Early on in my journey from mediocre to great, I opened a flooring store in a New York suburb with a partner. For many reasons, we struggled to make a profit, which led me to buying him out and left me in a big hole. One Friday morning it took me 20 minutes to get on the main road from my house. At that moment I decided this life wasn’t for me.
As a New Englander, I always yearned to move back to New Hampshire. That night I told my wife that that’s exactly what we were going to do, and although it was a very stormy night, I drove to Hampton Beach, N.H. The next morning, I went to breakfast and saw a station wagon loaded with samples in the parking lot. Now, I can smell someone in the flooring business, so I quickly located that person inside the restaurant and asked him where he worked. He told me, but said since it was Saturday, few people would be at work. Elliot Stores was a chain of 28 stores that sold furniture, shades blinds, flooring and notions. Clerks took leads for the outside salespeople to sell carpet.
Upon entering the Elliot Store headquarters, I heard someone on a telephone in one of the offices. It happened to be Roland, the installation supervisor, and we started speaking about my qualifications as an installer. I was a great installer, and to get started, I said I was willing to go with the flow.
Unbeknownst to me, their ad man, Arthur Gelardi, overheard our conversation from an adjoining office, and because of my manner of speaking (my mother always told me people judge you by how well you speak), he rushed to the office of the vice president in charge of flooring (who also happened to be working on Saturday) and told him there was someone speaking to Roland he should speak to.
They summoned me to the vice president’s office. After an hour meeting, VP Jerry Talty hired me on the spot, gave me a $300-a-week draw (this was in 1969), a company credit card, a company car and said to come in on Monday—already I had a promotion! It was still early Saturday afternoon and went back to my room with the newspaper and looked for housing.
The house I called about was promised to someone else, but it was exactly what I was looking for, which is what I told the owner, who was about to ship out whether or not he had a deposit. He said the other party was coming back. I asked him what if they never showed up? I had the cash now and wanted to make the deal. I was never a pressure salesperson, but I wanted this house. “I am going to rent somewhere and once I leave here, it’s too late; I will have forgotten about this place,” I said. He was still hesitant. “Look, you’ll be gone a year,” I said. “I’m in the flooring business and I promise I will cover your floors before you return.” That did it. I went back to my room, called my wife and said: “Barbara, I left Friday night; it’s still Saturday afternoon. I have a job, a company credit card, a car and a house. Pack up the kids, put a sign on the store, call my attorney and come to New Hampshire.” My wife, knowing me, wasn’t the least bit surprised.
I was assigned to go with another salesperson for a week to learn the system. I was appalled when he threw away all the small leads—entry way, small bath floor and back porch. On my own, I took all these leads and set up appointments for one day. One sale led to another. The least I got were measurements for a future date and, of course, I asked if they knew of any neighbors who might want me to measure while I was there. Small lead day became my most profitable day. Within a month, I was the top salesperson in written business. My appointments led to many opportunities. I was called to see the owner of an electric and plumbing supply house to carpet their new 10,000-square-foot kitchen, bath and lighting design center. He wanted to meet at 9 pm. I signed the job right there. Asking why, he said I was the only salesperson willing to meet him at 9 pm—go with the flow. I also worked with his sister-in-law, a designer, to carpet and tile the individual displays. This led to an offer as the director of the new design center with a substantial salary.
Many months later (naturally, I introduced carpeting into the system) I sold a builder/investor a huge job where he was converting 100 apartments into condominiums. He mentioned he needed someone to supervise the installs and to coordinate them with the other subs. I offered to do it for 10%. Ten percent of hundreds of thousands of dollars was not chump change. I also happened to have an extremely responsible installer (Jerry Talty’s son-in-law) and delegated the work to him. I met with Stan Davis only about once a week. On one of those meetings he mentioned he was forced out of one of his businesses and was stuck with 10,000 sq. ft. of empty space. Did I have any ideas? My idea was to open a carpet operation called Davis Carpet. I never in my life expected to have a jag of cash with which I would open the store of my dreams that eventually became six very profitable retail flooring stores. Go with the flow.
I had staff waiting to go: a former Elliot’s salesman, a purchasing agent who was my biggest customer, and a recommended general manager. When opportunity knocks, open the door!