My company, Commercial Flooring Services of Huntsville, Ala., literally rose from the ashes. Previously, I was in a partnership with four other individuals in a primarily residential flooring company throughout the southeast. Our business was solid and life was good. It was good until one partner embezzled virtually all of the money and disappeared. To this day, we don’t know where he is, and we don’t know how he got away with his crime. It was 1994 and I was facing a decision: I could abandon the flooring business or try to rebuild a business in the only industry I knew.
My late wife, Wynn, gave me the courage to consider rebuilding. She said, “They may have taken your money, but they didn’t take your brains.” Working together, just the two of us, we stripped the business back to the bare bones and started to rebuild. I retained the rights to our Huntsville branch and we were off and running. Unfortunately, we were on the verge of losing our building and we had to let all of our employees go. However, we believed that if we could lower our overhead to the bare bones and focus on securing new accounts to the new business, we could make it.
We made two very important decisions. First, with the support of our bank, we signed our building over to them, thereby avoiding bankruptcy. That was a positive move because we were able to move forward with a clean slate. We decided to commit to the commercial side of the flooring business, which was a big change from our previous business which was driven by residential. Our motivations were simple: the margins on the commercial side were stronger and the business offered more opportunity. For years, the commercial side of our old business funded residential, so this choice was obvious for us. Commercial Flooring Services of Huntsville was born.
Looking back, the growth of our new business was very slow. I guess I was overly cautious because I had been burned badly in my previous business experience, so I moved forward very carefully with total control over all aspects of the business. For me, this was the only possible path.
Initially, we identified that our most immediate target was the tenant improvement and government work. In our market, we were enjoying rapid expansion in housing and government facilities expansion and, as a commercial flooring company, we capitalized on that opportunity. We managed the projects carefully, and once we had a decent foundation of business, we began to rebuild our staff. We started with an estimator and then a project manager—a small but effective team to cover our growing project load.
Fuel for Our Success
They say that timing is everything, and I truly feel that the success of Commercial Flooring Services is largely due to the strength of the Huntsville market and the growth of high tech companies aligned with the U.S. government. It became clear to me that the company needed to move in the direction of higher profit work and that decision helped to put Commercial Flooring Services on the map in our market. We moved our focus away from tenant improvement and education into government accounts and high-tech, giving us both more quality work and stronger margins to fuel our growth.
Our turning point came with a project on Redstone Arsenal to replace the flooring in a large facility. Redstone Arsenal is a U.S. Army post and a census-designated place adjacent to Huntsville in Madison County, Ala. It was established in the 1940s and today is home to NASA, Missile and Space Intelligence Command and Army Material Command. The size of this project and its importance in our market made the Redstone work a prize project for Commercial Flooring Services. Once we secured this work, we became known and respected locally.
Later, we secured a contract with the City of Huntsville which led to a strong relationship with the individuals who oversaw municipal projects. We have enjoyed a strong partnership with the city since that point.
For Commercial Flooring Services, joining Starnet was one of the strongest decisions I ever made. In my earlier residential flooring career, I was active in the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), serving on the board for several years. As a result, I understood the value of these organizations and the strong relationships and education you receive by affiliating. Once I was dedicated to the commercial business, I jumped on the opportunity to join Starnet and began to make connections in this segment of the flooring business. At every Starnet meeting, through every vendor webinar as well as through the friendships and relationships I have gained, my ability to make choices and develop my organization has benefitted from my Starnet membership.
Today, Commercial Flooring Services is well positioned for growth. My brother, Eric, joined the business in 2000 which has been a huge plus for the company. Eric is a strong project manager and joined a project management team of seven cradle-to-grave individuals who oversee dedicated segments of the business. We have remained strong in the government and high-tech sectors and have steadily grown that business with the influx of new companies in both segments. In addition, we have grown our business in healthcare which taps into strong growth based on demographics with the aging Baby Boomer population. Finally, about two years ago, we launched a hard tile division and that effort has been very successful for our company. In all cases, these business decisions have improved our margin structure and have given the company excellent profitability for growth. Commercial Flooring Services currently employs nine employees and I am proud of the fact that we have a long-tenured and very knowledgeable team.
As mentioned, in 2017 we decided to move to a new location in Huntsville with the primary goal of bringing our warehouse and office together in a single location. Our previous location was in town and ideal logistically for working with the architect and design community in town. However, we were fortunate to identify a location which, while a few blocks farther out of central Huntsville, is still accessible. Importantly, the property is large enough to handle our warehouse and distribution team along with the project managers, estimators and finance teams. We are delighted with the value of a co-located organization and the synergies this situation has brought to our work.
I have enjoyed my 40 years in the flooring industry and the experience of growing Commercial Flooring Services has been the most gratifying aspect of my career. Back in 1994, I was facing a difficult and challenging decision to pack it in or to build a company which I could control and guide with the help of my family and my business team. In many respects, I wish I was 20 years younger to continue to enjoy the future opportunities in Huntsville.