Retailer Profile: Enjem’s Flooring America Celebrates 100 Years
Enjem’s Flooring America had humble beginnings in Utica, N.Y., as a mom-and-pop business. Founded by Matilda and Jim Enjem in 1917, Matilda ran the business as a general store after her husband’s death and until the next generation introduced flooring to the mix in the 1930s.
David and Joseph Enjem, Matilda’s sons, continued to grow the flooring segment here, helping many local families set the foundations of their homes for the generations to come. Over the course of the last century, the business evolved into a flooring resource for the community and now the third and fourth generations are running the shop as Enjem’s Flooring America.
Truly a family business throughout its history, it was only relatively recently the Enjems decided to partner with Carpetmax, later Flooring America, to help keep the company current with the times.
“My dad [Tony Enjem] was one of the very first Carpetmax dealers and that turned into Flooring America,” said Mark Enjem, the fourth generation to helm the company. “We had our own name and branding, but with everything being done online it became more beneficial for us to consider [a partnership].”
Flooring America offers many advantages to the independent dealer: providing content and management assistance for store website and social media platforms; access to private-label products and competitive pricing.
The buying group’s training programs also offer invaluable aid for the business and Enjem’s team. “Flooring America offers a lot of webinars and online training opportunities to update sales staff on best practices,” Enjem said. “Our associates can log in and take classes at their own pace to gain vital knowledge to help them with their careers. We believe co-ops are the way of the future. Most flooring stores that are not big box stores will have to be in some type of co-op.”
On the marketing side of the business, while Enjem participates in Flooring America’s national programs and utilizes some of its prepared ads, he also writes and appears in the company’s local advertising on television, radio and in print.
Over the course of the company’s 100-year history, promotions that rely on giveaways of installation, under pad or labor, as seen at big-box competitors, have lost their punch.
“People’s minds are numb to that kind of stuff,” Enjem said. “It has been done so much by the home centers it just does not seem to help us that much.”
Instead, the type of giving away he has found most helpful over the years has been to the town that has nurtured the company.
“It’s really significant,” he said. “We donate to [local charities] and give back to the community, often doing jobs at little or no cost to them if they need carpet. We try to help whenever we can.”
Not insignificantly, the work often provides exposure for the retailer which results in continued work in and around the community.
Enjem’s has provided flooring for the local NBC affiliate, gaining consumer visibility with every news broadcast, as well as during the 1980s winter Olympics. The company also did a custom restoration for Utica’s historic Stanley Theater, which anecdotally opened its doors here 11 years after Enjem’s great grandmother first opened her store. As part of the restoration, Enjem had to bring in carpet from overseas to custom match the pattern.
The latter project was done through the company’s contract division, which has since been brought back in-house — the Enjems had grown the company to three locations, two retail and one contract, serving the Mohawk Valley of New York. Today, Tony and Mark still have two retail locations, the Flooring America store in Utica and a smaller Enjem’s Carpets of Rome in that nearby New York town.
Between the two locations, Mark Enjem says the company has 11 employees, including in-house installers.
“We have full time installers on payroll, as well as use subcontractors for commercial and residential overflow work,” he said.
Although the company is committed to the installation approach, Enjem said the business environment created by the Internal Revenue Service was a factor.
“A lot of it has to do with the new IRS guidelines for subcontractors and what it considers to be subs,” he explained. “It is really changing the criteria to where subcontractors are not allowed to wear your uniform and they can’t have your markings on their vans. In addition, subs need to have their own licenses and you need to be able to prove substantially that they have their own employees and business. The IRS guidelines make it easier to keep these guys on payroll as legitimate employees who show up daily.”
The compunction to keep issues at a minimum carries through to Enjem’s customer approach. “Service after the sale is important because it saves you money in the long run,” he explained. “We take care of opportunities to satisfy them expeditiously because small issues can quickly become bigger issues if they aren’t taken care of both quickly and effectively.”
The commitment to customers and staff is probably a key factor in the company’s longevity. Especially so when you consider how badly the economic downturn hit the Mohawk Valley. The area also suffered prior to the last recession when the nearby Griffith’s Air Force Base closed, decimating the local economy.
Enjem said the company survived primarily by remaining focused, lean and mean: “At the time our philosophy became cash is king and we kept inventory to a minimum while we weathered the storm. Still, our marketing strategy included continuing to advertise to keep our name top of mind and out there. It allowed us to maintain momentum and it is paying off now.”
The local economy is revitalizing with the prospect of the Mohawk Valley becoming a regional hub for nanotechnology businesses. New restaurants and other retail businesses are opening their doors in the downtown core and Enjem’s Flooring America is ideally situated to help all those company’s start up with the right flooring foundation.
“There is a lot of opportunity in our area as we are on the precipice of getting a nanotechnology center,” he said. “And the city is seeing a renaissance with a lot of potential for growth.”
Enjem also maximizes his opportunities by selling real estate locally. As the area is seeing growth, he has been able to capitalize on customers’ need to update their floors both before and after the sale.
“You wouldn’t believe how it helps,” he said. “Real estate and flooring go hand in hand like a Reese’s peanut butter cup. They are meant for each other. I get all my listings through the store as people come in to update and remodel their spaces due to a sale. On the other end, people buying a home usually want to make some changes.”
To meet all the potential for growth, the company carries a full assortment of flooring products including broadloom and area rugs, vinyl, wood, ceramic, laminate and the currently trending luxury vinyl tile. Designer products include cork and bamboo, natural stone and oriental rugs.
Although the business has shifted over time toward hard surfaces, Enjem is not concerned with the products’ longer life span in residential spaces. In addition to doing on-site refinishing of wood surfaces for customers, he reminds us flooring is a fashionable product and fashion has its cycles. While hard surfaces are currently in vogue, just 40 years ago people were covering their hardwood floors with soft, luxurious carpet.
“Whenever somebody buys a hardwood floor, they will need an area rug for it,” he said. “LVT and hardwood growing in popularity is a good thing. You have to go where the trend is and the trend is going that way.”
Even as it celebrates it centenary year, Enjem notes the company is still growing strong with sales already trending higher year over year. As the region revitalizes, he said the second store will likely rebrand to another CCA Global business, though not necessarily Flooring America, as he and his father want to tailor it to the location.