FEI Group highlights, Redi Carpet, the economy: Strategic Exchange - Oct 16

By Kemp Harr

When the next issue of Floor Focus comes out, the election will be behind us. I know that will be a relief for many of us, regardless of who wins. As I mentioned earlier this year, election year advertising gobbles up much of the available media time, forcing retailers to pay more to keep their brand names out in front of the consumer.

In addition, consumer spending is often dampened during an election year as consumers are hammered with messages about how screwed up things are—and will continue to be unless you vote for the right candidate. This uncertainty tends to put the consumer in a wait-and-see mode—especially for high ticket, deferrable-purchase items like floorcoverings.

Those of you who listen to our FloorDaily audio interviews are aware that I recently interviewed Robert Dietz, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. I asked him offline what bearing the outcome of the presidential election would have on the performance of the economy. He answered by saying that, in either case, the new president would stimulate the economy for the first two years of his or her new administration. If Hillary wins, we’ll see more government-related spending, and if Donald wins, we’ll see more stimulus in the private sector. Dietz predicted that our next economic dip could come in the third year of the next presidency, since there is usually a gap between stimulus programs and true economic reaction.

While who sleeps in the White House is important, there are many other factors that have an even greater impact on the growth of the U.S. economy. One of them is purely demographic. Is our population growing and is our workforce growing? Fortunately, the answer is yes. But as I pointed out in this column last month, U.S. productivity has been on the decline for the last six years, and the root causes for this decline must be identified and reversed. Contrary to this, it was great to see in the news recently that the median household income increased by 5.2% in 2015 versus the prior year, because a motivated workforce is usually more productive.

THE SECRET TO SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP
Last month, Greg Waleke, the CEO of Redi Carpet, was given the Vision and Dedication award by the FEI group (formerly FloorExpo) at its annual meeting. Greg will soon be retiring from the helm of Redi—which has grown to become one of the top ten flooring dealers in the country, with annual sales over $200 million. He has served as CEO for the past 25 years. As Waleke addressed the audience, he deflected the attention back to his team, saying that what he had done was really very simple, “All I did was help set the company’s culture, hired the right people and then got out of the way.” 

When I probed about the culture, he answered: “Best in class, nationwide, with a focus on our customers, our employees and our vendors. The four tenets are: be nice, be customer obsessive, be self disciplined and keep the workplace clean.” When I delved further into how he was able to attract the best talent, he told me that his plan was to offer them an attractive career path by setting a high growth rate for the company overall. 

Lastly, I asked Waleke—who is renowned at the FEI group for saying, “The sun is shining and the birds are singing”—if he had always been so optimistic. And he told me no, that in fact he’d learned, when he took the Dale Carnegie class on how to win friends and influence people, that people are drawn toward optimists.

While we’re on the topic of the FEI, one of the more professional and successful buying groups in the flooring business, I should point out that they too have set a culture for their own team. Here is a list of FEI Group values, which can be recalled through the acronym Fill It Up: 

• First-class for coach
• Inspect what you expect
• Listen
• Leadership is action, not position
• I’m outside the box
• Teamwork wins 
• Under commit and over execute
• Physically fit before mentally fit

So, yes, success is coming to this group because the single-family builder and multi-family sectors are growing but, more importantly, because the team lives by its established culture, which is built on a foundation of persistence, integrity, class, attitude and respect.

FEI GROUP MEETING SESSIONS REVEAL HOT FLOORING TOPICS
One only has to look at the topics covered in this year’s FEI Group annual meeting to know what the hot topics within the flooring business are. I thought you might be interesting to know what the group focused on during its two-day meeting. Here is the list: how a distinctive company culture drives success; colors and styles that will drive 2017; succession planning; today’s employer issues (this session addressed subcontractor relationships, overtime exempt salary guidelines and health care coverage mandates); generation navigation—recognizing the workplace behavioral differences based on when a person was born; multiple location disorder; and lastly, the five stages of your business lifecycle. The attendance at this year’s meeting set a new high-water mark at over 450 people.

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

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