San Diego—Not so long ago, Cali was a young bamboo startup serving a rather small niche in the flooring industry. Fast forward to today, the company has grown to a multi-product, $200 million-plus powerhouse under the auspices of Doug Jackson, CEO, and an incredibly strong sales, marketing and operational team with aspirations of doubling the business in short order.
Following are the keys to its success:
Some would say what makes Cali unique is it’s California-inspired products. Others would go so far as to say it’s the value these products provide. But upon further review, it’s all that, plus a whole lot more. It’s a unique culture that has the entire company buying in 100%, coupled with a goal of carving out a niche as a lifestyle brand akin to the likes of Patagonia and Yeti (which is just a cooler, yet a brand that people want to associate with). Hence, the tagline “Simply Authentic.”
It begins at the top, where Jackson has done an outstanding job fostering an omni-channel approach—one many didn’t think would likely succeed. The concept is akin to iPhone being sold through Apple or Target.
Laura Nieto, senior manager of communications, has been with the company for eight years. She remembers the unique Cali culture shining through since the day she walked in the door. “There were maybe 30 employees at most, and I was on a marketing team of two people. It was this dichotomy of casual attitudes and hard work. People were working really hard, but they were very laid back and friendly—and almost everyone was young. There was this attitude of: ‘We’re all in this together and if you win, we all win.’ It felt very grassroots and very startup.”
Nieto isn’t the only one. Lindsay Wuest, marketing manager, agreed the first thing that attracted her to Cali was the culture, which included dogs running around the vast office space and Millennial-inspired perks like cereal day. “It was the energy of the office—all the team members were so excited and happy to be there,” she said.
Experience building brands
Some of the staff did not have flooring backgrounds. Case in point: Heidi O’Reilly, vice president of creative and brand marketing, who came to Cali from a fashion and apparel background. “I knew nothing about flooring,” she said. “They told me they needed my ability to build a brand, and I had extensive experience in building lifestyle brands.”
O’Reilly said she, too, immediately fell in love with the authentic nature of the company. “The word that’s been coming up is authentic, and that goes anywhere from the product to the employees. Everyone’s real, everyone’s on the same page. And we are able to stand by that on the product side as well.”
Unlike O’Reilly, Chanel Clifford, vice president of business development, did build a career growing flooring brands—including one of the most important today: COREtec. She was lured to the company by Jackson and the entrepreneurial spirit at Cali. “It’s the collaborative spirit,” she said. “We’re all in it to win it. There are no silos. Check your ego at the door.”
Christin Redfield, director, brand marketing, also knows a thing or two about flooring brands, coming over from Shaw after a year as the brand manager for Anderson Tuftex. “The thing that really attracted me to Cali was the brand,” she explained. “We hear ‘authentic California casual lifestyle,’ and those things resonate with me. It resonates with our customers. People are inspired by it.”
So what exactly is that Cali brand? It all goes back to the brand purpose, according to O’Reilly. “It’s this California lifestyle. It’s bringing that sense of ease and a more relaxed approach to this industry. And it’s about this whole ethos that we have of collaboration, this commitment to sustainability and quality craftsmanship.
But a brand purpose means nothing if it doesn’t translate into the products Cali brings to market. What makes those products unique? “A lot of it is in the color palette, which is generally lighter, brighter, a coastal feel in our woods,” Clifford explained. “We feel the warmth of the wine country. Our palette is very vibey. It resonates with California.”
O’Reilly noted a high standard for its products. “We also have this commitment to surprising and delighting the customer. It means not just sending them something in the mail with their sample chips, but it’s also going the extra mile late in the sales process. Our brand purpose touches each department.”
Nieto cited the attitude with which Cali interacts with its customers, its partners and its vendors as a difference maker. “It’s a friendly attitude; we’re just here to make their lives easier. It goes back to that California casual—to us that means working hard but not taking yourself too seriously. And I feel that translates into how we interact with people but also into our products. Because the products are easy to work with, easy to design with and nothing is too stuffy or too stressful or difficult. We want the entire process—from the people you interact with to the products you install to the way you feel about your home afterward—to be easy, seamless and joyful.”
And that is what ties the Cali culture to its success. “The way you operate internally is pushed down to the way you interact with the customer,” Nieto said. “You can’t help but carry that spirit on.”
Putting retailers first
How does all this help the floor covering retailer? By giving them the products, tools and support they need so dealers can focus on what they do best—sell. “We’re not going to be your biggest supplier; we want to be your best,” Clifford stated. “We want to give that amazing customer experience. Our reps are known for immediate callbacks. We’re rated very high on customer experience and we’ve been told by many dealers that we’re their best supplier.”
Cali salespeople with whom FCNews spoke explained why they offer the best customer experience. “The company encourages you to know your customer better,” said Francisco Silva, senior sales representative. “You walk them through the process. It’s not close, close, close. My job is simple because I want you to tell me about your project so I can tell you how we fit into your project.”
Chelsea Johnson came to Cali from Groupon nearly seven years ago, which has a completely different culture than the one she experiences now. “I wake up every day knowing everyone I work with will back me up and keep me motivated. And that helps my customers because the way the company makes me feel is what I portray to my customers.”
Josh Degano, who has been selling for Cali for eight years, said: “Cali has a knack for finding the right people for the right positions. Everyone has the same objective—take care of people. And that comes from leadership.”
Cali infuses its signature California vibe throughout its merchandising systems as well as its marketing vehicles. “The way we design our displays are different,” Clifford said. “They are not your average stacker or a sea of flip racks. For example, our Longboard and Legends displays capture the actual length of the surfboard.”
Cali’s marketing incorporates lifestyle videos that bring the California lifestyle into the mix. “One example is a couple of surfers running across the beach into a house with their surfboards dripping on the floor to illustrate the resiliency of the floor,” O’Reilly said. “It’s this casual lifestyle with an emphasis on an active lifestyle outside that you can really bring inside. So it’s making it into a lifestyle rather than just a commodity.”
Cali’s ads also key in on that theme. “You’re going to recognize and remember all the Cali messaging and ads,” Nieto said. “It’s always going to speak to that aspirational California lifestyle, whether you’re seeing vineyards or beaches or longboards. And it’s all going to tie back to the product.”