Interview by Kemp Harr
It’s a new day for Anthony Minite and his now unencumbered California based commercial carpet and rug business. And it’s also a new day for the specifiers and end-users in the contract market.For two decades, the market has seen increased consolidation whittle down the number of commercial carpet mills to a just a few huge players and a handful of smaller niche mills, limiting the industry’s ability to satisfy the market’s thirst for uniqueness. In our design survey in this issue, the top architecture and design firms once again renew their call for more aesthetic variety—which is harder to come by in a world with fewer suppliers. Beyond the big three, there have been five other carpet mills with annual revenue that exceeds $100 million—but now there are six. And let’s not forget what Bentley and Prince Street represented when they were on their own. For those of you who know Anthony Minite, he is a man of high energy and determination. Many see him as a consummate salesman, but he also knows how to motivate people and he’s a strong believer in research and feedback. Last month, we sat down with Anthony and it was obvious he hadn’t quit smiling since the end of July when news of Bentley Prince Street’s independent ownership was first announced.Q. How will Bentley Prince Street be different now that it is no longer a part of Interface? Will we see much change in your approach to the marketing?A. We are clearly proud of our past and are looking forward to a prosperous future. We will once again position ourselves as an entrepreneurial privately held company. Our marketing approach will be consistent with our history—to be known for innovative design, quality and customer service. We will celebrate our California roots and be much more expedient with innovative products and backings as we expand our modular presence in the industry. Q. Will your primary focus continue to be in the contract carpet market, and will there be changes within your focus on that market? How about plans for international growth?A. Our primary focus will continue to be the commercial contract market. However through innovative product development we will be expanding more rapidly into other segments. We will build upon our existing segment diversification plan that up to this point has expanded over 40% of our business beyond the traditional corporate sector. Very soon, you will start to see more products targeted toward the K-12 education as well as the tenant improvement market—which today is controlled at the developer level. There is no question our international presence will continue to expand and our move to a private company has already opened up new distribution channels for us outside North America. We believe we have opportunities in Asia for growth based on our California location and this area’s business relationships with many Asian markets.Q. So you plan to remain a California based company despite the regulatory and logistics issues associated with “left-coast” manufacturing?A. Remaining a California company was paramount in our partnering with Dominus Capital. They see the value as I have for many years in being California based. It is a differentiator on many fronts. We have always taken any regulatory requirement as a positive and have implemented these requirements in our manufacturing for many years. We celebrate and market the fact that as a California company we are second to none as it relates to manufacturing products that are made with minimal VOCs, GHGs and reduced raw materials. All of these initiatives squarely point to our continued efforts around environmental sustainability. As far as logistics there is significant business west of the Mississippi that today we have an opportunity to capture and that will be a focus point for our company. Q. Where do rugs and hard surface products fit into your long-range strategy?A. I strongly believe that our customers are looking for options and this is one of the strengths for Bentley Prince Street. We have flexibility in manufacturing that allows us to be more accommodating to our commercial customer’s demands for product solutions. In our case this will include custom products, broadloom, carpet tile and area rugs as well as partnerships with other companies that allow us to offer complementary coordinating products that could include but not be limited to LVT, ceramic and rubber flooring. Q. In the early days, Bentley under Ralph Mishkin’s leadership focused most of its sales and marketing efforts on the A&D market and ultimately became one of the specifier’s favorite brands. Do you plan to follow the same strategy? A. There is no question that the early success for our company was founded on a need within the A&D community for unique, quality products with fashion forward styling. Under Ralph and Jack Mishkin’s leadership, our company flourished because we gave the designers what they were looking for and we also had strong dealer support nationally. I strongly believe that this model worked then and will continue to be our focus for the future. Therefore one of our strategies will be to once again be a market favorite in the A&D community and we will also maximize our potential with our Starnet dealers as part of our growth plans. Q. As raw material prices have increased, some commercial carpet mills have reduced their face weight to remain competitive and yet Bentley Prince Street for many years has been known as an upper end styling leader. How do you balance the desire to build on that upscale reputation and still create products that are competitive in today’s market?A. We have continued to partner with suppliers for raw materials that will allow us to be competitive in the marketplace. We want to be known as an industry leader for style and design but this doesn’t always have to correlate with higher priced products. Through recent capital expenditures on the latest technology in manufacturing we have the assets to create desired beautiful products consistent with our brand’s history that will not minimize our equity in the market. We will have products that will be cost competitive but still appeal to our customer base.Q. Many of your modular carpet components and processes have been synchronized over the years to closely resemble what we see at Interface. Will we start to see a shift toward other backing and yarn systems now that you are independent?A. Unfortunately, that has been one of those misperceptions in the market. We have been manufacturing carpet tile at Bentley since the late 80s and have always utilized different raw material than our sister company. However, being owned by the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet tile we were challenged in getting that message clearly to the market. Unlike Interface, we continue to position branded fiber and cushion back carpet tile as value adds when specifying Bentley Prince Street. We are actively working through research and development on various backing systems that will potentially be a future option in our product offering. We’re excited that as a private company we have a wonderful opportunity to market our brand like never before and this will include our history with carpet tile. Q. Back in the 90s, Interface purchased Bentley and then Prince Street and combined the two brand names. Does that brand strategy still make sense or are you planning to lean toward the more prestigious Bentley name by itself? A. This is one of the areas that I am most excited about and it’s a little too early to reveal our branding plan today. It is true that Interface purchased Bentley and Prince Street in the early 90s for the sole purpose of immediate sales growth and the fact that they were both highly recognized brand names in our industry. Both of these brands have tremendous equity and we are working with a world-class consultant on how we should move forward based on our current perception and where we think our fit is in the market. Trust me when I tell you that I share your passion for differentiation through branding and we’ve got some exciting changes on the horizon. Q. Are you far enough along in the process to know what Bentley Prince Street’s brand promise should be? A. Our brand promise will always have four guiding principles: beauty, service, quality and partnership. We also recognize today that our brand has to excite a broad customer base that includes Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and soon to be Gen Z. Therefore our brand promise will be consistent however tailored to meet various customer demands. Q. For several years, as part of Interface, Bentley Prince Street has hitched its sustainability wagon to Ray Anderson’s Mission Zero goals. Now that Interface swings from being a sister company to a competitor, how will your sustainability strategy change? A. It is true that we were aligned under the Interface Mission Zero initiative, but as a California based manufacturer we’ve always been out front with our own sustainability programs. Don’t forget that five years ago, we were the first carpet manufacturing facility to be LEED certified and we haven’t let up since. It is true that we’ve always agreed with Ray Anderson’s environmental goals. His passion was a guiding principal that drove Bentley Prince Street’s success in this area and this will continue now and into the future. I have said this many times. We are proud of our past and look to the future with great optimism that we will continue to differentiate our company through both our social and environmental leadership. It again needs to be said that as a California company we have always taken environmental stewardship seriously in our operation, and under Interface this only was enhanced and embedded in our culture. Q. With several of your key senior managers joining you as investors in the new company, how will this change your approach to the business?A. One of the things that I am most proud of is our leadership team. It should be noted that we have one of the industry’s most tenured workforce, and it is also by far the most diverse in its make-up. This change in ownership was received by our team enthusiastically and with that came a passion to be part of something bigger. It is already evident to me that having a financial investment in our future has energized our management and reinvigorated all of us in the process. Our approach to business will be the same and this is that we will strive to gain marketshare on a continued basis through our hard work and efforts to exceed our customers’ expectations.Q. As you have gone through the recent due diligence process, what have you learned about Dominus Capital that makes you feel that you are on the right track, not only for success but also for marketshare gain?A. I could not be happier that we are part of the Dominus Capital team. They have a great history in partnering with management at companies to facilitate success. I am extremely optimistic that we will continue to invest in our company and drive a strategy that will allow us to gain marketshare, and this will be possible due to Dominus Capital’s investment they have made in our company and our future.
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