Best Practices: Jimmy Lyle’s Flooring Gallery & Clark Dunbar Flooring Superstore - November 2022
By Jessica Chevalier
In 2019, Miller McNamara, a structural engineer, found himself in need of a change. He wanted a job that got him out of a cubicle, and he disliked being unable to see the fruits of his labor. He was interested in pursuing a career in sales or buying a business.
A buddy in the insurance business, whom McNamara had consulted about his career change, recommended that he speak with TJ Anderson, who owned two flooring stores and, nearing age 70, was looking toward what might come next. McNamara was initially uninterested. “I know nothing about flooring,” he told the friend.
“You need to see this,” the friend insisted, and after thinking on it for two weeks, McNamara decided to meet with Anderson.
It didn’t take long for McNamara to realize that the assumptions he held about the flooring industry and retail flooring business were erroneous. Entering the Jimmie Lyle’s showroom to meet with Anderson, he was impressed by the expansive 16,000-square-foot space and realized, “This is a viable operation, and the industry is bigger than I first assumed.”
The initial meeting lasted four hours. McNamara and Anderson found that they had a lot in common and formed a connection. “After that meeting, we had a plan of what our partnership could look like. A month later, we had another four-hour meeting, and we came up with the idea of me learning to run the business for three to five years before I purchased it,” recalls McNamara.
Ultimately, he says, “After three years, it was apparent that it was time for him to let go; I was ready to be the next steward.”
In addition to Jimmie Lyle’s, Anderson owned Clark Dunbar Flooring Superstore in Alexandria, Louisiana, and McNamara bought that operation too. That business, which started as a furniture store, was always operated separately from Jimmie Lyle’s. But, under McNamara’s leadership, the businesses are now being unified, buying together and utilizing that volume to save.
“Our growth has been great. We have grown by at least 20% each year. We will be close to $10 million this year; four years ago, we were half of that,” says McNamara.
When Anderson operated Jimmy Lyle’s, it sold jewelry, French chocolates, some furniture, lamps, pillows and pewter salt shakers. McNamara, who is now 33, is selling off this inventory and working to streamline the offering. “When TJ was running the business,” says McNamara, “everything was paid for, so he didn’t have to be hungry. He was breaking even most years, but I want to be the premier flooring center in Mississippi.”
While McNamara is eliminating some product categories from the offering, he is adding others. The business began selling countertops this year and has increased its porcelain tile offering, from around 500 square feet of showroom floor space to 3,000 square feet, for coordinating backsplashes, and he notes that tile sales have picked up dramatically.
ALTERING THE OFFERING
The expansion of the tile department is only one part of McNamara’s overhaul of the Mississippi showroom space. “When I got here,” he says, “the showroom was 80% soft surface with a 2’x3’ sample of every color we offered from every company. One rep came in and said, ‘I’ve never seen a showroom with this many 2’x3’s.’ We are now down to 40% soft surface. In addition, we took all the 2’x3’s out and condensed everything but still carry the same number of vendors. Our RSAs love selling off the rack. It’s simpler. And if we need a bigger sample, most companies will send us one for free.”
While the Louisiana store long carried Shaw products, the Mississippi store did not previously, but McNamara has now brought Shaw into the Mississippi showroom and, as an NFA member, is growing its offering from the organization’s vendor partners.
On the hard surface side, both stores have a full offering of products. The company sells a lot of LVT and stocks 54 different SKUs, displayed together on an “in-stock wall.” The company sells less hardwood than LVT but focuses on $10/square foot products in the Mississippi location and $3/square foot to $5/square foot products in the Louisiana location.
That approach is representative of the differentiation of the stores, with the Mississippi store serving a higher-end customer and the Louisiana location catering to a slightly lower price point, though it pulls customers in from seven different parishes.
Another key change took place outside the showroom at the Mississippi store. McNamara says, “For the longest time, the front of the building said ‘carpet.’ We were known as soft surface people in Mississippi.” The location does have a strong carpet offering-and that includes serging rugs onsite every day-but, ultimately, he knew it was important to make sure potential customers knew that Jimmie Lyle’s was much more than just a carpet provider.
McNamara also had the location refreshed. He says, “The ‘c’ in ‘carpet’ had been broken for 20 years, and outside lights never worked. It looked like we were going out of business. I had the building painted and got new signage.”
The Mississippi location, on a route that connects Jackson, Mississippi to Pearl, Mississippi, has an estimated 88,000 cars drive past daily and is located in a growing area.
THE LEARNING CURVE
With no background in the flooring industry, McNamara has worked hard to learn the ins and outs of flooring. His mentorship from Anderson was a great help, and, today, he leans into other experts, such as manufacturer reps, to gain an even deeper knowledge. “I monitor a lot, ask a lot of questions,” he says. “I really spend a lot of time with vendors that come in. They see so many showrooms, so I like to bounce ideas off them. I also watch my staff-where do they take customers most frequently in the showroom?” With his acquisition, McNamara inherited several highly seasoned staff members who have been valuable to the operation.
In addition, McNamara relies on his connections within the NFA as an educational resource-though that was not a sure thing at the outset. “TJ got into the NFA maybe 20 years ago,” explains McNamara. “But it’s the person that becomes the member, not the organization, so the NFA is not a guarantee if a company sells. From 2019 to 2021, I would go on the NFA trips, but I wasn’t certain that I’d get in. The financials those eight years prior to my purchase of the business weren’t high enough for membership. This January, on the Surfaces trip, I applied and was voted in. So I guess, over the course of those three years, I presented myself well enough to represent the NFA, but it was nerve-wracking.”
In spite of the stress of the process, McNamara always saw the value of the organization clearly. He notes, “It’s a great way to network and learn about industry trends, best practices, human resources, a great resource for bouncing ideas off people in the industry. If you aren’t in a group, how do you meet other flooring retailers? Sure, you might go to a country club and meet another guy in flooring, but they’d be a competitor.”
McNamara is proud of his product warranty and believes it sets his operation apart from other flooring retailers in the area. “We have warranty built into our installation for a year. We sub out some installation work but carry that warranty through with the subs,” he notes.
In addition, he says, “Our service is better. Customers at other retailers will talk to ten different people over the course of their purchase. Here, it’s the same person, start to finish. We try to make floorcovering purchases easy.”
Good staffing is both McNamara’s greatest strength and his biggest challenge. Those he has are wonderful assets, but he needs more of them. “You are only as good as the people who work for you,” he notes. “We have good RSAs and need good people to support them too. Human resources is hard, especially in today’s industry. What was before Covid a $9/hour job is now a $13/hour job. And on the installation side, people who understand the technical aspects of installing patterned carpet just aren’t around anymore.”
In spite of the challenges of staffing, McNamara has his sights set on growth. He hopes to hire a commercial rep to expand the negotiated side of the business. Currently, commercial accounts for about 5% of revenues through mainstreet-type sales.
He has additional locations in mind, as well. “The Madison area is expanding with a lot of new home construction,” McNamara notes. “But Madison is probably 25 minutes away, and several builders have said that we are too far to provide product at an hour roundtrip. So we need to see if there is enough marketshare up there to warrant another location, or we might consider adding in-house fabrication of countertops in a few years.”
“I want growth so that we can expand and better support the sales staff. I’m not on the sales floor; TJ was. I’m here to provide them the best tools and support, to make sure we are leaders in technology and logistics and smiles and service, to create a good working environment. If you aren’t growing and not putting in your best effort, the results will be mediocre. Growth is the goal,” he says.
Copyright 2022 Floor Focus