SYOSSET, N.Y.—For the past 30 years, Stanton Carpet has been synonymous with quality flooring. But what began as a niche supplier of high-end goods has evolved into a multi-faceted company with an array of products and price points.
Ironically, the company was formed out of necessity and not as a result of some grandiose vision, according to founder and CEO Sy Cohen. Cohen was a retailer who, in 1972, opened up Country Carpet as a trade showroom on Long Island selling moderate to high-end goods to designers and referrals.
“The problem we were having was getting the products the designers wanted, which was more decorative type carpet,” Cohen said. “So basically we were forced into making product, both domestically and overseas, that our customers were asking for.”
Cohen knew if he could get his hands on wool berbers, patterned goods and flatweaves, he could sell it. So he started bringing in proprietary products to feed Country Carpet. “We de- signed products and had manufacturers make them for us. Mohawk made a woven product for us, and we imported goods from Belgium and Denmark. The good thing was it was proprietary; the bad thing was you had to buy a lot of it. So we found ourselves with a lot of inventory.”
Cohen began to contact his dealer friends throughout the country. “One thing led to another, we sent samples and prices, hired a couple of sales agents, and in 1980 we formed Stanton,” named for one of the two cross streets on the Lower East Side of Manhattan adjacent to the one on which Cohen grew up.
In the beginning the product portfolio could be counted on one hand—three to be exact: a pair of wool acrylics that retailed in the $40 a yard range, and a flatwoven nylon that sold for around $26 a yard. Within a year three more products were added and Cohen never looked back. Throughout the last three decades, Stanton has grown into a $50 million-plus company due in large part to some strategic acquisitions. For example, in April 1995, Cohen brought Royal Dutch into the fold, which not only gave Stanton access to products it was not offering, but equally important a brand new customer base, including Carpet One.
“Royal Dutch was a spin off of a company called Telenzo of Holland,” Cohen said. “It specialized in wool berber and flatweaves. It was attractive to us for a number of reasons. First, we were not reaching 75% of Royal Dutch’s dealer list, so we gained entrée into dealers who may not have been appropriate for the Stanton line. Second, it gave us another brand name to market moderate-priced carpet. Third, it gave us a new network of sales agents.” The result? Stanton’s business increased 30% within a year, Cohen said. “It gave us tremendous credibility in the marketplace. Royal Dutch had a bigger name in the market than we ever thought because of its affiliation with Carpet One and berber dealers.”
But Royal Dutch was not the first significant expansion. Two years earlier Stanton launched its Wilton Gallery, which gave the company not only a collection of products it did not have before (wire wiltons), but products that were not readily available to the dealer. “In the past, you could only get these types of products from design centers,” Cohen said. “It gave us a whole new level of sales to build on. There was now a demand for these products because we created a pipeline.”
The Wilton Gallery, whose products retailed between $60 and $70 per yard, also increased Stanton’s business 30% in one year as well as its customer base. “It gave us products to advertise,” Cohen said. “We designed them and went to Spain to manufacture the line. In fact, we were one of the first companies to do that in such large quantities.”
It is this diversity of product that Cohen says most differentiates Stanton from its competitors. “We offer flatwoven, tufted wool, patterned polypropylene and wool, handloomed and runners. The beauty is that no one category dominates the business.” He added that the importance of this is some dealers specialize in only one or two of these categories; others specialize in all. “The common theme is we will attack a category and expand it if we can put out product at a reasonable price point. That’s what people know us for. Not only diversity of product but saleable, well-priced product where dealers can make money.”
The acquisition not withstanding, Cohen said the one defining moment in Stanton’s 30 years is when his son, Jonathan, joined the company in 1993. “That gave us a fresh, new outlook. Sometimes you realize you need a fresh approach. Jon brought that to us.”
Jonathan Cohen, now executive vice president, made an immediate impact in his approach to marketing, which helped build Stanton into a brand name by taking the company into national advertising. He didn’t start small, regularly placing ads in Architectural Digest. “We started at the top to bring credibility and awareness to the company,” he said. “The product we were selling at the time—high-end woven—lent itself to Architectural Digest. We knew 40% to 50% of the people who purchased our carpet did so with a decorator or through a decorator. We felt a lot of those people read Architectural Digest. That gave us brand credibility and instant recognition, which helped drive traffic into retail stores, which gave us even more credibility.”
Jonathan Cohen also claims Stanton became the first company in its niche to create displays for the market. In the past the product was shown in 27 x 18 cut sample sets. Again, Stanton was raising its awareness.
About four years ago, 80% of the company that began with three products was sold for an undisclosed sum, rumored to be in the $50 million range, to Linsalata Capital Partners in Cleveland. While Sy Cohen admits it allowed the family to “take some money off the table,” it has not changed the way the Cohens operate Stanton.
Jonathan Cohen added, “We run the business as if we owned 100%, even more so than before because of the high level of accountability we feel as partners. Take the Antrim purchase in 2007, for example. When you buy a company, you look at top- line revenue and then bottom- line revenue. A private equity firm looks at bottom line and then top line. So, it gave us a different outlook on the purchase.”
Change is constant
While Stanton will cite product diversity, quality and service as its hallmarks, its ability to adapt has been just as pivotal in its success. “We used to buy our goods from Europe, and we thought that was difficult,” Sy Cohen said. “Now we buy from Asia. The opportunities are immense. There are new partners and new opportunities to offer equally as good products at significantly lower pricing.”
Doing business does not come without its challenges, however. Sy Cohen noted that an Asian mindset differs from an American mindset as it relates to product development and sampling. “It’s a process. You have to teach American standards. The European mentality was more in line with Americans in terms of matching color and design, and willingness to take on a more difficult project.”
Stanton has also lived through the change in its dealer base. Some of the big chains it used to do business with no longer exist, like Home Depot Expo. Then there are the buying groups, which enabled the company to penetrate the mid-level dealer in a much bigger way. Today, Cohen said it has a presence in 3,000-plus dealer showrooms between Stanton and Royal Dutch.
But the biggest change may be in customer service. “We do everything for the customer,” Jonathan Cohen said. “We do more inspections today. Quality control is at its highest level. Customers today are more demanding and rightfully so. We’ve tried to stay ahead of their needs by adjusting and evolving.”
Service even extends to installation for more difficult goods. “We have a former, high-end installer on staff as an in-house consultant who talks a lot of installers through the job. He has actually gone out to larger jobs to help. We also have a high inventory ratio. 90% of what anyone orders is in stock, and credit worthy orders usually ship from Calhoun, Ga., within 36 hours. In addition, we have implemented online access for all our dealers as well as square foot pricing for rugs to make the sale of products as simple and flexible as possible. All this is huge in our niche. We make it seamless for the dealer.”
Going forward, Stanton will continue to reinvest in the business. “We know when the market comes back we will be well positioned,” Jonathan Cohen said. “We will continue to be smart about where our resources go. We will continue getting into new categories; we will be proactive if there is a strategic acquisition that makes sense for us. For example, we launched a new line of sisal and seagrass earlier this year. That allows us to grow. We will also have multiple category extensions early next year.”
But no matter how it is sliced, Sy Cohen’s mission statement is the same today as 30 years ago: Stanton will be synonymous with quality, high design carpet.