“The recession in 2007-08 was a hard thing for our company to get adjusted to,” says Jonnie McPeek, principal at Corvin’s Floor Coverings, founded in Elizabethtown, Ky., 30 years ago by her parents. “Fifty percent of our business was builder and we had to re-evaluate what direction the company was going to take.”
Although the company continued with the new construction sector, which stayed relatively strong in its area, McPeek also opted to shift the business to be more consumer oriented.
The builder market had two major drawbacks to consider: lower margins and tying up cash flow by carrying notes for 30 to 60 days.
“We decided to build up the showroom and make it more consumer friendly,” she explains. “I transformed the showroom to how I, as a consumer, would like to see it: Friendly and appealing to the eye, open and inviting with soft music on so client conversations aren’t overheard by everybody.”
The foresight on where the business was shifting helped the company not only survive the difficult times of the last recession, it thrived in no small part because of McPeek’s constant attention to trends and the smallest details. Today, the company has seen annual revenues fast approaching pre-recession levels of $5-plus million, and net profits carrying a bigger portion of those sales.
As with many flooring retailers, Corvin’s customers are predominantly women, a detail that encourages her to mentor and grow her mostly-female sales team. It helps clients relate during the buying experience, she explains. “Even if a gentleman comes in to shop, he generally prefers to have a female designer who can help him better mix colors and patterns.”
Still, retail clients are not necessarily the same as in other sectors. In markets like new construction, she points out, male estimators go out to the sites to maintain the comfort levels of the buyers there. Should her female team have the need to service those clients, though, McPeek’s sales force also has strong backgrounds in construction and design.
“Our ladies are quite aware of how to figure a job when it comes across the table,” she says. “We also send them to whatever vendor classes are offered so they know how it will be installed and to make sure the right product is applied to the job.”
Continuous training is an integral aspect of the company’s growth for everyone from sales down to installer, as is creating incentives to keep the team motivated.
“You have to set goals and targets to hit,” McPeek says of incentive programs, whether funded solely by Corvin’s to move slower displays off the floor or co-oped with manufacturers on new product launches. Otherwise, salespeople will sometimes take the path of least resistance when approaching customers.
On the consumer side, McPeek incents customers with targeted promotions. She keeps a close eye on marketing spend year-over-year and focuses on mediums where she gets the best bang for the buck.
“Marketing is a learning thing,” McPeek explains. “In the latter part of the year and beginning of every new year, we start meeting with folks to figure out where our dollars are going to be spent, looking at what has or has not worked.”
By paying close attention, she has found Corvin’s trends are not always typical of all flooring stores.
“Newspaper ratings may be going down in metropolitan areas,” she explains, “but people in this area are still dependent on papers. We also use color and ask for placement near school, sports or real estate sections because it’s where it will be seen. You have to pay, but it brings people in the doors.”
Another way the company incents clients is with Synchrony financing programs offered with partners Shaw Industries and Mohawk Industries. Scheduling marketing initiatives around consumer financing promotions has been a successful approach. To help customers make their decisions even more quickly, she has a private kiosk set up on-site where clients can get credit approval for their purchase in less than a minute.
As with many things, McPeek has found timing and market knowledge to be critical factors in developing the business positively. Where she had brought ceramic tile onto the showroom floor almost two decades ago when color tile stores were flourishing, it was another 10 years before the category really began to trend in her market.
“We had thought if they can do it, we can,” she relates. “But we didn’t really know enough about the product [at the time] and were not successful. You really have to go all-in.” Today, though, the segment accounts well over 20% of the company’s total sales.
A Family Business
Hard surfaces, in general, have taken off for the company and represent approximately 60% of overall sales, with the remainder coming from soft surfaces and accessories.
Accordingly, McPeek says, “Tile and hardwood have taken up more showroom space as the numbers justify the space and inventory to support it.”
Foresight and an attention-to-detail for the company were not the exclusive purview of McPeek. Her parents, Walter and Umeko Corvin, had the prescience to buy a former gas station property on Dixie Hwy., here, midway between the towns of Radcliffe and Elizabethtown, Ky.
The original two bays and storefront, which operated as primarily a remnant store with a few rolls of vinyl, has grown into a 15,000-square-foot complete flooring showcase along with warehouse space.
To ensure customers are drawn to the interior of the store and not turned away at the door, McPeek says, “Our store on the front has to be visually appealing for consumers driving by. In addition to having a good location, we make sure the parking lot is cleaned and sealed. We make sure the lights are on at night. It’s all the little things that make a difference.”
One of those little things has been nurturing a place for the third generation in this family business.
In addition to providing for her parents before her, Corvin’s has supported McPeek and husband Mike, as well as son Tony and daughter-in-law Meghan. And, to ensure the next generation’s appreciation and understanding of the family business, she started her son in the warehouse where he worked his way up through the company to his current role on the sales team.
At its heart, the company is a family business and everyone on the team is part of the family, she says.
“We all do our best to do things to get the best benefit for everybody. The more we sell, the more we make and can share with everybody here,” she says.
As McPeek looks to the company’s future, she believes the timing is right to complement its already strong hard surface business with cabinetry.