At Surfaces, for example, I sometimes station myself with my all my paraphernalia—my camera, tripod and microphone—at a strategic, high traffic intersection on the show floor and buttonhole some of the innocent passersby and invite them to talk with me.
It’s a great way to recruit interesting people, get a feel for what’s going on around the industry and the country, and gather both video and audio content for TalkFloor. I especially like approaching retailers. I feel that most of the dealers who invest on a trip to Las Vegas for the show are pretty serious and looking for new ideas and new products for their sales floors, although I have come across some, very few I might add, that came to town for the buffets.
One especially interesting retailer I imposed on at the recent show was Rick Oderio, president of Conklin Bros., a three-location operation with stores in San Jose, Fremont and San Mateo, Calif. The especially interesting element of this conversation was the location. Never having interviewed a dealer, or anyone else for that matter from the Silicon Valley before, this was a great opportunity. And being an Easterner, I see Californians as pretty much marching to a different drummer anyway, so seizing on a retailer whose customer base was made up of a lot of code writing, millennial techies-types seemed like a real find to me.
To start off, Conklin Bros. is an operation with some pretty impressive history going back to 1880. That’s when Frank and Joe Conklin opened The Pacific Steam Carpet Cleaning and Renovating Works in San Francisco, cleaning and renovating carpets, making pickups and deliveries in a wagon pulled by a pair of mules. The business, keeping the Conklin Bros. name, morphed into a retail floor covering chain and was taken over by Richard Oderio, who retired in 1989, when his son Rick took it over.
As fate would have it, Rick happened by me and my video setup at Surfaces. Here are some of the excerpts of that conversation, but you can view our entire two-part discussion on the TalkFloor.com website, in the archives, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’ website, floortrendsmag.com.
TF: How would you describe the economy in Silicon Valley? Would you say that it’s better than what most retailers are experiencing in the rest of the country?
Oderio: We are in a very exciting economy and business is fantastic. Lots of jobs are being driven in the Silicon Valley economy and it’s driving a lot of business. I would say that business is substantially better here than it is in other parts of the country. But that does create other types of challenges.
TF: Can you elaborate on those challenges?
Oderio: We have Google and Apple that attract a lot of young people for jobs. Starting salaries are very high. So there’s lots of competition to get good workers—that’s the largest problem.
The second is the traffic problem. When we’re out measuring homes the traffic is absolutely unbearable and very costly for us. As a result we have, for some time, made the decision to keep our stores open later. We keep our stores open until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on weeknights and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. We feel we have to be available for our customers.
TF: Are these well off millennials buying houses?
Oderio: Millennials are making big money; their wages are very high. They are buying nice homes, buying home improvement products and fancy cars—they like spending money. That’s the good news.
The bad news for us is that we don’t see enough of them in our stores. We have made some changes to attract them and we’re currently doing some imaging. We have a very strong brand in the Bay area, but to be successful over a long period of time we need to accept the challenge and reach the younger demographic and get them online and into our stores. We are getting some of them, we just not getting enough of them.
TF: Where do you feel these millennials are buying floor coverings, at the big box stores?
Oderio: We had the opportunity to work with the advertising department at San Jose State recently. We were able to get some great ideas from them and the surveys that we did with the recent graduating class indicated that millennials were indeed buying at the big home improvement players.
We also do a great deal of guerilla marketing. We’re out in the community with our salespeople and managers. We do a lot of networking; we work with local charities, the little league and the chamber of commerce, and it seems to us the challenges we have regarding shopping local retailers are universal with independent small businesspeople across the board.
Perhaps a good way to tackle this is as an industry.
TF: What’s your experience with millennials and attracting them online?
Oderio: We feel a major factor is the time. Yes, we have well-paid millennials in our area who have the money to spend. They also spend a great deal of time at work, leaving early in the morning and staying late and, on top of that, many have young families.
In order for us to better concentrate on this group we have decided to bring our showroom them. We’ve started working with a mobile showroom. We’re fine-tuning our efforts in that area now, and we feel very strongly that it will add a great deal to our overall efforts.
TF: You are in the middle of Silicon Valley. I suspect that means you pay special attention to your website. Tell us about it.
Oderio: I love our website; we just redid it. It’s comprehensive; it does very well on the search engines. We decided to put lots of videos on the site—we post quite a number of installation videos on it and we even do a live video feed in our store. When we have an installer on a job we have a live video feed of that installation.
We have pictures of all of our salespeople on the site. Our showrooms also have virtual showrooms where a customer can ‘walk in’ and ‘look around.’ We redesigned the site about a year ago and we are constantly changing and improving it. We’re getting good traffic numbers [from it] and in the store and our business is really good—but our clientele is still older.
As I said, we need younger customers so we can remain a viable business over the long term. We have also been working at hiring younger salespeople. I feel a 25 year old would probably prefer talking with a knowledgeable 25 year old than a knowledgeable 57 year old.
TF. What are your views of the competition you will be facing in the future? You have the big box home improvement players to deal with and they are becoming more aggressive online. Many feel the major online companies—Amazon, Google, BuildDirect and others—are becoming a great deal more aggressive and have their sights set on gaining share in areas like floor coverings. What are your thoughts on the future and what the marketplace will look like in the years to come?
Oderio: I invite organizations like Google, Amazon and the big box players into the business. I don’t see them as competition as much as I see them as partners.
When I see an ad on TV or on the radio promoting floor coverings, I’m thankful that someone is making the public think about our product. As long as they are investing in our business I don’t have a hard time with that.
I look more at car dealerships, vacations and other things that consumers spend their money on as being our prime competitors. What we need to do is take a little piece from the automobile industry, a small percent from the vacation industry and small percentages from a number of other industries and the next thing you know this could be a $25 billion industry.
Again you can watch this interview in its entirety on TalkFloor.com in the archives.
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this interesting interview than space permits. To see the two-part conversation in its entirety visit TalkFloor.com, click on the TalkFloor TV logo and scroll down to the parts titled, “Rick Oderio, President, Conklin Bros, San Jose, Calif.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at email@example.com, or Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org.