Ted Gregerson found true love as a young man. Working for a Carpet One store in his hometown right out of high school he discovered flooring was in his blood. His love for people, integrity and helping customers create beautiful homes inspired him to his core.
In order to ensure he learned everything he could, Gregerson worked his way up in the industry with a few different retailers before leaping in and taking the reins at his own store, Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor.
During the course of his apprenticeship, Gregerson had the opportunity to work for another Abbey Carpet store where he was impressed by the franchisor’s Phil Guttierez, chairman and CEO, and Steve Silverman, president and COO, and their no-nonsense approach which gives members the ability to select from a wide assortment of product to meet local needs.
Once he was ready to move to the next level and become an entrepreneur in his own right 18 years ago his first stop was with the brand he felt worked best with his viewpoint and methodology.
“What sells in New York or Los Angeles isn’t necessarily going to sell in Anniston, Ala.,” he explains. “Where some groups want to force feed stuff to members, Abbey doesn’t force feed anything. I liked the idea that Abbey offers a buffet and you’re able to choose what is best for you. Each Abbey member is able to choose what is best for their market.”
Another reason he decided to go the route of a national brand: “When a customer walks into our store, Mrs. Jones gets the idea we are part of something bigger and not just a mom-and pop-store. Our displays and POP have a consistent look that is more professional and work to give the customer more confidence when buying from us.
“We may be $400 more than the competition [on a similar bid],” he continues, “but us being part of a big group has a lot to do with her buying from us.”
The plan worked well. By 2003 Gregerson had grown the business enough to warrant an 11,000-sq.-ft. warehouse facility to support his 6,500-sq.-ft. showroom by providing a site to house merchandise and from which he could dispatch installation crews. But, not one to miss an opportunity, he decided after a few months to open the warehouse to the public as Floor Depot, selling rems and rolls in a no frills atmosphere.
As the new business was approximately five miles from the Abbey retail store, Gregerson found customers shopping both locations without realizing they were under the same helm. Since they operated under different business models, he was able to satisfy those more value-oriented customers while at the same time serving those who understood the value offered by his more full service brand.
In 2006, Gregerson celebrated his 10-year anniversary as an entrepreneur two ways: First, he hired an outside salesperson to expand the business beyond replacement retail and into outside builds. Second, he went to the “buffet table” and rebranded his Floor Depot location under another Abbey moniker, Floors To Go. That brand had similar roots to Abbey’s, being founded on the West Coast in 1976 and growing nationally when Guttierez and Silverman brought it into Abbey’s fold around 2001.
Gregerson likens the Floors To Go model to that of a Lowe’s where people come in to buy available stock with few displays. On the other hand, his 6,500-sq.-ft. Abbey store is all showroom.
Between the two stores, Gregerson has achieved annual revenues of $3 million from the Abbey store and another $2 million from the Floors To Go operation and now “pretty much has a monopoly on the flooring business in our county,” he says.
The growth in sales also warranted growth in two other ways: A year after rebranding the Floors To Go operation, Gregerson doubled the size of the facility to 22,000 square feet to meet the growing company’s needs, and a few years ago he opened another Abbey store in Birmingham, Ala., to seek out new opportunities. That location, managed by his brother, Jason, is already doing approximately $1.5 million in sales.
Midas touch and love of the industry notwithstanding, Gregerson grew the business with an attention to detail and the conviction to roll up his sleeves and work every aspect of the business.
“Ted rides the tow motor, rolls up his sleeves to clean the bathroom floor and picks up the trash,” effuses Ron Hurley, childhood friend and vice president. “Everyone works together to get things done and it promotes team spirit.”
Gregerson has also found success by not only staying ahead of the curve, but by promoting continuing education for his team and by maintaining a willingness to expand into complementary businesses.
In the early part of the millennium, he explains, “Everyone used to sell carpet by the yard and everything else by the foot. We were the first to change to square foot pricing in our area. Our competition said we were trying to confuse customers when, really, we were simplifying things.
“If we know it’s going to benefit our customers and is the right thing to do,” Gregerson says, “we are not afraid to be the leaders. Now, most [flooring retailers] sell everything by the square foot.”
The willingness to be at the forefront of change is also why he expanded the business to offer tile beginning in 2008.
“There is no limit to what type of work we can do in tile,” he notes. “Today we’re doing counters and backsplashes, and have grown into granite countertops. If we had never been willing to learn that part of the business, we would be missing out on a lot of sales; just this year, granite sales account for about a quarter of a million dollars.”
Every expansion and line extension has been a learning opportunity for Gregerson and his team. It is why he puts a strong focus on constant development but is not content with only having weekly or monthly sales meetings.
“Twice a year,” he says, “we close down our operations for training day. On those two education days, suppliers come in and speak with us on tile, the latest in LVT, stone, etc. We invest a lot in personnel training to make sure our people remain informed.”
Ben Lasslett, manager of the Floors To Go store, adds, “What makes us stand out is Ted treats everyone with respect and dignity. He provides the training people need to be successful, and both he and [Hurley] are always there if we run into difficulty.
“We are always backed by people who have the knowledge to make you successful,” he continues. “It’s definitely the best company I’ve ever worked for.”
That sense of support and loyalty has translated into an extremely low turnover rate for Gregerson.
“Even though 22 installer crews are subs, they are part of the team and have been with us for years,” he notes. “When you are able to maintain your team, it makes people feel good. We have the same faces in our store today that were there 16 years ago.”
Another big win for Gregerson over the years has been his annual Spectacular Home Sale. Begun 11 years ago, the one-day sale generates close to 15% of the annual sales for his original Abbey store. A similar two-day event at his Floors To Go location generates about 10% of that business’ annual revenue, and another one-day Spectacular Home Sale at the Birmingham location last April brought in over $200,000.
He believes a key component to those promotions’ success has been his insistence they are only offered once a year.
“People put private sales on too often,” Gregerson says. “If you get greedy or try to do it twice a year, you end up ruining a good thing. Our Anniston promotion [which runs on the first Thursday of every March] has become so popular customers start calling in December to find out when the sale is.”
Top line numbers aside, Gregerson points out they mean nothing without profitability. Akin to the automotive industry, consumers have been trained to believe flooring is a negotiable commodity in the store. Because of that, he is not afraid to have good mark-ups on products as it gives value to the customer.
At the end of the day, though, an uncompromising commitment to service carries far more weight with his client base.
“Everybody says it,” he laughs, “but we take care of our customers. We treat them the way we want to be treated. We have a 60-day no questions asked warranty so if a customer wants to try that shade of green, go ahead and try it. If she doesn’t like it, we’ll replace it.”
Hurley echoes, “We always try to do the right thing for customers. It’s a good philosophy for business and makes it a good company to work for. [Gregerson’s] main objective is to make the customer happy as far as can reasonably be done.
“You hear a lot of stories how other companies do things,” he concludes. “We always try to put ourselves in customers’ shoes. It’s nice to work with somebody whose values and beliefs are in line with my own—to do the right thing. I feel this is the best way to do it and I feel good about it at the end of the day.”