Butch Kirk mans the San Jose Hardwood Floors showroom.

Butch Kirk, owner of San Jose Hardwood Floors, Carpet & Vinyl in San Jose, Calif., faced a difficult decision in 2007. He was operating three locations: the flagship San Jose store opened in 1993, as well as newer stores in Irvine and Monterey that had been around for about seven years. As the housing market crash hit, Kirk realized he needed to consolidate in order to survive.

“It was a major wakeup call,” Kirk remembers. “It was horrible getting rid of people, but it ultimately gave me the opportunity to once again become completely hands-on with our biggest clients in the Bay Area.” While sales volume is not as high as it was before the market slumped, Kirk says profitability is higher than it has ever been, and it made him come to the realization that he had been spreading himself to thin. “Everything is gravy now.”

The storefront for San Jose Hardwood Floors.

San Jose Hardwood Floors’ service area includes high-income cities like San Francisco and Palo Alto, home to some of the largest venture capitalists and electronics/computing giants in the country. “These are some of our biggest clients, and when I downsized our operations south of us, I was able to be completely available for them again. These upper-end clients expect that level of personal service,” Kirk explains.

He sent out letters to clients letting them know about his decision to downsize, and took designers and architects out to lunches to talk about the new business strategy. “Our clients breathed a sigh of relief. They were happy that we were now again completely focused on them.”

Kirk says it was not until the two stores closed that he realized he had not been enjoying the business as much as he had used to. Now that he’s back to one store, “I enjoy this business 100 percent again.”

Kirk has been in the industry for around 30 years, first working summers through a friend’s father who owned a flooring company. He also worked for distributor Floor Service Supply Co. in San Jose for about four years, where he learned more about the industry and its products. “At that point I realized there is a lot of money to be made in the flooring industry if you know what you are doing, and I started my own business.”

One piece of advice he has for other retailers: Always put the customer first, even if that means being awakened early by the phone or taking a call on vacation. “You need to always be available for your customers. You need to put in 12 to 15 hours a day, at least. You need to work on Saturdays. You need to take calls on Sundays. Some people might call me a workaholic, but I call myself a successful businessman.”

San Jose Hardwood Floors created this logo to show off their custom capabilities.

He says another important consideration is to always listen to your customers and sell them the right product for the setting. “You have to fit the floor to the customer’s need. If what they need is a polished concrete floor, you shouldn’t try to sell them an engineered hardwood floor. You also need to address any problems as they come up. Do not let things sit around.”

He also says salespeople and installers need to be up-to-date on their training. “If you are not up on the new finishes, the new wearlayers, and the latest specs, and if you don’t really know the product inside and out, you are not a salesperson. You are simply an order taker.”

For more information on San Jose Hardwood Floors, Carpet & Vinyl, visitwww.sanjosehardwoodfloors.com.