Fred Wee spent the better part of his career as an executive in the technology sector. Once he got married and children came along, however, priorities changed.
“I really enjoyed the high technology industry when I was single,” he said. “It was a work hard, play hard environment. You traveled a lot and your friends were the people you worked with. But I got married and was starting a family and the constant traveling was getting old.”
As his focus changed, Wee sought out a new foundation for his young family. Leveraging his experience and business degrees, 12 years ago he found that grounding in Interiors & Textiles, a floor and window covering store that had already seen a half century of business in Palo Alto, Calif.
Wee believed he could turn the business around and find new growth in an established market. But even with purchasing an established community brand, he knew taking on a new opportunity would be difficult to do completely on his own.
“Not having come up through the industry, I was looking for a group of individuals I could learn from and who could mentor me so I could quick start my knowledge in the industry,” Wee said.
CCA Global’s International Design Guild (IDG) proved to be that group. “It’s a wonderful model,” Wee said. “You have the benefit of being a small, local business in the community, but with the scale of a larger, national company behind you. It’s a group which is dispersed across the country, but with none of the same brand near me. It allows for more sharing of information and knowledge, plus you can depend on CCA and IDG for product support and marketing help.”
Fully aware of CCA’s multiple-brand approach and despite some “obvious overlap,” Wee finds IDG focused squarely on the premium luxury customers he serves.
“It’s an absolutely knock-it-out-of-the-park alliance,” he said. “IDG is especially so as it doesn’t dictate how you run your showroom. We have member showrooms that are commercial, trade only, retail or a mix. At the end of the day, the bottom line is we live in a world where [flooring] is a discretionary purchase. People don’t have to buy any of this stuff; it’s a want, not a need. We have to make it compelling enough for customers to make this something they want and we can help with.”
Where some competitors sometimes devalue flooring to just another commodity product, Wee says retailers need to see the transaction holistically, tempering in the support they give after the install.
“It works in both worlds I live in: windows and floor coverings,” he said. “Our biggest competitors try to tout having the same product and selling it for quite a bit less. There are customers that in every way try to get something out of you without wanting to pay for it; because you are a vendor and I can try to take advantage of you, I will.”
There’s the adage consumers believe: the customer is always right. “In some way, when I first came into the business, I naively used to believe that, too, but it’s not true,” Wee said. “If we have a problem and it’s our fault we will take care of it even if it costs us. But I have a problem with customers trying to get something out of you without having a reasonable leg to stand on. A lot of times, their attachment to things and money affects their working relationship with you. It is just an unreasonable approach.”
Leaning more to the philosophy, the customer may just need better guidance, he does accept some customers approach to flooring dealers may, in part, be a remnant of the industry’s own creation. “We are thought of as just behind used car salesmen in terms of reputation,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of our industry earned that stereotype and people come in with their defenses up, suspicious it is how you will treat them. Those are things we have to get over.”
Wee contends that the phrase, “We focus on customer service,” has become overused. “The culture I incubate here has always been, ‘Treat you the way I want to be treated.’ In truth, it has evolved into creating a holistic customer experience all the way from beginning to end and beyond that to support.”
Buying decisions should be made easy, and Wee said the goal is to boost the consumers’ confidence to the point where they say, “These guys take care of me. There is no reason to shop this because I know I am getting value for what I pay, and I may pay more but the quality is there.”
The cultural paradigm also extends to Wee’s community. He collaborated with IDG’s national Design For A Difference initiative, a program in which floor covering showrooms partner with interior designers to make a difference to charitable causes. Wee worked with area businesses and designers to recreate the entrance area for Mountain View’s Community Services Agency (CSA), a charity that helps the area’s disadvantaged by providing a social safety net.
“Cause marketing is really important these days for communities with businesses acting as a force of good—especially now with such a highly charged national environment where communities are being tested in how they work together,” Wee said. “There is such a large delta between those who have and those who don’t. It’s important to recognize we are all in this boat together.”
Through Interiors & Textiles, he was able to bring together some of the area’s largest technology firms, as well as sponsors who donated flooring, window coverings and furniture to be involved in the community.
“We actually had students involved with this,” Wee explained. “They designed the space, got sponsors to donate products and funding, and we installed new flooring, window coverings and furniture.”
The initiative has paid back in spades—and not just for the charity and community.
Wee was recognized as business person of the year by the local chamber of commerce. The store was also honored by the American Society of Interior Designers with a Design Excellence Gold Award for its Design For A Difference project, and Wee was recognized by the CSA with its own Hometown Heroes award.
Accolades aside, Wee’s approach to business has garnered additional sales for him. When he purchased the company a dozen years ago, he did so at the beginning of the last recession. Soft flooring represented about 70% of the business and consumers were pulling away from making large discretionary purchases. Today, he has shifted the business to a clientele that is willing to pay more for higher end, has brought up hard surface sales to 55%, and is seeing annual revenues well into the seven figures.
He says the biggest factor in the company’s success is “without a doubt bringing on and training good people.” It is also putting in place a culture that supports them and enables them to learn, grow and work to their best abilities. “In addition to in-house and outside training, ultimately it’s a belief they should be given the independence to take on as much responsibility and opportunity that they can with my support,” Wee added.
Annual Sales: Mid-Seven Figures
Employees: Under 10
Installation teams: In-house; Subcontracted when demand warrants
Product mix: carpet, wood, LVT, vinyl and laminate
Stocking Dealer: Mostly JIT (just-in-time)