Best Practices: Great Western Flooring Company - April 2023
By Jessica Chevalier
Great Western Flooring Company is a female-run flooring business headquartered in Naperville, Illinois. Sisters Lauren Voit, president, and Dana Park, vice president, have evolved the well-established business that their parents started into a design-focused enterprise to which “customers travel from all around to see and feel our carefully curated collection of quality products and experience our consultative-based design and selection process,” says Lauren.
LEAP OF FAITH
Steve Chirico and Francie Wehrli opened the doors of Great Western Tile in 1981. A tile installer, Steve managed the operational side of the business, while Francie ran the store. Only three years in, the couple expanded into other flooring finishes and became Great Western Flooring Company.
Two of seven kids in Steve and Francie’s blended family, Lauren and Dana grew up in the business, “going to job sites, jumping in rolls of carpet pad, dusting off samples and ‘borrowing’ change out of dad’s drawer for the pop machine at the warehouse,” as Voit remembers it. Each of the sisters joined the family business upon graduating from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
When their father was elected to the local city council in 2011, the sisters’ roles began to evolve, and when Steve was then elected mayor of Naperville in 2015 (a role that he will hold until May 2023), the pair stepped in to run the company fully, allowing their father to dedicate his time to his new endeavor and seizing the opportunity to operate a female-run company in a largely male-dominated industry.
Lauren and Dana have been focused on bringing design to the floor shopping experience since they got their hands on the reins. “We recognized that the consumer was changing decades ago,” explains Lauren. “This was in ‘Trading Spaces’ [the home-swap renovation reality show] days when home decorating was becoming a hobby, and I thought, This can be more fashion-oriented and exciting. I recognized that a design experience made it appealing for the homeowner to come in, work with us and enjoy their time through the process. We offer a low-pressure, elevated experience to the consumer. It doesn’t feel like a sale. We’re more consultative.”
To signify the transition, at the time, Great Western began calling their sales staff design associates.
The secret sauce of good design is understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “We love making spaces beautiful,” Lauren explains. “That means something different for everyone we work with; we love uncovering that in each of our clients and bringing it to life in their projects. Our design philosophy is that a space can be both beautiful and functional. We take pride and pleasure in educating our customers about their choices and guiding them through a selection and design process that is specific to their needs, wants and circumstances of their space.
“We also value our industry partnerships,” Lauren continues. “We believe less is more when it comes to products. In Dana’s words, we like to ‘simplify and amplify,’ as in, simplify our product choices and amplify our partnerships with our best vendors. In addition, we are very pro-technology and love to utilize the best tools we can from both inside and outside the industry.”
Interestingly, Great Western notes that it is a non-stocking dealer, believing “that instead of steering clients towards products we inventory, we help guide each customer to the right product for their application, tastes and budget.”
As a 42-year-old, family-owned business-begun by the town’s mayor to boot-Great Western leans heavily into a community approach when it comes to outreach. Lauren says, “We are involved in the communities that we operate in, and, aside from digital marketing channels, the rest of our marketing budget goes to supporting programs within the community. We believe in relationship building. We are very grassroots.”
Great Western offers all types of flooring. In 2022, tile accounted for 34% of sales; carpet for 24%; hardwood for 23%; resilient and laminate for 17%; and epoxy, countertops and window shades for 2%.
In addition, the business is a Costco Vendor Partner for flooring, serving six of its Chicagoland warehouse locations.
Great Western also services commercial projects, with commercial work primarily mainstreet and accounting for around 10% of total business. As the company is non-union, it is not permitted to pursue large commercial projects in the state.
While Great Western is not part of a buying group, it is aligned with multiple manufacturers and has recently added Broadlume’s FlooringStores United shopping experience to its design centers, which it has been pleased with, feeling that it offers retailers a “very polished and professional” face toward the consumer.
The company notes that, while the demographics of the area in which it is situated are upper middle class, it has offerings from base grade to luxury, catering to any customer who comes through its doors.
Great Western operates with a team of 20 employees, who are trained by a common set of systems and procedures and guided by the organization’s ‘GREAT’ values: growth-minded, respect, excellence, accountability, team. Just less than half of the total team is in sales.
The business’ installers are subcontractors, and the struggle to find more quality installation partners is the greatest challenge that the business faces. “There’s a big discrepancy between people who claim to be installers and those who can use modern standards and complete satisfactory work-and do it professionally,” says Lauren, noting that the growth of not just Great Western but also the industry is dependent on how it solves this problem.
Lauren is on the executive board of the World Floor Covering Association, and she believes that the answer lies not solely in an institutional or grassroots approach, but in a combination of the two. “We have tried different things in our business-some successful, some not, some a mix-but it will be interesting to see what types of organizations find the best solutions,” she says.
How do sisters Lauren and Dana navigate working together?
“We follow the example set by our father,” says Lauren. “We both started full time in the family business right out of college, and we were in and out of it before that. We always remember that it’s important to have a division between business and family. We don’t talk work at the family BBQ, and we don’t talk personal life at the office. It’s helpful that we have such a large family-we are only two of seven siblings-so when we are at family gatherings, we have many non-work members around us. It’s funny-growing up, Dana and I couldn’t share a bathroom, but now we share an office. I love working with my sister and my dad. When things are hard, you can persevere for and with people you love and trust. It has been very rewarding.”
The sisters are looking forward to their father spending more time with them at Great Western after his mayoral tenure ends this spring.
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