Volume 27/Number 19; January 20/27, 2014
Floor covering dealers are finally expressing more confidence, economically speaking, about the future as opposed to the gloom-and-doom attitudes that painted the landscape of the not-too-distant past. “Optimism” and “promising” are the key words. FCNews asked several retailers about their outlook for 2014, the changes they see happening or are making in their daily operations, and the challenges they need to overcome to enjoy a successful and profitable year.
Baker Bros., Phoenix
Outlook: We are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year. We do feel like there is a reasonable amount of pent-up demand and it will continue to produce positive results for the year.
Change: We are actually hiring people to handle the growth we have experienced over the past two years. We are also constantly monitoring our advertising and making appropriate changes based on success and the changes in the way consumers gain information.
Challenge: The biggest challenges you always face are people. Whether sales, internal or installation; growth requires more of them. Finding them and training them while maintaining the overall quality we have become accustomed to is most critical.
Carpetland USA, Davenport, Iowa
Outlook: I believe 2014 will be a year of modest to moderate growth. We’re budgeting for 4% to 6% growth this year corporately. Our aggressive goal for 2014 is 11% growth. I feel there will be a steady demand for residential remodeling business throughout the year, and our new construction business appears to be strong in some of our markets as well. While no one can predict what will happen in Washington, I hope its impact on our current momentum will be minimal.
Change: We plan on adding to our outside sales staff this year to aggressively pursue commercial business, multifamily, Main Street and new construction. I feel there are many opportunities in those sectors and want to be proactive in pursuing those opportunities. We will continue to aggressively promote and market our business to capture the opportunities of the residential side of the market, as well as continue to train our sales staff.
Challenge: Battling contentment and staying aggressive. We have enjoyed steady growth over the past five years. However, there is still so much more that we can do to grow our business. We have challenged our team to clearly define its goals for 2014 and implement “plans-of-action” to help them obtain those goals. There’s always room for improvement. We’re looking to improve on some of our internal weaknesses while capitalizing on our strengths, all the while participating in the continued growth of our industry in 2014.
Rugs, Rolls & More, Plaistow, N.H.
Outlook: I’m concerned that the financial impact of Obamacare and the possibility of rising interest rates may limit our growth in 2014. The increase in healthcare expenses may cause consumers to tighten their purse strings and reconsider flooring purchases. Also, increases in interest rates will potentially slow the real estate market in our area. Plus, increased home equity rates will decrease the amount of remodeling. We will have to continue offering 0% financing with extended terms to offset this.
Change: This year we are trying to increase our presence on the web. Google is now a verb, and that is how people are searching for products. When we ask new customers how they heard about Rugs, Rolls & More, it is either that they were referred to us or they googled us.
Challenge: Personally, I need to overcome my resistance to new technology and embrace iPhones, mobile apps, Facebook and Twitter for my business.
Bob & Pete’s Floors, Canton, Ohio
Outlook: The outlook we have for 2014 is very promising. Our sales for 2013 were up 27%, and while I do not expect that type of growth in 2014, I see a lot of positive signs such as builder traffic picking up, residential traffic continuing to grow and spending on the higher-ticket items. We’ve seen consumer confidence grow in 2013, and all signs are pointing to that continuing.
Change: I believe we’ve been preparing for today since the downturn in 2008. We always felt when the economy swung back around, we wanted to be at the top of the wave riding it out, so a lot of the staffing, procedural, marketing and display changes we made were geared toward being the leader coming out of the recession. I believe our growth in 2013 was a reflection of this. The changes we’re concentrating on include expanding our LVT showroom and condensing our laminate products. We’re trying to blend our product lines to contain great value but also show the consumer the latest trends and design styles. It’s important today to have the balance between the price point and value products along with the higher-end design products.
Challenge: The biggest challenge we need to overcome is not misreading the market and controlling our overhead. Seeing things growing and becoming busier, we have had the need to expand our sales force and overall support teams. It’s challenging to manage the cash flow and overhead expenses without overconfidence that things will continue on an upward swing. The other challenge is finding quality floor mechanics who can give you a high level of profession installation and customer service. There is greater demand for more qualified installers and not a large supply.
Floor Craft, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Outlook: My outlook for 2014 is, for the most part, optimistic. I believe we will continue to see a gradual growth in business as seen in 2013. Business from builders as well as retail customers is continuing to increase as the market grows. We don’t, however, anticipate large increases in our margins due to constant price increases throughout the industry coupled with the cost of doing business. Flooring retailers are often distorting the market with unsustainably low prices that are difficult to compete with. So rather than focusing solely on being competitive through pricing, we put a greater emphasis on being the most reputable and honest store out there by providing great service to our customers.
Change: One of my main goals for Floor Craft is transitioning into a greater use of technology to make internal logistics more efficient. Continual change and growth in company procedures is vital to avoid falling in a rut as a business. Most importantly, however, I want to continue to use the many tools and benefits provided by our buying group, Alliance Flooring (CarpetsPlus/Colortile).
Challenge: I believe Floor Craft’s greatest challenge in 2014 will be overcoming changes in the political arena. The unknown impact of heathcare costs, both directly and indirectly, is a concern as a small business owner. I want to remain debt free and continue to increase Floor Craft’s bottom line. To do that, we’re continually monitoring where money is being lost and working on procedures to eliminate it. As a company, our main goal is to continue to gain trust in all involved in Floor Craft, both employees and our customers, through consistency. A great customer and businessman once told me, “During the good times prepare for the bad times, and during the bad times prepare for the good times.” I believe that quote directly sums up what it takes to be successful.
DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Outlook: For years I’ve been using the words “cautiously optimistic” but this year I’m happy to say without a doubt I’m optimistic about 2014. All the indicators are there, and leaders in our industry all agree 2014 should be a year of growth and profits for independent retailers. For the past two years we’ve seen 20% growth annually, and with the addition of our third store in 2010 that was to be expected. With the current locations and infrastructure we have, I anticipate additional returns to the bottom line with the higher volume.
Change: We’ve added some personnel to our service team and increased our sales force. It’s vital to have the right number of people in place to maintain the level of service our customers expect and deserve. In addition, we’ve made it a priority as a management team to set aside time each week to work with our sales teams and monthly meetings to work on our business rather than just in it.
Challenge: The biggest challenge we as owners will face this year is the ability to handle our growth and having the proper personnel to handle it without taking on all the additional hours and chores ourselves. Delegating with confidence will be key to enjoying 2014. I can always find things that need attention and fires that need a hose, but to successfully balance between family and business it is critical to rely on your team to get the job done.