Re-posted from: AHSG & Commercial USA Gain Ground
Despite economic tailwinds, both divisions see growth
[Atlanta] American Home Surfaces Group (AHSG) and Commercial USA are dealing with the changing marketplace by adapting and shifting focus to address where the market is growing and where opportunities are.
The key, said Tony Wright, executive vice president, is recognizing where each business segment has growth potential. AHSG is the retail division of the business while Commercial USA addresses the commercial side.
“The business conditions for retail flooring have been well-documented,” he said, pointing to higher interest rates, inflation and geopolitical issues. “However, these are just the conditions within which retailers are operating and I don’t think this defines the state of AHSG retail members. If there’s that anything I have learned about retail flooring store owners over the past 30 years, it is that they are adaptive, resilient and innovative when faced with business challenges, and this really defines the AHSG members.”
In addition, the company’s commercial businesses are seeing strong growth. “Our Commercial USA members are benefitting from what continues to be a strong market for commercial construction,” Wright added. “Commercial USA members report a healthy backlog, so there is reason for continued optimism.”
BULLISH ABOUT 2024
AHSG executives are optimistic about both the retail and commercial segments as they launch their 2024 initiatives, including bringing both divisions together at its annual convention in September which will mark AHSG’s 25th anniversary. The commercial division, with 275 members with 350 locations, is 10 years old while the retail group has 305 members with 400 locations.
For 2024, both companies are looking at what they should prioritize, said Wright. “We are looking at suppliers, at business and where we want to be. There are big opportunities to get it all together.”
Both divisions head into 2024 with plans for growth and improvement, Wright continued. “Our plans in 2024 for both AHSG and Commercial USA will continue to be adding more benefits for our members and adding more value for our supply partners.”
This will include new members and bolstering its relationship with its supplier partners. “There is strength in numbers and we will be recruiting new members for AHSG and Commercial USA,” Wright said. “Our members are independent-minded owners who want to leverage the relationships that we have forged for their businesses’ benefit. We have had many requests from suppliers to join our groups, but we will continue to be discriminating in who we partner with regarding our suppliers.”
Bruce Weber, founder and chairman of the board, added that one key factor is AHSG does not do private label. “We have never done it. I do not believe in it. It would be the last thing I want to do with all the work suppliers have already put in. And it hasn’t hurt us one bit.”
Wright added that the AHSG/Commercial USA suppliers have already done the heavy lifting. “We can leverage the market expertise of the suppliers and let our members take advantage of it. It’s a big benefit.”
For example, one thing AHSG does is co-invest in displays. “This way not all the weight is on the suppliers’ shoulders,” said Joe Weber, chief executive officer.
Added Wright: “AHSG has always co-invested with our supplier partners in our members’ showrooms to ensure they have the most current displays and this will be a point of emphasis in 2024.”
In addition, both divisions will focus on helping its members with training. “Whether product knowledge, sales training or installation training, we will work with suppliers and industry education organizations to facilitate training for our members,” said Wright. “Also, we will identify allied business partners that we can align with that provide needed and beneficial services to our members’ flooring business,” such as succession planning, consumer finance, software integration or marketing.
In addition, the company hopes to expand its membership. “We need to fill some voids and there are definite opportunities,” Wright said. “We need to identify what the highest priority is.” The company’s largest footprint is in Texas but there are opportunities for growth in many regions, from the Midwest to California.
TRAINING & SERVICE
Key initiatives for 2024 and beyond are training and service. “We are working with vendors to train, train, train,” said Joe Weber.
“Talking to members, training is the biggest need,” agreed Wright.
This includes training for installation, one of the biggest challenges for both divisions. “The shortage of trained and qualified flooring installers has been and continues to be one of the most acute challenges in the industry,” Wright continued. “We hear this from our members every day. AHSG and Commercial USA want to be a part of the effort to solve this.” The company underwrites its members’ enrollment in trade organizations that address this and will partner with members who choose to offer training.
As Bruce Weber puts it, it’s all part of AHSG’s “6 S” strategy: “See them, sell them, sympathize with them, save them if they have an issue, service them and secure them. As long as we keep doing our jobs, we will win.”
Standing, from left: Tony Wright and Joe Weber, with Bruce Weber
In July of 2023, Bruce Weber transitioned out of his role as chief executive officer of American Home Surfaces Group (AHSG) into the role of Chairman of the Board. At the same time, his son, Joe Weber, was named CEO. This reflects a growing trend in the floor covering industry of generational leadership at both the retail and supplier levels.
Bruce Weber started the company 25 years ago after working in the industry for other companies. “The senior national vice president for Daltile said if I wanted to break loose and start up my own group, then Daltile would support me.”
He started the company with no money and today has more than 800 member locations under the AHSG and Commercial USA brands. What’s more, the company has more than 2,000 Daltile displays across those brands.
Bruce Weber was looking to move out of his role and turned to his son, Joe Weber, who had not envisioned a career in flooring. In fact, Joe Weber said, this is a serious issue for the industry. “I think we really need to improve our industry’s recruiting and awareness to the younger generation, especially on college campuses. I was always fascinated by Dalton, Ga. but it wasn’t until I attended our first convention that I realized what a great industry this is to be in.” He had worked in the insurance industry, which he called “rather boring,” and added, “I was immediately drawn to all the great people I was fortunate to get to meet and know.”
Bruce Weber didn’t directly encourage his son to join but always talked about the business with him and took his son along to meet members and suppliers. “He helped with our accounting and reporting while he was at the University of Georgia. We used to meet halfway [between the school and Atlanta] so we could exchange reports and data,” Bruce Weber added.
Joe Weber said he doesn’t envision making major changes to the organization. “It’s business as usual as my father has done an incredible job grooming me for this transition for many years. We’ve always been great partners and he means the world to me.”
One major move was hiring Tony Wright as executive vice president to round out the team. “Tony fits incredibly well with our culture and has an excellent background and experience,” Joe Weber said.
Joe Weber may not be the last generation involved. “We have two granddaughters who already have their names on the office doors here,” said Bruce Weber.