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Monday, May 02, 2011

Olga Robertson, President FCA Network

Meet Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, an alliance of floor covering retailers. She is one of very few women leaders in the floor covering industry. In her role with FCA Network, she is fiercely focused on the success of her members.

I first met Olga when she participated in a panel discussion at Surfaces. I describe that presentation in Lis Calandrino - Tips From the Trade.

Only recently did I have the opportunity to work closely with Olga in preparation for the 2011 FCA Network annual convention [described in FCA Network 2011 Annual Convention Focused on ‘Getting More for Less and FCA Network Annual Convention Presentations]. I witnessed firsthand her intense passion.

Olga graciously agreed to participate in this Woman in Flooring interview.

C.B.: Olga, please tell me about yourself and your background.

OR: My parents immigrated to this country because they wanted to make a better life for themselves and their family. I was born in Naples, Italy, the first of 4 children.  My sisters were born in this country. Dad worked at the steel mill and mom worked at home. As a young girl, raised in a lower middle class family with a strong work ethic, there was simply no excuse for not working hard and taking your education seriously. I was privileged to have a parochial education for 12 years with 4 years in an all girls’ high school... actually that was the best time of my life.

One thing my father always said to me, which I never really understood until I was in the workplace, was “not to expect something for nothing.” Mom, the disciplinarian and the nurturer, always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. So at a very early age I knew that if I worked hard and applied myself I could make more money than my father... Unfortunately not many young people coming out of college today will be able to do that based on the statistics that we are so painfully aware of. I learned the important lesson that to live the American Dream required discipline, a lot of determination and the right opportunities... and this is where Bob Hill comes into the picture.

C.B.: How did you get started in the flooring business?

OR: I was raising my daughter on my own after my divorce...I needed to make more money and I was talking to a friend who was doing installation work for Bob Hill who said “I know a guy looking for a girl to work on the order desk”...that’s exactly what he said. He told me about a position that was available at FCA, a floor covering store in Shorewood. I told him absolutely not.....the only experience I had with floor covering was the time my mother put a deposit down on two rooms of carpet and the guy ran off with everyone’s deposits....as you know flooring people were on par with used car salesmen at that time...

Anyway, I finally called Bob and started one week later right after Christmas... on January 3, 1978. He was willing to pay me $15.00 more per week and I thought, sure, I can do this and continue to look for something else. If you hear Bob Hill tell the story I was there for 30 seconds and started running the place... It wasn’t quite like that, but I was fortunate to be hired by someone who recognized my talents and work ethic early on and gave me so many opportunities to prove myself.  I adopted an attitude of listening and learning from other successful people.

C.B.: What is FCA Network?

OR: FCA Network is a group of licensed retailers across the country who benefit from our buying power and expertise in the floor covering business. We offer all the same things that other groups do for a lot less. Our USP [Unique Selling Proposition] is that we are successful retailers helping other retailers. I like to say that we are the smaller group that THINKS BIG. We also intervene on behalf of our members to resolve claims and expedite orders because we know first hand how difficult it is to sell the customer the first time much less have to do it a second time because the mills can’t ship product.

C.B.: What do you like most about the flooring business?

OR: What I like most are the people in the industry..... That’s why I stayed in this industry. There are some really fine people in this business:  Carl Bouckaert, Ralph Boe, Vance Bell, Randy Merritt, John Godwin to name just a few. I’m blessed to have met and worked with talented and passionate people just like you. I’ve worked with and learned from the best.

C.B.: What do you like least about the flooring business?

OR: I could live without the customers.....:-)! I suppose it’s the challenges we all face in an imperfect world that seem to be even more intense or magnified in retail floor covering. In order to satisfy a customer you must do everything perfectly.... 100% in an imperfect world is a very tall order. You have to count on so many people to do everything 100% all along the chain.... It’s not easy.

C.B.: What would you do differently to improve the flooring retail experience?

OR: Have QR tags on every sample from every supplier. We would download our custom app to whatever mobile platform with information from all our vendors and have immediate access to our pricing, specifications, inventory, etc. Wouldn’t that be a great sales tool.... and so cool!

I’m struggling with this because there’s a pre-supposition that I would have some form of control over the retail experience from the stand-point of a teacher, coach or manager. This is “old school” but I believe it’s the student’s responsibility to learn not the teachers to teach.

Teachers, Coaches, Managers should inspire. This is a business for self-starters and entrepreneurs.  It’s not for the timid.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

C.B.: How do you see blogs and social media affecting the flooring industry and your members?

OR: That’s the $64,000 question.  I don’t know.

I do know that there’s a lot of talk about it, a whole lot written about it, and no one wants to be left behind.  I suppose when the pain of not utilizing social media tools is greater than the pain of doing it, we’ll move that ball forward.

C.B.: Any parting words of advice?

OR: Yes, stay positive, keep smiling and don’t take yourself too seriously. You know our motto: have fun, make more money and have more fun!

Thank you, Olga!

Comments, questions, reactions? What advice do you have for succeeding in business today? How do you balance customer expectations with the realities of your industry? How would you use QR codes to facilitate supply chain communications?

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Anonymous said...

Hi Christine and Olga - this is Phil of Scarlet Opus in the UK. I like the interview and Olga you sound like a good business person that youngsters can aspire to - I don't think your sex is relevant.
My advice in business is going through a period of change due to the tidal wave of new requirements being driven by the decade of disasters (both man made and natural) that we have just exerienced. Everything needs to rejeuvenate, not simply restart - but few businesses and their leaders are yet open to this or realise it. They seem to be waiting for the economy to improve - but this will only facilitate a new world, not simply enable us to carry on as before. Those who try to will slowly stagnate and possibly disappear. Moving forward company cultures need to: be open, be collaborative, have integrity, be sharing and become interdependant on others.

CB Whittemore said...


Thanks so much for this comment. Your observations and advice are spot on. What’s surprising is how many businesses and leaders still haven’t internalized how critical it is to rejuvenate and encourage creative approaches to old problems.

That's where I think Olga's gender is relevant. She's incredibly attuned to changes in the marketplace and actively figuring out how to help her members survive and thrive as they transform themselves.

I hope all is well on your end.


Daryl Ciokiewicz said...

My brother and I own a retail flooring store in Wisconsin and 10 years ago we knew we needed to join a retail group in order to gain competitive pricing, private labeling and the knowledge gained through networking with other dealers. We found the FCA during a trip to surfaces and joined shortly after. That was when we met Olga. Believe me, she is the reason we joined because we discovered someone whom shared our beliefs in how to run a flooring store, manage installations and handle customers and deal with mills and distributors. She just knew how to do it all better because she came from a much larger market. On our way back home after meeting Olga and Bob we just could not believe how well we fit with the the FCA. Since that first meeting 10 years ago we have gained an immense amount of knowledge about the flooring business form Olga and the FCA and we have never regretted that decision.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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