Best Practices: Levi’s 4 Floors - July 2020
By Jessica Chevalier
Levi’s 4 Floors sees the retail flooring business as a long game-not a series of get-them-in-and-out transactional one-offs, but education-based, relationship-based exchanges that result in long-term happy customers with flooring solutions that serve their wants and needs precisely.
With five locations in the Columbus, Ohio area, the company believes that the success of its honest and educational approach, which centers on never sugarcoating or overselling a product, is evidenced by the fact that carpet remains a strong part of Levi’s business. “We stick to quality and are up front about product performance,” explains Tyler Levi, manager of Levi’s 4 Floors. “We were 99% nylon for the first 25 years of business; we didn’t put any other fibers on our floor because of what we knew about nylon’s outstanding performance. So we believe that is one of the reasons carpet to hard surface hasn’t flip-flopped like you see elsewhere; since, over the years, our customer base bought quality carpet from us, they don’t have the hatred for carpet that so many do.”
With LVT taking over both residentially and commercially, the company has found itself again leaning into this philosophy with regard to selection and sales. “As far as choosing LVT, hell, I get a new email every day from a factory that wants to sell me a container, but our manufacturer relationships have afforded us the ability to take on products that we can trust our reputation with-and our reputation is the most valuable asset we own.” The company offers a range of qualities in LVT but sets up clear expectations for customers regarding performance expectations for each.
“We really like being pros,” says Tyler. “We pride ourselves on our integrity. It’s not necessarily about getting the sale right now but about educating the customer and getting them a floor that will perform.”
Tyler believes that the best advertising that Levi’s 4 Floors has is its reputation, built by his grandfather, his father and John (whom Tyler calls Uncle John). In terms of traditional advertising, Levi’s 4 Floors goes big and broad. “We don’t really back down on any type of advertising,” Tyler reports, “though we might do some types inconsistently.” In the company’s arsenal are online, TV, mailers, social media and some print.
The company’s advertising is fashion-based, and historically, it has not offered promotions, though it does now add promotion into the mix a bit while keeping its campaigns centered on fashion, quality and service.
“I recognize that social media is the modern word of mouth,” says Tyler. “I know it’s important. But do I think it’s a platform to advertise? We do some there, but, more or less, it’s where consumers go to see what people are saying about a business. If their friends say something good, that’s a bonus. We are active on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest.”
Levi’s 4 Floors was started in 1986 by Tyler’s father, Tom, and John Woods. However, the Levi family’s connection to flooring goes back a generation further to Tom’s father, Art Levi, Sr., who was marketing manager for a flooring retail store, also based in Columbus.
Tom caught the flooring bug from his father and asked John, his lifelong friend, to go in with him. Both men remain involved in Levi’s 4 Floors today and, separately, own a Carpet One store together.
Tyler spent a lot of time at the stores when he was growing up, and early in his college career studying marketing management, his father said to him, “I don’t want you to work in the industry, but do you want to work in the industry?”
“He gave me the choice,” recalls Tyler, “and when I graduated, I moved back to Columbus. It’s all I’ve ever done. I enjoy the industry and the relationships I have in it.”
Levi’s 4 Floors situates its stores in high-end retail zones. In fact, at one point, the operation had seven locations; however, as the areas in which two were established declined, the business sold them off.
Around 58% of the company’s sales are in carpet; in fact, 2020 marks the first year in the company’s history that carpet sales are below 60%. The company has a custom rug operation in house, and that business is bustling. In descending order of sales, its hard surface categories are LVT, hardwood, ceramic, then laminate. Levi’s 4 Floors is a flooring-only operation. “We want to be the best at what we know,” says Tyler.
As many in the flooring industry have heard, the Columbus market is a notably competitive one. “I hate considering big boxes my competition,” says Tyler, “But I know that our customers have likely checked the big box in their search. Since the beginning, the demographic of the customer that walks into our stores is the sort that tends to shop around more, to do their research. In home centers, they don’t feel like they are talking to a pro. Most aren’t buying flooring at a home center once we talk with them, tell them the truth. Regardless of whether they want to hear it, we are upfront and honest.”
Levi’s 4 Floors has a small mainstreet commercial operation that accounts for 10% to 20% of sales; this business has emerged out of the company’s relationship-style approach. “It was kind of a natural thing,” says Tyler. “Folks we knew would call us about their commercial work, and it turned into a small segment of the business.” The mainstreet operation has a small footprint carved out on one of the showroom floors.
Unlike most specialty retailers, Levi’s 4 Floors did not shut its doors during the pandemic lockdown. “We strongly believe-and our attorneys believe-that we are ‘essential,’ and we weren’t about to shut down and let the home centers be the only ones available,” explains Tyler. “During the first week of shutdown in Ohio, we were getting a lot of rain, and we had customers needing flooring due to flooding. We cut back some hours, but we were available. To some degree, business was steady. We obviously saw a drop, but we didn’t drop as much as some reports we’ve heard in the industry. May was pretty good, and for the year right now, we are pretty strong considering everything that has happened. I’m happy with the way it has gone, and, frankly, I think that pent-up demand is showing itself.”
Levi’s 4 Floors operates on a one-, three- and five-year plan that is revisited and updated annually. “One good part of being family-owned is how quickly we can change,” says Tyler. “Four or five years ago, we weren’t thinking about a pandemic. But our long-term view continues to be holding up our reputation, doing quality work and educating customers the same way we have for 34 years. The way we inform them may change, but we really care about the customer and want the best for them-the best looking product, the best performing-and that’s what I want preserved.”
The challenges, however, are changing. “Every specialty retailer is under a lot of pressure right now, and much of that comes from our partners in the industry,” notes Tyler. “That’s a big challenge. How do you handle the threat of your 20- or 30-year partner becoming your competitor? Consolidation in the industry has made this happen, and the Internet has created a way past the specialty retailer. I’m not saying it’s bad. What would I do if I were in their shoes?”
Finding installers and team members is a challenge. On both counts, Tyler emphasizes that there are people available, it’s finding the quality ones that is key.
On the installer side, carpet is especially challenged. The firm has an evaluation process that potential installers must go through before they are assigned work. “We have been lucky to get the quality installers that we have,” says Tyler. The bulk of Levi’s 4 Floors’ installation team is contract, though it does have a few of its top installers on staff.
As for the business side, the struggles are just as real, and Tyler believes that shifting generational expectations and desires plays into that. Being in a business with his father and John while also bringing Millennials into the team, Tyler values his opportunity to observe generational differences. “Retail is a tough business,” he says. “Right now, finding people who want to work is a challenge. The workforce is changing, and the way to make it attractive to younger generations is about more than changing the pay scale. People today want more flexibility.” Levi’s 4 Floors was fortunate not to let any employees go amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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