Alex Markarian grew up in the family business, watching his grandfather, dad and uncle grow the company they launched in the ‘70s into a chain of Carpeteria stores—now Carpeteria Carpet One Floor & Home—in the San Diego area.
As it happens with many family businesses, when it came time for the third-generation Markarian to make his own way as an adult, he chose a completely different field to grow into. He moved up north to the San Francisco Bay Area and built a successful career in private wealth management.
Six years ago, however, an opportunity arose for him to rejoin the company he grew up in and aid its future growth. Now managing partner for the business, Markarian still works closely with his father to lead three stores in the area, the newest one in San Marcos, Calif.
In his revitalized role, Markarian is working through every segment of the company to re-identify and clarify strengths and weaknesses, and to move the business forward with the best available resources.
“Floor covering retail is challenging in that everybody kind of struggles a bit,” he explains. “No one is saying ‘My biggest problem is keeping up with all the orders.’ Everyone wants more traffic. I am trying to change what we have from a traditional flooring store to something more.”
Needless to say, when the local market opened up for a new Carpet One Floor & Home store about two years ago, the family came together to blend their 40 year-old brand with its requisite goodwill with one of the industry’s most preeminent retail brands.
“When we took the first meeting with Carpet One,” Markarian says, “knowing what we believed in how a company should act and work, for an independent dealer the resources they offer are invaluable. We just had to jump on it. There was no question we should join without hesitation.”
As he strengthens the company, Markarian is leaving no stone unturned. He personally is diving headfirst into each department.
“Working in every aspect from sales to installation, and marketing to business development,” he says, “has been the path of least resistance to discover where the company needs to be strengthened. By better understanding how the process goes, it is more beneficial to our customer.”
“While the traditional salesperson may be focused on individual transactions, we seek out relationships.”
A simple change was to model online retailers’ CSR techniques by ensuring his team not only gets an email address from every customer who has one, but also uses the information to communicate quickly and directly with consumers.
“It lets us communicate all the details with our customers,” he explains. “We inform them when the order is placed [with the mill]. And when it comes into the store, we send an email to let them know someone will call to schedule the installation. It not only makes it more efficient to handle a greater workload without hiring more people, it gives the customer peace of mind.”
Another way Markarian gives his customers greater peace of mind is by giving his team the tools they need to do their jobs properly.
Sean Moran, showroom manager for the San Marcos, Calif., location, notes, “We all have access to RFMS and that helps with quoting and giving customers estimates you can be confident in.”
In fact, Moran says the Markarians take it a step further by ensuring installations are fully communicated and hassle free.
“Our guys go in and do it right the first time,” he states. “The customer has to know this [floor] is going to last her 20 to 25 years, and the quality of the installation and customer’s confidence is based on the final impression of the last person that customer sees.”
Markarian also understands that referrals can come from more than just the traditional residential market. In addition to working various business networking avenues, he has expanded the company’s reach deeper into the insurance, builder and commercial markets.
“Strengthening those avenues will eventually bolster our retail channel because it ultimately leads to more customers through the door,” he says.
Once in the door, Markarian is working to keep those customers longer by training his sales advisors to focus on relationship building and not just transaction counts and dollars.
“It is really just getting everyone in the organization on the same page for what we are trying to accomplish and helping them improve where needed,” he elaborates. “While the traditional salesperson may be focused on individual transactions, we seek out relationships.”
Helping to set up the sales team for success is Natalie Markarian, vice president of sales.
“My sister’s strength is sales and business development,” he explains. “She helps our sales team understand how to manage business and network. She teaches them everything from how to write an email and communication basics, to listening skills and how to prepare and give a presentation. We do that training in-house and find it gratifying to help our sales people be the best they can be. It helps them succeed and, in turn, helps our organization succeed.”
Moran notes that the Markarians are also supportive of their team by regularly visiting every store.
“They motivate us to sell more,” he says. “It is a family business where we see a family member every day. It is a good working environment where they are very involved in their showrooms.”
That focus also translates to a more curated shopping experience for the customer. Products are grouped by style and type rather than manufacturer, and Markarian is keen to highlight a representative selection rather than everything under the sun.
“It makes the buying process a lot easier,” Moran notes. “The customer is not swamped with a ridiculous amount of product,” Markarian confirms. “We have to earn our customers’ trust and show them we have their best intentions in mind when showing them our product selection without overwhelming them.”
In the end, Markarian says the company’s success is predicated on the sales team.
“We want our professionals to be the best in product and service knowledge,” he says, “and they need to know how to communicate and listen, and set proper expectations. Really the whole basis is we are going to be demanding of our team; we want them to be the best at what they do. If they want to get there, we will help them.”
The biggest question is if the approach works. For Markarian, it has meant more and better referrals, as well as increased sales of 35% since 2012.
“It’s all about the people,” he concludes. “If you have good dedicated professionals who want to see their department thrive, it is going to be good. The days of waiting for customers to walk through the door are over.”