Best Practices: Brewer Flooring Group – May 2023
By Jessica Chevalier
Rick Ogle and Bart Brewer run an expansive flooring retail operation called Brewer Flooring Group that spans six states, totaling more than 25 locations. Having grown the business substantially through acquisition, Rick and Bart are overseeing stores as far away as Florida, from their headquarters in Oklahoma City, and doing so successfully requires the help of a strong team with the ability to comprehend and execute the Brewer corporate vision in their market.
40 YEARS OF HISTORY
Tom Brewer, Bart’s father, opened his first flooring store in Oklahoma City in 1983 after serving for several years as a flooring representative and then a regional manager for Masland. With Oklahoma part of his Masland territory, Tom got to know the area and believed it was a good place to launch a new retail flooring operation.
Rick took a position with Brewer Flooring Group in 1988. Prior to that, he had been working in his in-laws’ carpet cleaning business, purchasing supplies from Tom. Rick interviewed with the company, accepted a position and “never looked back,” he reports. In the late 1980s, the business joined Carpet One, and, in 1990, Rick joined Tom as a partner in the business.
About ten years later, Bart was graduating from college with a degree in business administration. He had grown up around his father’s flooring business but never felt pressured to join it. However, “I always knew the business would be there. As I was finishing college, my dad and Rick were opening an office and Floor Trader location in Oklahoma City, and I felt there was an opportunity for me there-that I had a role,” reports Bart.
Though the dynamics of having a second-generation son join a shared business can be tricky, Rick was elated with Bart’s decision. “Bart filled a spot, and his timing was impeccable,” says Rick..” The transition was seamless. I’m a big fan of Bart. In fact, I think I was more excited than either Bart or Tom about him joining us. I knew Bart’s character, work ethic and what he could bring that neither Tom nor I did well.” Today, Bart is chief operations officer.
Tom has stepped back to serving in the business in a big-picture capacity, handling banking and real estate; he also serves on the board of directors of CCA Global Partners. His wife, Kathy, has handled a number of operations for Brewer Flooring over the years, including labor payroll, job costing and property rents, and also remains a key part of the operation.
One thing that Rick sees as a big advantage for the firm is the span of ages that the three leaders cover, bringing different generational skills and insights to the operation.
The team’s affiliation with Carpet One has helped facilitate its expansion, which was most active from the early 2000s until 2012. Several of its acquisitions came via word of troubled or closing businesses within the CCA co-op. Rick notes, “Our first venture was into Florida and then West Texas and St. Louis. The Quad Cities was last.”
Bart explains that, as the Brewer team considers acquisitions, the staff of a location plays a significant role in the decision. If an owner “is” the business and they leave, the business is essentially gone too, but if ownership has established a strong team that can operate the business in his or her absence, that is much more appealing to the Brewer team, as Bart and Rick obviously can’t be hands-on at every one of their 27 locations.
“We use the synergy of our business in Oklahoma City as we expand to other markets,” Bart notes. “We, at headquarters, are handling many of their operations, so the teams in the store can focus on selling.”
• BREWER CARPET ONE: Edmond, Oklahoma City (2), Yukon, Enid and Stillwater, Oklahoma
• FLOORING OPTIONS BY CARPET ONE: Sarasota, Venice and Largo, Florida
• CASEY CARPET ONE: Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas
• PROSOURCE: Amarillo, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Sarasota, West Palm Beach and Tampa, Florida; Davenport, Iowa
• ADVANCE CARPET ONE: Brentwood, Des Peres, Ballwin and O’Fallon, Missouri
• FLOOR TRADER: Ardmore, Oklahoma City (2) and Weatherford, Oklahoma
• FLOORING AMERICA: Davenport, Iowa and Moline, Illinois
KIT OF PARTS
With an operation as large and expansive as Brewer Flooring Group, top-notch communication is key. “We try to get one solid message to concentrate on,” explains Rick.
“Over multiple states, that’s a challenge,” says Bart. “As we grew, it was difficult to realize that we had people who worked for us that we didn’t even know.”
Getting employees to understand the organization that they are a part of is a central effort for Rick and Bart. “We want them to know what the company is about,” notes Bart. “Lots of people have been with us for a long time, but we have added people in recent years to have more boots on the ground making sure we have a better view of what’s happening.”
Some of these additions have been in senior leadership and general manager roles. And while it’s not feasible to gather the entire Brewer Flooring Group team together, Rick and Bart do like to get upper leadership from the stores together at conventions as often as possible and hold Brewer group meetings to build cameraderie and culture.
Having leadership from its various stores is also important for buying, as store leaders have a much keener sense of regional trends than Rick and Bart do and can therefore help make choices with regard to product. The group has a “bread-and-butter” core offering, enhancing that with regional needs and preferences. For instance, the Florida stores have more tile, and more northern locations offer a larger carpet selection.
The Brewer team remains open to possibility regarding its future. “If the right opportunity becomes available, we’ll grow,” says Rick. “I tell the young team members that we’ll go as far as they want and stop when they want.”
“We won’t force anything,” adds Bart. “We have stayed busy over the last few years with everything at its peak. We want to see if opportunities exist, as well as keep what we have running well.”
A grateful approach has taken the Brewer Flooring Group a long way. “We like to say that great times don’t last forever but neither do bad ones,” says Rick. “Our strategy has changed over the last decade. I don’t always have a total grasp on the most current way to do things, but that’s the benefit of layered management.”
Above all, he continues, “We are grateful. We never look at the business and say, ‘We deserve that.’ We have been fortunate to work hard and be successful. Of course, we’ve had some unsuccessful bumps and have seen some good operators that haven’t been as successful along the way. But fortune has been on our side. Tom has done a great job steering the ship. He’s always had a stable financial plan.”
Bart points to the Brewer Flooring Group team as key to the operation’s success. “It doesn’t do well to have a plan without people to execute it,” he notes. “We have some incredible teammates.”
With so many different brands, the team’s offering varies. Builder is the second-most important channel for Brewer Flooring Group, after retail. Some divisions have a commercial offering. Multifamily is the smallest of its channels.
Similarly, offerings vary from brand to brand; the ProSource stores offering plumbing and bathroom fixtures, for instance.
Advertising is another aspect that the team tweaks by location, though often, that’s as simple as changing the brand name in an ad. Generally, the different locations and brands run the same promotions at the same times.
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