Upon entering the flooring industry, I knew that I didn’t want to work for someone. My time in reality television and running my own small production company doing work locally for small businesses had made that clear. Originally the plan was to become a sand-and-finish guy with crews. That didn’t pan out well. When my first boss ran out of work, I couldn’t find work with another sand-and-finish crew at the time. I ended up at a second business that installed laminate and engineered hardwood. The owner sold flooring but we still got projects where he didn’t provide products. It opened my eyes a little to different possibilities. It was then that I realized selling product meant extra gravy and that running crews wouldn’t be enough for me. The dream shifted to wanting a retail store, sales people, operations people, warehouse people, and in-house crews.
The big dream still exists because it doesn’t happen overnight, however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a little cheddar in your pocket. Living in Phoenix has provided me with many opportunities that a lot of people don’t have. There are more than seven distributors in town. Some of them will set up accounts with you while you don’t own a brick-and-mortar space. They will charge you a higher price than a displaying dealer, but it’s still a better price than shops I tried to work with would offer me. So here I was with only handsets and setting up estimates.
The system worked. I moved product. People would buy based on just a handset piece, 7”x10” or 12”, and they would select flooring. I couldn’t believe it. If there was hesitation, I would work it out to get them a larger sample piece to see. I could borrow it from the distributor for 24 hours. I would then find out what local shops were selling these products for and match their pricing. No, I didn’t get as much profit as them, but I also wasn’t undercutting my market. I was going with what most retailers were selling for, and of course, I would always pick the most expensive retailer. My margins were tighter, but I also didn’t have the overhead of a store. To bring out some samples, pick up and deliver some flooring, the extra money was amazing. I was addicted.
During this time, I would get asked about other materials that I didn’t have access to. I could always find them though. Between a few shop owners that I knew and the local ProSource, I had access to just about anything people would ask for. I wouldn’t make as much as if I sold it myself, but some extra money in my pocket was generally better than nothing. I’ll be honest: I would let sales go if I couldn’t make over $0.75 per square foot. To take on all the risk for such a small profit just never made sense to me. When you sell the material, you are responsible not only for the workmanship but also the material. If something comes up, it can take a lot of time to deal with. I need to make sure the juice is worth the squeeze. In these cases, having a relationship with your local ProSource can be a benefit. A 10% kickback is better than nothing and they sold the material. You can set up similar deals with retailers where you don’t sell the material—you just get a kickback on material from clients you send in. There are plenty of ways to work the system, but I was never truly happy with other people touching my pie.
One thing that always drove me nuts was how you had to have a brick-and-mortar location to be a retailer. There were people grandfathered in that were allowed to do the mobile dealer thing. Why couldn’t I? I had missed the boat. That’s fine! How do I make this work? Well, you start out with taking what you can get. Make sales and be profitable with them. Anything to help your fledgling company to get off of the ground.
I never include material sales in what I need to make a day for my business calculations, so a lot of the profit I have been able to pull out of my company has come from the material sales. They have essentially gotten my wife and I out debt from our school loans in two years and I hope to pay off our small house in 2022. To me, it doesn’t make sense to only install floors. I am there measuring anyways, so I might as well show some samples and pick up some extra income. It only requires a trip to the distributor to pick it up and deliver. You can pay most of the distributors a delivery fee to and they will bring it out. Then you just have to move it into the client’s house. In all honesty, you could write your contract up that the material gets delivered and the client needs to move it from drop-off location into the house. I wouldn’t recommend it, but you do you, boo.
So where do we take this all? I recently acquired 255 square feet of showroom space. I had been looking at commercial space for a long time and really didn’t want to spend more than $500 per month. I’m not going to be there a lot. I’m not going to use it a lot. I just didn’t want a crazy amount of overhead. I finally found this little office being rented out in a larger space and asked if I could create a showroom in it. The landlord approved it. I applied for accounts at all the distributors I didn’t have accounts with, and I am now a boutique retail store owner.
It has already changed how I do business and talk about my business. Inquiries about my services include being able to mention a by-appointment-only showroom to select your materials. I will then pick up selected samples during our consultation and measurement. I have way more options available now. Clients can walk in and see more than a handset; they can see multiple options in the same color. They see options that did not exist in the few options I had before. My first sale was made less than a week after I opened. Multiple samples were also checked out that same week. I don’t even have all of my displays yet, so there are options missing. Anyone that steps foot into the space, though, gets a special on-on-one consultation with premium products to make sure their home will look amazing.
The 255 square feet of showroom space doesn’t go far, but it goes far enough. I have added a better revenue stream to my business. I can try and build relationships with contractors that don’t want to deal with the sales side and have them move product for me and offer very lucrative rates to buy flooring—better than I was ever offered. I would not have made this move if I could have found a store that offered me what I felt was a fair markup for making a phone call. I always did the handwork of bringing the client in and showing them the materials myself or borrowing the samples and bringing them out. I would not waste the sales staff time. I let them deal with clients that walked in.
Products in my showroom are all hand-selected by me. Luxury vinyl plank products have to have a stone composite core, a 20-mil or thicker wear layer, and be at least 4 mm thick with a 1 mm padding for a total of 5 mm or more. Engineered hardwood products must have at least a 3 mm wear layer. I want people to be able to sand their floors in the future. I also don’t want to deal in the lower end of the business. People don’t come to me because I am similar to a box store. They come to me because I have set myself apart with my quality and integrity. All of that costs something, but it needs to shine through in the products as well. I don’t mind being the expensive guy. I thrive on it. Finding the people that truly appreciate craftsmanship and value my time with the prices I set make running the business worth it.
Don’t get hung up with what you can do on your knees. There is a much larger industry out there and you can play within to find areas that you never knew existed. As long as you are installing, though, you may as well find a way to differentiate yourself from the next guy or gal and make a little extra while you’re at it.