The original storefront evolved out of his father’s installation business, working primarily with carpet and vinyl. By the early ’90s, the company had grown enough to warrant getting “involved in the tile game” by directly importing ceramic tile. One hard surface led to another, and Nonn’s soon added wood floors to the mix.
As the company’s expertise in hard surfaces grew—especially in tile—so did the need to stay current in the category by attending the industry segment’s annual trade show, Coverings. While on that learning path, the Nonns decided to move up from the floor and into granite countertops by the end of the last millennium, later growing to the point of needing a fabrication facility of its own, complete with in-house hand crafters.
In 2002, the company added products that were more than another surface top, as clients began pushing Nonn’s to deliver cabinets, as well. The idea, Nonn explains, was for the single family builder- and commercial-accounts to have a single point of contact on their sites, making their own jobs more manageable.
Over the course of that time, Nonn’s also added two more Wisconsin storefronts, in Waukesha and Madison, while keeping its headquarters in the Middleton location.
Then came the recession. Revenues shrank significantly and many people lost their jobs. The lessons from that time were difficult, but Nonn realized they would help the company in the long run.
“When the recession hit, it was one of the turning points in my career,” he explains. “It hit us just as bad as a lot of other places. We lost half our business in one year and had to do some layoffs. That was not fun.
“At that time,” Nonn continues, “I vowed we would get smarter and look further ahead. Since then, we’ve diversified [our offerings] to help us not have to do that again.”
Part of that restructuring: Two years ago, Nonn and three long-time employees—Kelly Lehr, Jeff Nehmer and Steve Ballweg—purchased the company from his father, with Nonn maintaining a majority share of the business. His father continues to work for the company as a consultant.
In the new structure Nonn manages overall business relationships, direction and opportunities, while the others see to the day-to-day operations. Lehr is manager of the Middleton headquarters and leads the retail division, all showrooms and showcasing; Nehmer handles the commercial part of the business, including bidding and troubleshooting, and Ballweg oversees the installation segment, directing both in-house and sub-contracted crews.
Although Nonn’s partners in the business are not “blood relatives, they are family,” he says. “We are very much a family business and will be for a long time. In today’s world, you work so much that you spend more time with people from the office than your family and they are seen as family members as well.”
Nonn adds, even with the partners, it is still very much a Nonn family business, as two of his sisters work in the company, as well as quite a few cousins, aunts and uncles. As with any family business, there are sometimes struggles, “but as you get through them they make you a little bit closer.”
Earlier this year, Nonn’s also seized an opportunity to fill a gap for appliance retailers in the community when a local company closed its doors and his company hired much of its workforce.
“They were looking for an opportunity and we jumped on board with it and created a new division,” he notes.
Capitalizing on the 30 new teammates’ relationships with appliance manufacturers, Nonn’s revamped showrooms in its Middleton and Waukesha stores of 4,000 square feet and 6,500-plus square feet, respectively, to create vignettes highlighting the company’s ability to offer customers a complete package for their homes.
That philosophy of keeping everything under one roof carries all the way through the company down to the installer level. “We don’t just bring anybody on,” Nonn reinforces. “We are not just selling product, we are selling an image—someone’s dream. We want to make sure [everyone involved does] a good job with good quality work being the real important thing.”
To help ensure his customers are getting their dreams fulfilled, “The majority of our sales team are interior designers,” he adds. “Not only do they offer the whole package [now], they help customers know their color and trend choices are correct.”
On the financial side, the retailer saw peak sales of over $40 million leading up to the last recession. In the two years since Adam took the helm of the family business, Nonn’s has grown sales more than 40% and is on pace to grow even more this year as 2013’s numbers were surpassed before the end of the third quarter.
With the sales growth, Nonn has also been able to rebuild his workforce to the tune of 135 people across its three stores.
Another facet in the company’s growth has been its ability to leverage marketing and build its place as not only a leader in the community, but an integral part of its every day functions. In addition to traditional marketing in newspapers and television for its residential business, Nonn has worked to leverage social media to the company’s advantage, as well as joined forces with other local businesses to create community events.
A recent example was an event called Brava Night Out: Midsummer Tastings from the Farm. In addition to a farm-to-table experience where the Middleton showroom was reinvented as a fine dining establishment for an evening, the exclusive, invitation only night featured a guest speaker from a local farm, a myriad of tasting plates and beverage pairings from a local distillery.
Marketing efforts on the commercial side are more traditionally focused on face-to-face meetings, involvement in various business associations and meet-and-greets. A company strength for the builder clients is the ability to offer a complete package deal.
All in all, much of the company’s recent diversification and marketing efforts have been part of Nonn’s determination to focus on its brand image in hopes of ensuring the business will easily weather the next recession or market correction when it happens.
The business plan has paid more than just financial dividends for the company. Nonn’s has been recognized as a Star of Madison retailer for each of the last five years, topping the flooring and granite categories, while placing as a finalist in the cabinetry segment. The consumer recognition award is based on reader votes from the Wisconsin State Journal, as well as votes on Madison.com.
Proof in the pudding: Nonn points out everyone knows The Home Depot and Lowe’s. “In Madison, everybody knows Nonn’s.”