Flooring dealers have been in this situation before—a slowing economy, perhaps even a minor recession for a quarter or two, but nothing they can’t handle. While economic forecasts call for slow-to-zero-percent growth in 2023, flooring retailers are preparing to weather this uncertainty the only way they know how: by providing outstanding service to their customers, continuing to spend on marketing and advertising and adhering to other best practices that have proved successful in the past. Doom and gloom are not in their vernacular.
“There is an old saying that we live by,” said Don Cantor, owner of Lake Chelan Interiors, Lake Chelan, Wash. “When times are tough, plan for the good times; and when times are good, plan for the bad times. We have been planning for many years now to weather any storm. As such, we will strive to work more efficiently by following up with our customers and making sure to maintain our margins.”
Other flooring dealers shared their strategies for dealing with the inevitable slow periods as well. For Deb DeGraaf, co-owner of DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich, investing in your people and locations is a good place to start. “I believe it is always important to keep our showrooms looking optimal and when there are opportunities for training and coaching for our staff, we take advantage of this,” she said. “Loyalty from our team is extremely important and the more they realize they are valued, the happier they will be, which impacts performance overall. In any economy our team is our best asset.”
While some flooring dealers may tighten their belts during lean periods, others suggest being more aggressive is a better approach. “We will be ramping up advertising and going to our local home show to make sure we are generating continued business,” said Jeremy Wirges, co-owner, 3 Kings Flooring, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Likewise, Floors and More owner, Carlton Billingsley, said now is the time to be proactive, not passive. “Seeing the challenges in the economy means we are looking for opportunities to grow our business by spending more ad dollars, securing bigger inventory buys to advertise certain price points and making sure we take every advantage the consumer gives us to earn their business,” Billingsley said. “Instead of getting wrapped up in the doom/gloom of an economic downturn we are looking for the positives to be better businesspeople.”
Being better businesspeople also means taking better care of customers, both new and especially past. That’s a philosophy Don Lovato said he subscribes to as owner of Albuquerque, N.M.-based CarpetSource USA. “You need to remember that when things slow down—and they always do—your customers will remember how you treated them, both good and bad,” he explained. “I can always rely on my past clients to buy from me when things slow down; taking good care of them is an investment that pays dividends.”
For Bob’s Carpet & Flooring, with 16 locations across Florida’s West Coast, it comes down to offering top-of-the-line service coupled with a great selection. As owner Ashlie Butler noted, “Large purchases are tough in a troubled economy, so we want customers to feel in control at all times, to give them peace of mind.”
A slowing economy is an opportune time to take market share from weaker competitors or those pulling back too much, according to Roy Tokuhama, president of Honolulu-based Abbey Carpet & Floor of Hawaii, which has been honored in the past as the island’s top retailer. “The message to my staff is: ‘We need to do more with less,’” Tokuhama said. “Besides watching our expenses this means that if the economy is shrinking, we need to get a bigger piece of a smaller pie. We do this by building both trust and value. You need both. If you have value, but no trust, you won’t get the job. Likewise, if you have trust but no value, you won’t get the job either. In a booming economy, we can get away with being average. But in a slowing economy, we need to be better.”
In a few areas of the country, talk of a downturn was met with a shrug. For these flooring dealers business has remained robust throughout 2022. “In our area of the Midwest we have been slightly buffered from the economic issues,” said Bill Huss, president of D&M Interiors-Flooring America, Appleton, Wis. “Retail is a little slower but commercial has been strong. We are really focusing on closing every opportunity/lead.”
Eric Buehler, owner of CarpetsPlus Wyoming in Thayne, said he is not concerned about any potential economic issues at this stage of the game. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but we haven’t noticed a challenge yet. My biggest concern is hoping the economy keeps rolling so there is still a high demand for flooring. The biggest struggle for me is finding qualified installers to keep up with the demand. To combat that we have hired a few apprentices and have our veteran guys training them.”