Even though it’s a small town, Dalton, Ga., has a lot of institutions. One such institution is Carpets of Dalton, an operation that was launched in 1971. Carpets of Dalton is a large floor covering retailer with a facility that’s 207,000 square feet. According to the company’s advertisements, that is equivalent to about five football fields. And as you can imagine, this floor covering, furniture and appliance operation has a massive amount of inventory.
We had an opportunity to talk with Jerry Hennon, principal of Carpets of Dalton, at company headquarters, and take a tour of the massive facility, all of which you can watch here. The following are excerpts of that conversation.
TF: Give us a little history of the operation.
Hennon: My dad started the business in 1971. We were then primarily a wholesaler. We would buy running line styles and sell them to other distributors who in turn would sell them to small mom and pop retailers. That business began to change in the 1980s as the major mills began to consolidate and open distribution centers. We could see the writing on the wall and made the decision to pursue retail business. The timing was good. We were fortunate enough to partner with the WTBS superstation in Atlanta. Our advertising went nationwide and our retail traffic began to grow dramatically. As traffic grew, we added more product selection. We added hard surfaces, and in the 1990s, we entered the furniture business and evolved into a home furnishings destination and have been in that category ever since.
We had some issues during the recession. We came out of that and eventually partnered with the Peeples family, which bought the business a year and a half ago and began investing in it, and that’s really what you are seeing in the operation now.
TF: I can remember that, when I first came to Dalton in the ’70s, it appeared that on any given morning, there were retailers parked outside the store waiting to pick up product.
Hennon: That’s true, and we have maintained over the years some wholesale business. We pride ourselves on doing things right, and as a result, our referral business has always been very good.
TF: Tell us about this place; it’s massive.
Hennon: We are still a one-stop destination. Between what we offer in floor covering and furniture, basically everything that goes in the home except paint we do here. We offer cabinets and appliances with a huge selection of both floor covering and furniture in all different categories. We have a very large area rug inventory. A consumer can drive here out of the traffic in Atlanta or a host of other cities and spend several hours here and get ideas and select products for their home.
TF: You mentioned that when some of the major mills began opening distribution centers and selling direct to retailers, you had to rethink your approach. Expand on that.
Hennon: While in the wholesale business, we spent a great deal of time loading trucks. We had low overhead, we had a relatively small staff. As we shifted into retail, we had to expand, have an all-around nicer facility and showroom. To get people to travel to visit the showroom, we had to show them things that they couldn’t see everywhere. And that’s been our approach ever since. One of the things that sets us apart is to have a great deal of product on the floor, having it in stock, merchandised beautifully and ready to go.
TF: Carpets of Dalton is one of the larger players in the country. Talk about the good and the bad about being in that category.
Hennon: One of the good things about it is that here in Dalton, we have good relationships with the industry and we are able to offer what consumers need and get in-depth information about the products that are selling. We are able to try new ideas and products. Having a great facility is a great advantage. One of the things that hurts us a little bit is our location. One of our major assets that is good for us is also bad for us. The concentrations of populations are to the north of us and to the south of us, and we have to have consumers travel here and keep traveling here and that’s usually our biggest challenge. Once people come here with our sales people, who have been here for a long time, we do a very good job. But the challenge is getting them here.
TF: Carpets of Dalton has become a part of the Peeples organization. Talk about how that has changed your approach.
Hennon: Basically, we have been able to get back to the type of operation we have traditionally been, updating the facility. Also getting the right product and the correct inventory in here and doing the things that set us apart. This move has also been good for our employees. It’s been a good situation all around.
TF: Marketing and advertising is a great deal different now than in years past.
Hennon: That, again, is one of our challenges. One of the things we are investing in is youth, doing more online and social media. We will always do traditional marketing and rely on the word of mouth, the wow factor, getting people in here to see the facility and then having them tell their friends. That’s still the best type of advertising.
TF: It would seem that having the wide selection of furniture and appliances is a major asset to selling floor coverings, and I expect selling furniture online is probably not that common.
Hennon: We also feel that floor covering is a difficult product to buy online. I think people still like to go to a nice brick and mortar store to buy floor coverings, especially if installation is required. They still want to have confidence in a knowledgeable salesperson, leading them and offering good advice. Furniture is in the same category. It’s hard to judge quality from a picture. Like buying a car, people want to get online and research the options and the price range, but they still want to see the car in person.
TF: What do you see happening in the future?
Hennon: First, we will continue to perfect our facilities, buying the correct products and merchandising them in the correct way. Being a destination is an extremely important element of our operation, and we will continue to groom that. I would not mind seeing showrooms in other areas, areas that are difficult to travel to from this showroom. We have no immediate plans, however, to do that. I feel that it’s something we may have to consider some day.
TF: What about the pressures on larger retailers?
Hennon: We are fortunate enough to be a member of the NFA, the National Floorcovering Alliance, which is a group of larger retailers. Most of the retailers in the group are larger retailers and have enjoyed good growth. Some of the members have expanded with additional stores, but most of them try to dominate their market area and do a good job of doing that. Most younger consumers appear to focus on home centers, and home centers still have their challenges which larger floor covering retailers can solve, such as having professional salespeople that are well-versed in floor covering because they do it every day. That boils down to getting better advice, seeing more product and having the sales person spend more time with the customer. Those are the things we do well. The challenges come in the form of communicating these factors to the younger consumer.
At this point in the conversation, Jerry Hennon lead us on a tour of the massive Carpets of Dalton facility, which you can watch on the Floortrendsmag.com website by clicking on the TalkFloor videos.