Best Practices - December 2009

By Sonya Jennings

A flooring powerhouse in the Houston area, Roberts Carpet and Fine Floors offers upper-end flooring and continues to attract customers in a rocky economy with effective advertising and a saturated market presence.

The company’s ninth location in the Houston area will open next March. Sam Roberts, president of the business, comments on how and why he is successful: “It is not one particular thing, although there are particulars. Placing our stores in prime locations, buying products at a good price and selling them at a healthy margin, and advertising effectively has brought us success. But no amount of intellectual ability is a substitute for discipline and effort. Working hard every day with integrity is the key.”

Roberts began the company in 1984 after working in the oil business for several years after college. When he decided to enter the flooring business, he got a job at a local carpet store for six months, and he then jumped into the entrepreneurial pool by opening the doors to the first Roberts Carpet. The second store opened in 1986. In 1990, Roberts purchased a building for the second store, and this move began his venture into commercial real estate. He now owns all of the strip centers that house his stores and this has turned out to be financially beneficial. 

“There is this wonderful thing called passive income when you own your own building,” Roberts says. As an aside from the flooring business, he has also created a lucrative foothold in real estate by purchasing quality retail real estate in desirable locations.

Even in a down economy, Roberts Carpet continues to spend a healthy 3% to 4% of sales on advertising. The best medium right now for the company is television. Although expensive, having nine stores provides enough volume to lower the cost. It allows the company to build and maintain a consistent identity in the community. There are other ways to convey an image, including the visual style of the stores, signage, etc., but Roberts likes television because it’s obtrusive. It interrupts daily life and delivers the company’s message.

“There’s a fine line between memorable and obnoxious, so the goal is to be both memorable and tasteful at the same time in our company’s television commercials,” Roberts says. In addition, television offers both audio and visual content, so it appeals to more than one sense. The Internet is another area the company plans to invest in, as Roberts sees the importance of having a strong presence in this arena. Also, each month, the company places an ad on the back cover of a local home furnishing magazine as well. 

When discussing the reasons the company has had success, Roberts highlights “buying products at a good price.” A major factor has been his membership in the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA). In 1991, the NFA began when eight of America’s largest retailers pooled their efforts to receive rebates based on volume. These large independent retailers named their organization the National Floorcovering Alliance and began inviting other well established dealers with $10 million or more in annual sales to join them. Today the membership totals 36, and it represents the Who’s Who of large independent retailers. According to Roberts, “Our membership in the NFA allows us to get one-on-one face time with the best vendors in the business. And a side benefit is that I get to spend time with some of my best friends in the industry at our meetings.” The members of the NFA share business ideas, as each member is the market leader in his or her market. By negotiating rebates with vendors, NFA members are able to buy products at a reduced price and pass that savings onto the customer while still making a profit. 

Like most of the companies highlighted in our Best Practices articles, Roberts Carpet and Fine Floors emphasizes expert installation. The company understands that customers see the installer as part of the business, so Roberts crews are top notch. Although the store’s professional crews do very good work almost all the time, Roberts hired a professional installer to serve as a troubleshooter and fix any problem a customer may encounter. The store also employs a full-time scheduler to provide better service and keep salespeople selling. In cases where the customer needs to change an installation date or set an appointment for installation, there’s no need to track down the salesperson involved with the order. A full-time scheduler makes the process more convenient and efficient for the customer.

Roberts Carpet has 55 employees and offers carpet, hardwood, ceramic tile, stone and wood inlays, kitchen countertops, area rugs and laminate. The company’s sales are 40% carpet and 60% hard surfaces. Currently, customers are approximately 80% retail and 20% commercial. The company recently launched into the commercial side of the business and is seeing rapid growth in this area. 

Copyright 2009 Floor Focus

Related Topics:National Flooring Alliance (NFA), RD Weis