It is a classic story of American business: sometimes, a company is founded not through a master plan and not through the vast experience of the individuals involved. Instead, companies can be created through a vision driven by a quest for a better livelihood and the yearning for entrepreneurship. Such is the case with CraftCroswell, founded by Bill and Bob Croswell in 1973 in Jackson, Miss.
Both brothers needed jobs. Bill was 29 years old and had just left a job in the hospitality business, working for a hotel on the Mississippi Coast. Bob was five years younger and finishing graduate school after a stint in professional baseball playing for the New York Mets. Both brothers were married and starting their families. They knew they could work well together, but they needed a viable idea and a concrete plan.
Fortunately, Bob’s father-in-law, Maynard Craft, ran a successful contract furniture company in Jackson and Baton Rouge, Miss., and, with his encouragement, Bill and Bob decided that the contract furniture business was the best route for them. Out of respect for Mr. Craft, they named the business CraftCroswell.
Riding the Tide in the Early Years
Incredibly, the business took off. In a short period of time, the Croswell brothers decided to add commercial and residential flooring to their business offering, and this product line rapidly became their dominant area. The Jackson area was experiencing solid growth and the development of office buildings and other commercial space was expanding rapidly. In the first year of business, the Croswell brothers worked in a 15x30 storage room adjacent to Mr. Craft’s garage. In year two, they leased a 2,000-sq.-ft. office/warehouse and they began to expand into commercial carpet. Of course, there were no frills in the business: they loaded and unloaded rolls of broadloom without forklifts and they personally handled all deliveries and customer contact. The hours were long, but they were rewarded with a business which was showing results.
In 1976, they built their first building, 6,000 sq. ft. In 1980, they added another 10,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space which remains in service today. In the late 90s, they opened office and warehouse space in New Orleans and South Mississippi.
Not uncommon in a growing business, revenues and receivables outpaced their cash flow and the Croswell brothers struggled to gain sufficient investment funds to fuel the business. They needed a jump start for growth. Ironically, two weather-related events occurred which assisted in driving the business to higher levels. First, in 1979, a major flood in Jackson severely damaged a wide range of properties in the area. CraftCroswell was positioned to help, and the company did a vast amount of work replacing flooring and corporate furniture in affected properties and the revenue literally tripled the business in a four month period. This revenue delivered the cash flow necessary to grow and invest.
Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans market, bringing tremendous devastation. Again, CraftCroswell was positioned to help rebuild the historic city. With an office in New Orleans, the company participated in several large projects including the largest contract in CraftCroswell history: the New Orleans Superdome! They installed the flooring (carpet, ceramic and epoxy) throughout the entire Superdome facility, a contract equaling $4.5 million. CraftCroswell’s installation crews were proud to participate in this important project, and their work was a visible part of the revitalization of that city.
New Ownership Comes to CraftCroswell
In 2013, CraftCroswell celebrated its 40th anniversary in business. Bill and Bob hosted a party, inviting many people who helped build the business over the years: employees, manufacturing partners, leaders in the Jackson community and friends and family. It was a great event.
However, this milestone was a reminder to the Croswell brothers that they needed to develop succession plans for the future. In the early years, Bill and Bob agreed that they would not encourage their siblings or offspring to join the business, so they held the entire ownership of the company. CraftCroswell was their dream, but they wanted to manage the business without family stress and politics.
Exactly one year later, I placed a call to Bill, a gentleman I had never met but knew of by reputation. My family has been in the construction business in Jackson for many years, so I knew of CraftCroswell. I was interested in diversifying our business base, and moving into commercial flooring was a strategic move. Bill and Bob were interested in selling, so we began our discussions. Only six months later, in February 2015, we had a deal. I am pleased that both Bill and Bob have remained with the business, supporting my learning curve and providing an invaluable resource for the changes we are making.
CraftCroswell: A Vision for the Future
My challenge was to build on a tremendous foundation with a clear view of the future market development and a strategic plan for economic trends as far as I could see. Because CraftCroswell always offered multiple services and product lines including commercial and residential flooring, corporate furniture, window treatments and wallcoverings, we had a reputation for meeting the end users’ needs in any way possible.
During the early months of the ownership transition, we initiated several internal projects. First, we made some management changes in critical areas like finance and sales. We also upgraded our headquarters with a new showroom and a better overall presentation to our customers.
After a series of strategic planning sessions, we identified two important directions for CraftCroswell. First, because the state of Mississippi is economically challenged and one of two states that has not fully recovered from the recent recession, we needed to expand our business footprint to achieve meaningful growth. We obtained contractor licenses in six additional states including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Louisiana. We knew that we couldn’t rely on Mississippi to deliver the level of results we needed. For the majority of these projects, we travel our own installation crews to handle the work in the expanded geography.
The decision to expand our footprint has paid off. Not only is our growth trend strong, but also we feel protected from economic downturns that are state-specific and we feel more insulated from weather-related episodes which frequently occur in our part of the United States.
A second strategic move was the decision to add two new product lines. We assessed the growth segments in our market and determined that we had the opportunity to grow incrementally by adding in two specific areas. First, we acquired MISSCO Interior Concepts, a 95-year-old, multi-state leader of commercial furniture, systems and athletic seating. The advantage of this company is its broader market coverage and its ability to extend our existing commercial furniture business. Both the interior office systems and the athletic seating are additional purchases for our existing customer base. Plus, the MISSCO business is profitable and we are able to extend our current infrastructure to support the business.
In addition, we expanded into countertops and other surface finishes by stocking slabs of marble, granite and quartz. With these products, we are averaging five projects per week at this point and we see definite expansion in the future. We manage the purchasing and selling of the stone while we outsource the fabrication to an external resource. In this way, we manage our risk in the business. Again, we believe that this addition to our business makes strategic sense as it broadens our ability to service our customers.
An Outstanding Team Makes All the Difference
Throughout its 45-year history, the success of CraftCroswell has been based on strong relationships with our clients, our associates and our installation teams. We have a very stable workforce and our sales people work “cradle to grave” from the beginning of a project right through to completion. Each sales person is paired with an assistant who supports the project. These relationships are critical to a successful outcome.
We are committed to training our team through on-the-job instruction as well as weekly vendor presentations. We also focus on new products in the marketplace and we ensure that our installation teams are fully aware of the techniques necessary to work with new materials.
CraftCroswell was a charter member of Starnet Commercial Flooring, a cooperative of commercial flooring contractors. We helped to form this important organization in 1992 and have benefited from our membership over the past 26 years. Within the Starnet Preferred Vendor network, we have developed strong partnerships and they have supported our business throughout the years. These partnerships are invaluable and, together, we have created many beautiful floors in our market area.
As an adjunct to our internal training, CraftCroswell has access to the Starnet training programs in the area of sales, finance and operations. We participate in the bi-monthly product webinars offered by our Preferred Vendor Partners and our new hires learn basic information on products and procedures through Starnet University, a 24/7 online learning center. We have sent our associates to the Starnet Executive Sales training as well as other Starnet offerings.
Importantly, through the membership meetings, we tap into the experience and advice from other Starnet members who work in commercial flooring in different geographies. Starnet has been a critical part of our business and we believe it is a tremendous asset in better understanding both the commercial flooring industry and the best path to success.
Starting as a small endeavor by two brothers committed to building a future for their families, CraftCroswell today is a successful and growing business. We feel we have excellent opportunity to build future market share while supporting our local communities with products and services they need. Nothing could be more gratifying, and we are working very hard to ensure a strong future.