O'Krent's Abbey Flooring Center: A Foundation to Build On...Floor after Floor, Year after Year
Situated on three acres in one of San Antonio's major growth sectors, O'Krents is a three-level, 34,000-square-foot retail showcase that includes a 42-foot-high ceiling, a grand winding staircase and an incredible 52-foot-tall cylindrical glass rotunda that emulates an architectural feature of the company's former location.
Eighty-nine years ago, Sam O'Krent's great-grandfather, Samuel, opened a flooring business in Cincinnati. Sam's grandfather, Ted, moved the business to San Antonio. Today, Sam continues the now four-generation legacy.
"My father Arthur and I learned valuable lessons from my grandfather -- treat customers like a friend, provide them with quality products at a fair price and take care of them after the purchase," Sam recalls.
When NFT asked me to write my current series of articles on retail flooring best practices, I knew that one of the installments would be about O'Krent's Abbey Flooring Center. However, as with other highly successful stores, I wasn't sure which O'Krent's best practice I would highlight. (To be successful today, retailers need to implement numerous best practices.) Certainly, I could write about their beautiful store and the customers' experiences in it.
However, one of the things that stands out most to me is O'Krent's commitment to the San Antonio community. Sam and his managers work in community service clubs such as the Lions, Optimists and Rotary. In fact, Sam is president-elect of the world's largest Rotary Club (as many as 750 people show up weekly). He's the past chair of the American Heart Association of San Antonio.
But that's not all. This past October, Sam and his wife Margie co-chaired the first annual Arthur O'Krent Golf Classic and raised in his father's memory more than $58,000 for the American Heart Association. (In that vein, O'Krents have trained their employees to use external defibrillators, which they keep at the store in the event that an employee or customer may have a cardiac arrest.) Sam's also past president of the Alamo Executive Association and continues to serve on its board of directors. Margie, O'Krent's chief financial officer, serves on the San Antonio Cancer Center Council and Susan B. Komen Foundation Advisory board.
"Sam's dad and grandfather built trust for the company in San Antonio," notes O'Krent's Chief Operating Officer Dennis Crawford, a 10-year employee. "For 30 years, Ted wrote a weekly column in the local paper on integrity and Carpet Care. The content was 95 percent philosophy and 5 percent how-to. That built a great deal of trust. People still say, ‘I wish they'd keep writing those articles.'"
"That legacy has made us the community's information source," adds Jerry Salge, the company's director of sales. "We still get phone calls for education about floor coverings. Our brochures won't stay in the stores.
"However, new San Antonio doesn't know us," Salge continues. "We want to become the source for everyone. As a result, 80 percent of our ads are image ads -- helpful hints, how to shop for carpet, and what makes quality tile."
As I mentioned, the successful retailer observes numerous best practices. For me, one of O'Krent's finest examples lies in its commitment to strategic planning. Sam's mentor Verne Harnish, a writer and editor of Fast Company magazine and author of the book "Rockefeller Habits," has been instrumental in encouraging him to think strategically.
Every year, Sam and his management team of Margie, Crawford, Salge, and Director of Operations Bill Robbins spend three days offsite to put together their strategic plan for the year. They spent their first retreats defining O'Krent's core values -- specifically, honesty and integrity, customer satisfaction, excellence in reputation, continuous self-improvement, having fun (enjoy what you do, be the best floor covering company to work for) and their brand promise: "O'Krent, a name you can trust, floor after floor, and year after year."
Strategic planning has become a habit. During their annual three-day retreats, the O'Krent's management team spends two days intensely reviewing where they have been, and measuring the progress of their 15- to 20-year BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).
As I reported in previous columns, a study of more than 500 corporations revealed that the No. 1 cause of failure was poor time utilization due to the lack of planning. But the O'Krents are committed to planning.
I asked Sam what advice he'd pass on to other retailers. "Plan, plan and plan," he says.
It's the planning that keeps the O'Krent's operation so highly focused -- and proactive. Because 85 percent of American business is reactive, proactive strategizing is an advantage the O'Krents have employed successfully to stay ahead of the competition.
"Besides meeting annually, we meet once a quarter, all day, to focus on the next quarter," Sam explains. "We also meet once a month, for four hours, to focus on and create our quarterly goals."
In addition, O'Krent's management meets weekly, one hour every Tuesday, to discuss their game plan and whether they need to change (or call an audible). One might think that that would constitute plenty of planning, but again the management team meets for a 15-minute huddle every day ("the daily huddle").
"We go through the numbers daily," Sam says. "We bring up what's not working. We stay focused."
Without a doubt, O'Krent's employees know what's expected of them. New employees spend an hour learning directly from Sam the organizational chart, the company's mission, and its core values -- basically, all the characteristics that make the company tick.
They conduct 90-minute sales meetings every Wednesday for purposes of training, discussion of policies and procedures, current company focus, and sales. "We keep traffic counts, and measure closing rates and margins," Sam adds. "Since we close most sales in the home, we track getting measurements. We bonus for measures."
Sam O'Krent's final advice: "Get into a routine -- decide where you want to go -- then stay focused. Routine sets the mind free. Then have fun!"
I ran my own flooring store for 10 years. I don't think I ever created a plan or had a sales meeting. I was always too busy. Maybe that's why "if you choose not to plan, you choose to have others plan for you."