Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.—Antonio Sustiel came to America 25 years ago with $400 in his pocket. Through perseverance, a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, he parlayed that $400 into a small empire for himself complete with a mansion, luxury cars and a title: The Flooring King.
When Sustiel first came here, he worked flea markets, buying anything he could get his hands on and selling it for “a couple of pennies profit,” he says. That evolved into selling discount fragrances and cosmetics through a small chain of stores in Miami, which he sold seven years later for a tidy profit.
Not yet ready to retire, he began to pick up closeouts and liquidations for merchandise, electronics, cosmetics, shoes and pretty much anything else.
“In one of those transactions, a vendor took me to a little corner in the warehouse where they had a few pallets of American-made laminate flooring they needed to get rid of, but it had to be outside of the country,” Sustiel said. “I bought the laminate and exported it to the Caribbean in what turned out to be a very profitable transaction.”
The Flooring King and The Flooring Liquidator were born. It was such a good deal, in fact, he went back to the vendor for more.
“They sold me 10 containers of laminate flooring and, with a couple of phone calls, I was able to sell it for a good profit,” he remembers. “From then on, I connected directly with American, Canadian and European manufacturers to see what kind of closeouts I could get from them, picking up material nobody else wanted to buy.”
Seventeen years later, Sustiel says he has sold 50,000 containers and truckloads of laminate, engineered hardwood and luxury vinyl tile, and operates under two brands: The Flooring King and The Flooring Liquidator. His agreements with manufacturers often require product to be sold internationally to protect their brands locally, and accordingly, The Flooring King has developed clients in more than 20 countries.
Locally, the company sells product directly to the south Florida community through a warehouse and showroom in Ft. Lauderdale. Non-consumer clients across the country and internationally are serviced through the warehouse here and distribution centers in Greenville, S.C., Dallas and Tennessee. Sustiel notes he also has warehouses set to come online over the next three months in California and New Jersey to better serve the West Coast and Northeast markets as he seeks to expand his availability to consumers in those regions.
At the top of his game, he is preparing to expand his Flooring Liquidator brand across the country within the next 18 months. Plans are to service as many as 150 franchised stores under the Flooring King banner.
What has he done to be able to make the move towards expansion? Without stating the obvious, Sustiel has learned from his mistakes. About a decade ago, one of the lots of laminate flooring he picked up from Europe had some defects…
“After installing close to 500,000 sq. ft. in peoples’ homes, almost everything lifted up, and we had close to $1 million in claims,” he recalls. “I stood behind my product and maintained my reputation by replacing every single home with better material.”
A tough pill to swallow for any business, it could have been especially so for Sustiel who openly sells closeouts and liquidations. But he says it was worth it in the long run to “do the right thing. These people referred me to friends and family, and we have recovered almost all of the money.”
Now he operates with a focus on two types of customers: the DIYer on a budget who is informed about slightly defective material and is okay with that; and interior designers, builders and investors looking for better quality material with a full warranty on product and installation.
“The first [type of] customers don’t get a warranty as they are buying as-is and we let them know that before they pay,” he says. “But we also do the right thing where if they are short a few boxes we will give them the product so they can finish the job without it turning into a bad transaction.”
To ensure it is always a positive transaction for customers, The Flooring King provides his 15-member sales team with the product knowledge to ensure they are giving “100% accurate information without misleading customers.”
“I also teach my over 30 years of sales experience with a 90% closing rate,” Sustiel says. “I have created a formula that will teach any flooring salesperson to close pretty much any customer that walks through the flooring store without misleading them, lying to them or selling them a car instead of laminate flooring. Sell them what they came for, be honest, tell the truth and stand behind your product.”
Part of standing behind his products includes being 100% accessible to his sales team and clients.
“Say what you do and do what you say,” Sustiel reinforces. “If it’s a sales call or a claim from a customer, I answer all my phones myself. It doesn’t matter if the customer needs two boxes, a truckload or a container for export, I will give them the same attention. Since I started, I’ve always believed even a $10 customer should be given the time and respect of the phone call.”
For clients who want full-service and warranties, The Flooring King has 70 subcontracted installers ready to lay the flooring the next day.
“We are focused on the knowledge to advise our customers [on] what kind of product they need in any area,” he says. “But the installation part of the flooring business has a lot of details and headaches. We only subcontract the best qualified installers who are bonded, certified and insured.”
Considering Sustiel’s growth plans, his commitment to customer service is going to be put to the test as his client base grows to include franchisees. With a commitment to opening 150 stores in the short term, he is getting the word out via social media, print and TV, search engine optimization and radio.
“As far as our franchises [that are] about to open,” he concludes, “they will be friendly, professional, and honorable to our friends in the flooring industry, and we will work with our vendors and stores around us for the benefit of our customers. I’m looking forward to working with any store in America that needs help or advice without worrying about them as competitors.”
Annual Sales: $5 million
# of Locations: Four warehouses, only one open to public with a showroom; Plans for two additional warehouses to support brand expansion to 150 traditional retail outlets
# of Employees: 15
# of Subcontracted Installers: 70