Instead, in 1981, in my hometown of Denver, I knew I wanted to work in business and, quite frankly needed a job, as I was living away from home and paying for school. After answering an ad in the local newspaper, I accepted a job as an administrative assistant for a local commercial flooring company.
Colman Kahn, the owner of Kahn & Co., became my mentor. Although I was working in an administrative role in his company, I knew I wanted to develop my business skills. Colman saw the potential in me and was willing to give me an opportunity to grow in his company, provided I would put in the hard work necessary.
Being a small company at that time, I learned all aspects of the flooring business and learned to function in a multitude of roles. Part of my training was to study detailed information on carpet manufacturing and construction, and meet Colman at the office in the morning before other staff arrived, where I would “present” technical product details to him while he commented on and criticized my information and my presentation.
The training was a bit stressful, however, looking back, it provided the foundation of knowledge I needed to be successful. We were also trained in complete cradle to grave project management—doing our own take-offs, ordering, scheduling, etc.—which I would find to be invaluable later in my career.
After several years working in the office doing secretarial and administrative duties, I was promoted to showroom manager. In this position, I began working with architects and designers, and I loved the involvement with the exciting creative process of material specification. I was working with several influential designers in Denver and after a couple years managing the showroom, I moved into outside sales with the company.
When Kahn was sold to Shaw during the “distribution revolution” in the mid-’90s, I decided to move to another independent commercial flooring company. While I respected my new organization, I realized I had an opportunity to strike out on my own and be my own boss.
I was successful in my work, but realized I wanted to create an organization which had an independent spirit and which could embody a strong team of committed individuals. I wanted a smaller, more integrated team and I knew my best route to achieving this goal was to start my own company. My co-worker and good friend Tina Boyer shared these goals and, together, in 2000, we launched, Acierno-Boyer & Co.
Literally, we started the business at my kitchen table. Tina and I knew how to sell and we had a solid client list from our years in the industry. We were able to differentiate ourselves from most of our competition in that we specialized in partnering with architects and designers to help specify flooring products and suggest solutions. Plus, we were able to leverage our reputations as dependable, hard-working people who were very customer-focused.
Fortunately, we had absorbed basic project management from our prior companies and knew how to do all the tasks ourselves. When developing a project in the initial weeks, we retreated to my kitchen in the early dawn hours and spread plans out on the table to do takeoffs of prospective projects. To breakout the material and labor costs we headed into the office, generously provided by an architect friend while our showroom was being built.
We worked 24/7 in those early days with the singular goal of staying in the game and beginning to build a presence for our company. We didn’t expect to land meaningful business right away—at least for the first few months—and fully expected to spend this time marketing ourselves and our new company.
Remarkably, we underestimated our success. We received a good-sized order on our first day and, within the first four weeks, we were thrilled to land a major contract, which put us on the map. Through our track record and experience in the Denver market, we were able to secure bank financing even though Acierno-Boyer & Co. was a new business. Importantly, our vendors worked with us to provide needed materials and they helped to make the project come together.
Of course, being women in this industry presented its challenges, and we had to work a little bit harder to prove ourselves to some of the general contractors we worked with—especially while on jobsites. Eventually, with a solid track record, being a woman was no longer an issue.
As is the case in every business, the initial successes we experienced led to new projects and further success. Tina and I began to slowly add staff. First, my mother joined as the receptionist and, I am proud to say, she continues to work with us today. In addition, we quickly added one estimator, then another, and over time, our staff grew to include additional salespeople, project coordinators, project managers, etc. I am proud of the fact we managed our overhead very carefully, expanding our team based on business demands, while also surviving the downturn after 9/11.
Today, we have five outside salespeople (Editor’s note: a sixth salesperson was scheduled to join the company at press time), three estimators and three project managers/coordinators. Our salespeople continue to oversee their projects, although they work closely with the internal teams to ensure total end user satisfaction. I’m excited about our prospects for growth, which I forecast based on building new relationships while maintaining our existing ones, expanding our product offerings and continuing to provide excellent customer service.
In 2015, our company is celebrating our 15th anniversary. Looking back, the journey has been very rewarding. As our team grew, we were able to attract great people who work hard and still have fun in the process. When Tina decided to retire in 2009, we changed the company name to Acierno & Co. Tina continues to work with us from time to time on a special project basis.
So, what changes have I experienced over the past 15 years? First, the business has become tougher and more aggressive. Honestly, it is harder to have “fun” today than it was in the early days. The incidence of direct selling has grown dramatically and we have to stay ahead of the process as much as possible. The great value my company provides is the close partnership we have with the end users in our market and the reliance they have on our company to supply their on-going flooring needs.
Another strategy, which we implemented in 2013, was a floor care or maintenance business. Largely due to our membership in Starnet Commercial Flooring, we had a head start in developing this business. Starnet helped us to establish the foundation.
With this new business, I was able to offer an equity position in this new venture to one of my salespeople, Grant Barnes. We hired a manager and created a business infrastructure to operate with efficiency and cost effectiveness. For several years, we discussed making this commitment and, through the support of Starnet, we felt confident we could launch this extension to our installation business in order to strengthen our partnership with our end users.
After a year in this area, our success has grown beyond our expectations and the financial benefits are clear.
One of the proudest achievements in my career is to have been the first woman elected to the Starnet board—I am currently serving my second term as secretary. I attribute some of my company’s growth to the nurturing, educational environment that Starnet provides and the willingness of other members to share ideas and experiences. I have always considered joining Starnet to be one of the best business decisions I have ever made. The bonus is that I have made life-long friendships from this group.
I am grateful the Acierno & Co. team remains hard working and very close. I have four employees celebrating over 10 years with the company and even the newer employees are closely aligned with the balance of the team.
We have learned that we have to work harder and smarter to achieve success, but every member of the team knows [his] contribution is critical. No one employee works alone; instead, we work as an integrated team, enjoying our successes together and celebrating the rewards of our efforts collectively.
Cheryl Acierno is the founder, owner and president of Acierno & Co., a commercial flooring company located in Denver. Acierno has over 30 years of experience in the commercial flooring industry, primarily in sales and general management. She has owned her own business in Denver for 15 years and is currently serving on the board of Starnet Commercial Flooring. You can reach Cheryl at (303) 839-1448 or email@example.com.