Best Practices: LBJ Interiors is winning as a single-source provider of flooring, furniture and design services – Aug/Sept 2023

By Jessica Chevalier

LBJ Interior Solutions is a unique enterprise, pairing two lifelong flooring professionals, John and Joe Gillespie, with veteran interior designer Joann Eltringham in a flooring and contract furniture dealership. LBJ Interior Solutions offers customers the opportunity to partner with a single-source interior finish provider possessing the knowledge and skill to both design and execute commercial and residential projects.

After spending nearly two decades at a design firm, Eltringham decided she was ready for a change. She had young twins at home and wanted a job that allowed her to spend more time with them. Eltringham remembers that on March 30, 2014, she had an “oh, crap” moment, unsure of what direction to take her career, and by May 1, she had a design consultation business.

She began by targeting “low-hanging fruit,” reconnecting with former clients and offering her services. Three years later, she was still at it, making enough money to survive but feeling like sole proprietorship was a stressful responsibility that she didn’t really enjoy.

Meanwhile, John and Joe had grown up in their father’s flooring business, launching their own operation in 2015. Eltringham was a family friend with whom they had partnered on many projects. After a while, the synergies became too great to ignore.

Eltringham recounts, “We said, ‘Let’s design and sell floors together. We can include furniture and millwork, too.’ Customers appreciated that single-source responsibility, so forming a business just made sense.”

The combined enterprise was slated to launch in March 2020 and did so just as Covid was taking hold across the United States. As commercial business was sluggish amid the pandemic, the LBJ Interior Solutions team maintained the influx of flooring upgrade projects that came in while clients were away from the office and also pivoted toward some residential work, allowing them to continue with their launch plans. “We’ve had a couple good years despite Covid-building a team and making a name for ourselves,” notes Eltringham. Today, the business is about 95% commercial, working across the commercial sectors but heavy in K-12 education work.

“Niche marketing isn’t my thing,” says Eltringham. “I consider myself a chameleon. Give me something to do, and I’ll figure out how to get it done.” In fact, throughout her career as a designer, Eltringham has not specialized, instead working on projects across the vertical sectors, as she enjoys the challenge of this variety.

Eltringham is president of LBJ Interior Solutions with John as vice president of business development and Joe as vice president of estimating. The business was previously certified as a woman-owned business, and following a recent restructuring, has again submitted for that status, with certification pending.

Eltringham is insistent that there are no secrets behind LBJ Interior Solutions’ success.-“We just work hard,” she says. “We approach everyday like, let’s go.”

On the operational side, LBJ Interior Solutions is now working to build out the team, which excites Eltringham. “I am driven by building a team, a team that is bigger than ever before, and I’m excited to develop and train new leaders,” she says.

Her drive to develop young minds is evidenced by her second job as an adjunct professor of design at local colleges Kean University and Brookdale Community College. “I have taught pretty consistently since 2005-usually a class or two a semester,” she says. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and this keeps me connected. I learn so much from my students.” Eltringham explains that working with young and learning designers has the added benefit of keeping her connected to what’s new in the world of design and materials.

In addition, Eltringham has looked to her student pool to fill intern and entry positions in her businesses. It’s rewarding and provides an opportunity for a fledgling designer to get practical experiences and will hopefully lead to a long-term employee. “I am passionate about sharing my expertise with students and helping them find their way,” she says.

John and Joe Gillespie’s father, Bob, retired from the flooring industry after running a successful flooring operation for more than 35 years. While Bob is not involved in LBJ Interior Solutions directly, he instilled his knowledge of the business in his sons, who worked for him before he retired.

Eltringham has been friends with the Gillespies for many years and considers them family. As with blood family, chosen-family relationships can be challenging at times, in such close quarters. “John, Joe and I have separate roles, and, together, we are fierce,” Eltringham says. “We respect each other. Sometimes disagree, but we respect our roles and stay in our lanes.”

A non-union operation, LBJ Interior Solutions thrives on relationships. “I have done very little marketing,” says Eltringham. “It’s all been word of mouth, relationship driven, bred by our loyalty and dedication to doing things well.”

LBJ Interior Solutions sells a full suite of flooring products from more than 50 flooring manufacturer partners and has relationships with almost two dozen furniture suppliers, as well. While the business, in its current form, is relatively new, it has a veteran team of installers that followed the Gillespie brothers from their prior operations.

“We are always making sure that we engage the right partners, ones who make us successful,” explains Eltringham. “Without them, it doesn’t matter how good our relationships are. We rely on our installers to make us look good, and, so far, we’ve had success at that. In addition, we know a good vendor partner, and we don’t settle for less.”

She continues, “From a flooring standpoint, being a flooring dealership, we have expertise due to our longevity of service as a family-owned business, coupled with expertise in design. Having the resources to say, ‘We are going to put out a great quality product, great service and great design,’ makes us stand out. And to be able to add in those other items as well-millwork, furniture and window treatments-definitely sets us apart from competition.”

Stepping from her design-only role to heading a flooring contract dealership hasn’t been without a learning curve, “A new thing for me is not winning all projects,” she says. “When you are bidding on work, you don’t always win, and that’s hard. In the past, most of my work was word of mouth, so that wasn’t the case-I wasn’t competing for jobs.”

She’s also learned to take a more comprehensive view of a project, considering not only the design itself, but managing the cost, functionality, service and budgetary aspects, as well.

Fall 2023 is a year of change for LBJ Flooring Solutions. In addition to its pending Women in Business certification, the business is onboarding new employees and relocating to a new office space. Eltringham and the Gillespies are excited for what’s to come, and Eltringham is looking to perfect LBJ Interior Solutions’ operations. “We’re focused on building our team, continuing to develop processes,” she says. “We want to work smarter not harder and have fun. We’re developing strategies to eliminate burnout because we’re always chasing deadlines. Those are big goals.”

LBJ Interior Solutions joined Starnet in May 2022. The Gillespies’ prior flooring business was a part of the organization, and John and Joe had spoken highly of it to Eltringham, who recently attended her first specifier seminar. “This was my first interaction with members,” she explains. “And I was blown away by my peers and their knowledge and cameraderie, their willingness to share their ‘secret sauce.’ I left feeling like a million bucks and came back charged to do great things. It’s amazing to have a room full of fixers working together, and I know that, to be a value member and give back, I have some work to do.”

Eltringham reports that she’s also tapped into Starnet University as a valuable resource in her flooring business education.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

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