance. More than before, the consumer has done her homework prior to going into a store. She’s been online, watched home decorating shows and read magazines, and she knows what she likes. 

That said, however, there are more choices than there were a few years ago. Now the consumer is faced with decisions like felt or fiberglass sheet vinyl, tile or plank LVT—categories that really didn’t exist before. The retail salesperson is critical to our success at the point of sale because they are the ones who help educate the consumer and guide her decision. 

The same goes for commercial end users. Sustainability, green building, energy and carbon footprint: these are all things that were not so prominent in their thinking six years ago.  

I don’t believe that flooring is a commodity business. We aren’t a high tech innovation business, but there are still ways that companies can differentiate themselves in the marketplace. It’s not just that any flooring will do.

Q: Do you think the leaders of tomorrow offer the same potential for greatness and leadership that we have seen from the traditional and boomer generations?
Absolutely. There is always the potential for greatness, and every generation will have its great leaders. I do think that the competition is higher as the business world goes more global and education systems worldwide get better.

In my 31 years at Milliken, I had roughly 30 different roles. I saw a lot of different sides of the business. It’s important that we not let young people get stale. We want those who we see as future leaders to feel that we are investing in their futures. The number of jobs that upcoming generations will have over the course of their career is phenomenal; they will stop job hunting when they see us investing in them.

Q:  I really liked the Make Some Noise campaign last year. Do you think the fact that most of your products are made here in the U.S. gives you an advantage with consumers?
I think so. It’s a message that really resonates with retailers. We feel that Made in the USA has become more important as the economy has gotten tougher. Business people are thinking more and more about how to retain jobs in America.

From the consumer perspective, even if she doesn’t have Made in the USA on her mind when she walks into a store, it’s a positive message that can help influence her decision. With the economy starting to recover, I think consumers will continue to see value in buying from a company committed to U.S. manufacturing. All other things being equal, I think the consumer wants to buy Made in the USA.

Q:  What is the business strategy behind the Amtico acquisition? 
 LVT is a growing market even through the worst recession in the history of the flooring business. We saw significant synergies between Amtico’s business and ours. 

Ultimately, we want to have a global presence in the commercial flooring segment. In the short term, we plan to take Amtico’s sales reps and distribution partners and add carpet tile, homogenous and heterogeneous flooring, and rubber to their portfolio. We are already running into cases where customers are asking for those types of things; we will be able to supply it now. That is the first step. Then we are going to take that suite of products and start looking at the Middle East, Russia, Brazil and the Asian countries. 

Q:  It’s no secret that LVT has been taking share from the laminate sector. Do you think this erosion will continue?  
LVT remains the fastest growing category; this was true before the recession and continues now that we’re coming out of it. But laminate will innovate and redefine itself. Our Restoration Collection is the most realistic laminate on the market today and is having great success. From the consumer’s standpoint, we need to reinvigorate the category. 

Q:  You purposely keep your brand name out of the home centers. Will you always maintain that brand discipline and channel strategy?
 For 97 years, Mannington has been committed to the specialty flooring retailer—many of them are family owned businesses like ours—and I don’t see that changing.

Q:  We’re continuing to see changes in the sustainability area, especially for vinyl. Beyond VCT reclamation, what are your goals in terms of greening your vinyl products?
 Many of our sustainability efforts in the area of vinyl revolve around maintaining domestic production, which is an important facet of sustainability. We also are exploring a growing offering of raw materials that can be used in reclamation, so we can expand that program beyond what we currently do with VCT. And we are always looking for ways to improve the environmental performance of our factories and evolve our sustainability efforts to a more holistic view that includes environmental, economic and social implications.

We measure our reclamation as waste in/waste out, and we are at a 2:1 ratio today. That means that for every one pound of waste that we send to the landfill, we take two back from the marketplace for recycling.

There is a movement towards phthalate-free, and that technology is improving. The substitutes are getting better each day, but there is still not enough supply to equip the whole industry. As the technology continues to evolve, we’ll see what it means.

Q:  How important is it for the consumer to know who Mannington is?  And what are you doing to raise that awareness?
 It’s always desirable to have consumers ask for your products by name. Since consumers only purchase flooring every seven to eight years, when they’re ready to buy they typically look online and then visit a store, armed with information. Because the consumer starts her product search online, we are putting more emphasis on our website and around social media like Facebook, Twitter, and our blog

We believe that the retail salesperson has a big impact on what product the consumer ends up buying. The better we train and engage the retail salesperson, the more likely he or she is to recommend our product. 

Q: How does Mannington manage its two diverse businesses?
We have two separate business units, and they don’t really cross. We have separate sales forces, product management and order entry, and all of our plants are stand alone, except for one. We try to do the best job we can to share trends. We want to be a growing, thriving residential supplier, and the same on the commercial side.

Q:  Milliken and Mannington are both family owned companies. What benefit does this type of ownership bring to the business equation?
 We have terrific support from our shareholders to achieve our number one goal of passing Mannington along to future generations and remaining a privately held company with our values and legacy intact. This enables us to take more of a long-term approach to business.

Q:  What’s the most significant business challenge you face today, and how are you approaching it?
 Any challenge that our customers face is a challenge that we face. Today, that’s getting consumers back in the stores and turning that traffic into sales. We are hearing that consumers are, in fact, returning to the stores, which is great news. To help retail salespeople make the sale, Mannington continues to invest in new products, displays that are easy to shop and sell from, sales training, and things that help close sales. We need to help our dealers take advantage of every opportunity that walks through the door.

Q:  You’ve spent most of your life living in the South. Was it difficult for you and your wife to make the move to the Salem, New Jersey area?
 It’s a little strange how things work out. We’re just now getting settled in. We purchased a home in Wilmington, Delaware but will be keeping our house in Georgia.  Shortly after my wife and I relocated to the mid-Atlantic, our daughter moved to New York as an attorney. We’ve enjoyed being close to her, since she was many hours away from Georgia while she was in school. The two difficult things have been moving away from our son, who is still in college in Atlanta, and these Northeast winters! Luckily, this past one wasn’t that bad.

Q:  Who are your mentors/role models and what did you learn from them?
 I’ve been very fortunate to work for many great leaders in my career. Roger Milliken had a great work ethic, a phenomenal attention to detail and a long-range view of the business. If there is a nicer man in the flooring business than Tom Davis, I haven’t met him. He was a people-oriented leader; everyone wanted to work for him and follow him. 

Lastly, my father—a machinist at Lockheed—had an amazing work ethic and was a great family man. I’ve lived my life trying to be sure I never did anything that would disappoint him. Even when it was not as in vogue for fathers to be involved with their kids, in the ’50s and ’60s, my father was involved in my life. When I became interested in golf at age 21, he took it up at the age of 60 to spend time with me. Whatever I was interested in, he not only supported but also wanted to do together. He passed away on January 1, 2011, and I miss him dearly. 

Copyright 2012 Floor Focus 

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