Jan 4/11; Volume 30/Number 14
By Jana Pollack
It’s old news—big box stores are increasingly eating into the profits of small, local businesses. Consumers can’t pass through a single town without the chance to pop into a Lowe’s or Home Depot, where they can “go in for a light bulb and come out with a kitchen floor,” as Greg Miller, owner of Henry’s Floor Covering in Green Castle, Pa., put it. And yet, small businesses continue to have an important place in our communities.
FCNews spoke with three small flooring business professionals to get their takes on what it’s like to work in local, tight knit areas and how they successfully compete with their larger neighbors.
Pam Kulick, JK Carpets
Locust Grove, Va.
In 1985 Pam and John Kulick, owners of JK Carpets in Locust Grove, Va., opened their flooring store and 31 years later, the business prides itself on community involvement and commitment. “We own our own building and our warehouse and offices are all in one,” Pam Kulick said. “We live in the community that we [service], so that’s kind of the thing that helps us out as far as gaining trust. We live with the people.”
Locust Grove is a community of about 6,000 homes. On an average day JK Carpets welcomes three or four customers, but sometimes it can see up to 10. “We’re on a main highway, so that helps us,” Kulick said. The store employs one full-time sales associate and one part-time clerical employee as well as the Kulicks’ daughter Kelly, who handles all of the business’ marketing efforts. “My husband runs the crews, does all the measuring and gets the guys out in the morning in the warehouse,” Kulick continued. “And I take care of inside—all the sales, ordering, payables and receivables. My husband and I are a team; he’s outside and I’m inside but we make decisions together and so far it has worked.”
The Kulicks advertise through a local newspaper once a month in addition to a monthly newsletter that Kelly generates. They also participate in community events whenever possible. “In the community there’s all sorts of events—golf tournaments, horse shows, ski teams, swim teams, a mini theater and things like that, so we advertise through all of those,” she explained. “For example, we have an ad on the golf course score card.”
Kulick believes a combination of trust and community service has helped maintain the business. “We’ve built our business on integrity, and we always do what we say we’re going to do. I think that is what has kept us going. We’ve really built a name here in this community.”
Greg Miller, Henry’s Floor Covering
Green Castle, Pa.
Greg Miller opened the doors of Henry’s Floor Covering in 1972. For about 20 years he enjoyed not having to compete with big box stores, but in the early 1990s they arrived. “We don’t try to go head to head with them as far as matching prices and things like that,” he said. “What we try to do is be more customized and we give our customer a lot of attention. We have a tremendous amount of product knowledge. We find that working with our customers and being attentive to their needs is the best way to compete with the big boxes.”
For small businesses like Henry’s, Miller said it is not unusual to have slow days. “There are days when we don’t have a lot of customers come in and there are days when no one comes in, but we work hard on going over our costumer list. If we have estimates out there we revisit those and see if we can help our customer out and get a sale. We try to work that down time to our advantage and hopefully to the customer’s advantage. We have such a great community here that supports us. In the mid 2000s it got very difficult with the turn in the economy, but we maintained our supportive customer base.”
Henry’s Floor Covering makes it a top priority to be a part of the community. “We support the Boy Scouts of America and anything that goes on at the schools, from kindergarten right up through high school,” Miller said. “We try to be a part of their fundraising efforts.”
Overall, running the business has been a very positive experience for Miller. “I always say 98% of our customers are the best folks in the world. We dwell on the good ones.”
George McMurtry, America’s Carpet Outlet
State College, Pa.
George McMurtry grew up in State College, Pa., and remained there throughout his years at Penn State. He then worked for a flooring company in Pittsburgh for several years and one in Charlotte, N.C., before deciding to go home in 1996; he opened his store there in July of that year.
Over the years, McMurtry said the store has maintained not only a strong customer base but a reliable staff as well, even during the difficult years of 2008 to 2012. “Like the rest of the floor covering industry we’ve seen better times but we’re doing OK. We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to maintain a full staff; we have not had to make anyone part time, release anyone or cut benefits, and that is something we’ve worked very hard for as times were a little difficult.”
As the smaller, local option for shoppers, the store has a lot of competition. “From a big box standpoint, we are literally next door neighbors with Lumber Liquidators, and we have both a Lowe’s and a Home Depot within a mile on the same street,” McMurtry said. He is able to compete by making sure people are comfortable when they come to America’s Carpet Outlet and have reasons to ultimately come back and spend their dollars.
“We’re very happy to be locally owned, locally operated and locally involved,” he added. The business often sponsors youth sports teams, contributes to the local high school and makes donations to local causes. “We try to make a lot of our charitable contributions local. We choose to find a cause that is a bit more relevant and close to home.”