Fastest-growing retailers share recipes for success

Home Inside FCNews Fastest-growing retailers share recipes for success

April 13/20, 2015; Volume 29/Number 1

By Ken Ryan

The floor covering industry’s most successful retailers come in all sizes and serve vastly different markets, but among the characteristics that bind these dealers is a willingness to step out of their comfort zones and take risks. This includes investing during down markets and performing certain job functions better than their competitors, among other things.

FCNews recently spoke to some of these prosperous, growing retailers about their success.

Boss Carpet One Floor & Home, Dixon, Ill.

Since joining Carpet One in 2009, Ben Boss, owner of Boss Carpet One, has known only unbridled success, with sales increasing 20% and more each year. “I’m thinking, ‘We can’t keep growing like this, we’re going to hit a plateau at some point.’”

For now Boss is enjoying the good fortune, which he said is largely due to his Carper One affiliation. “I can’t imagine going back to being an independent dealer again. Carpet One has given us the tools and resources to grow. It offers an amazing package for an independent dealer. It helps you become a more professional retailer and gives you a more professional image.”

Boss, of course, deserves some credit for his company’s growth. For starters, he invested back into the business during the down economy. He also grew his commercial business when many dealers were closing or transitioning out of larger contracts. And, in 2014, Boss expanded into cabinets. “We want to be that one-stop shop for customers. We can now bring in designers to work with our customers to put entire projects together. We’re about making every customer experience memorable.”

Cardoza Flooring, Milford, N.H.

When Michael Cardoza, owner of Cardoza Flooring, started his business in 2003, he was at an immediate disadvantage. Installers ran most of the stores in his market; Cardoza never laid a floor in his life.

What he possessed, however, the other dealers seemingly didn’t—the ability to sell and market a business. Those twin capabilities came in handy during the recession when many installer-run shops in New England went belly up.

“We never had a down year; we have only gone up each year,” Cardoza said. “We are a sales-motivated group here.”

Sales have grown more than five times since 2004, and 2015 should easily surpass 2014 now that the business has moved into a new, more accessible location.

“Our business has quadrupled since October. On any given day our parking lot is filled.”

The success comes back to knowing how to sell and market the business through any means, including social media, Angie’s List or simply having the right product in stock.

“We strive for high scores on Angie’s List, Google—all the rating services. We care about customer satisfaction. We’re a family run business that treats its customers like family.”

Carpet Mart, Louisville, Ky.

Bruce Jones, owner and manager of Carpet Mart, admitted to being a bit scared when his store expanded into hard surface after 25 years in soft. “Hard surface is a different world. Margins are much tighter, and there is a much greater time commitment and risk when installing. Mentally it is a challenge, but at the same time it is about serving your customers and making them happy. We saw too many customers wanting to buy from us who had to go somewhere else to buy hard surface.”

Three years ago Carpet Mart took the plunge, adding a small amount of hardwood and laminate flooring, representing a mere 1% of the business. Since then it has added luxury vinyl plank and tile, and recently sheet vinyl. The percentage of hard surface business for the store is now 15%. Meanwhile, the overall business grew by double digits in 2014.

“We have made baby steps in the hard surface category with the primary goal being to provide a great product and exceptional service to our customer,” Jones said.

To spread the word, Carpet Mart used traditional print advertising, as well as Facebook, Angie’s List and a Google pay-per-click service. “It has been a great move.”

FloorRight Interiors, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

Darryl Moore, owner of FloorRight Interiors, said he owes much of his double-digit increase to luxury vinyl tile and plank sales, which soared 49.8% in 2014 and has grown upward of 400% in the last four years.

But even if LVT cools off, Moore believes FloorRight Interiors has the ideal formula to sustain success, and it all starts with caring for the customer. Within 48 hours of an installation job, a FloorRight staffer is inside the customer’s home inspecting the floors, going over the warranty and maintenance paperwork, making sure the job was done right. “We get a lot of comments about that service,” Moore said. “I think it is one of the biggest points of differentiation we have.”

If the customer is satisfied, she is asked to fill out a brief survey and recommend FloorRight Interiors to friends and family. This referral initiative has grown over the years and helped increase business.

Moore is now ramping up his LVT assortment to accommodate new commercial jobs. “LVT has absolutely taken over, and builders are now asking for it. Next year my numbers with this category will be astronomical.”

Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa.

Event marketing is a big deal at Foulk’s Flooring America. And this year, in honor of its 20th anniversary, the dealer is hosting a fun gathering each month to attract customers. “These events get us a tremendous amount of social media attention, which is great advertising,” said Mike Foulk, president.

One popular event is Sip and Splash, a free, hands-on backsplash clinic taught by installers and designers where customers sip wine and learn how to install their own backsplashes. Other events include the Spring Cleaning Extravaganza with a professional organizer, Kitchen Design Evening with a local kitchen appliance and cabinet dealer, a Chamber of Commerce after-hours mixer and an outdoor tent sale during the local county fair.

“We strive to set ourselves apart from the competition with fresh ideas while maintaining our presence as the industry experts,” said Foulk, whose business increased 28% in 2014. “We focus on doing things right and as a result we get a lot of referrals.”

Gainesville CarpetsPlus ColorTile, Gainesville, Fla.

“Sometimes you have to roll the dice and take a chance,” said Josh Elder, co-owner of Gainesville CarpetsPlus, who along with his dad moved into a new $1 million, 7,000-square-foot retail store in 2008, just when the flooring industry was tanking.

The upside of expanding during a downturn? Lower construction costs and cheaper land. “We were expanding when other people were closing their doors,” he said. “We knew it was going to be dicey but you have to take a risk sometimes. Our move actually created consumer confidence during the downturn. We went a long way because others didn’t spend money at the time.”

Gainesville CarpetsPlus ColorTile grew double digits in 2013 and 2014 and is up 19% in the first quarter of 2015.

The business continues to invest in advertising—using both traditional and new media platforms—and product assortment. “I have increased my inventory of carpet, laminate, wood and LVT by more than double in the past few years, which I think is helping to keep customers out of the box stores. Consumers are looking for better products.”

Harman Hardwood Flooring, Rochester, N.Y.

For 70 years Harman Hardwood Flooring has operated with the motto “Doing one thing and doing it well.” That one thing is hardwood flooring.

“So many times companies try to be everything to everyone,” said Tom Harman, co-owner along with two brothers. “If you dilute yourself too much you become vague in all areas. We have stuck to our niche.”

Harman Hardwood’s mix is actually 85% wood; most of the other percentage is luxury vinyl plank. In fact, Harman recently recommended LVT over hardwood in a 4,000-square-foot project because “wood doesn’t go everywhere and this was an absolutely beautiful LVT product from EarthWerks.”

Still, wood has been the company’s bread and butter, fueling double-digit increases in sales for years. Harman said the business’ expertise in advising customers on matching the right product and application has burnished their credentials in Rochester.

“When people call here they know they are going to get the final word. Even with all the Internet searches, people are left with a lot of generalities about a product category. We will help them sift through that. We are pretty good at guiding people through that swamp.”

London’s Flooring Canada, London, Ontario, Canada

For more than 10 years London’s Flooring Canada’s owner Gerry Holden was unable to work full time because of a serious illness. When he returned to normal activities in February 2014 he saw a changed landscape, in which big box stores were gobbling up market share.

Holden responded by making some significant changes. First he hired an advertising company that recommended changing the format the store used for radio ads, opting for shorter, more frequent spots. London’s then started monthly infomercials on different product categories. Then it dropped all print advertising and reinvested the money online. He also rebuilt his entire sales team, hiring staff with design backgrounds but not necessarily flooring experience.

Next up was the showroom; Holden updated and refreshed it continually to attract customers and simplify the shopping experience. He then altered the product mix, adding niche offerings that no one in his market was promoting. He also took advantage of Flooring Canada’s private label program.

Then came pricing. “To be more competitive we lowered margins in areas where we had to and raised them in areas where we could. We also showed our staff how to sell add-ons.”

From July to December 2014, sales at London’s increased over 50%. “We finished 2014 with over $4 million in sales, up from $3.3 million. January and February of this year sales were up over 60%. March is currently up 26% and we are on course to do $5.5 to $6 million this year.”

Riverside Carpet Warehouse, Seymour, Ind.

It was a disagreement with a customer years ago that changed the way Duane Martin, owner of Riverside Carpet Warehouse, approached his business.

“At one point during a conversation I said to a customer, ‘Look, this is not a ‘Walmart world’ where you can take anything back that you don’t like.’ And the customer said to me, ‘It should be a Walmart world—they are setting the standard.’ And ever since then I’ve operated my business with a customer-first mentality.”

That means calling her back immediately with pricing and details and taking care of complaints before they become problems. “We do what we say we are going to do,” he said. “We are straight up with the customer. We know everybody in town and we develop our reputation. If a customer doesn’t like the color of her carpet, for example, we will replace it at no charge.”

In 2014 sales at Riverside were up 25% over 2013, despite a weather-related slow start. To date, 2015 is trending 15% to 20% above 2014.

The Vertical Connection Carpet One, Columbia, Md.

Growing 20% is a significant achievement for any flooring retailer, but to grow 20% per year for five consecutive years represents a true market leader.

One such business is The Vertical Connection. “There are three primary drivers of our growth,” said Adam Joss, who along with his father, Steve, co-owns the business. “In 2011 we relocated and expanded our showroom [to 10,000-square-feet]. In 2014 we entered the cabinet and countertop business, and we’ve focused on the basics of selling and service, paying particular attention to the customer experience.”

Adam Joss said that as with most companies, The Vertical Connection’s best business and marketing tool is repeat and referral business. “We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the experience of our customers to drive more repeat and referral business. We believe doing all the little things well adds up to big success. We have won many service awards [including Better Business Bureau A+ rating and Best of Houzz 2015 Award] and we find great joy in hearing how satisfied our customers are. We just have to keep it going because there is so much competition around.”

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