“Obviously, we want to do everything right,” says Jon Pierce, general manager of Pierce Flooring & Design, headquartered in Billings, Mont. “If we do something wrong we take care of it. Even when it is a vendor issue, we take care of it right away and deal with the vendor later.”
A simple statement: One that espouses a core philosophy at the company, which has drawn both new and return customers through its doors since 1939.
Although Montana is the fourth largest state in the union by land mass, the Big Sky Country only recently reached a population of 1 million and still has more cattle than people, Pierce quips. “It’s a huge place with nobody in it.”
As such, he notes, “negative word of mouth travels quickly. Relationships and reputation prevail and are incredibly important in more rural areas. If you don’t take care of people it’s a recipe for failure.”
That is why “being genuinely honest and sincere with customers and taking extremely good care of them,” has been a recipe for success for the company. And that success is easily measured by $35 million in annual sales for the flooring division of this multifaceted enterprise.
Pierce’s grandfather, George, was already an entrepreneur with 15 years under his belt selling used cars when he branched into the flooring business selling linoleum in Billings. The business was expanded to include carpet after his sons John, Frank and George L., returned from World War II, with the soft surface sold from one side of the building, cars on the other, and linoleum and tile sold out of the basement. On the other side of the sales floor, George Pierce also evolved the business over time toward recreational vehicles and manufactured housing, as well as leasing.
Today, the company is managed by the third generation of Pierces and has seven flooring stores—three full service Pierce Flooring & Design Centers; and four outlet stores in the form of three Pierce Carpet Outlets, as well as The Carpet Barn, the only store not to bear the Pierce name.
Although not a principal in the company, Jon Pierce has worked in the family business for almost 50 years and in pretty much every aspect of the trade from installation to sales, to buying and marketing. He has been general manager for the Pierce group of the company’s flooring division since 1998, while his cousin Ron, the company’s owner, focuses on the leasing, RV and manufactured housing side.
The fourth generation is also involved in the company as Ron’s sons Jake and Russell work in both sides of the business and are respectively positioned to lead the flooring and leasing divisions when the times come.
Under Jon’s leadership, the flooring division has grown to include all surfaces as well as cabinet design, with 120 people in its workforce, not including sub-contracted installation teams. And, where carpet once represented 85% of the total business, today it encompasses only 50% of the company’s sales with hardwood flooring showing strong growth and COREtec LVT from USFloors generating strong consumer interest.
The company is active in everything from residential to commercial sales, including new construction and builder, as well as contract. Pierce notes although the commercial side of the business can be beneficial, “a $500,000 job [is generally] lower margin, higher headache, slower to pay and lower cash flow. If everything goes smoothly it can be very lucrative, but it is still challenging.”
Though staunchly independent, the company is a member of both Starnet and the National Flooring Alliance (NFA).
Pierce says both groups provide a great deal of advantages that are not just financial.
“The sharing and networking with like kinds of businesses” is a key benefit, he says. As members are all larger retailers with a high baseline annual sales volume, there are many opportunities to share best practices.
One of those best practices Pierce is happy to share is to continually train your team.
“We are very proactive in that we like to go after business,” he explains. “We are heavily focused on continuous training; not just in product knowledge, but in selling skills and techniques.”
Pierce adds, “We continually invest in trying to become better without assuming that what we do now is always going to be the best.”
Another element helping to grow the company over the years has been its commitment to the communities it is in. As noted above, Pierce believes relationships and reputation are key motivators for future business and the company encourages a culture where “everybody from management down to all levels is involved in their communities.”
Giving back is very important, he adds, “because it is relationship based.”
On the marketing side, the company is heavily integrated with social networking, maintaining a strong web presence and aggressive marketing and advertising across its region. Each of the three Flooring & Design stores, which represent two-thirds of the retailer’s overall flooring business, also host two one-day private sales every year which Pierce says, “have been very successful.”
He notes, however, marketing has changed dramatically in recent years.
“Where we used to be able to do more shotgun marketing, it is not effective anymore,” Pierce explains. “We used to have people waiting outside our doors when we ran a full page ad in the newspaper; that doesn’t work anymore.
“The new form of marketing,” he says, “is targeted by age group, length of home ownership, income and family size. You have to drill down.”
Also, while some retailers have moved away from selling and promoting consumer credit, Pierce has found it to be a “great tool to help increase business.” So much so the company is one of the top resellers of the medium in the country.
He says one of the most effective practices of the company has been to always under promise and over deliver. Thankfully for Pierce, much of that under promising comes from its competitors.
“We constantly hear from customers who have been to two or three stores that we are the only one to get back to them in a timely manner,” he says. “Exceeding customer expectations is important to us.”
One such area where Pierce has worked to exceed expectations has been in recreating the showroom experience at its flagship store in Billings. The 48,000 square foot property features 20,000 square feet of showroom with displays that can recreate a customer’s room onto a big screen using their photos. Solatubes have been strategically placed to bring in natural light to the showroom so colors are not tainted by fluorescent lighting. Kids have their own zone to play while their parents shop. Customers can also lounge or discuss their design plans with the sales team at the coffee bar. There is also a separate builder showroom along with conference and project areas, as well as commercial areas featuring court flooring, man cave products, etc.
Even though he has worked hard to keep the company current with today’s consumers, Pierce is quick to point out the business’ history and longevity are strong selling points for customers.
Where competitors sometimes work hard to sell warranties instead of dreams, he easily counters with, “Warranties are only as good as the business you buy them from if the business is still in business. With our history here, our company has one of the longest warranties in the industry.”
By always working to exceed expectations and always solve customer issues, Pierce believes the company is poised to remain at the forefront and continue with its “extended warranty” for years to come.