Retailer Profile: Divine Set to Inspire a New World
Armed with a business plan and a dream, Carlos Soares established Divine Flooring in 1999 in Calgary, Canada, as a company dedicated to forward-thinking ideas about craftsmanship and design. The company’s name was inspired by the most beautiful hardwood flooring installation Soares had ever seen, located in St. John Cantius Church in Chicago. His vision, as a flooring supplier and installer, was the same then as it is today—to bring that level of beauty and originality into the home by creating unique, custom hardwood flooring.
He opened his first store with a focus on hard surfaces such as hardwood, laminate and luxury vinyl tile. He expanded his business model over the years, shifting from retail to working with the architecture and design community, along with other retailers. He also created his own brand of hard-surface flooring and began carrying a limited selection of soft surfaces.
“We found our customers related more to our own brand than the manufacturers’ branding on displays or product packaging,” Soares said. “We felt it was necessary to have the brand name on the store front match the brand name of the product delivered to the site. Once flooring gets installed, there is no branding left behind. We found consumers were more concerned about having the right color, texture and format for their space than a particular manufacturer.”
Soares grew the company to three showrooms in Canada—in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia—with product also showcased in higher-end shops in Canada and the U.S., Soares felt it was time to bring more support to his American envoys, so in March 2017 he opened a fourth showroom in Chicago’s famed Merchandise Mart.
“People travel all over the world to visit the Merchandise Mart and we decided there would be no better place to put a flagship store than here and we are thrilled at the opportunity,” Soares said.
The new showroom, which is located on the first floor of the Mart, will be open to the public but will focus on working with architects and designers.
“The Merchandise Mart is iconic,” said Sean Stewart, managing director of Divine Flooring’s U.S. division. “It really represents everything in terms of our clients and aspirations. Divine is a medium- to high-end company overall. We maximize the balance between passion and design with value. I think the Merchandise Mart is the ideal place for that.”
Stewart managed the design and construction of the new space. “We chose Chicago for two reasons,” he said. “First, it is the base of our U.S. business in a city renowned for its architecture. In addition, we are in good company at LuxeHome and are able to communicate our design-driven brand directly to designers, architects and homeowners.”
Soares said the new flagship store will support retailer relationships and give more confidence in the Divine Flooring brand. “The flooring industry has changed over the years as product has evolved, but the way we do business has changed very little,” said Soares. “When we step outside and look at other industries, we realize there are many ways to approach a market and how brands go to market.”
Referring to Apple and Nike as business examples, he points out they both have their own private label stores, as well as partnering with key retail outlets to extend their brand reach.
“We are up front and open with our dealers from the start,” Soares said. “We don’t hide that we have our own stores, but you also won’t find our brand at every other store on their street. Our goal is to grow together with our dealer, not compete head to head.”
It boils down to service. “You have to be available for retail clients when they have questions, following up and delivering on that service,” said Stewart, who joined the company two-and-a-half years ago. “It’s what separates us from our competition because we’re there and we’re available.”
Divine Flooring has reached CAD$50 million (approximately $37.4 million U.S.) in annual sales, and the company highlights four points of differentiation: Be unique and specialized; Understand that quality must never be compromised; Work with a team that is dedicated to being the best every day; and Lead the way in sustainable forest management and stewardship.
“You can have a great plan, market strategy and technology, but if you don’t have the right team to execute, you really have nothing,” Stewart said. Always working to ensure the team is ready to execute, Stewart noted that they have experts always available for questions about installation or product. “We do training in-house with product knowledge meetings every couple of weeks and we have technical data available internally and on our website,” he said.
One of the company’s most unique characteristics comes from Soares’ personal life journey. A cancer survivor, he has focused on manufacturing his line of products to meet or exceed CARB2 (California Air Resources Board) specifications even though it is not required in Canada where much of the company’s growth has been focused until now. Stewart said the company takes it one step further by specifying CARB standards even in its products not governed by CARB compliance.
Respecting the company’s philosophy to maintain quality at all costs, Soares created master panels to be kept at Divine Flooring’s manufacturing partners’ facilities for its quality control team to verify construction and finishes. Master panels are also kept at the company’s Calgary warehouse so containers can be easily checked and verified for upon arrival.
Even with the best product, a strong sales and support team, and a keen focus on sustainability and long term viability, much of Divine’s success could not have happened without a little marketing savvy and a loyal clientele.
For example, although Divine is not planning to offer carpet and tile in its showroom in the United States, Soares said the Candian showrooms do carry products from Dream Weaver, Shaw and Dixie.
“Our core focus is wood flooring and synthetic versions of wood flooring such as vinyl plank and laminate,” he explained. “Carpet and tile was introduced [in our Canadian stores] after our loyal customer base of builders and developers requested a ‘one-stop-shop’ experience.”
Helping to get the message out, the company initiated a rebranding effort over the last few years. A major aspect of that was the recreation of its internet presence.
“The website has been a big hit,” said Stewart, who joined the company two-and-a-half years ago. “Carlos invested quite a bit of money on photography with grading photos and room scenes. We’ve also been able to put a lot more information on there for our dealers, consumers and the trade.”
In discussing some of the company’s future, Soares mentioned his past: “At the start of my career 16 years ago I went through cancer and beat it. Everyone measures success differently. I have been blessed with a great wife and three boys. I have a great team, many of whom have been with me since the day I started. I get to work with people I like and no one works for me, but rather they work with me. Our company has been able to do some great work with kids with cancer and other local charities. I’ve never judged success by the size of my wallet. Being able to do all the above certainly makes me feel successful, but success is a journey and I’m still on it.”
Annual Sales: CAD$50 million ($37.4 million U.S.)
Product Mix: Divine-branded solid and engineered wood, laminate and LVT in the United States. Canadian stores also sell carpet and tile.
Number of locations: 3 in Canada; 1 in United States. Branded displays with exclusive dealers in North America
Employees: Approximately 95, three in the Chicago showroom
Installation teams: Subcontractors