Less than a decade ago, Jerel Verner hired Matt Carter, a sales executive with Empire Today, to help run his flooring business, Premier Flooring and Design in Tucker, Ga. As the young business was struggling, Carter had a unique notion to grow the company.
Premier Flooring was entrenched in the difficult, and highly competitive, brick-and-mortar flooring sector where Verner’s business was floundering at the height of the recession. Instead, Carter suggested creating a virtual flooring store in which brick-and-mortar elements like physical samples and face-to-face shopping are brought to customers’ homes where they are most comfortable. He wanted to one-up any possible competition by giving clients something else they might not be used to: service on their schedule with complete installation in a single day.
Verner signed off on the idea, and Carter became president and went to work figuring out the most cost-effective way to generate new leads for the model. First and foremost, though, they needed a name.
“50 Floor started in March 2010 when we searched vanity phone numbers that would match the idea of the company,” Carter said. Once they found a number that worked, they cross-marketed it as the name of the new company and created a jingle and website to match.
While the internet is seen by many as a field of dreams, customers do not always come simply because you have built the field (website). He went about promoting the company on local television and showcasing their business model and service offering on local show, Atlanta & Co., generating almost a dozen invitations into peoples’ homes every time his company went on air.
Those invitations turned into sales at least 50% of the time and brought the fledgling company’s annualized sales close to half-a-million dollars in its first year. Considering the new business model didn’t require a showroom, they were able to grow the company quickly and hire local news anchor, Jill Becker, as a spokesperson.
“The shop-at-home customer isn’t just a piece of our business,” Carter said. “She is all of our business. We are able to focus our attention on ‘What does the shop at home customer want?’ and ‘How can we effectively service her or him?’”
Troy Tilton, vice president, said one of the company’s key market strategies is to make the in-home sales presentation more customer-oriented and comfortable for the end-user.
“We don’t have a showroom and never will,” he said.
“I think one of our strengths is the ability to make the process simple and easy for customers,” Carter notes. “We come to them, we use crews large enough to complete the job in one day 99% of the time, and our buying power allows us to be really aggressive on purchases [and pass along those savings].”
Has the strategy worked? In just six years, 50 Floor has grown to provide its service in seven markets: Atlanta; Nashville; Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas/Fort Worth, and most recently Austin, Texas. A key element in the company’s growth has been the ability to tie-in its advertising with locally trusted news personalities like Becker, Dale Cardwell and Rebecca Miller, in their respective markets. And, with sales besting $50 million last year, the plan is to take the company beyond being a regional player by entering every major market across the country over the next five years.
Building upon an already successful strategy, 50 Floor has teamed with Richard Karn—better known as Al Borland, Tim Allen’s assistant in the ’90s television sitcom Home Improvement—to act as the company’s national spokesperson. At the same time, the company expects it will continue to work with local newscasters as spokespeople in established local markets.
Taking Care of the Team
According to Carter and Tilton, the key to building the business has been the focus on not only hiring and training the best people, but paying them appropriately.
“While the excitement of being part of our growth helps to egg things along,” Carter said, “we pay higher commissions than many other flooring companies. But, our sales reps stay with us because they are proud to work here. They are proud to sell our service to their neighbors.”
Tilton added: “What has made us excel is that we have made the working environment a very pro employee and sales representative environment. Our goal is for people to enjoy working for us; to want to work for us their entire lives. We make a lot of effort to ensure our employees love working for us.”
Carter is confident: “I believe taking good care of the sales reps, employees and crews is important to keeping them. [We] don’t have to go out and constantly hire.”
In fact, in its six years, the company has grown to 110 employees and as many subcontracted sales reps, with an additional 135 subcontracted installation crews across all its markets. In the same time, it has lost only a handful, primarily because of its screening and recruiting practices.
Once hired, the company has formalized training programs in place for every segment of the team. As such, Carter feels they are well prepared to ensure customers a smooth experience from sales pitch to installation to follow-up care.
“We try to manage expectations during the selling process by giving our sales people a checklist to go over with customers,” explained Tilton. “We make sure to go through the checklists and have customers initial all the line items so they know what to expect.”
Once signed contracts come back to the office, he says the administrative team follows up to ensure any questions are answered, and the installation team will go over any remaining questions before the install.
Still, when issues do arise, the team is trained to keep an open mind and not automatically take the installer’s side.
“The first thing is to listen to the customer and get their point of view,” he explained. “We investigate the situation to see who is at fault and what is causing the situation. I’ve learned oftentimes if a customer becomes difficult, she generally has a good reason; emotions may blow things a little out of proportion, but most of the time there is a really good reason.”
For those instances where a resolution needs to be made, Tilton said it is explained to customers 50 Floor will do everything it can to bring the installation to industry standard.
To ensure a smooth process in any issues, Carter points out the company has arranged with its vendors to have a single point of contact with each manufacturer.
“We make sure we only have one sales rep from each company [for all our markets] and limit who we buy from,” he said. “If we need something it is easier to make a phone call and make it happen.” That something can be anything from aftercare service with clients, to training salespeople and installers with the same trainer in every market.
The unified approach has been another key factor in the company’s growth and success.
“In 2015 we focused on centralizing unification in all our markets so Nashville wasn’t doing something completely different than Charlotte and so forth,” Carter said. “I grew up in sales and am focused on sales; you really have to be good at hiring the right people to put on those hats and ensure you can focus. To ensure we could handle our growth, we had to make sure everything was on point from purchasing to warehousing, call center to accounting.”
Despite its size, one thing 50 Floor has not done is private label its offerings.
“All our samples are clearly labeled with specs so customers know what they are looking at when we visit,” Tilton said. “We have considered private label, but most of our products are made in the U.S. and are well known brands, so it doesn’t make sense for us to cover them up. We do have custom sample boards from manufacturers and distributors, though, and those do have our logos on them.”
In case anyone is wondering, Verner is still actively involved in the business. As Carter’s strength is day-to-day operations and Tilton’s is developing new markets, Verner handles the company’s legal and real estate matters for the properties it plans to buy or lease as the business continues to grow.