Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15
By Amanda Haskin
According to U.S. census data, there are 3,500 fewer flooring dealers than existed a decade ago, yet some brave entrepreneurs have started flooring businesses in the last year. Though they have faced challenges along the way, these dealers have also found opportunity within their communities and surprisingly successful beginnings.
Mike Tracy, Tracy Flooring
Mike Tracy was no stranger to the flooring industry when he opened up his own store in the summer of 2014. His mother owned a flooring store for four decades for which Tracy worked as an installer prior to starting his business.
“Every installer goes through it,” he said. “Your knees go out and you start thinking about your health and future. And my wife had retail jobs from other companies in which she was stuck at one level. So we decided to start our own business.”
The only time Tracy had any hesitation was when he was traveling to different stores that were closing or downsizing to get display racks and other materials. “I started questioning myself. ‘What am I doing? They’re all going out of business. What makes me think I’m going to be alright?’”
He admits the process hasn’t been as hard as he thought it would be and he attributes that to connections made through years of installing and the family business. “I had clientele from being an installer—a lot of contractors I worked for followed me—and my mom had a following that now comes to me. The sales reps [I knew] contacted me and helped with putting the store together.”
The biggest challenge for him, like so many others, has been the looming threat of big box stores. “A lot of people automatically assume [the box stores] have better deals, maybe because of their advertising budgets. Many times we can compete with their prices but it’s hard getting the word out.”
His goal for this year is simple. “It’s great to open up a store in this economy and do well your first year. If we can maintain where we are now and stay on top of paying our bills that would be a success.”
Dave Proctor, Dave’s Carpet
Dave Proctor was an installer for 23 years before starting his own flooring business in 2014. His wife, Cindi, had trepidations, but he assured her it was the right time. “I had a good feeling about it. We’re the only carpet store right here in Greenville, so it was the perfect opportunity.” Not only is he the sole specialty flooring dealer in town, but the nearest big box store is 40 miles away.
Proctor said he decided to start the business for the chance to work as his own boss in addition to spending less time on the floor. “[Installing] is extremely hard on your body. It’s a job for younger guys. As you get older you learn to work smarter not harder, but it’s still not easy.”
A friend of his had bought the building and Proctor rented out space, which, coincidentally, used to be another carpet store. He attributes his initial success to location because he would often get walk-ins from customers who remembered the previous store.
He started calling manufacturer reps and distributors and getting samples, fashioned a 1,200-square-foot showroom, and began advertising on the radio and in local newspapers. Less than two years later, the business is thriving. “The thing that surprised me the most has been how well it’s going,” he admitted. “We’ve done much more than I expected and I see us doing really well in the future because of quality service and being personable.” Proctor’s ultimate five-year goal is to own a building and his own warehouse.
In the beginning, the biggest challenge for Proctor was keeping a presence in the store while going out to complete estimates and installations. He has maintained a small staff and doesn’t plan on changing that any time soon. “Right now we have a carpet crew, a vinyl crew and I have a personal helper who happens to also be my wife. Our daughter helps us out, too.” As the business grows, he plans to hire a few more installers and someone to help out in-store.
To say that having an installation background has been beneficial would be an understatement. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone just starting a carpet store if they don’t have some installation knowledge,” he said. “That should be a must for anyone selling carpet—knowing at least the basics of it. Someone needs to go out and experience what it’s like to deal with the customer and be in the home.”
Mark Woten, Rimrock Flooring
Mark Woten’s business is about one year old, but already has two locations in Montana and Wyoming. In fact, he is looking to open a third Rimrock Flooring location in his hometown in Iowa. On top of that, the store was named one of the top five finalists for a Readers’ Choice Award in the Billings Gazette and its Facebook page has more than 1,000 likes and 23 five-star reviews. Not bad for a baby business.
Woten has been in the flooring business for the past 10 years at two different retail outlets in Billings; one a sister retailer of a large corporation and the other an independent retailer. He started out with limited knowledge of the industry and worked his way up to sales manager.
“I jumped at the chance to open my own retail flooring store,” he said. “Through my experiences with the limitations of a large corporate retailer and the ability to try different approaches with an independent, I have been able to focus my advertising and promotions to the specific market that I feel has given me the highest return on investment.”
Business seems to be booming in his market. “I wasn’t afraid to go out on my own because when [the recession] hit back in 2008-2009, [business] never stopped here. It just keeps building and there are new contractors coming into town.”
Woten said the one thing that makes his store unique is the fact that his employees are salary-based instead of commission-based. “I heard one too many times, ‘Not my customer, not my commission.’ I didn’t want that in my store; every customer gets treated the same.”
The journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing, despite how it may seem. “Being the only flooring store in the local market that has not [joined] a buying group has made doing business with some of the larger vendors very difficult to virtually impossible. However, we found a way to work with the smaller vendors and still be competitive.”
His goal for the next year is to simply keep his doors open.