By Ken Ryan
Cincinnati – Four years after establishing a residential business, Gilford Flooring faced a big challenge: a large resilient supplier “disengaged” from the Jeffersonville, Ind.-based distributor, leaving it with a big void to fill. The year was 2003 and Dennis Cook, Gilford president, traveled to Dalton to seek a suitable replacement.
“Dennis saw something in this little Belgium company called IVC, and that was before we were even incorporated,” said Paul Murfin, co-CEO of IVC US. “Dennis saw something in IVC more than 10 years ago; a few months ago, the largest flooring manufacturer in the world [Mohawk] also saw something in IVC.”
Murfin made his comments at Gilford Flooring’s spring event, where he was a guest speaker at the annual gathering of key suppliers and retailers.
“We jumped at the chance to be with IVC,” Cook said. “It was one of the best moves this company has made. IVC is a critical line for us [LVT, sheet and laminate].”
As important as its vendors are to Gilford, the distributor recognizes that it would be nowhere without its retailer customers. On that point, retailers say Gilford gets an A+. “They’ve got your back,” said John Bennett, vice president of sales and marketing at Bennett’s Carpet, with three locations in Kentucky. “We’re big believers in partnerships, which put us in a unique situation with Gilford. We believe the partnership goes a long way in their commitment to us and our commitment to them. We’re a family business and Gilford is like family to us.”
Key vendors also talked about Gilford’s commitment. “They are focused on you,” said David Shaoulpour, vice president with Horizon Floors. “They don’t take on a line just to have it; they take it on because they really want it, and then they really service it.”
When Gilford was looking for a laminate partner in 2010 it was not willing to settle for any manufacturer; it wanted to do more business with fewer suppliers. From that strategy Inhaus emerged as Gilford’s go-to laminate supplier. A year after it picked up the line, Gilford earned Inhaus’ Distributor of the Year award. “Gilford really takes care of you,” said Daniel Lang, vice president of sales and marketing for Inhaus. “Their loyalty retailers, there must be 50 or 60 of them here, really come out to support this event, which gives us a chance to see retailers in this region.”
During the event Murfin spoke to Gilford retailers about the importance of working with companies that are committed to your success. “A company like Gilford is committed to you. You need to be married to them and work together.”
Cook said that while this is a sales event, with great bargains available, “an important part of our effort is to create relationships, to build camaraderie with the customer.”
A strong supplier lineup, including IVC, Inhaus, EarthWerks, Somerset, Anderson, Pergo, Horizon and American Biltrite exhibited new products at the event. “We have a great group of vendors,” Cook said. “I challenge any other distributor serving our market to have a better group of vendor partners. We are also very diversified among our product segments as well as our customers.”
That diversification helped the regional distributor (it covers Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and parts of Tennessee) weather the recession. The first nine months of 2008, in fact, was the best three-quarter stretch in company history to that point. “We were knocking home runs the first nine months. I thought, ‘This can’t be true,’” Cook said. “And then the recession hit in October 2008, and 2009 was a challenge.”
Despite the challenge, the company’s headcount remained virtually intact. Today, it has 65 employees, 40% of whom have been with Gilford for 10 years or more. After a banner year in 2013 and a flat 2014, Gilford is projecting roughly 8% growth for 2015. “We are bullish this year,” Cook said. “We think single-family home remodeling will drive sales and the consumer is going to continue to spend money on their homes.”