By Ken Ryan—Bob Duke, owner of Floor Magic —with locations in Rockport and Damariscotta, Maine—thought he was simply joining a buying group when he signed on with Floors & More two years ago. The reality, he learned, is the relationship is so much more than that.
“Originally, my interest was to be part of a group that would allow me to find new core vendors—and Floors & More has done that,” Duke explained. “I found that many of my existing vendors were not part of Floors & More, so it did open up my world to a lot of other suppliers that I had not worked with in the past.”
For Duke, the biggest benefit as a Floors & More member is being part of a network that is sized right (not too huge, not too small) and is still influential. “I believe right now we’re about [60 members] strong, which equates to about [80 retail stores] nationwide,” he said.
Duke serves on the retail council representing the Northeast where he is the point of contact for retailers in that region. As he explained, “Being part of that council has been extremely helpful because when we are on Zoom calls we can share ideas and thoughts. Many of those thoughts have actually helped me run my business better. Some of our council members operate much larger retail operations, and some are stronger on the installation side—which allows me to take away some best practices from each.”
When Duke requested a counseling session to help his own business, his counselor turned out to be Vinnie Virga, president and CEO of Floors & More. Virga made the trip to Maine and spent the day with Duke to assess his business. “He spoke to my wife and me that evening and came back the next morning with a multi-page report of ways to improve our situation.”
The report included strategies on improving margins. “I was thinking 35% gross profit was the best I could do; I’m now in the high 40s,” Duke stated. To get there, he raised prices at the behest of Virga and calculated gross profit by category to boost margins wherever he could. “I was able to get my margins up without making myself look like we’re overpriced.”
In addition, Virga advised Duke to consolidate mill shipments to achieve better rates. “Floors & More is our advocate when we run into issues with vendors,” Duke said.
Prior to joining the group, Duke said Floor Magic was similar to other independents in that they were surviving but not necessarily thriving. “The one thing I would say to [unaffiliated] retailers who are very small and feel they don’t matter is to get involved with a group of like-minded retailers,” Duke advised. “Floors & More allowed us to remain a private-label retailer. I chose to maintain my brand and not [take on] the Floor to Ceiling or Big Bob’s name, but I am part of Floors & More, and I am just as important as the biggest guys.”
Weathering the storm
When COVID-19 first hit in March 2020, Duke said he was “scared to death” about his survival as a business. He said he spent a weekend contemplating what to do in the event things went south. However, “it turned out not to be the darkest of days.”
As a business that provided construction services, Floor Magic was considered essential in Maine and never shut down entirely. “I started out being pretty aggressive with any customers to not lose any sales,” Duke said. “What I found quickly was online leads were very strong, and business was going to be good.”
Things turned out to be better than good. Duke’s sales volume in 2020 was 25% higher than 2019. He thought that increase was outstanding until 2021, when sales volume jumped by 40% over the previous year. His business is about 70% hard surface flooring, 20% soft and 10% kitchens.
“My focus now is to see how we can do a better job with customer service,” he explained, citing the company’s tagline, ‘Your wish is our command.’ “How can we improve that experience being a small business? Our strength is customer service and how we promote that every day is going to make the difference.”