Best Practices: Oshawa Carpet One - October 2022
By Jessica Chevalier
Oshawa Carpet One’s compass is doing right by the customer. It’s the standard that Michelle and Guy Pylypiw operate by. “If we do that,” says Michelle, “our customers will carry the business along. Happy customers tell their friends and family, and we become a trusted advisor in the field. We direct our staff to let the customer be the guide; what does your gut tell you is right for them?”
This customer-centered approach is driven by the Pylypiws’ long tenures in customer service-centered fields. Guy began his career in the flooring department of a big-box retailer and went on to manage flooring installations for that store before departing to work as a project manager for a small, local flooring retailer. After five years in that position, he spent time as a sales manager for Beaulieu Canada, a large flooring manufacturer, then joined Oshawa Carpet One as a sales consultant in 2009.
A few years into his role with Oshawa Carpet One, the former owner asked Guy whether he’d be interested in buying the business, and the purchase was completed in 2014.
Michelle trained and worked as a massage therapist before transitioning to a corporate customer service position at General Motors Canada after the birth of their first son in 2009.
After Guy bought the business, Michelle went to their first CCA convention in the role of “supportive spouse,” she says. She sat alongside him through the entire event, and on the plane ride home said, “Well, I guess I need to quit my job. Everything we just saw-you can’t do it all on your own.” Within a few weeks, she was part of the Oshawa Carpet One team full time.
It’s a path she hadn’t foreseen. “I remember talking to someone many years ago-Guy and I have been together 24 years-saying, ‘I could never work with my husband,’” she says. “I’ve found that the key to working with a spouse is staying in your own lane. Define your roles and try not to step on each other’s toes. We can work well collaboratively but, at the end of the day, need some separation.”
While downtown Toronto is 60 miles from Oshawa, the city’s growth-accelerated amid the pandemic-has positioned Oshawa as a bedroom community for the city, and one that has experienced rapid housing market growth recently. Says Michelle, “The growth rate is so high that most of what’s being built is townhomes. The area has become very dense; they are not building homes with lots around here.”
While the housing market has softened and home prices have leveled off to some degree in recent months, Oshawa has proven to be a good location for a flooring business with a foundation in residential replacement. Oshawa Carpet One is about 60% residential replacement and 40% commercial work, with the bulk of commercial work coming from mainstreet and key accounts with local colleges and universities.
The company used to serve the builder market, as well, but exited that business, a decision that has proven beneficial. “We were terrified to leave the builder market,” says Michelle. “We thought we needed that work, but it was one of the best decisions we’ve made for the business because we’re not tying up our installers with lower-priced work.”
With the typical Oshawa customer being a mid- to higher-end buyer, the team chooses not to play in entry-level priced products. “I would rather do fewer jobs with better margins than a bunch with low margins. I’d rather chase dollars than cents,” says Michelle. The store offers a lifetime warranty on installation.
The company offers a full range of flooring products, as well as window coverings. Ceramic represents a tiny portion of business because “finding tile setters is a needle in a haystack,” says Michelle, “and we have a lot of tile places locally that specialize in it.” The ceramic Oshawa Carpet One does offer is primarily for backsplashes and showers.
LVT represents the largest portion of market demand. The company sells some laminate and hardwood, as well. And carpet is seeing a resurgence, reports Michelle. The company also offers custom bound and serged area rugs, which are produced out-of-house. Michelle and Guy have discussed internalizing the process.
“In the pandemic, people were living more in their homes,” says Michelle. “While they loved the look of hardwood everywhere, with the kids home they could hear every stomp all day long. In addition, spaces that were previously more formal or occasional spaces are now used as offices and the like, so there is a greater desire for comfort and softness. Many people are doing custom runners. A hardwood staircase is beautiful, but, for functionality, carpet may be better.”
Overall, the Pylypiws’ approach is to stay focused on what they feel the team can do really well. “We can provide excellent customer service and experience in flooring,” notes Michelle. “We stay in that wheelhouse.” More than 95% of the store’s offering is from core CCA vendors.
In 1978, the Oshawa Carpet One location was built as a Stradwicks. Stradwicks was an Ontario-based chain with about eight locations at its height, several of which still exist today. In the late 1980s, the Oshawa location was sold, and in 2008, the business became a Carpet One and changed its name.
“There are a lot of flooring stores around us, but we are one of the only who pride ourselves on being full service,” says Michelle. “We offer front-to-back service. The person who greets you at the door helps with product selection, comes to your house to measure and finalizes your sale; they do everything but the installation. Customers have one point of contact. We want to be ‘your guy’ for flooring, like a hairdresser or barber. A lot of other stores around us don’t run it that way. Sometimes a potential customer will get a quote from elsewhere and say, ‘We were offered a cheaper price, but we really want to deal with you guys.’ I tell them, ‘Sometimes you have to spend more to get more.’ We provide transparency. Our quotes, through RFMS, are itemized, and if a customer needs to shave off money to make it work, we’ll look at the quote with them and say, ‘Could you move the furniture out yourself or tear out the old carpet?’ We operate with transparency.”
The Oshawa Carpet One team is always up for making the buying process simpler through technology. It emails bids that can be digitally signed and can send a secure payment link as needed. When the team goes into a customer’s home, they utilize tablets and laser measuring devices, which give them the ability to finalize a quote on-site.
Michelle and Guy are enthusiasts for CCA and the Carpet One affiliation. While they don’t want their boys, in fifth and eighth grades currently, to feel pressured to follow in their flooring footsteps, they do seek to educate them about the opportunity.
Last summer, the family took a road trip, dipping into the U.S. to visit the CCA offices in New Hampshire. The CCA team ordered in lunch for the occasion, and the boys had the chance to sit down and talk to many members of the executive team, including co-founder Howard Brodsky. Brodsky spoke with the kids about the “power of the co-op,” which Michelle considers a wonderful and educational experience.
Hockey is near and dear to the Canadian people, and as such, Michelle and Guy see it as a great opportunity to support the community and get the business’ name out. Last year, the store sponsored the Oshawa Generals Hockey League and had signage on the field boards.
“We spend a lot of dollars in team sponsorships,” explains Michelle. “We like to give to the community that way, and we feel it hits the right demographic. In addition, we work with community leagues for kids who can’t often participate. This year, there is one hockey league running a cool program for kids with autism. If you want the community to support you, you have to support it.” Michelle and Guy have also been sponsors of the Ontario Ride to Conquer Cancer.
Making changes that move Oshawa Carpet One into the future is an effort that excites Michelle. “Our greatest challenge is related to our biggest goal,” she says, “and that’s the Retail 2.0 movement from CCA. It’s a reformulation of what retail will look like going forward for CCA stores: a culture shift, changes in how we sell, physical changes. We are preparing for that now. We have ways of differentiating ourselves in our market, but this will be a monster differentiator. Our store will look very different from other flooring stores, and the buying experience will be very different.”
The program contains many “moving pieces,” says Michelle, but clarifies that “change is scary but good scary.”
The Canadian roll-out will launch a little later than the U.S. one, which Michelle hopes gives Carpet One “a chance to work out any kinks.”
At eight strong, the Oshawa Carpet One team is in a good place right now, says Michelle. “The personalities fit and work well together.” Finding that balance is often a matter of catch and release.
After a long struggle to find even one good candidate for an open position, Michelle reports that she and Guy were surprised to interview two back-to-back one day. However, they only had space for one.
Michelle called the second-place candidate and explained that the other interviewee had “edged him out” by only a little. She asked if she could hold onto his contact information, and he agreed. Within six weeks, they needed another set of hands and hired him.
“It took two years to get the team where it is today,” says Michelle. “We kissed some toads in the middle. My husband always says that people can hide their crazy for six months, but then it all comes pouring out.”
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