Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15
By Ken Ryan
Specialty flooring retail has traditionally been a mom-and-pop industry; men overseeing and controlling store operations with future plans of keeping businesses in the family, often with sons picking up where fathers left off. While in many cases that is still true today, there are plenty of father-daughter combinations emerging. In a number of cases, the father-daughter combination is proving to be an ideal blend of traditional retailing and new-school ways of connecting with the female shopper.
Raquel Sapp and Tommy Race
Race CarpetsPlus ColorTile, Russellville, Ark.
Raquel Sapp didn’t quite plan on becoming involved with her family’s business. She was working in a shoe factory preparing to start college to become an accountant when she learned of an opening at her dad’s store. “I was over at the shop eating lunch and my dad asked me if I would be interested in the job. I didn’t even hesitate. I just said, ‘Yes’ and never looked back.”
That was 25 years ago. Today, Sapp and her dad, Tommy Race, make a successful team. “I know if things aren’t running as smoothly as I think they should, he steps in and has my back,” she said.
Race said working with Sapp “has become a blessing to my life,” and her ability to connect with suppliers, reps and customers “has freed up my time to concentrate on job measures, bids, installation concerns and keeping our warehouse in a condition that allows us to get our work crews out in an effective time frame.” The two often work in tandem, double-checking bids and jobs before any final decisions are made.
When it comes to life lessons, wisdom isn’t always passed down. “If I’m in a bad mood after an especially hard day, Raquel’s response is that I make things harder than they need to be,” Race said. “It is a lesson I learned from my daughter that I take to heart.”
Ilaria Hare Heiderich and Jim Heiderich
Jim Heiderich said his daughter, Ilaria Hare Heiderich, brings an energy and unique approach to Floorworks, Seattle, that he can’t quite describe. “It’s a softer, more consumer-oriented perspective to the organization. Ilaria has taught me there is always more than one way to approach a problem and just because you have always done it one way does not mean it’s not incredibly stupid.”
Ilaria Hare Heiderich said she enjoys working for her father even though running a business with family is not for everyone and is certainly not without its challenges. “He represents this massive wealth of knowledge and experience. I learn something new from him every day and, honestly, I worry I’ll never be able to acquire all the skill and knowledge he has. I think he learns a thing or two from me, too, though.”
She said attending her first Flooring America convention with her dad is what helped launch her career. “I was just so blown away by how many multi-generational dealers there were—it was really inspiring. I agree with him that the industry is changing very quickly, and I absolutely think I have insight on the future of our industry and retail he may not have. The reality is I am the future, not just of our company, but of our clients—an educated millennial.”
Bonnie Fenwick and Calvin Molding
Calvin’s Carpet One Floor & Home, Jacksonville, Fla.
Calvin Molding started Calvin’s Carpet One Floor & Home in 1977; his daughter Bonnie Fenwick joined in 2013. Together they oversee seven locations in north Florida, including Carpet One and Flooring America showrooms. “My first introduction to the flooring industry was when I was about 12,” Fenwick recalled. “I would ride along with my dad to new construction sites and walk the jobs with him while he measured. After years as a dental hygienist, we agreed it was a great time for me to start learning the business. I started in sales and then moved to management.”
Fenwick learned from her dad that the flooring business is about the people she meets and the ones who work for her. “It’s about making sure [customers’] needs are met and the employees feel secure.”
She also brings a younger, tech-savvy mind to the business that was sorely needed, according to Molding. “Bonnie has pretty much taken over everything, and I’m finding I have less and less to do, which is OK by me. I’ve put in my 40 years.”
Because his confidence level in Fenwick is so high, Molding said he has learned to let go a little. “I don’t feel like I need to look over her shoulder every minute. It takes a lot to reach that level with me.”
Lauren Allwein-Andrews and Lee Allwein
Allwein Carpet One, Annville, Pa.
Lee Allwein has never been shy about throwing his daughter, Lauren Allwein-Andrews, in the deep end of the pool and seeing if she can swim. At Allwein Carpet One, Annville, Pa., she has been known to write ad copy, bind carpet on site and steel grout. “Nightmare jobs,” Allwein-Andrews said. “But he built up my self confidence along the way.”
Allwein said he tasked his daughter with these difficult assignments because he knew she could rise to the challenge. “Lauren wears many hats and brings a totally new perspective to things. It’s important to have a younger generation around. Lauren understands the millennial who buys from us. She knows how to order products that will sell.”
Unfortunately it’s not easy for a son or daughter to join a family business and not have some staff react with resentment. Allwein-Andrews said she felt some apprehension when she joined. In fact, some staff members left the company; a few who left eventually returned.
To earn the respect of Allwein Carpet One’s staff, she took on any and all jobs. Allwein said the advantage of having his daughter join the business—along with her husband, Mark—is it signals family stability. “The staff doesn’t have to worry about ownership change.”
For Allwein, there is nothing better than having family involved. “Some people don’t get to see their kids at all. I see them every day—it’s special.”
Jessica Fike Pheasant and John Fike
Fike Bros Carpet One Floor & Home, Huntingdon, Pa.
Jessica Fike Pheasant, who began working at Fike Bros Carpet One Floor & Home, Huntingdon, Pa., in 2006, said working in the family business is enjoyable but does have its downsides. “It’s a career that does not end at
5 p.m. and is certainly not for the person looking for a job where they can leave work at the office. I grew up with both of my parents and my uncles working in the family business. We enjoy our work, so discussing the business and ways to improve is a 24/7 way of life.”
Pheasant and her father, John Fike, often commute to work together where they get a chance to spend time and, of course, talk about business. “Jessica has enhanced the business by bringing a fresh perspective of today’s customer,” Fike said.
Pheasant said one thing she has learned is to never give up on a sale; if she doesn’t hear back from a customer right away doesn’t mean she won’t at all. “I am grateful for all that my dad taught me about the business, from the technical side but more importantly the customer service side. His customer focus is second to none. My dad and I are able to brainstorm together on ideas to better the customer experience and share a good kinetic energy.”
Christina Smith and Paul Johnson
Carpet One Tulsa, Tulsa, Okla.
When Christina Smith joined Carpet One Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., in 2009, no one was more surprised than Paul Johnson, her father. “I never pushed the idea that she should come into the business,” Johnson said. “I showed her and Palmer [her brother] there were other things out there they could do. I didn’t start the business with the idea my kids would join me, but I was very happy when they did.”
Smith first worked on the retail floor before switching to the builder division, where she has found her groove. “I love sales but not retail hours, so it was difficult for me,” she said. “I am better at building a relationship rather than one-time transactions.”
Johnson agreed the builder division has been a “perfect fit” for his daughter. “She works with them and makes it a fun experience for these people.”
Smith said men often get too technical when talking with customers. And according to her dad, she demonstrated an ability to take very complex things and make it simple and enjoyable for the consumer.
Johnson noted the key to helping his kids is to give them responsibility and hold them accountable without micromanaging. “I reserve the right to ask questions and find out what their thought process was. I am finding there are a lot of new ways to do things.”
Having his kids in the business has allowed Johnson to set up a succession plan. “Not many people want to buy a flooring business these days and have the money; it is very limited,” he said. “And what happens is you stay too long. I am hoping over the next 10 to 12 years to be able to create a smooth transition, which is why I am giving Christina and Palmer more responsibility.”