Barrington Carpet & Flooring Design: Best practices - Nov 2015
By Jessica Chevalier
Barrington Carpet & Flooring Design started as a business with one central focus: servicing a large, scattered-site builder called Wayne Homes that operated across three states. However, in 2007, Craig Phillips was brought in as president of Barrington, and he set his sights on diversifying the business.
As we all now know, over the course of the next couple of years, the builder segment suffered greatly in the recession. However, because Barrington had begun the process of expanding its reach into other segments, the company managed to achieve growth through all the down years. Today, Barrington’s business breaks down into 10% retail, 33% property management, and 57% new construction and builder work. And all three of these are continuing to see annual growth.
When Barrington started 21 years ago, it stepped into the space of a previously existing flooring store, Design Carpet Warehouse, which specialized in soft surface flooring. Barrington brought in a full array of flooring products—hard and soft—and operated a small retail business in addition to its builder work. While that retail business has continued to grow, it has become a smaller part of the business each year because the other segments are growing so rapidly.
Property management is a significant business driver for Barrington. Daily, Barrington has about 61 installation crews in the field, all of which are comprised of subcontractors, and many of these are dedicated to property management. One reason that Barrington has succeeded in this segment is because of its dedication to quick turn-around. “They call today, and we install tomorrow,” says Phillips.
In addition, Barrington is still the flooring provider for Wayne Homes, which operates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Says Phillips, “There are not many flooring businesses like us that specialize in three big portions of the business. It seems like much of the competition in our area is retail-only or property management-only, or they have a couple of builders. There are very few like us that are strong in builder and property management, while maintaining a viable retail business.”
With regard to diversifying its product offering, Barrington chooses to stick with its forte. “We dabbled in countertops for a time, but that is not in our wheelhouse. We’d rather focus on our core business.”
Barrington is a Mohawk Floorscapes dealer—in fact, it was a charter member of the group—and Phillips appreciates both the benefits of the program and the freedom that it allows independent dealers to maintain. “Floorscapes offers us a solid merchandising program and is aligned with most of the vendors that we need—if it doesn’t own them outright. But as a dealer we can maintain our independence. We use the strength of Mohawk’s manufacturing partnerships but can fill in where there are holes. There are products that we have to buy from other sources because some of our business is spec-driven.”
ALL PHILLIPS' ROADS LED TO BARRINGTON
he same week that Barrington opened its doors in 1994, Phillips—who started in the flooring industry at age 20 as a retail sales associate—stepped in a new position with a wholesale distributor, and Barrington became Phillips’ first customer.
THE POWER OF A WEB PRESENCE
Two years ago, Barrington reworked its website, which is geared toward the retail side of its business. Phillips believes that the store’s site and, by extension, all websites serve as a sort of safe haven for customers wherein they can shop without the feeling—real or imagined—that a salesperson is breathing down their neck.
Indeed, Phillips has noticed an interesting and growing trend in this regard. With increasing frequency, Barrington has customers who contact the store online requesting the free, in-home measuring service. When Barrington staff visit the home to complete the measurement, they bring with them product samples, and sometimes the customer will choose a product on the spot and complete the sale without ever having stepped into the physical Barrington showroom.
Phillips calls this the Empire Today Effect, and it certainly speaks to how critical it is for independent retailers to have an informative website and well-oiled systems for responding to online inquiries.
Phillips identifies his typical customer as a middle to upper middle class professional around the age of 50. He believes that a significant challenge for his business and other independent retailers moving forward is attracting the younger generation of customers. “We get some of our customer’s kids through referral, but, for the most part, younger generations have grown up in the box stores, and that’s the first place they go.”
For this reason, Barrington uses Facebook and invests in online advertising, and he notes that an increasing number of customers report that they found out about Barrington online or through social media. The company promotes itself using customizable content provided by Mohawk.
Phillips reports that one struggle with social media is having the resources to dedicate to it. “There are so many different outlets. We went with the old standby [Facebook]. We looked into Houzz and Pinterest but so far we just don’t have the time to dedicate to those.” Currently, Barrington has a staffer in accounts payable pulling double duty as the social media manager.
Although a strong web presence plays a significant role in promoting Barrington’s retail business, repeat and referral still accounts for the largest share of business at 65%.
THE MODERN RETAILER’S DILEMMA
Phillips believes that the greatest challenge he faces in his business is shared by the bulk of independent retailers today: the shortage of skilled labor. “This is one of our industry’s biggest challenges. I haven’t turned down work yet, but our labor resources are stretched. Everyone who is worth anything is working.”
Phillips, who is on the advisory board for Mohawk Floorscapes, says that when he brought this subject up at the last meeting, every dealer in the room agreed that this is their biggest challenge moving forward.
Says Phillips, “There is no formal training outside of union work. In my opinion, it has to start at the trade school level. They teach carpentry in vocational schools. Why not flooring installation? It can be a very profitable long-term occupation, but no one is going into it. There is no pool of available waiting talent.”
Phillips believes that the implications of this lack could be devastating to independent retailers as a whole, “Service is the only thing that separates us from the box stores, and quality installation is a big part of service. Independent dealers account for the vast majority of the floorcovering because we offer quality product and good installation after sale. Home stores can’t deliver the whole experience that many customers want.”
ONWARD AND UPWARD
Phillips believes strongly that the key to Barrington’s future success is managing its growth wisely. “There is so much untapped potential in the marketplace, so much opportunity out there, and the larger we get, the more opportunity we have,” he says. “The range of work we can do is better; our skill set is better. But we want to grow in a way that we remain viable in the marketplace long term. You can cut off more than you can chew, and it can be your downfall. Managing growth is key.”
Barrington offers a program called Trade Pro wherein contractors and designers can use the store’s showroom and conference areas as their own, bringing their customers into Barrington to make their flooring selections.
Copyright 2015 Floor Focus
Related Topics:Mohawk Industries