A Conversation with Nance Industries' Carol Nance
It would be my guess that you could count the number women chief executive officers in the floor covering industry on two or three hands. It would also be my guess that if asked to count the number women who founded a company, say 45 years ago, and remain the CEO of that company today, you would not even need all the fingers on a single hand. Well there is such a woman in this industry that launched a company, Nance Carpet & Rug in the heart of the good-ole boy hot bed of North Georgia in 1972 and remains the CEO of that company, now Nance Industries, until this day. Her name is Carol Nance, a born entrepreneur who launched a company in the middle of the carpet industry’s salad days, turning landfill scraps into a profitable business that now boasts four manufacturing/warehouse facilities in Calhoun, Ga., with no end in sight.
With the company’s list of customers reading like a who’s who of U.S. retailers, the Nance organization still has its feet firmly planted in the carpet and rug sector but has made significant inroads in the hard surface arena as well. We had an opportunity to talk with Nance, recently capturing a video interview of the conversation, which you can watch on floortrendmag.com. First, click on multimedia, then on videos. The following are excerpts from that interview.
TF: Talk about the series of events that led up to you forming Nance Carpet & Rug.
Nance: It was my desire to simply make a better life for my family. Before Nance Carpet, I started a small company that dealt in wigs, which were very trendy at the time. Wigs then were available in the larger cities but had little distribution in smaller towns and in the outlying areas. Starting very modestly, I was able to gain distribution through wig boutiques in most of towns in North Georgia. When I saw that the trend was beginning to fade, I sold the operation. Being in the middle of the carpet capital, one day, I noticed a number of large trucks full of carpet scraps on their way to the landfill and thought most assuredly it represented a profit opportunity. So, I approached the mills in the area; some even gave us the scraps because they were paying fees at the landfill. We also bought a serging machine and a cutting knife. We drew a diagram on the floor outlining the correct rug sizes and went to work. We hired one person and my husband and I serged the rugs. I had a six-month-old at the time and she would come along as well. And the operation just kept growing. We started out with orders for one or two hundred rugs and it just kept developing.
TF: Initially, you were selling to retailers and local mills?
Nance: Yes, and we still process for all of the major carpet mills. Our first big order came from a discount retail group, Zayre. They ordered 10,000 rugs and it was quite a challenge for us. You’ve heard people say, “we started in a garage.” Well, we didn’t even have a garage. A little later on, we built our first building, which we still have. We have since added on to it five times. We bought plant two, where we make a great deal of our smaller rugs. Then, we bought the building we are in, which is our largest one, which has a plant within a plant where we manufacture all of our cove base. Then, we bought plant five, which is right next to this building.
This is a family business. My son, Mike, has been a valuable member of the staff, taking the company to a whole new level, and my grandchildren, Presley and Nash, are also involved.
TF: You launched the company in 1972. I came to North Georgia in the 70s and it never seemed to me to be a bastion of gender equality. I have to imagine that you, as a woman, have some interesting stories about your interaction with local businesspeople.
Nance: We have come a long way. In the beginning, no one wanted to talk to a woman. If I had to call and ask for better terms or another bid for insurance, they did not want to talk to a woman. In those instances, I would call on my husband, Bob, to step in. In the early days, bankers would visit us in their three-piece suits. I would greet them, and they would say, “Well, we want to talk with the owner,” and I said, “Well, that would be me,” and they said, “No, we want to see Mr. Nance.” Twenty-five years later, I sit on the board of that bank. I have a saying that I live by: act like a lady, think like a boss.
TF: I have to imagine that acquiring carpet scraps in 2017 is a great deal different than in was when you started in 1972.
Nance: It is very expensive. We really created that market. Some we buy by the pound and some we buy by the yard. It’s an entirely different ball game now.
TF: Do rugs remain the major share of your business?
Nance: We still do a great deal of rug business, but now the big thing is hard surface, and fortunately, hard surface requires a rug. The big thing for us currently is something we are innovators in—adhesive back laminate flooring. It makes installation extremely easy, and we feel very strongly that the next big thing will be covering the walls. We also offer carpet tiles with an adhesive back.
TF: What word of advice would you offer to the women in the flooring industry who perhaps see barriers, as we discussed earlier?
Nance: First, I would advise them to follow their dream. If you have a product or an idea and are facing naysayers, just don’t listen. Do what’s in your heart and focus and keep on and never give up. Right when you think it’s not going to happen is when something big is going to happen.