We’ve talked with lots of retailers over the years: Some who have taken over stores from their parents; some who bought a location from a previous owner; some who left one operation to open another; some were installers and wanted to get off their knees, and some others who were mill reps and got tired of moving around.
But, I have never, however, come across someone who was a successful executive in another industry, an industry totally unrelated to flooring, and saw floor covering as an attractive alternative and then made the jump and opened his own dealership.
This is, however, the story of Dean Howell, a successful executive for 18 years with the Trane company, the air conditioning people, followed by a three-year stint with Home Depot before he could no longer resist the fascination of floor covering.
Many people have told me over the years they see floor covering as a design element, as a real opportunity to bring beauty into someone’s home. Howell not only says it, he really means it. His story about how he crafted his first location relying on the corporate culture he had lived and embraced over his career is a captivating one.
The resulting location, Moda Floors & Interiors, is a 9,000-square-foot showplace that was designed, laid out and lit by a host of professionals he called in.
We had an opportunity to sit down with Howell and discuss the operation he launched in Atlanta’s design district, his philosophy and his approach to doing business. His operation focuses on the design community, remodelers and custom homebuilders with a second, more retail-oriented location slated to launch in January.
The following are some excerpts from the video interview of that conversation with him that you may find interesting. You can find the complete three-part video in the archives section on the TalkFloor.com website, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’website, floortrendsmag.com.
TF: Your location is a beautiful one. Talk about your operation.
Howell: We compete in the medium to high-end of the market. We started with a mobile operation, working with remodelers and insurance general contractors.
We understood we needed to become more diversified to be able to succeed in this industry. We wanted to add more retail to our mix and work with more designers so we opened this store three years ago. We have great lighting, wonderful displays; we have a partnership with Shaw and we’re a Shaw Design Center.
Our goal is to have clients come into the store, be inspired and to work with professional project consultants to achieve their dreams for their home.
TF: Talk about your design of the showroom and how it relates to your philosophy of doing business.
Howell: It all goes back to our client promise, which is “inspiration, installation and a step ahead.” We want people to know they can come here and be inspired, that we can offer them a turnkey service.
People come here because they want a higher level of engagement, a higher level of service, and they know at the end of the day if they have a problem, they can come and talk with Dean Howell.
You have to have a laser focus on who you are as a business, what kind of clients you’re targeting, how you’re going to reach them and the message you’re trying to send to them. And from that you decide what your showroom will look like. You also decide who your venders will be.
In the showroom of our new store, which we hope will be ready to open in January, we are entertaining using digital technology. What he have planned is to have flat screen TVs in the showroom with a computer interface allowing us to offer room scene technology from a digital library of products and access to a wide variety of information quickly.
TF: Talk about the installation procedure at Moda and how you handle the process.
Howell: We use third-party installers like most in the industry. We have a team approach to the process: The salespeople sell and put together a clean work order, then our operations team takes over from there.
I really believe a team approach gives a better result.
We have a dedicated operations team; we have people who focus on purchasing, working with suppliers and making sure we get a product ordered and [delivered] in a timely fashion. We have a person who does the scheduling and works with the trades, and we also have a field manager who is out following jobs and on the job site making sure we are doing the right thing and, [most of all], that we have a happy client. ft
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this fascinating interview than space permits. To see the three-part conversation in its entirety visit TalkFloor.com, click on the TalkFloor TV logo and scroll down to the parts titled, “Dean Howell, owner of Moda Floors and Interiors, Atlanta.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster
or Matthew Spieler at