Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet Susan Negley, Floor Covering Institute Director of Communications

Susan Negley

Hello! I am Susan Negley, Director of Communications at the Floor Covering Institute. Since you’ll be hearing from me occasionally I wanted to introduce myself. I’ve worked in the flooring industry for 17 years, as a retail store owner, in communications capacities for a flooring distributor (Misco Shawnee) and two buying groups (Color Tile, LLC and CCA Global Partners). But it isn’t just the flooring industry that makes me who I am so let’s turn back the page just a bit.

Before flooring (“BF”) I was a journalist and a bankruptcy litigation paralegal…useful stuff it turns out. As a journalist in the Air Force I went to crash sites, train derailments, wildfires, and missile launches, inside NORAD’s command post and missile silos. My job was to write about those experiences.

In 1982 I became a litigation paralegal specializing in complex bankruptcies…which came in handy later. My husband at the time (Ron Negley, now V.P. Ceramic and Stone at CCA Global Partners) was on a career path with Color Tile, Inc. That was my first exposure to the flooring industry and the “how” in the answer to “how did you end up in flooring?”

When burn-out from a monstrous, multi-year case set in, we made a right turn and bought two retail locations from Color Tile, Inc. Success came quickly, then Color Tile, Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy closing 800 stores and leaving 150 franchisees scrambling for their future. Who has experience with ugly bankruptcies?

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court appointed me to the Official Franchisee Committee in 1997 and I became the liaison for 150 businesses hoping to save the brand and their futures. A difficult year-long challenge ended when Jim Gould purchased Color Tile’s intellectual assets. I negotiated the new franchise agreements and I can tell you that Jim was a lot nicer than his attorneys. After the acquisition, Jim asked both Ron and me to help launch the new buying group; I have worked for Jim ever since.

For the new Color Tile I was the Membership Coordinator and Communications Director. After Color Tile was sold I became Director of Communications and Marketing of Misco Shawnee, Inc. and stayed there until 2004 when the company was sold. I was among a small group of people, along with Ron, invited to join Jim at CCA Global Partners when he became their first ever Chief Product Officer.

As Product Coordinator and Communications Manager for CCA’s Product Group, I communicated the intent and details of CCA’s corporate wide programs such as Resista™ and Global Direct. I coordinated the buying process and managed rollout of Global Direct’s national logistics program with BlueLinx.

In 2008 I decided to take some time off then launch my own consulting business. That plan was short lived because Jim Gould had already founded the Floor Covering Institute and he isn’t one to let idle hands stay idle for long. As an independent I took on some of his projects – my favorite was researching and writing a market study on the DIY channel for ceramic tile in Europe. Eventually he convinced me to come to work full time at the institute, and here I am.

Jim is as busy as I have ever known him to be – he’s just returning from a nine-day trip around China. With seven consultants associated with the institute, launching a blog, researching industry issues (The Lacey Act), writing articles, creating the first international floor covering media network (more about that later), getting presentations ready for Surfaces, Domotex and NEOCON – I am busy too.

I hope this was more interesting than reading a resume, even if it took longer. You are welcome to contact me at snegley@floorcoveringinstitute.com any time; otherwise, I’ll see you on the blog.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meet Christine B. Whittemore, Social Media Marketer & Customer Enthusiast

Christine B. Whittemore Hi, I'm Christine [a.k.a. "C.B."] Whittemore, Chief Simplifier of Simple Marketing Now where I focus on integrating new, digital and social media based marketing with traditional marketing. I'm a practical marketer: I focus on efficient solutions to marketing and communication brand challenges with the end goal of forging stronger relationships with customers.

I've been involved in the floor covering industry ever since becoming part of the Wear-Dated carpet fiber commercial team in 2003. Before that, I was business director for the residential Wear-Dated upholstery fabric business of Solutia and marketing manager for Wear-Dated apparel.

Jim Gould and I connected when he was Chief Product Officer for CCA Global Partners. He was one of the very first people I met when I took over as national accounts manager for Wear-Dated. I never imagined then that we would continue our flooring industry discussions via the Floor Covering Institute!

When I think Floor Covering Institute, I think analysis of issues and topics affecting the floor covering or flooring industry [e.g., The Lacey Act], discussion around improvements and solutions, intense thought leadership and also celebration of what makes the industry not only unique, but also critical to consumers.

Because, ultimately, it matters to us all - whether manufacturer, retailer or related service provider - that consumers purchase our flooring products and acknowledge their value. Right? No consumer, no industry. Right?

That realization - the criticality of our customer - has been a source of fascination since my early Wear-Dated days. How do we improve our customer's flooring retail experience?

In fact, that's how I got started in social media!

I launched Flooring The Consumer, my blog about marketing to women and the retail experience, in June 2006. In addition to writing about it on my blog, I contribute on the subject of the customer experience to Floor Covering Weekly as a columnist, and speak about it at Surfaces. I've also conducted many, many presentations on the subject with flooring retailers around the country.

An interesting thing happened, though, as a result of my blog. I became fully immersed in the world of marketing with social media. I discovered ways of improving the reach of ideas and expanding their value by interacting with others involved in social media. I became more knowledgeable about digital marketing, got involved in redesigning websites and rewriting content to be more 'social' and relevant to visitors, launched the Carpetology Blog to support the redesigned Wear-Dated website... And, I became adept at integrating digital and social marketing into traditional marketing strategy.

Since then, I have established my own consultancy - Simple Marketing Now - with companion blog and online newsroom, Simple Marketing Blog.

I've recently published Social Media's Collective Wisdom: Simplifying Marketing With Social Media - Book 1, an e-book based on an ongoing interview series with the most knowledgeable social media practitioners around.

And, since I spend time monitoring the social state of the flooring industry, which is just starting to develop, I've created the Social Flooring Index, updated quarterly.

If you want to learn more about me, you can visit my website, my blog profile page as well as my Floor Covering Institute profile. You can also read through case studies of projects I've been involved in.

I'm excited about the Floor Covering Institute, the Floor Covering Institute Blog and the opportunities ahead of all of in the flooring industry to exchange ideas, highlight best practices and discover new approaches for adding value and improving our ultimate customer's experience with the category.

Please let me know if you have questions or suggestions for upcoming blogposts. I look forward to our journey together.


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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meet David Wootton, Strategic Flooring Support Services Expert

David WoottonHello, my name is David Wootton and I am the Principal of The Wootton Group LLC, a flooring consultancy based in Atlanta, Georgia with offices in the US and UK. I specialize in strategic support services for the flooring industry.

The Wootton Group is also affiliated with The Floor Covering Institute which comprises a group of consultants with a wealth of experience in the floor covering and related industries.

As I will be starting to post on the Institute’s blog site I think it is a good idea that my first contribution tells you a little bit about myself and my experience in the floor covering industry.

In the 1980s I was living in the UK and working as Managing Director of Dinol UK, a subsidiary of a large Swedish company manufacturing chemical products for the worldwide automotive industry. The products were manufactured in Sweden and during my tenure we built a manufacturing plant in the UK to service, amongst others, Japanese car manufacturers who were also building plants to supply vehicles in the UK.

In 1989 the President of the Dinol group left to become President of Tarkett AB, one of the largest manufacturers of floor covering products in the world. They were in the process of building a hardwood flooring manufacturing plant in Johnson City, Tennessee. In 1990 he invited me to become President and CEO of Harris-Tarkett to oversee completion of the plant and develop and implement a strategic plan to grow the company’s US market share. Together with my family I relocated to Johnson City. During my time with the company we built a strong enthusiastic management team, strengthened our distribution network and introduced US manufactured floating longstrip flooring into the market to complement our solid products offering. Harris-Tarkett was also one of the first manufacturers to introduce prefinished hardwood flooring. Our sales grew substantially and by the late 90s we were ranked number two behind Armstrong in hardwood flooring market share. In 1997 I also assumed responsibility for Tarkett’s vinyl operations and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1999 Columbia Forest Products, the largest US manufacturer of hardwood plywood, was embarking on a program of diversification and I was approached to become President of Columbia Flooring, a division created with the objective of establishing the company as a leading player in the laminate and hardwood flooring segment.

The plan was to achieve rapid profitable sales growth. After establishing an experienced and very capable management team we built an engineered flooring plant in Virginia and by acquisition a further engineered flooring plant in Malaysia. Also by acquisition we purchased solid manufacturing operations in Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. As well as supplying the US market we were through our Malaysian facility selling products throughout Europe and the Far East. In addition we developed strategic alliances with several Chinese manufacturers to take advantage of the benefits they offered.

In 2003 we sold our laminate manufacturing operations to Unilin and had them manufacture products which were sold under the Columbia name. This arrangement proved very beneficial and we were one of the first companies to offer “clic” flooring.

By 2007 our sales had grown significantly and we were the number two player in the hardwood flooring category. It was during this year that we made a strategic decision to sell our flooring operations to Mohawk Industries Inc. Mohawk was a large customer and keen to have control of their own manufacturing operations and so the deal made sense for both parties.

So after almost 20 years in the US, traveling many millions of miles and spending too much time away from home I decided, at 64, that the time was right to slow down and enjoy more time with my wife and family.

To stay involved in the floor covering industry I formed The Wootton Group LLC and have completed several projects for US, European and Far East companies. These have included strategic development plans, acquisitions and divestitures, product sourcing, trouble shooting, business turnarounds and recruitment. My time is split between the US and UK.

I am also very excited to be part of The Floor Covering Institute. I have always believed in the team concept and The Floor Covering Institute has attracted the best team of hands-on industry professionals with a collective experience in excess of 100 years capable of addressing and resolving any challenges its clients have.

So that’s the end of my first blog post. To find out more about The Wootton Group please visit http://thewhoottongroup.com/ or email me at david@thewoottongroup.com.

You can find out more about The Floor Covering Institute by visiting our website.

Finally, if you have, thanks for reading.


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Will Chinese Drywall VOC Issue Affect Flooring?

Christopher P. RameyChinese drywall shares commonalities with flooring, particularly as it relates to VOCs.

If you’re new to the flooring industry you may be surprised to learn that last decade it was necessary for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to anoint carpet as a safe product. The proclamation was due to flawed tests perpetrated against the carpet industry by Anderson Laboratories.

But the issue isn’t dead if you search the Internet. There are still sites that support Anderson Labs. Even a "green" industry site writes “A rash of alleged health problems with carpet have yet to be properly explained, suggesting that all carpets, and especially the less expensive synthetics, should be used with great caution.”
The drywall industry is going through a similar experience.

Two major differences:
1. They’ve pinpointed it to some drywall made in China.
2. It’s true and real, and no one is suggested it isn’t destroying homes and people’s lives.

The odor is acidic and the VOCs make people seriously ill. Furthermore, it corrodes electric wiring; destroys plumbing, renders air conditioners, washers and dryers, refrigerators and every metal appliance worthless.

There are only ~1200 complaints to date according to The Wall Street Journal. Although 24 states are involved, three quarters of the complaints come from Florida. Expectations are that over 100,000 homes are affected. Lennar Corp says they’ve put aside $40 million to repair homes it’s built. [add link to article]

But, there’s a dirty little secret that may be obvious to you. Why so few homes if they’ve installed Chinese drywall in tens of thousands homes? The answer is because the cause isn’t just drywall. My friend and globally recognized Chinese drywall expert Karen Scott, from Asset Advisors tells me that there is speculation that something else in the home is emitting VOCs that combined with the caustic Chinese drywall and heat and humidity is causing or exacerbating the problem. It could be the paint, countertops or cabinets. But, it is likely something.

No one yet has pointed a finger at carpet, hardwood or ceramic. But, you can be sure that lawyers hired by Chinese drywall companies have hired “independent” laboratories to test every product in the home to deflect their guilt. To that point, Georgia Pacific has already been named in a lawsuit and they neither manufacture or source drywall in China. Perhaps that’s the point.

The issue is the Chinese government and drywall industry have the capacity to ensure another product is complicit. Be forewarned, flooring is an easy and obvious target.


Christopher P. Ramey
President, Affluent Insights
Chairman, The Luxury Marketing Council Florida

Added 9/21/09: In a desert's town walls, an ever deeper mystery from HeraldTribune.com

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet James C. (Jim) Gould

Jim GouldI'm Jim Gould, president of the Floor Covering Institute.

The floor covering industry is my home. It's not only engaging, rewarding and -yes- challenging, but also more interesting and fun than when I first got started 40 years ago.

I’ve seen it written that the floor covering industry is a “mature industry.” I look around and see glass back sheet vinyl, recycled carpet fiber, direct printing on laminate core board, recycled rubber and cork combined, etc. How can innovations like these be considered boring? They make this industry dynamic, exciting and constantly changing.

Someone might say, “well by ‘mature’, we mean the way products make it to market, the marketing channels.”

When I entered the industry, carpet was sold through distributors to specialty retail carpet stores and represented 80% of all floor covering sold. Wood and ceramic were sold through wood only or ceramic only craftsmen because they required such unique skills and expertise to install. There was no Internet and Home Depot did not exist.

The channel to the consumer has morphed into something that no one could have foreseen back then. Today, Lumber Liquidators (sounds like a science fiction movie title), Costco and Direct Buy sell floor covering! And they sell products like laminate, engineered wood, bamboo and carpet made out of soda bottles and corn.

By no means boring or mature.

My background ranges from wholesale to retail and even includes some manufacturing. While most of my career has been in distribution, my real passion has always been finding ways to bring great products and ideas to the people who need them, often before they realize the need. That was what was so cool about Pergo. Before anyone in the USA had heard of laminate for the floor, I had the opportunity to help choose and build its distribution channel, help set up its North American administration and even throw in my two cents about how to market the product.

Years before Pergo, I had been involved in the global floor covering market trying to find unique products and super values to benefit my retailer customers. In the process, I learned how and what flooring the rest of the world sold. Nearly twenty years ago, Monsanto commissioned me to study carpet distribution in China. In 1990, I joined an international organization of floor covering distributors based in Europe and was the only native English speaking member. It changed my perspective on our industry and helped me to appreciate how diverse our industry really is. [Also see Flooring The Consumer's interview with Jim Gould.]

We have an unique industry; large enough to represent a significant part of country’s economy yet small enough to feel like family. I have made so many friends and feel so close to so many companies that unknowingly I have become a part of an international network of floor covering and business experts.

Pull all of this together, the global exposure and international network, with a desire to find a marketing channel for unique products and services, and it sums up what I like to do. I started the Floor Covering Institute just two years ago but it has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. I have worked with multi-billion dollar manufacturers and the owner of a single retail floor covering store. Clients have ranged from Europe, New Zealand and China to a small Midwestern town in the United States. Every day brings a new set of questions, challenges and opportunities. It can’t get much better than this.

Right now business is tough but opportunities abound for those who are willing to learn, work hard and create their own future. Where was IVC vinyl, Konnecto Luxury Vinyl Tile and Armstrong’s high gloss Grand Illusions just five years ago?

I'm happy you found the Floor Covering Institute Blog site for a couple of reasons, the most important being that it was created to help you and learn from you. My hope is that you will find a lot of really interesting information here from which you and your floor covering business can benefit.

Your comments, questions and reactions will help guide our efforts in this regard so please speak up; we want this blog to be a two way conversation. The Institute has a lot of expertise and knowledge and we look forward to sharing it.

Bring your questions and comments to this site. We would love to hear from you.


James C. Gould

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

How the Lacey Act Affects Floor Covering and Wood Products Industries

Photo Credit: Brazil’s Amazon forest. (AP Photo/Renato Chalu)
Brazil's Amazon forest AP Photo/Renato ChaluIf you are in any way involved in the floor covering, furniture or other wood products industries, you've heard of the Lacey Act Amendments*. However, given how much confusion surrounds these amendments, you may not have fully realized how they affect you. In Continuing Wood Trade Under the Lacey Act Amendments just published by the Floor Covering Institute, I address many of the sources of confusion.

More specfically, the article extensively researches how the U. S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) may apply the standard of “due care” when investigating allegations of illegal logging and illegal wood under the Lacey Act Amendments.

Our project was prompted by complaints from international suppliers alleging Lacey was merely restraint of trade and their ensuing requests for guidance. U.S. importers were also unsure what actions might meet the due care standard. Our goal was to determine what the government expects from the floor covering supply chain and find guidance to help the industry respond.

Trees are a recent addition to the century old Lacey Act and the DOJ has a long history of investigating and prosecuting Lacey violations. Current information exists that should help the floor covering and wood products industry. This is addressed in the full article [pdf of Continuing Wood Trade Under the Lacey Act Amendments available via this link]. Here are some of the conclusions we reached:

  • The law is fact based, not document based, which is why documents alone will not satisfy the DOJ. They will not find certifications are proof that wood is legal if facts prove otherwise.

  • Certifications are good evidence of “due care”.

  • Due care may be applied differently to different people. The level of knowledge and involvement in the import process is a factor.

  • Relying solely upon others to perform due care probably won’t satisfy the DOJ.

  • Wood products made from illegal wood can be seized at any point in the supply chain.

  • There are red flags the DOJ will expect to give rise to more caution.

  • To be in violation one does not need to have harvested but simply participated in the chain.

  • Everyone in the supply chain should create written responsible procurement policies for their companies.
Due care simply requires that a person facing a particular set of circumstances undertakes certain steps which a reasonable person would to insure he or she is not violating the law. A prudent example of due care is to create a responsible procurement policy for your company. Perhaps our most pragmatic observation is that while you may not have control over the chain of custody of wood you do control your own actions.

Learn more about how the DOJ may apply the standard, the role of third party certifications, what the DOJ expects to trigger a higher degree of care, what constitutes illegally logged wood, penalties, compliance, enforcement, the PPQ 505 Plant Product Declaration, high risk countries where illegal logging exists and the evolution of the lacey act, in the full article.

I'd love to hear what you think. And, please, let me know if you have any questions.

- Jim

* This link from APHIS – the primary implementer of the act - is the red lined version of the Lacey Act showing what the 2008 amendment did in context to the greater act.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Welcome to the Floor Covering Institute Blog!

Floor Covering InstituteWelcome to the Floor Covering Institute's Blog - our platform for sharing thoughts about issues in the floor covering industry.

The Floor Covering Institute [FCI] is composed of distinguished and seasoned floor covering industry veterans: Stuart Hirschhorn, Lew Migliore, Chris Ramey, Carl Ruland, Christine Whittemore, David Wootton and myself, Jim Gould. We are each respected experts with a focus that complements the other.

I officially formed FCI in 2007, after leaving CCA Global Partners. I wanted to consult with a variety of companies facing all kinds of challenges using a set of skills I had developed over the years owning and managing Misco Shawnee, Color Tile and Distribution Services Inc. By surrounding myself with others who have distinguished themselves in the floor covering industry, I knew we could help a variety of clients on a wide range of issues.

During my 40 years in business, I marveled at the power of networking. One person has a question or a problem and invariably someone else has the answer; the issue was always connecting the right person for each question. My career and my companies would not have been successful had I relied strictly on my own knowledge and expertise and now my clients deserve nothing less.

Many industry friends and associates have expertise complementary to mine. Combining them under one umbrella and offering a group of individuals with a range of expertise not only appealed to me but seemed more honest; one person cannot be expert in everything. A group could sincerely say, if you have a question, “WE” have the answer. I have always respected the level of knowledge, experience and wisdom of others in our industry and this was my chance to partner with them.

That's the Floor Covering Institute.

Like our industry, the Floor Covering Institute is international with David living half of the time in the UK, Carl living in Germany and the rest of us in the U.S.. Our clients, likewise, are domestic and international with the common thread being the floor covering industry. The group’s expertise covers everything from marketing to market statistics; from raw material sourcing to inventory liquidation; from global strategies to claim resolution. If it involves floor covering, we can help or find the person who can.

This blog offers us a platform for sharing thoughts about issues in our industry. Have a question about anything involving floor covering and we will try to respond quickly. We hope our readers will also weigh in with their opinions. Something more private? Send us an email and your confidentiality will be respected.

Now for the fine print, some quick housekeeping points:

• The views expressed here represent our own personal views and not those of our individual companies. However, we are experts in our fields and eager to share that expertise with you.

• This blog is about open conversation and honest communication. Please keep the conversation relevant to the general interest of all readers, maintain respect for everyone involved (no matter the circumstance), and offer comments that add value and depth to the conversation.

• We will moderate comments, and reserve the right to exclude any offensive or irrelevant posts. However, we would rather that conversation flow freely. So, please be respectful and simply think before you type. We promise to do the same, and although we may not be able to respond to every comment, we’ll do our best to do so in a thoughtful and timely manner.

• We also request that you not post private information [e.g., a phone number or address] as this is a public forum.

• We will not share any subscription information with outside parties. We may try to email you, though, for additional clarification. And, we may refer to your comments in subsequent blog posts.

Given these guidelines, we look forward to robust discussions about the global flooring marketplace!

~ Jim Gould for The Floor Covering Institute

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