Starting a flooring retail business and sustaining it can be difficult enough, but doing so while also building a well-known and respected brand is even more challenging. Floor Trendsspoke with several retailers from around the country about the histories of their companies, how they built their brands and any tips they can offer to entrepreneurs just starting out.
Carlton Billingsley, general manager of Floors and Moore in Benton Ark., grew up in the family-run retail store his parents founded, which has been in the same location for the past 34 years. “We’ve been through several cycles of the economy, both good times and bad times. One of the things we’ve always done is to be diversified in different types of products. We don’t want to be known just as a flooring store: Floors and More—that’s right in our name. We also sell countertops, window treatments, light remodel services and other products and services that complement our business.”
He said one way he stays excited about his business is “being creative in anything we do, and challenging ourselves.” One way in which the company challenged its old image was through a rebranding effort in 2009. “We hired a creative firm to put together new colors and a new logo, to make it more female-friendly and to also show we are environmentally conscious.”
His business is also involved in lots of community activities, which is one way to get the company’s name and its logo into the wider community while also giving back. “We’re very involved in several civic organizations including the local chamber of commerce. We sponsor the local Boys and Girls Club and host events for them. We drive over there in our branded van. We also did a big push recently with grocery totes.”
The company also uses social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, along with its own website. “Our website is the key location for us. We keep it current with the products we carry in our showroom and have a lot of information about us. On social media we post photos of projects and events. The website is more about the flooring we carry and why you want to shop with us. The social media aspect is to share what’s going on in the community and what’s coming up.”
Billingsley shared these tips for retailers looking to build their brand: “Whatever you decide to do with your brand, it’s important to remain consistent. If you’re going to have invoice statements and signs and vehicles and whatever else, make sure the message, the font and the color of the logo are all consistent. That’s how people will start recognizing your name. If you’re not doing this consistently, no one is going to remember you, plus you are just going to confuse potential customers.”
Matt Wagner, president and owner of Bob Wagner’s Flooring America, which operates two locations in Pennsylvania and one in Delaware, has also grown up in a family business. His late father and namesake of the company, Bob Wagner, founded the 40-year-old retailer. Wagner said there are several features of his business that he believes set him apart from his competition: “We have national buying power with local service and ownership. We stand behind our products and service. That’s why we’re still in business.”
He also believes in giving back to the community. “I’m one of the directors of the Glenmoore Eagle Youth Association High 5 Soccer program. We support it and help sponsor it. It’s for kids with special needs who can’t play in a soccer league. We go out every Saturday, and they run their own version of soccer. It doesn’t highlight Bob Wagner’s. We do it because we love it. We exhibit the same values outside the business as we do when operating it from the inside.”
The company also recently gave away carpet samples to local schoolteachers. “Schoolteachers are constantly coming in looking for samples, which they use for smaller kids to sit on, or in art projects. One day we put up a Facebook post saying if you’re a schoolteacher and you need samples, let us know. We ended up giving away all our samples. It’s the small, subtle things you do that really matter, both as a person and as a business. We also hold ‘lunch and learns’ in our stores, where we invite the community to come in and learn about things like new products, designs and even DIY installations.”
Wagner said the biggest thing about developing a brand is remaining true to yourself and your values. “If you’re going to promise good service, you need to live up to that. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if the expenses mount up, but you need to run your business like you run your life. There shouldn’t be any disconnect there. Be respectful, say please and thank you, and if you make a mistake, fix it and apologize. That’s how word of mouth gets out and how your brand becomes respected.”
Justin Atcheson, owner of Builders Floor Covering & Tile, oversees locations in Buford, Ga., and one in the Buckhead district of Atlanta. He does not come from a family of flooring retailers. In fact, when he purchased the company in 2010, he was starting “pretty much from scratch.
“When I bought the company,” he explained, “I have to admit the name was a little bit of a branding challenge. Builders Floor Covering had some brand recognition, but only among the builder and commercial contractor community. It certainly wasn’t known in the public eye.”
Atcheson wanted to transition the company to selling to consumers as well as builders. “Our first step was to get out of the warehouse space where our showroom was and move into a retail store. We also opened a store at a retail space in Buckhead, which is basically the Rodeo Drive of Atlanta. It’s a high-end, high-fashion district, and we have been able to make a name for ourselves in that niche market.”
The company also found success by becoming a Mohawk Floorscapes aligned dealer. “We started building our brand and became conjoined with Mohawk to the point that most people who visit our Buford store call it ‘the Mohawk store.’ That’s due to our direct alignment and partnership. We didn’t feel we were at a disadvantage being called that, because Mohawk is a strong vendor partner for us, and we leaned into that bigger brand name to help build ours.”
Builders Floor Covering & Tile is also deeply involved in several charities aimed at helping veterans. “One of our sales guys is on military leave right now. Giving back to these people is something I believe in. They are a very deserving group of people. From a branding perspective, it is also a great opportunity for us to share with our customer base what we are passionate about.”
When it comes to building a brand, Atcheson said customer satisfaction is key. “Referrals remain our biggest way of building our brand. Our brand hinges on our reputation, our service and our quality. We are also pretty active on Facebook, and if we do a good job for a customer, we ask if they wouldn’t mind sharing it on Facebook. A lot of people are happy to go on it and say, ‘This company did a great job; if you’re ever in the market for flooring, they’re your guys.’ If that goes out to 500 people, those are 500 people you might not otherwise reach, and it builds more trust than any marketing campaign I could ever put together.”