From left are Atlanta Flooring Design Centers’ Donny Phillips, Riley Gazzaway and Frank Winter.

As I began to prepare this column, I knew I wanted to continue focusing on the efficacy of using the 2010 WFCA Financial Report for identifying areas in a floor covering business to improve.  In the last column I talked about the importance of the Critical Profit Variables or CPVs, the most important variable factors that, if managed well, will generate profits for the business owner.   

To expand what I had previously written, I decided to interview Donny Phillips, Riley Gazzaway and Frank Winter of Atlanta Flooring Design Centers. Located in Suwanee, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta Flooring Design Centers is both a commercial and residential flooring contractor. Since 1985 they have been a respected name in the floor covering industry, serving the Southeast region.

Donny Phillips has used the WFCA reports for almost 15 years. Not only that, but he has served on its board of directors. Donny has used the report to grow his business, but has also watched others use it to make crucial decisions about their businesses.

Atlanta Flooring Design Centers uses the following core values for success: teamwork through trust and respect; integrity; commitment to customer enthusiasm; passion for winning; accountability at all levels; and commitment to continuous improvement. Shown is the store in Suwanee, Ga. Photos courtesy Atlanta Flooring Design Centers.

During the interview, I had a blinding flash of insight, one of those ah ha moments. As they were explaining to me how they used the report, it dawned on me what the report did for them: It generated in them a sense of inquisitiveness about their business. The WFCA report generated for them more questions than answers. Donny commented, “We use the report to see how we stack up against other flooring businesses. We always want to know how well we are doing in comparison with others in the industry.”

I learned many years ago that it’s not what you know; it’s what you can find out. It’s not the answers; it’s the questions. As has been written, “The quality of our life is a direct reflection of the quality of questions we ask ourselves.” Donny, Riley and Frank have developed the habit of inquisitiveness and that is defined as inclined to ask questions.

To paraphrase American author Frank Moore Colby (1865 -1925), “Every man ought to be inquisitive through every hour of his great adventure [of running a flooring business] down to the day when he shall close its doors or walk away. For if he leaves without a question in his heart, what excuse is there for his continuance?”

It has been said that there are no stupid or foolish questions. No man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions. “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions,” said Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.

Or as Robert F. Kennedy once said, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Shouldn’t all business owners dream big and ask, “Why not?”

Quality questions create a quality business. Successful business owners ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers. Donny didn’t tell me his success was related to the questions he was asking. My gut, however, tells me that his inquisitiveness is a primary factor. I have always said that the power of product knowledge for a sales person is that it facilitates asking better questions. The 2010 WFCA Report gives an overwhelming amount of information; however, its real value is in the questions it generates for those who study it.

When I asked Riley how he used the report, he replied, “It helps us identify what we do well and what areas of our business we need to work on.” It also generates questions like: How well do we utilize our space? Do we have adequate showroom space? Do we have too many employees? How productive are our employees? How well do we collect money? How well do we manage our inventory? How effective is our compensation program? How do we compare with profitability? How effective are we in controlling expenses? How productive are our assets? How well are we using our cash?

I can write dozens more questions that the report generates. However, let’s revisit one of the questions we covered in last month’s column about Joe Montemagni of Baystate Rug: “As I reviewed the numbers, I would ask myself, ‘If they can be more profitable why can’t I?’”   

Sounds almost like something Robert F. Kennedy would say if he were in the flooring business: “I have big dreams for my business. I’ve never done it before, but why not?” Donny Philips asks questions like, “What do I need to do to get that result? What are they doing to get greater profitability? How do I need to change to improve and improve my businesses results?”

My question to you: Are you asking about your business? What questions are you asking about your life? As Plato said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Is the unexamined business really worth owning? Participating in the next WFCA report or joining the WFCA may give you the answers you are seeking, but may also make you more inquisitive.

The important thing is to never stop questioning. As Albert Einstein said, “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, require creative imagination and marks real advances.”

As a Chinese proverb states, he who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever. What questions are you asking?