Rob Menefee wants to continue to grow his business. Considering he already has three locations and $12-plus million in annual sales, that is no small task. To help him achieve his aspirations, he told Floor Trendsduring an exclusive interview he partnered with CCA Global Partners and its Flooring America division to assist him in taking the family business to its next level.
The operation, originally called Carpet Value Center, was founded in 1979 by Menefee’s parents in Waldorf, Md., serving the nearby Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. They successfully grew the business over the years, adding a second location in nearby Woodbridge, Va., to service the growing needs of the community. By 2000, the elder Menefees took advantage of 21 years of hard work and moved down to Florida, trusting the business to be developed further by their son while they maintained a financial stake.
The younger Menefee knew there was still plenty of opportunity to take the business to the next level and transformed it into an Abbey Carpet and Floors soon after taking the helm, a partnership he maintained for close to a decade. While allied to Abbey, he fostered a strong working relationship with the franchisor’s executive vice president of marketing and merchandising, Keith Spano, who is now president of Flooring America. At the time, Menefee found the two had similar goals and sensibilities on business opportunities and avenues for growth.
Seeing that most of his competition was coming from the big box stores and flooring liquidators, Menefee realized he would have to compete at a level that surpasses those retail venues.
“At some level, the future of the independent retailer requires offering more than flooring,” Menefee explains. “The very vertical market of flooring is just not enough to compete against the [big boxes and liquidators]; you have to diversify.”
Eventually, Menefee positioned his business for growth by building on its almost 30 years of flooring experience as a foundation to expand into whole home renovations with a Flooring America store and FA DesignBuild, a full service remodelling and contracting firm. He also added a third location in Fairfax, Va., to ensure he could readily service his new and growing client base.
“It is a great partnership,” Menefee notes. “Keith is a very dynamic guy who is always looking to the future. He is a great listener who hears retailers and looks for ways to diversify. He is very supportive and helps us to be more than just a flooring store. We see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics.”
He also commended Spano’s team, singling out Frank Chiera, vice president of marketing and advertising, and Nancy Trafford, vice president of member services, for thinking “along the same lines and doing whatever they can to help us.”
Six years later, his choices have paid dividends. Menefee has invested in his people and company to develop skill sets aimed at the commercial/specified contract sector, as well as ensure long-term growth and opportunity with his base residential clients.
Through the FA DesignBuild segment of his business, he renovates and creates new kitchens, bathrooms and basements for his customers, as well as exterior spaces. All of it utilizing his own in-house interior architect, estimator and project manager. In addition, he has developed a strong team of outside contractors to perform the work and take away the fear many consumers have about taking on a renovation project in their homes. Because he provides a physical, brick-and-mortar address Menefee easily distances the business from fly by night “renovation specialists” who work out of their vans and are difficult to track down mid job, much less after it is complete.
In the time since he joined Flooring America, the DesignBuild business has grown to 30% of his total mix. The move has worked out so well, he says, “Our plan for the future is to grow the business to 70% design build and maintain flooring at 30% without losing any business in that segment.”
One of the keys to achieving his goal is to “control the margin much more than even 10 years ago,” he says. “Due to the box stores and liquidators with their low end products and prices, flooring has become a commodity.”
Accordingly, he stays away from promoting products strictly at a price level. “We promote the amount of time we’ve been in business and positive reviews from clients,” Menefee says. “We teach clients to be cautious with this size investment and take it away from being simple and cheap.”
Another key is to grow the contract side of the business. “It has larger tickets, with individual sales of well over $100,000, which makes the general contracting side much more interesting and more enjoyable. Also, those customers make a larger commitment of trust in us.”
The higher average ticket on the contract side correspondingly means much better cash flow to manage the job more effectively from beginning to end.
Another “benefit” of the commercial business over the residential side: Its prevalence for delays. As Denise Smith, Menefee’s top retail sales designer and manager of the Fairfax, Va., location notes, “Project schedules on the commercial side change, but on the residential side the time expectation is different. They want it done quickly.”
On a commercial job, she explains, “You’re not dealing with someone who necessarily has an emotional investment. They are buying for a need more than for aesthetics. Residential customers are more emotional. It’s a different perspective that is exciting because it’s so much more of a project.”
One of Smith’s favorite aspects of the design build business is “getting to see the end result. You don’t always get that with flooring. [FA DesignBuild] lets us parent every job all the way through to the end.”
Menefee and Smith both point out the true strength of the business comes from building relationships.
“I take pride in and feel like my sales performance comes from the fact I’m a relationship builder,” says the one-time designer. “That’s definitely what Rob wants out of us. His No. 1 method for acquiring sales is relationship building. He wants that referral, for us to take the time to get to know customers and see friends again whenever they come in.”
Smith also appreciates the challenge of working in the design build segment with Menefee because “every single day is different and it is never the same thing twice. Days go by quickly because it’s very busy.
“It’s great to be part of a family business serving customers who need a variety of projects,” she adds. “We can furnish them with everything for their homes.”
From a customer perspective, Menefee adds, “It’s important to be part of national group. It is very difficult to compete against larger brands if you are not one of them.”
All in all, the move has been positive for this second generation flooring retailer. By diversifying his business, Menefee has taken it to a level few “independents” reach. Still a family affair in his approach to customers and how to run the business, Menefee’s FlooringAmerica/FA DesignBuild has flourished thanks to his focus on relationships and a clear direction on where he wants to grow.
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a continuing series that will profile professional specialty flooring retailers and their staffs. The idea is for dealers and salespeople to share best practices and gain ideas to help to raise the level of professionalism at the dealer level. If you would like your business to be profiled in a future issue, please contact Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org.