Chad Copeland and Steve Wilson grew up together in Sequim, Wash., located on the Olympic Peninsula, maintaining their strong friendship as the pair of tradesmen worked together on many job sites—Wilson as a hardwood flooring installer and Copeland lending his carpentry and trim skills.
As their skills developed, so did the desire to want and do more. In 2003, still in their early 20s and too young to know any better, that desire brought them together as partners to serve the greater needs of their community.
“We grew up together, went to school together and saw each other on job sites all the time,” Wilson recalled. “When we saw in 2003 there was a need for another flooring store out here on the peninsula we decided to start our own store. We started in a little 1,200-sq.-ft. store as the local guys and grew pretty quickly.”
So quickly, in fact, the pair needed to shift into a larger 3,600-sq.-ft. showroom within a few years. “We are the local guys here in town and we just kind of grew quicker than we could keep up,” Wilson said.
By 2006 they opened a second location in nearby Port Townsend, Wash., and by 2008 won their first National Floorscapes Dealer of the Year award from Mohawk Industries, later taking home the same award in 2016. Both gentlemen credit much of their success to partnering with Mohawk early on in 2004.
“Becoming a Floorscapes dealer took us to the next level of retail,” Wilson said. “It’s more than the customer service and support [offered by Mohawk]; it’s the branding of all the products which are made in America, as well as the education they provide for sales and business management.”
The only regret Copeland notes is not becoming a Floorscapes-aligned dealer sooner, pointing out the program helped Strait Floors to better manage its displays and cash flow. “Mohawk is a good big brother to have to back us,” he said.
Despite the rapid early growth, Wilson said the company, which they expect to bring in $5 million this year, is more focused on managing the company’s progress these days.
“One of my biggest fears is to expand while wondering when the next crash is going to happen,” he explained. “We made it through the last crash by cutting overhead, going out and installing again, doing deliveries and not taking pay checks. We did whatever we had to do to make it through and now we’re a little gun shy.”
However, Copeland notes the company is still growing and in need of new warehouse space to support it, especially near the Port Townsend location. As that community is less retirement-based than Sequim, the pair see a lot of opportunity for the 4,700-sq.-ft. store, despite the fact it only represents about a third of their overall sales.
“Sales demand is at such a high volume right now we are just trying to keep up,” Wilson said. “It’s a bummer when I have to tell customers their job might be a month or two out. Most customers understand, but there are those who don’t want to hear that.”
To better meet those demands, they note about 50% of Strait Floors’ installation workforce is in-house.
“We like having control of the schedule and the flexibility of being able to tell customers we can be out there,” he said. “But there are minuses: We have to provide the trucks, fuel and tools for our in-house installers.”
Helping to manage that expense, Strait Floors outsources most of its soft surface installations. But even with a half dozen teams to call upon for those jobs, Wilson noted, “our biggest hurdle is finding proper installers who are able to do the jobs for us.”
The strength and capabilities of its installation teams are a key part of the company’s strategy. As they are one of the last contacts with customers, their professionalism and skills are an important part of the sale.
Wilson recalls an instance where an installation went wrong. Without any hesitation, he said they quickly replaced the product before it became an issue for their customer.
“The bottom line is: Take care of your customers,” Copeland said. “They are the life blood of your business, especially in small communities.”
“The first thing is setting real expectations,” Wilson added. “When you do that hopefully you don’t have that customer from Hell. Things happen, tell the truth and take care of it quickly. Approaching her with ‘How can I rectify the problem?’ is the best way to handle the situation.”
Because of the size of their host communities—Sequim has a population of just under 7,000 while Port Townsend hosts a little over 9,000 people—the co-owners say Strait Floors has been able to benefit from a small marketing budget of just a few thousand dollars annually with word of mouth and being active in the communities being the primary business drivers.
That said, Wilson said they are focused on enhancing their internet presence as more people research product and companies online: “Even though we are in a community that is mostly retired, we are starting to see a trend where the use of the internet is taking off a bit.”
Considering the age of the local population, they are seeing a resurgence in popularity for soft surfaces and vinyl products—mostly LVT—as well as in traditional floors like oak. To ensure prompt timelines with many of its clients, Strait Floors stocks rolls of carpet and vinyl, and some skids of laminate, all in the mid-range for rental type properties.
“We deal with a lot of real estate agents showcasing homes for a quick ‘burn and turn’ with new flooring in there,” Wilson said. “We stock the moderate price points we can burn and turn quickly.”
In addition to flooring, the pair identified a need in the community and brought in decorative lighting and window treatments to complement their floors and offer customers a more complete in-home package. In addition, they brought a local designer on staff to help customers create their spaces and feel more secure with their purchases.
In all, Strait Floors has found much of its growth has been thanks to a commitment to planning at every level. The company owns both buildings that house its showrooms and the warehouse, allowing it to reduce unnecessary overhead. The company has expanded into complementary areas and it has placed key people in every area.
“We hire slow and fire fast,” Wilson said. “Hiring people you think are going to be good and are not can be very expensive. We surround ourselves with professional people and have streamlined the business by having good salespeople, bookkeepers and managers in place.”
The best part of the job, is seeing the happiness on a customer’s face when a job gets completed and their home is beautiful.
“We enjoy coming to work and being here,” Wilson said. “That’s a big key right there, being able to enjoy what you do. We have a fun environment, it’s fast paced and we get to meet a lot of new people.”