Originally posted on fcnews.net 5/9/2011
[BALTIMORE, MD] — 2010 was a good year for J.J. Haines Loyalty Club members. So said many in the record crowd of more than 460 members, vendors and staff at the group’s annual convention. With modest member growth of four, up from 268 last year, it reinforced the idea that J.J. Haines serves more for quality than quantity, though 18% of J.J. Haines’ business is done by Loyalty Club members.
“This group is about more than business,” said Bruce Zwicker, president and CEO. “It’s about people.”
Three-year member Roy Bomberger agreed. While the benefits of membership boast great product offerings and quality customer service, “We relish the relationship more than the club aspect. The willingness to listen and management’s receptiveness to our suggestions make us better service providers with a changing product mix.”
A case in point is Chesapeake, the distributor’s private-labeled, value hardwood line. At last year’s meeting 28% of the members bought the display and the collection accounted for 32% of hardwood sales last year, said Scott Roy, vice president of sales.
Good management supporting a progressive product mix isn’t the only attraction to joining. Joe Bowen of Bowen Paint and Remodeling in Crofton, Md., worked with J.J. Haines for five years before joining the club. The first option he liked was ease of financing. “We’ve had trouble with financing, rebates, even credit card machines in the past,” he said. “Everyone uses plastic these days so it was essential to sort this out.” Consolidated buying power was also an appeal, particularly for a store of his size, which features 13 bathroom vignettes along with kitchen vignettes and product displays.
Another way Haines supports its Loyalty Club members is through surveys, giving each member a voice on issues confronting the group at large. In September 2010, a blind interview was conducted by Kadence Research to compare its service to that of the East Coast’s largest manufacturers that ship direct: J.J. Haines came out even in the Southern states and Georgia, and was up 7% in the North.
“The surveys help us stay in touch,” said Scott Carson, Carson Flooring, Tappahannock, Va. “This is by far the best group I’ve been with. They really want your business.”
Vendors also see the group’s value, not only for members but the industry as a whole. “At record attendance, when these kind of dealers come together for new products and education, it speaks a lot to what J.J. Haines does,” said Jeff Sills, executive vice president, sales, Shaw Hard Surfaces, who was at the meeting to tout Contour, a hand textured process that sets gently worn visuals as though there were years of use on each board. It’s currently available in 13 SKUs of oak, maple and hickory.
Customer efficiency is No. 1
Channeling its goal to “be the best, grow the business and retain core values,” the distributor is launching an initiative to improve operations for members, dubbed Customer Efficiency. According to Zwicker, Haines is at the start of a brand new five-year strategy.
“We’re taking another step, signaling a change to modernize and update the company,” he said. “We’ll keep the strong Haines brand, as it is known for reliable delivery, products and services to customers. Sales force, trucks, customer service—those won’t change but we’ll be building for the next 15 years over next five.”
The distributor is incorporating a new website and automated services to improve numbers that show only 90 members at the summit were utilizing Haines resources on the web. However, positive numbers show 50% of members surveyed would be willing to use online resources more frequently, hence the website update.
With the new plan for Customer Efficiency, members will be able to place orders, check inventory, submit claims, pay invoices and more, all via the site. Both Zwicker and Roy stressed that while utilizing this new technology would provide secure and easy access, Haines would keep the personal touch to which its customers are accustomed to make more money together.
“The flooring industry isn’t known for technological proficiency and with slow growing demand, tough pricing and margins, and end users cutting costs, our customers need to do something else that makes them more efficient and cut their own costs,” Zwicker said. “They need to use technology to sell but also to run their businesses.”
Roy said the ultimate goal is to eliminate mistakes and make it easier to do business with Haines. “Interaction between the customer and distributor could result in as many as 10 phone calls [over one issue]. We could eliminate a lot of that and save a lot of time.”
He said the newest thing for Loyalty customers online will be hosting Webinars every 60 days for Loyalty Club members. “We do it with our own employees quite a bit when we launch a product line. Not only is it cost saving but it allows for great training.”
Haines will be killing two birds with one stone with this new measure: It will teach everyone the most effective ways to use the technology at hand, in addition to training. “Now, maybe we have 10% of the membership using what we have available, but we’re shooting for 40%.”
The summer will remain a testing period for the new capabilities, and executives anticipate roll out at the end of the year.