Best Practices: Color Interiors – Oct 2019
By Jessica Chevalier
Mark Carr, president of Texas-based Color Interiors, has found a winning formula by following his own path, intuiting what works best for his employees and customers, then pursuing business in that vein, unswayed by trends and approaches that don't suit his market. The retailer’s tailored approach extends to his employment structure, his advertising strategies and his showrooms, amounting to an organization that works optimally for the people it’s serving, not the other way around.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
Color Interiors was founded in 1972 by Wally Kaiser. The original location was in Houston, Texas, and, in 1997, David Carr had been a salesman for the organization for 13 years when Kaiser came to him and said, "Either you buy this business or I’m shutting it down."
Kaiser believed Carr to be not only a good salesman but business-minded and capable of running the operation. Though David hadn’t been looking for a business to buy, he didn’t want to lose his job, so he agreed.
David’s son Mark studied animal science at Texas A&M, graduating in 2000 with no intention of entering the world of flooring. However, at the time, David was looking to open a second Color Interiors location about 20 miles from the original-in the northern town of Conroe, where the family lived-and he asked Mark to oversee that operation. “He could have maintained the status quo,” Mark notes, “but he wanted to open another store. I saw it as a great opportunity to work with family, and that’s every parents’ dream, isn’t it-to work with their kids and keep them close to home?”
Today, the original Houston store is no more, but there are two additional Color Interiors locations in the towns of Magnolia and Spring. About 13 years ago, David stepped away from the business, so Mark now oversees the entire operation.
TRUSTING ITS EMPLOYEES
Color Interiors provides its employees a great deal of autonomy and believes that this independence is the foundation of its success. The company has no managers at any of its locations. Instead, each employee is expected to manage themselves, reporting directly to Mark. An important part of this equation is the fact that not paying managers allows Color Interiors to pay each sales team member more, which both attracts a higher-quality team member and, according to Mark, keeps them with the business longer.
Along with this, the company has minimal office and warehouse staff, opting instead for the sales staff to manage the entire process, from customer education to post-installation payment and communications. The only aspect of the entire sales process that the sales team members don’t handle is the installation scheduling and the actual installation.
As such, rather than having company-wide policies regarding, for instance, procedures for customer thank-yous post-sale, Color Interiors leaves that process up to the sales team members individually. One sends a package of cookies as a thank you; another may send flowers. “They come up with their own ways to engage customers,” says Mark.
Mark believes that in utilizing this practice, Color Interiors is rewarded with self-motivated and self-managed employees that feel a greater degree of ownership in their jobs and take greater initiative for their performance.
On the labor side, the company’s story is a bit different from that of many other retailers in the U.S. Based in Texas, which is flush with migrant workers, the labor shortage is less severe than in other parts of the country, and labor is less expensive. For Color Interiors, then, the challenge isn’t finding laborers but weeding through the pool to find the best of the best. The company seeks to attract higher-skill installers to its operation by paying a bit more than the competition.
Similar to virtually all firms across the country, Color Interiors reports that carpet is the category most taxed for laborers, and that the situation is only going to become more severe, as carpet installers are not passing along the skills of the trade to the next generation.
In spite of having a healthy labor pool, Mark reports that Color Interiors’ greatest challenge is that it “can sell more than we can install.” Balancing the demands on installation with the firm’s goal of achieving quality installation on every job can be taxing. “We want to make sure that we install 100% properly so that the customer is fully satisfied,” says Mark. “We strive for excellence in every installation.”
Each of Color Interiors’ three stores are freestanding buildings in high profile locations with good visibility. And all three have identical exteriors. Believing that his locations and showrooms make a big impact, Mark has ceased all traditional forms of advertising in favor of online and word of mouth. In fact, with the exception of a single billboard that Mark cancelled a year ago, Color Interiors hasn’t done any traditional advertising in around five years. This effort wasn’t based on reducing Color Interiors’ advertising budget but simply on following the ROI. The company believes its stores are, in effect, its best advertisement.
Color Interiors’ store interiors feel polished-suited to its older, established demographic of shoppers between 55 and 75-though the businesses are capable of serving buyers at all price levels. Mark believes that lower-end buyers often misinterpret the stores to be high-end-only. To combat this, he utilizes exterior banner advertising to emphasize that Color Interiors can indeed serve everyone from cash-and-carry and commodity shoppers to luxury consumers.
In addition to flooring products, Color Interiors carries granite countertops and plumbing fixtures, and is in the process of adding a lighting business. The lighting business is the result of a merger with another established community business. The owner approached him and asked if he would be willing to share showroom space. Mark carved a 3,000-square-foot section out of his 12,000-square-foot Magnolia showroom for the lighting center, which will operate independently, with its own staff.
As Mark has undertaken these diversification ventures, he has found himself pleased that the name Color Interiors, deemed by Wally Kaiser, isn’t tied to one flooring type or even, indeed, to the flooring category alone, giving him the option of expanding the product offering without altering the name or having it stand as only a partial representation of his offering. Mark is open to the possibility of adding additional products and expanding his offering to new categories in the coming years.
In addition to its retail ventures, Color Interiors does commercial work, which represents about 8% of its revenues, and the largest amount of commercial work is in the custom builder market. The area that Color Interiors serves has been growing since the ‘80s with several large, high-end subdivisions in its territory.
THINKING INSIDE THE BOX
If you live outside of the Texas area and find that the name Color Interiors rings a bell, it’s likely because of a publicity effort that the company undertook in October 2015-constructing a swimming pool out of Shaw’s Lifeguard backing.
The company fabricated a metal frame, lined it with carpet that was constructed with Lifeguard backing-which Shaw custom-dyed a watery blue for the event-and filled it with three feet of water. The pool was constructed atop a platform of Shaw’s Floorté waterproof LVT, and between the pool and deck was a painting on paper, included to demonstrate that the pool indeed produced no leakage.
To the event, the company invited friends and family but also local press. Children were invited to take a dip in the pool, which was decked out with lifeguard chairs and, ultimately, the pool was disassembled in front of the gathering to reveal the dry surface beneath. Mark reports, “It made an awesome YouTube video. We got mileage out of it, and Shaw did too.”
Color Interiors’ best-selling category today is LVT, though Mark reports that ceramic tile may exceed LVT in sales by dollar value due to labor costs. The company does a lot of ceramic work for shower installations. Additionally, Color Interiors sells carpet and hardwood.
Mark believes that the LVT trend has been a positive one for the industry and the consumer. “Today, we’re giving the consumer a better product for their dollar than the junk wood of the past,” he notes, referring to the thin engineered hardwood that LVT has all but replaced.
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