Best Practices: Jabara’s Carpet Galerie/Jabara’s Carpet Outlet - May 2020

By Jessica Chevalier

Wichita-based Jabara’s is a sprawling operation encompassing an entire city block and three distinct business operations: Jabara’s Carpet Galerie, Jabara’s Carpet Outlet and Jabara’s Home Improvement. The unique nature of the operation means that it occupies several niches in the Wichita market.

Like the big boxes, it sells more than flooring, including cabinets, vanities, trim, casing, hardware, toilets, paint, hardware and lighting. Like cash-and-carrys, it has a broad range of in-stock goods-1,000 rolls of carpet, 1,500 remnants, 60 styles of LVT, 50 styles of ceramic tile and 20 styles of hardwood-that can be purchased and taken home the same day. Like a traditional floorcovering retailer, it offers a full range of flooring goods by order and a formal installation program. In total, the operation is 100,000 square feet under two roofs; the flooring outlet accounts for the largest square footage, and the orderable showroom, launched in 1991, is 7,500 square feet.

Through time, various Jabaras have worked in the business. Currently, the family cast is made up of Jason; his brother Josh, who heads up the home improvement business; Jason and Josh’s uncle, George Jabara Jr., who is the head carpet buyer; and cousin Marty Burger, who heads up IT. Susan Jabara, Jason and Josh’s mother, owns the business and still comes in to greet customers. Tom died in June 2018.

In the late 1960s, George Jabara Sr. and auctioneer Bud Palmer bought the entire stock of a Western-wear store and hosted a successful close-out sale, and that opened the pair’s eyes to what a reselling operation could be. In 1970, George opened Jabara’s Damaged Freight in Wichita, Kansas. George’s son Tom joined his father in the business in 1972.

“When the business started in the early ’70s, it was purchasing auction goods, overruns and discontinued products-basically buying and reselling,” explains third-generation CEO Jason Jabara. “Wichita in the mid-’70s was a pretty large hub for the manufactured home business, so my grandfather and Palmer would go to auctions at the railyards and buy humongous rolls of vinyl and carpet. And then they started making inroads with World, Queen and Sutton. Carpet and flooring sold well for them, so in 1985, they opened the outlet, which was then carpet and some vinyl.”

Today, including pad and labor, about 60% of Jabara’s total flooring business remains soft surface; 10% is area rugs; 15% is LVT, and another 15% is divided between laminate, hardwood and ceramic, with hardwood and ceramic being the two smallest categories due to the higher cost of labor associated with installing them.

One of the many unique approaches to business that Jabara’s has retained is its practice of trucking its own products from the manufacturers. The company uses a third-party carrier for this effort, and that is cheaper than using the shipping that the manufacturers provide. “Carriers pick up meat in Wichita and drop it off in Atlanta, and then we fill the trucks with flooring on the way back,” explains Jason. “We purchase by the truckload.”

Jason chalks up the success of the unique Jabara’s enterprise to a few different factors, “Our longevity has helped us quite a bit. We are a trusted name, but most of it is that we sell value. We don’t market ourselves as the cheapest, but customers do get the biggest bang for their buck here because we are a stocking dealer. In addition, most of our competitors are flooring specific-there is no one like us. The closest thing to us are big boxes, and they have 50 rolls of carpet, while we have 1,000. That has been our advantage and our curse. It’s not a business model that would work as a start-up today. I don’t see anyone saying, ‘I should get $4 million worth of inventory and try the business out.’”

Another approach unique to Jabara’s is Jason’s willingness to be a guinea pig. As part of the Shaw Flooring Network and a member of the Shaw dealer council, he is always the first to sign up for new programs. This included the Shaw’s lead conversion platform, Velocity, as well as the Costco flooring program, which propelled Jabara’s into a new channel. “We continue to expand our shop-at-home footprint,” says Jason. “We started in the Costco program with Shaw and expanded to a full shop-at-home experience. My biggest thing has always been to see if we can find ways to reach more customers without expanding our brick-and-mortar footprint, which we have been able to do through online investment and through programs like Costco. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of our brick-and-mortar showrooms, but I’m always willing to try new things, especially Shaw partnerships. We pivot very easily. There aren’t problems that we can’t work around or through.”

The Jabara’s Home Improvement arm of the business means that the entire operation is characterized as “essential,” enabling it to stay open during the quarantine. However, business has declined considerably, and Jason was forced to furlough half his staff. “Overall, the home improvement sales have been flat April over April, but flooring has been down a little,” the CEO reports.

He continues, “The other flooring stores that are open in the area right now are by appointment or concentrating on builder and new construction business, which we don’t compete in. Wichita is home to three of the top 50 independent flooring retailers in the country, so those guys are battling it out for the construction and builder business.”

In addition, the day-to-day of business in the pandemic has proven to be different. For instance, Jason reports that customers are no longer “just looking.” Every one that comes in is buying-primarily carpet and LVT in the lower to mid range.

The second to last week of April, Jason reports seeing signs that some degree of normalcy may be returning, “Customers are starting to come back. I wouldn’t say people are ignoring the shelter-in-place, but they are getting antsy and sticking their heads out more.” Jabara’s is responding to this operationally. “The foot traffic isn’t there yet,” says Jason, “but we are gradually starting to bring people back. We moved the staff we hadn’t furloughed back to full time, and we will bring a few of the furloughed staff back next week.”

In addition, online inquiries are up. “The number of leads we are getting online is expanding [in the pandemic]. People are signing up for coupons, shop at home service, installation,” Jason reports.

Jason has noticed changes in human nature as a result of the pandemic. Customer phone calls to the store have essentially doubled in length, as people are eager to make contact with anyone outside their quarantine environment. “Even if they are just calling to find out store hours, the conversation lasts ten minutes,” Jason laughs. He also notes that some of his furloughed staff still come in to the store each day to have their morning coffee and chit-chat with their co-workers.

About a year ago, a Wichita newspaper compiled the top ten well-known brands in the city, and Jabara’s was among them. The company reinforces its name-recognition with a substantial advertising program, primarily through television and the Internet. Both Jason and Josh have appeared in the company’s commercials, as their father did.

The company was one of the first to sign up for Shaw’s Velocity program and reports that, today, around 30% of its advertising budget is utilized online. “We have hefty Google and Facebook budgets,” says Jason. “Getting our message out there is still a challenge. There are thousands of TV choices now, so the biggest challenges is finding customer: figuring out where they will be and targeting them. That’s harder now than ever before. They’re a moving target.

And just because you spend doesn’t mean it will work. We use Jason Goldberg’s Retail Lead Management software to track leads. The days of putting your phone number out there and expecting people to call are gone. That’s not how it works anymore, so we continue to adapt and expand,” says Jason.

Interestingly, many of Jabara’s Wichita competitors haven’t yet capitalized on the opportunity that online offers, and that, Jason believes, is far worse than being present with a few knicks, “We have had our fair share of bad reviews online, but I have a map in my office with all the different flooring stores in Wichita pinpointed, and there are 60 of them. None of those have any reviews. We have 400 cumulative. We are a trusted name.”

True to the style of business has Jabara’s has conducted for the last half century, Jason has his sights set on expansion, but what that will look like is hard to say. “It will be hard for us to recreate what we have here in other locations, but expansion is probably in the cards,” he says. “What we offer and how we do it is unique, and I think, unfortunately, that the pandemic will create some holes, as some companies won’t be able to come back. We expect to withstand and grow from it. And it has given us the time to re-evaluate and fine-tune. Right now, we are working on training and virtual processes. We have also started a grab-and-go service, where a customer can email an order or call it in, and we will have it all ready for them to pick up.”

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc.