While Laurie, CEO, had previously led the company in its multi-state growth, within five years of that positioning he decided to retrench and keep the business focused on the relationships it had already developed locally.
“We got our wings clipped pretty well by trying to expand one product and one service—the sale and installation of commercial flooring,” explains the third owner of the business founded by his father. “One of the glaring things we saw was: Even though we had advantageous products and services, we didn’t have the customer relationships [in the new markets]. This significant disadvantage put tremendous pressure on us from a financial and management control standpoint.”
In the company’s local area, however, despite having the relationships, Laurie was concerned about the possibility of business erosion in a stagnant market.
Today, the 65-year-old Jack Laurie Group is seeking new business by expanding its product and service offerings in Indiana, currently in Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, and Lafayette. The company has six operating divisions—Jack Laurie Commercial Floors, Jack Laurie Cleaning Services, Jack Laurie Interiors Contracting, Jack Laurie Specialty Surfaces, United Flooring (union company), and Jack Laurie Home Floor Designs, a Flooring America affiliate.
“If we were going to just keep selling commercial flooring, our market share was going to be limited because [our] city wasn’t growing,” he says. “Our choices to grow the business were either geographically or by expanding our product segments.”
Learning from the retrenchment of the past, Laurie decided to take a calculated risk with both options. He grew his product offerings by purchasing a local interior contracting business, Delagrange Decorating, and incorporated its people and offerings as Jack Laurie Group’s interior contracting division based in Ft. Wayne. Geographically, he added operations for his residential and commercial businesses in Indianapolis and Lafayette.
“We did a good job assimilating the [Delagrange] business into our offerings to where our Ft. Wayne business is now three times the size,” Laurie says.
Even then, the changes did not come without some “bloody noses” as he grew the business. But the moves have allowed his company to service a bigger part of the construction project.
“Now,” he says, “when we’re bidding [the complete] interiors, we are encompassing between 8% to 10% of the project. It gives us more say at project meetings and we seem to be more relevant and important in the construction process.”
Despite his own success in diversifying, Laurie warns it is “difficult to get into different business segments, especially when you consider it is hard enough running a business in the segment we are already in.
“I believe it’s a good idea because there are definitely synergies and economies of scale to capture,” he adds, “but there are also many differences and there will be some carnage. There’s really a trick to running these things, it’s not for the faint of heart.”
What worries Laurie when it comes to other retailers seeking to diversify is “adding additional products and services is much more difficult than people think. There are nuances to these businesses that create a steep learning curve.”
An example he offers was a move into the commercial furniture business. “That did not work out and we exited the business,” he laughs. “The buying process was very different. The manufacturers’ involvements were completely different than what we were used to. Bottom line, there were too many nuances and differences for us to get our hands around.”
But the challenge can be fruitful.
“Our due diligence is much more detailed and cautious today,” he explains. “Where we might have been too optimistic in the past, we find out earlier in the process when an acquisition or new product/service is not the right fit for us.”
When Laurie purchased the company in 1995 from the person who had brought the predominantly commercial flooring business from his father and company founder, Jack Laurie, annual revenues peaked at around $1.5 million. The younger Laurie has grown sales to approximately $35 million, with approximately 80% of sales from residential and commercial flooring, and the remaining 20% from the cleaning services and interiors divisions.
A good portion of the growth has also come by investing in technology to help manage customers and his team.
“We are putting more and more money in Internet marketing,” he explains. “We have a program to constantly improve our organic search results. We are also investing in paid ads and pay per click advertising. We are also getting more and more involved with social media and have people in our company who keep an active presence on eight social media sites including Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc.
“It is our No. 1 [marketing] initiative right now and is producing results,” Laurie says, “but we are learning as we go.”
On the management side, technology has given the company a competitive advantage. “The thing I am probably most proud of is we committed 10 years ago to have a technological slant to our business. One example is GPS tracking. While it can come across as a big brother oversight system, it has helped our productivity significantly.”
“The GPS serves as our time card for our hourly employees—as many as 200 over the summer months—so we know what time they are on the job,” Laurie says. “We also have geo fences which are tracked on our field superintendents’ phones so they get a notification once employees are inside the zone—job sites. We also know when they leave a job and, if we have a service call, we know who is close and we can send over.”
Another element to help Jack Laurie Group grow its residential flooring business has been its affiliation with CCA Global Partners’ Flooring America division.
“It has been tremendous for us from a training and resource standpoint,” he explains. “They have helped with designing our showrooms and have what I believe is the best merchandising and private labelling system out there.”
The focus on education and training extends to working with vendors as well. Laurie notes as a Dal-Tile Statements dealer all of his retail sales reps are going to the manufacturer to learn its products “inside and out.
“When I was younger,” he notes, “training was ‘throw everyone in the deep end of the pool and see who can figure it out.’ As I’ve gotten older I have found more benefit in hiring the right person and [investing] in their ongoing training. That knowledge base is what drives their confidence, performance and tenure with us.”
In terms of competition, Laurie believes he has positioned the company well for the future.
“Big boxes are big and scary and have a large market share, but in our markets, they really focus on the lower end customer,” he says. “They are the dominant player for anything below $2 per square foot, but that’s not our market. We respect the Internet retailers and they will continue to grow with commodity goods, but high-end flooring is still a see it, touch it, feel it type of purchase.
“We are dealing with custom home builders, designers and high-end walk-in retail customers who need our design expertise, project management expertise and installation expertise. They have a million questions,” Laurie concludes. “We’re uniquely positioned from other independent dealers in how we’ve invested in training, technology and the future. It sets us apart.”