Best Practices - March 2012

By Brian Hamilton

 

Foremost Interiors of Salt Lake City caters to medium and high end customers who are looking for one-on-one assistance with home renovation projects. The company approaches this market with a different twist from most independent flooring retailers by focusing heavily on the design and coordination of projects. In fact, the firm offers some services that might be more closely associated with a building contractor, such as providing a good plumber, electrician or carpenter when projects get more complicated than a simple flooring replacement. The firm also only deals with top notch installers, and it pays them a higher rate than other retailers.

“In some cases we’re more of a project manager,” says design manager Terry Ann Olsen. “We have people on staff who can draw and design and we have a core of subcontractors we can turn to. We want to take the fear and mystery out of the process. Most people don’t do these kinds of projects more than a few times in their lifetimes. We work hard to find the things that other [retailers] don’t want to be bothered with and try to make the process enjoyable for our customers. We don’t want our customers tearing their hair out. We take responsibility for all the follow-through.”

Foremost Interiors shifted gears somewhat after Olsen and her husband, Steve, joined the company in 2009. The Olsens had owned Steve Peterson Interiors, a design studio in nearby Orem. They purchased the business in 2000 but decided to close it in 2009, partly due to a rugged economy. They’d had an ongoing relationship with Foremost owner and founder Dave Aland, and the Olsens struck a deal to join the company.

Until then, Foremost had been a more typical flooring retailer that concentrated on quality products. Now, however, about 30% of business is with the design trade, 20% is with contractors, and the remaining half consists of consumers and other end-users. About 25% of its business is mainstreet commercial. Foremost has commercial clients ranging from physicians to restaurants and resort properties.

The shift toward expanded service and emphasis on design and fashion has paid off. The firm has grown its flooring sales through the downturn from $1.2 million in 2009 to $1.5 million last year.

This focus on project management, especially for homeowners, is a fairly recent development. The firm, like many during the downturn, reassessed where the business opportunities were and shifted its business model. With the housing market depressed and people unable to sell or build a new home, there was a larger opportunity in remodeling.

“With the economy, people were more hesitant to build a new home and they can’t get the value out of their current home, so they want to upgrade, especially if they have a good home in a good neighborhood,” Olsen says. “So they’re going to open up their kitchen or put in an outdoor living space. Plus, the contractor business was kind of drying up and it’s becoming so competitive. Looking at the big picture, we had relationships with those kinds of subs, for even the small things, like baseboard that needs to be replaced or a door moved.”

Foremost also hired a design graduate who specializes in computer aided design. If a client has a floor plan, Foremost can work with that, or if need be the firm will take its own measurements.

Foremost has also taken more steps to develop relationships with local designers. It has a Premier Professional Program for designers and contractors, which includes access to the Louis A. Dabbieri Collection, a high-end line of carpet and rugs offered through the International Design Guild, of which Foremost is a member. Also included in the program is a designer website that contains information on design trends and color forecasts, and offers design education opportunities. The program also offers the chance to reduce costs and increase margins by using Foremost’s select partners. “We’ve opened our resources to help designers who don’t have relationships with all the people that we do,” Olsen says.

AN EVOLVING BUSINESS

Dave Aland started Foremost Interiors in 1982 and still owns and runs the company as president. He had spent the previous decade as a carpet installer and flooring salesman. He began by only offering carpet, but has since expanded to include most types of floorcovering, as well as window coverings, countertops, sinks, and some furniture. He's always focused on higher quality products aimed at designers and contractors as well as consumers. Today, hard surface makes up about 60% of flooring sales, split about evenly between hardwood and tile, with a much smaller share of resilient and laminate; 40% of sales is carpet, and wool is becoming increasingly popular.

Steve and Terry Ann Olsen joined the business in 2009 after closing their own design firm, Steve Peterson Interiors. Steve had spent his entire career in various aspects of the flooring business, and for a time was a sales respresentative for Shaw Industries. Terry Ann has worked in interior design for 30 years and has won many awards, including Utah's Best of State award for interior design. She's also appeared on HGTV's designer challenge. While Foremost has always had a specialty in flooring design, Terry Ann has broadened the design focus to include color coordination and other design aspects. "People are seeing flooring as more of a design element than a cover up," Terry Ann says. "Flooring is the foundation of every room. People still want things to have a nice look but they also want lower maintenance3 and design that enhances their lifestyle."


Promoting the business
Beginning two years ago, Foremost Interiors backed away from most traditional forms of advertising, the exception being the Yellow Pages. It does use some co-op advertising through suppliers like Karastan and Hunter Douglas (window coverings) and it is listed in some specialized directories. Its greatest competition probably comes from home furnishings chain RC Willey, Olsen says, but few companies offer the same level of service, and even at that, she says, price is never an issue once a Foremost specialist can talk to a customer face to face.

However, Foremost has embraced social media as well as more traditional forms of networking. It has an extensive Facebook page that links from the company’s primary website, which also has wealth of company and product information.

“We focused on Facebook first,” Olsen says. “We’re very active there.” Olsen also has her own professional Facebook page, which links from her personal information page on the company website. There she talks about products, design and other topics. Olsen says that potential customers send her direct messages—often questions—through Facebook and she’s getting solid customer leads this way by making sure to follow up.

Another big social media avenue for Olsen and Foremost is the two year old website Pinterest.com, where people organize photos around interests, such as home decoration or weddings.

“A ton of Facebook followers are seeing me there,” Olsen says. “I have recently begun using it to post design ideas I come across, and to create specific ‘pinboards’ for my clients to see products and ideas I am proposing for them. It’s also a good resource to browse what others are pinning that may inspire or showcase products I would be interested in.”

Olsen has also become a fairly regular poster on Twitter, writing about everything from wool carpet to wood, usually with links to articles or websites. Recent tweets included “Expecting to see hardwoods as more than floorcoverings in 2012” with a link to a photograph showing a wall covered in wood, and “The Seven People You Need To Involve in Meetings” with a link to a story by that name.

“Social media has increased my exposure,” Olsen says. “It helps people get a comfort level. They can go in and get information without direct contact.”

Olsen has social media experts occasionally give seminars at Foremost Interiors, describing how to get the most out of those services.

Foremost also uses customized online newsletters as a way to disseminate information on new products, such as the recent “Just Shorn” wool carpeting and rug introductions from Louis Dabbieri.

“We use the dealer ignition services through the International Design Guild, which helps us with templates that are geared specifically to our design trade and a different template for our general clientele,” Olsen says. “We also love to share design tips and current trends in color and styles. Through newsletters we can keep our clientele up to date on all types of events we are offering.”

The company also makes good use of banners on the front of the store because it is located just off a freeway. However, Olsen says less than 10% of its business comes from walk-in traffic.

Foremost is also involved in more traditional forms of business networking through groups like the chambers of commerce and remodeling and home builder associations. Foremost gets referrals from those organizations, for example, by getting on their preferred subcontractors list. Olsen has served on the boards of some of these kinds of organizations. Steve has also served on the board of the Utah Floor Covering Association. 


Copyright 2012 Floor Focus 



Other Archived Articles

Tandus Centiva Offering Green Innovation Grant   Full Article
Dalton, GA, March 31, 2014 -- Tandus Centiva said it will award $3,000 in Green Innovation grant funds to a K-12 school.

SelecTech Signs Agreement with Spartan   Full Article
Avon, MA, March 31, 2014 -- SelecTech, a manufacturer of flooring products from recycled materials, has signed an agreement with Spartan Surfaces to represent Selectech in the Midwest.

Chicago Manufacturing Expands at Slower Pace   Full Article
Chicago, IL, March 31, 2014 -- Manufacturing activity in the Chicago area grew at a slower rate in March.

Fuse Alliance Adds Four New Members   Full Article
Aurora, CO, March 31, 2014 -- Fuse Alliance said it has added four new commercial flooring contractors and 20 new locations to the network.

J+J Sponsoring Education Facilities Workshop   Full Article
Dalton, GA, March 31, 2014 -- J+J Flooring Group has recently joined with APPA, the world-wide professional association of education facility managers, to present an APPA Facilities Drive-In workshop.

Consumer Spending, Incomes Rise in February   Full Article
Washington, DC, March 28, 2014 -- Consumer spending rose 0.3% in February after a 0.2% rise in January, the Commerce Department said.

Tuftex Wins California Recycled Water Award   Full Article
Santa Fe Springs, CA, March 28, 2014 -- Shaw's Tuftex division received the Recycled Water Customer of the Year Award from the WateReuse Association's California Section.

NWFA Expands Scholarship Program   Full Article
St. Louis, MO, March 28, 2014 -- The National Wood Flooring Association said it will significantly expand its scholarship program under its new Education & Research Foundation.

Consumer Sentiment Falls in March   Full Article
Ann Arbor, MI, March 28, 2014 -- Consumer sentiment declined to a final March reading of 80 from 81.6 in February, according to the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters survey.

Tarkett in Partnerships with Healthcare Groups   Full Article
Chagrin Falls, OH, March 28, 2014 -- Tarkett said it has formed collaborative partnerships with four leading healthcare organizations: NXT Health, Planetree, Practice Greenhealth, and The Center for Health Design.

Wood Flooring Sales Decline in Europe   Full Article
Brussels, Belgium, March 28, 2014 -- After a year in which overall European wood flooring consumption fell by 5.9%, first estimates suggest the market contracted another 5% in 2013, the Lesprom Network said.

UK's Carpetright Issues Profit Warning   Full Article
London, England, March 28, 2014 -- Carpetright has issued its third profits warning in six months.

Armstrong Products Featured in 'Dream Builders'   Full Article
Lancaster, PA, March 27, 2014 -- Armstrong and Bruce flooring will be featured in the premier season of NBC’s new reality competition series, “American Dream Builders,” hosted by designer Nate Berkus.

Pending Home Sales Fall in February   Full Article
Washington, DC, March 27, 2014 -- Pending home sales fell 0.8% in February to the lowest level in more than two years, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

Fourth Quarter Economic Growth Revised Higher   Full Article
Washington, DC, March 27, 2014 -- Economic growth in the fourth quarter was higher than initially estimated, according to the Commerce Department.

Jobless Claims at Four-Month Low   Full Article
Washington, DC, March 27, 2014 -- Initial applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in four months, according to the Labor Department.

Invista Breaks Ground on Nylon Plant in China   Full Article
Shanghai, China, March 27-2014 -- Invista has broken ground on new hexamethylene diamine and nylon 6,6 polymer plants at the Shanghai Chemical Industry Park in China.

Anthony Oak Flooring Gets Mill Certification   Full Article
St. Louis, MO, March 26, 2014 -- The National Wood Flooring Association said that Anthony Oak Flooring of Magnolia, Ark. has earned the NWFA/NOFMA Mill Certification.

Cirangle Named to AIA College of Fellows   Full Article
Los Angeles, CA, March 26, 2014 -- Ernest Cirangle, FAIA, design director in HOK’s Los Angeles office, has been named to the college of fellows by the American Institute of Architects 2014 Jury of Fellows.

Ripken Foundation To Use Shaw Sports Turf   Full Article
Baltimore, MD, March 26, 2014 -- The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation has named Shaw Sports Turf the exclusive provider of synthetic turf for its Youth Development Parks initiative.