Preparing to deliver another area rug are Sam and Arlene Presnell, owners of The Rug Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Robin Victor Goetz/

This year’s recipient of the World Floor Covering Association’s Gold Standard Award for excellence in retailing, Cincinnati-based The Rug Gallery, “stood out from the crowd” of entries, according to D. Christopher Davis, the WFCA’s president and ceo.

Along with the Gold Standard trophy, The Rug Gallery, which is owned and operated by Sam Presnell, took home a $5,000 check, and earned press recognition, acknowledgement on the WFCA website and a customized WFCA seal for their store entrance.

“With a 21,000 sq. ft. showroom, The Rug Gallery has a lot of ground to cover, but they truly operate a very tight operation,” said Davis. “Their research is second to none. They excel in customer service and they have strong incentive programs in place as well as ongoing educational classes for their staff. Their strategic positioning and solid programs kept their business strong in a tight market. They are a true leader in our industry.”

I asked Sam some questions about his business philosophy and his company:

Q: How did it all start?
It started with one rug purchased for personal use. That grew to a storefront in the University of Cincinnati area that was all of 750 sq. ft., opened in 1972. Six years later, we made a move to Montgomery and a new 6,500 sq. ft. store. In 1992, Blue Ash beckoned and the current 21,000 sq. ft. showroom was born.

Our expertise in color and design, our ability to locate and purchase only the finest rugs in all price ranges and our eagerness to cater to our client’s every need set us apart. These attributes are directly responsible for our growth and our reputation not only in the Cincinnati area, but worldwide within the rug industry.

Q: Tell me about how your company evolved.  What decisions were made and actions taken to move your business to the next level?
That’s a story that has taken 39 years to tell. It all boils down to being willing, even eager, to change; sensing issues quickly and resolving them just as quickly.

People ask me how I do it. My standard reply is that always, when I’ve seen a problem, I’ve fixed it. When I see an opportunity, I seize it.

I’m very competitive and I’m always raising the bar. I get bored easily and don’t do well with the status quo. I’m very observant of how other businesses operate, and I’m always willing to make their best ideas my own.

Q: Where is your time spent in the business?
No two days are ever the same. I do all the stock purchasing, event planning and hiring. I work directly with our advertising agency on marketing and advertising. I oversee all departments of the business, including education, human resources, accounting and store operations. Sometimes I sell and sometimes I handle customer complaints.

I worked directly with our architect to design our current showroom and warehouse, of which I am very proud. As I am sure is true in most small businesses, if it needs to be done and I’m available, I do it.

Q: What do you feel has been the most important thing you have done that has brought you success?
It’s very difficult to pinpoint one thing that has been done in over 38 years. I’d have to say the most qualitative and quantitative thing that’s been done recently is the investment and improvement in our website.

Q: What have you done in this difficult economic time that has helped you to prosper?
Honestly, too many things to list. One of the most important was picking up on the economic decline in 2006, when it first began in Florida. We were able to be proactive quickly and avert some of the potential damage. We saw what we needed to do and did it to ride out this downturn with shrinking revenues. We started to cut back on our buying early in 2007. We renegotiated almost every major expense. We prepared for the worst; all the while hoping for the best. We made the best of the situation at hand.  There was no way to advertise our way out of this.

Equally important to our stability was our staff. We sat down with everyone and explained the situation. We listed the cuts and sacrifices everyone was going to have to make. Everyone willingly took the hit; no one was let go, and the staff was able to breathe easier because we were doing all we had to do to remain open and viable during the crisis. Two members of the staff have moved on to totally different career paths and the remaining staff has picked up their load.

Lastly, we added more value-oriented merchandise and adjusted our prices on the showroom floor to reflect MAP pricing. We vowed not to lose any reasonable sale. We stick with every potential sale for as long as it takes. “Allowing” a customer to purchase elsewhere is not an option.

Q: What have you done to differentiate your company from your competitors?
We are unique in that we are at the high end of retail and have a strong designer clientele. From the moment you walk in, you realize that you are in a rug store unlike any other. From our showroom to our staff, displays, product offerings, price and overall ambience, everything you see, hear and feel lets you know you are someone special and you are somewhere special.

Q: What key decisions have you made that have worked for you?
I believe in being open with associates. Everyone here shares the good and the bad. Everyone knows our numbers and where we/they stand at any time.

Buying rugs is my passion. Hours spent at market and with representatives of our vendors is never work for me. I have the knack of knowing what to buy and when, as well as a feel for when it’s time to move on to something else. I’ll try almost anything within reason and try to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.

We also enjoy the trust of our suppliers. They have helped us achieve our goals.

Q: What do you do that creates loyalty from your customers and your employees?
Customers need to be made to feel that each one of them is the most important person we’ve dealt with. We achieve that by making sure they feel special from the moment they walk or call in. We are sincere in our thanks; we stay in touch after the sale and delivery and we offer them special sales that are not advertised to the general public.

Associates are given a stake in both their personal and our professional success. While we have a very innovative bonus program, it has been temporarily suspended, so the last couple of years have been tough. Nevertheless, each associate knows that when the economy rebounds, so will their perks.

We have an open door policy. I welcome their input. As I always tell them, I don’t read minds, so they need to let me know what I can do for them to help them be successful. I try to give them all the tools possible to assure their success and contentment with their positions. A real effort is made to be honest and straightforward with each other, doing what we promise to do.

Q: What advice would you give struggling dealers in this economy?
Simply, have a budget. Cut your expenses. Be honest and open with your suppliers and associates. Find a solution and follow through on it. Remember that the most important things now are to pay your taxes, pay your employees, pay your suppliers, and pay your bank. If there’s anything left, pay yourself.

Q: What lies ahead for The Rug Gallery?
I’m already moving to improve our website even further, concentrating on marketing to this new, technology-savvy younger market. I’m intrigued by what they want, why they want it and how they see their home environment. We are definitely going more “green” and are more community focused. 

We’re looking forward for ways to give the “click and buy” generation the whole Rug Gallery experience, making us the logical and best choice for their floor covering purchases.

I think every businessman and woman in America could learn something from Sam Presnell. Did you?