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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Meet Suzanne Swenson, Karastan Territory Manager

Suzy Swenson knows flooring and, more specifically, carpet. Not just as an industry insider, but with an eye for design and how the product meets the needs of the carpet consumer and the retailers selling the carpet. I've heard it firsthand from retailers she calls on and experienced it myself when I asked Suzy for perspective on several Karastan carpet styles.

She brings passion to her role as Karastan Territory Manager as well as terrific focus on customers and consumers. Suzy is a Woman in Flooring.

CB: Suzy, tell me about yourself.

SS: I began in Sales with IBM many years ago. First, as a Marketing Representative and then as a Systems Engineer. I was responsible for selling, installing and educating customers about IBM Computers and Software. IBM is where I learned the basics of marketing and sales.

After 5 years I took on my most rewarding job, that of Mom to 2 kids. Kids, ha! They are both grown and have lives of their own now. Our daughter Amanda is married and living in San Francisco, CA loving life and living it to the fullest. Our son is on the swim team at USC - go Trojans! Kevin has been swimming since before he learned to walk!

We have moved extensively over the years. Where ever we went, I found part-time positions that ranged from Executive Assistant, to Marketing roles and Seamstress. All taught me organization, planning, marketing and outside the box thinking! I worked for a Milliner in Connecticut who had me restoring vintage clothes and accessories. I also created numerous embellishments that she used in her hat designs. I became adept at looking at fashion magazines and reinterpreting styles and trends.

The best was restoring vintage clothing and accessories! Today I still spend time in my sewing studio coming up with new ideas. Right now my favorite is to give new life to cast offs. If a piece has good fabric and color, it becomes something new for the next season! I call it "rebirthing my used-to-bes". Today, colors, textures and elements from nature come alive when I visualize decorating schemes. All those years of being exposed to textiles and fashion have enabled me to help customers identify with trends and translate that into their design process.

CB: How did you get started in the flooring business?

SS: I answered an ad in Monsterjobs.com for a Marketing Representative in the flooring industry. The ad offered travel, fun and excitement! I really had no idea what I was in for! However, "Marketing" is like a magnet to me. Selling, whether a national brand or my own brand comes easy to me. I love being able to transfer my brand knowledge along with design elements to people wanting to learn more. It's always a win-win situation when I make my daily calls on customers.

I spent 5 years with Wear-Dated as a Marketing Representative in Austin, TX before becoming a Territory Manager with Karastan in 2006. I love selling Karastan! Karastan carpet and rugs are timeless! Everyday I learn more about the styles, the colors and the influences behind them. I'm a textile junkie!

Although there are differences between working for the oldest name in the carpet industry and the strongest name in carpet fiber, as a result I now have more in-depth knowledge of the entire carpet product. I feel more confident in selling design solutions than I ever have. I have collected and registered valuable knowledge from the flooring industry, and I continue to do so everyday. I share this knowledge daily with my customers and we all succeed.

CB: What do you like most and least about the flooring industry?

SS: Most - There are so many choices for so many styles, colors and combinations of both for completing any home decor. The industry just keeps on improving the technology for performance in durability, cleanability and liveability. The styling and colors of products is very innovative, keeping the home in pace with the rest of the fashion industry.

Least - There are so many choices... it's too hard to choose. It can take weeks to find what will be the perfect solution. I am in that process right now for my home -- and I have flooring knowledge and experience. Imagine what it's like for consumers.

CB: What 5 things would you do differently to improve the flooring retail experience for consumers ?

SS: Here you go...

1. Visualization -- With today's technology it would be great for a consumer to take a picture of her living room and bring it in to the store, upload it, and add flooring options to see the product in her home. Some retailers are doing this online, I'd like to see it taken to the next level and create a design room in the store using the same tools.

2. Vignettes -- Create the whole picture with textiles for windows, beds, furniture as well as flooring just for effect and ideas.

3. Education -- Many people really do not understand what all these choices really mean. Some may not care, but once they know what it all means, it could make a difference in their decisions.
4. Comfort -- When I am shopping and my feet hurt or am thirsty all I can think about is getting this experience over with!! I'd like to see more comforts of home available to me. Many of my customers have this environment, and their customers are comfortable and have energy to shop!

5. Showing the consumer how home fashion really does follow Haute Couture trends. Someday a runway show incorporating home fashion will be an element of marketing for the flooring industry. Hmmm, I wonder...

CB: What carpet trends - construction, style and color - have you seen are strongest?

SS: Color. Today it's all about color! If it is not the right color it could be so discouraging to the consumer. Today, styles are freshened up with new colors that actually follow the rest of the fashion industry. Custom colors are really big now! A consumer can bring in a swatch of fabric and have her carpet dyed to match or select from a huge color bank.

CB: What about blogs, social media, etc. How do you see them affecting how you do business?

SS: I haven't really gotten into those yet, but it is inevitable. It's the technology "GRAPEVINE" We used to depend on face to face interaction to learn about what's going on in our neighborhoods, schools and communities. When looking for recommendations on where to shop or what to buy, we used to ask our friends where they bought that fabulous piece of carpet. Today, people prefer to "GOOGLE" than to "GOSSIP". I am guilty of that one! So now the blogs, social media become our grapevine and the opinions are viewed by millions rather than by our next door neighbor! It's genius!!

Thank you, Suzy!

Other Women In Flooring posts include:
+ Meet Lisbeth Calandrino - Executive Coach Extraordinaire
+ Meet Jenny Cross: Sr. Brand Manager, Mohawk Residential
+ Meet Kim Gavin, Editor, Floor Covering Weekly
+ WFCA's Floor Talk! Blog: Meet Shannon Bilby

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