Rafie Ansari is no stranger to risks. Aside from the obvious, being an entrepreneur who launched his flooring company Carpet N Things in 1985, Ansari emigrated to this country from Iran to study and earn degrees in computer science and finance. Rather than go into finance upon earning an MBA, he opened a retail store in Laural, Md., with his brother-in-law, Alex Araghi, currently vice president of FloorMax’ commercial division. It was a serendipitous moment in his life that was not in the original plan.
“I started working in flooring because that was what everybody I knew outside my field was doing,” Ansari explained. “I thought I would get into it, do it for a few years and pass it on to my brother-in-law, who is a partner in the business, and then move back into my field.”
As industry insiders know, it becomes difficult to leave the flooring business once you are in because it becomes a foundational part of our lives. For Ansari, the challenges and industry hooked him and has sustained him for more than three decades.
In fact, the company has also inspired his sister, Asefeh Ansari, to join the firm as the company’s controller, as well as his son, Eric, who works in sales in the commercial division.
Always willing to adapt and service customers to the best of his ability, Ansari took one of his biggest risks during the height of the last recession. Seeing how customer desires and product mix had shifted beyond primarily soft surfaces over the years, he decided to risk 20-plus years of good will and change the company’s name.
“The name change actually came about 10 or 11 years ago,” Ansari said. “As the business was diversifying and growing we brought in a consultant to let us know what we should consider. We sat on the name for a few years as we were worried about making that change. In 2009 with the recession, we figured it could not get any worse, and if anything is going to happen, it will happen no matter what.”
At the same time, he also shifted the company’s headquarters from a 10,000-sq.-ft. location to its current 40,000-sq.-ft. base.
Both the new space and the FloorMax name were readily accepted by the community. So much so the company is seeing annual sales well in excess of $10 million and recently opened its fifth store in nearby Bethesda, Md., to serve the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
“Going back to the early days of our business, we always recognized we are a service company first,” Ansari said. “It is important for us to work in the roots of the communities where our stores are located. It gets us in front of our clients and customers, and has really been a life saver for us through the last few recessions.”
When the rest of the industry suffered through the recession, Ansari said FloorMax clients continued to do business with them. “The difference was really the service we offered our customers,” he said.
Although Ansari says the company will obviously not win every job, the company’s reputation for good customer service has helped its success.
“If people are just looking to buy floors, the large box stores are out there selling that very aggressively,” Ansari said. “Our success has been in service and the word of mouth that brings customers back.”
Post-installation customer service is one area that helped FloorMax build its reputation.
“How we react when things happen is important,” Ansari said. “When a customer calls, they are not calling to find out why it cannot be done; they are calling to get things done. We look at how we can do everything possible to make it right. Although it can be difficult to explain something to a customer who may only make this purchase three times in their lives, we do our best to make them happy.”
To ensure past, present and future customers remain aware of FloorMax and its commitments in the community, Jeanne Chapman, marketing manager, has focused on marketing the brand with customer testimonials, as well as utilizing traditional and non-traditional approaches.
“We recently started doing a lot of brand marketing with the Washington Nationals,” she said. “In addition to commercials during games, we have events that run throughout the year. We also have one of the broadcasters during the game do some marketing for us.”
Chapman says the company also manages a campaign focused on FloorMax’ demographics with iHeart Radio across four stations.
In the form of new media, Joseph Jovinelli, vice president of sales, notes the company has shifted its internet marketing presence over the last few years to encompass 20% of the total marketing budget, an increase of 1,000% from just a few years ago.
“The biggest challenge has been getting our brand name and message out to consumers with the transient nature of the D.C. market,” he said.
Ansari says that although the company’s marketing budget is generous for a company its size, advertising in the metropolitan area is very expensive, so the team has had to be smart about how it spends its budget.
One of the ways FloorMax ensures the advertising message and promise stays consistent for customers when they come into the store is with regular training and oversight at every level of the company.
“We have meetings every month for our sales people and at least every three months for our installers,” Ansari said. “Thanks to good relationships with our suppliers, every time there is a new product, we have training in our showrooms or send people for training. As a small business, we have to rely a lot on suppliers and vendors. We know every product they bring in is not necessarily a fit, but we have the luxury of having a management team here that looks at all the products. We don’t mind trying new things and taking advantage of being at the forefront of the deal and being first to market.”
“Our vendors come in and speak to sales people directly to cover new products and any peculiar aspects,” Jovinelli said. “It helps us to better inform and service our customers.”
The moves have positioned the company well for the present and the future, Ansari noted.
“We are on track to do business well and expand in the next couple of years after sitting tight the last few years to figure out where the market and economy were going,” Ansari concluded. “We are not out of the woods yet as an industry, but we’re comfortable from the growth we have seen. It all boils down to our service and products always being in demand. The purchase may be postponed by the recession, but the need does not go away. The population should also continue to grow and with it demand for our products and service.”