Wisconsin’s H.J. Martin Maintains Humbleness, Family Focus
When you speak with David Martin, you cannot help but recognize his sense of history, place and responsibility. He is the fourth generation of Martins to work at one of the country’s largest flooring retailers. Having grown up in the family business he has a unique perspective to identify new opportunities which are a natural extension of the already well diversified company.
Martin recounts H.J. Martin & Son’s humble beginnings during the height of the Great Depression in 1931. Despite the obviously difficult times, his great grandfather and the company’s namesake, Henry John, began selling tile and paint for close to 30 years from his garage and at county fairs. In 1959, H.J. and his son, Patrick Henry, took the home-based business to the next level and opened its first retail showroom on S. Military Ave., in Green Bay, Wis.
In its 83 years of operation, core philosophies carried through the company since inception include: Every job counts, no matter the size, and every customer is rewarded for their loyalty by an unswerving commitment by the Martins to ensure they are 100% satisfied with the service and product.
“Without that first bathroom,” Martin explains, “we wouldn’t be here today.”
Lon Mosbrucker, senior builder sales and the company’s top residential salesperson, as well as project manager, adds, “The Martins go to extremes to make sure people are happy even when they don’t have to.”
There are not many instances where customers are dissatisfied because its sales team is trained to be up front about product expectations. Still, he says, on those occasions when a customer is unhappy, “we try to rectify anything we can because the customer is always right.
“In a small town like this, you have to keep relationships going if you can, and [the Martins] just want to make people happy to the point of going to extremes. Their solution is always to bite the bullet and fix the situation for customers.” In the long run, Mosbrucker agrees it is better than having customers badmouth the company and hurting H.J. Martin’s reputation.
“We never try to run from problems,” reinforces Martin, “and we admit when we are wrong, which does happen. If there is a problem, we take care of it right away.”
Martin notes the company’s reputation for unswerving service has more than paid off with families buying flooring from H.J. Martin & Son across generations.
“Customers are hard to come by,” he explains, “and we are very privileged to have some who are close friends and have been buying from us since the 1930s.”
Accordingly, close to 90% of its business is either repeat or referral. However, Martin says the company also maintains a strong focus on marketing itself through advertising and other means as, “There are always new people moving into the community who may have never heard of H.J. Martin and do not know our story.”
Part of its marketing involves maintaining a continually updated sales floor. “The industry changes every few years and we try to keep up-to-date with the most current products,” he says. If products are discontinued, the showroom is updated or remodeled to reflect those changes. In addition, H.J. Martin carries exclusive products which cannot be found anywhere else in Wisconsin.
The loyalty the Martins feel toward their customers also carries to its team. “There is a lot of tenure here with second and third generation employees,” he explains. “The commitment everyone shows is what drives me and everyone to continue on the business because so many people rely on it.”
Despite being the fourth generation of Martins to work at H.J. Martin & Son, David does not have a title at the company he joined five years ago. A point that does not seem to concern him.
“We haven’t really discussed it too much,” he jokes. “I’m just grateful for everyone who has been patient with and taught me. I get to learn and listen.”
Having grown up in the $120 million company, Martin knows there is still a lot to learn. Although its roots are in flooring, only 30% of the Carpet One and Starnet retailer’s business still comes from the category.
As each generation of Martin has joined the business, it has helped grow the company by expanding into related fields. Soon after Edward Martin, David’s father, joined the company, he saw an opportunity to grow the business by adding a drywall division.
That operation helped the company get its initial foot in the door with national retail chains like Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Target to help execute remodels and store-within-a-store concepts. Those jobs have necessitated the company being licensed to operate in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico.
Today, the drywall division accounts for approximately $20 million in annual sales. Comparable sales are also garnered from H.J. Martin’s glazier division.
Some of its more recent and visible projects include Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, and a 100,000-sq.ft. Cabela’s World’s Foremost Outfitter store in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Both projects utilized multiple divisions of the company working together in a way few others can.
One of the strengths Martin says the company leverages from its multiple divisions is to cross train its people to work across the various businesses. The cost savings it realizes from needing fewer people to complete a job has helped H.J. Martin gain new business by allowing it to bring in lower bids for new contracts, as well as saved customers valuable time.
“We are blessed to have talented installers who are very cross trained and have a Midwest work ethic,” he says. “We can send an installer for flooring who can also do drywall or carpentry. It is a competitive advantage where we can send one person instead of four.”
The diverse job opportunities within the company have also helped with H.J. Martin’s ability to retain staff.
“Because of our multiple divisions,” Martin explains, “no one is stuck in a career. If someone is not interested in flooring any more, they can go to other divisions.” The diverse skill set also allows the company to shift resources to busier divisions when others are slow.
When Mosbrucker joined the company a quarter-century ago, he “started out on the floor in the retail end of things, but it was not somewhere I wanted to end up.
“[Edward Martin] opened up a position which allowed me to have more freedom and create my own kind of job atmosphere,” Mosbrucker details. “It is why they hang on to a lot of people. If you work hard [the Martins] appreciate it and treat you fairly. They are willing to do just about anything when they see you are producing.
“It is not a typical business run with an iron fist,” he continues. “There are demands with expectations for productivity, but they are very family oriented and encourage us to take off for family events. They are good with that with everybody.”
Like his father before him, David made one of his first impactful stamps on the company by enhancing its fixtures division, National Retail Solutions, with a new merchandising segment. The company’s already existing skill set in carpentry and fixtures was augmented to provide additional labor and help its customers merchandise their shelves more quickly, sometimes shaving as much as 33% of the time originally planned.
With all the company’s successes over the years, its management still recognizes the need to innovate and expand to safeguard its future. Specifically, it joined both Carpet One and Starnet a little over a decade ago to “help us collaborate with some of the best minds and companies in flooring,” Martin says. “The groups make us better through trade shows and Webinars which help keep our team motivated and makes the whole company better.”
In addition, although the company has returned to pre-recession levels for projects, “the margins within the jobs haven’t improved to those levels yet.”
It is why the Martins have always kept their eyes and ears open for new opportunities without ever sacrificing its foundation.
“If we were just a flooring company,” he explains, “we would not be able to service the customer the way we do now. Our other revenue sources give us that capability. It is a very expensive business, but it is where we started and we are going to continue to deliver the best guest experience.”
Discussing his future within the company, Martin notes, “Just because you’re an Olympic athlete or gold medal winner, it does not mean your child will be too.
“The most capable person should run the company and that person doesn’t need the last name of Martin,” he says. “It should be the most experienced and qualified person. If that’s me that’s great, but I’ll always want the right thing for the company and to steer it the right way.”