Best Practices: Sterling Carpet One - Oct 2021
By Jessica Chevalier
Paula Anderson, president of Sterling Carpet One, believes that an individual’s success hinges on the people that they surround themselves with. When Anderson purchased Sterling Carpet One in 2009, she possessed a great deal of business experience but no flooring expertise and, as such, leaned heavily into both attracting and retaining hard-working and like-minded flooring professionals, who have rewarded her with their dedication and the knowledge needed to make Sterling Carpet One a success.
In 2006, Anderson, her brother and her cousin sold the wholesale liquor business that their family had owned and operated since 1905. Following the sale, Anderson was, in her words, “hanging out”; she acquired a siding and remodeling business and was overseeing that operation but wanted more.
Driving through downtown Grand Forks one day, she took notice of a large building (with a warehouse) that she had never before paid much attention to. At 21,000 square feet in total, it was “a big footprint for our town,” Anderson explains.
She called her father and said, “What is that business? And why aren’t there ever any cars in the parking lot?”
Her father didn’t know but advised that she find out.
Anderson telephoned her accountant, who made some additional calls and determined that the operation, a Carpet One co-op location, was suffering and to be foreclosed upon. “You only have a couple of hours. What do you want to do?” the accountant asked.
“I said, ‘Why not?’” recalls Anderson. Of her spur-of-the-moment decision, she says, “I’m a competitive person, and I saw it as a good challenge.”
HONING THE OFFERING
At the time of purchase, Sterling Carpet One was grossing $3 million a year and operating with a skeletal crew. Unlike most flooring stores, it had a wide-ranging product and service offering that extended far beyond flooring, including everything from paint to hot tubs.
Today, Anderson has honed and strengthened the business’ diversified line-up, offering a residential and com-mercial interior and exterior paint department; window treatments and blind cleaning; custom cabinetry and countertops; custom glass shower enclosures and doors; Norwalk furniture; lighting; acoustical tile; and a glass department that offers commercial glass-work, automated entries, curtain walls and storm damage repair. The company also offers siding installation, gutter installation and remodeling. Anderson sold the hot tub business, which took up a lot of showroom space.
“I added lighting in 2014 because our designers were including it in their designs but sending customers elsewhere for the products, so now we are a member of Lighting One,” explains Anderson. “With the exception of electrical and plumbing, we can do it all. I always remind my staff that while they are design-minded, the people who walk in are more like me. When a customer says, ‘I want new bedroom carpet,’ is that really all they want? If my designers draw up the design for the whole room, we need to provide everything included in that design, and that’s what sets us apart.” Lighting One is a division of CCA Global.
About 8,000 square feet of Sterling’s total 12,000 square feet of showroom space is dedicated to flooring.
Sterling sells all categories of flooring. Due to the snowy northern climate in which the store is situated, its carpet sales are a little higher than the industry average, though LVT recently dethroned the soft flooring to become the number-one selling category for the business. Anderson reports that hardwood sales are slipping a little for the firm, while laminate is increasing a bit. She credits laminate’s gains to both availability amid supply chain challenges and her in-house designers, a few of whom prefer the material to vinyl. Sterling sells a little ceramic and also offers bound area rugs.
The business has recently been putting more attention on its commercial flooring segment, which has its own manager and has been exhibiting decent growth. The company’s commercial offering includes a full portfolio of flooring products and services, more mainstreet than true commercial clients.
THE POWER OF THE TEAM
Anderson’s product diversification strategy relies heavily on the success of her designers to serve clients in creating and honing the vision for every project. Sterling’s designers do not hand off any aspect of the process to anyone (except for glass and installation), working with the customer from start to finish.
“I give my designers full authority when they meet with customers,” says Anderson. “They take them from beginning to end. They do the measuring. They pick out all the products. They schedule the installation.” Sterling’s entire RSA staff is designers.
Over the years, Sterling has designed a robust training program for its staff designers, which is facilitated by the store manager. The program features elements of Carpet One University, supplemented by material and programs created by Sterling.
Anderson considers her greatest business challenge “to always keep my staff satisfied and happy so that we can remain a team.” She adds, “I am blessed with the team that I have, and when I have to make difficult decisions, I always do what’s best for them.”
Anderson’s confidence in her employees has led her to make two expansions.
In 2014, one of Anderson’s main designers came to her and said that her husband had been offered jobs in two different locations: one in a town 45 minutes away from Grand Forks and another in Bemidji, Minnesota, two hours away. The designer said she would be willing to commute from the location 45 minutes away, but Anderson said, “Where do you guys want to live?”
The designer said, “We want to live in Bemidji.”
Anderson replied, “Let’s find you a store then.” That location is now managed by the relocated designer, who has four additional staff. The location accounts for around 20% of Sterling’s total sales.
In 2015, another valuable employee told Anderson that she was weary of commuting and asked for a small retail space to operate out of in her small community of Drayton, North Dakota. Anderson said, “If you can prove to me that you can make it work, of course you can have the space.” The location is close enough to be serviced out of the main warehouse, and the designer travels to Grand Forks once a week for a staff sales meeting.
Of looking ahead, Anderson says, “I don’t have the goal of adding another store, but if the opportunity comes along, I’ll look at it. My goals are always to increase sales and profit, but, more importantly, to provide my employees with the opportunity to work for a company they are proud to work for.”
Though the company’s installers are subcontractors, Anderson extends the same allegiance to them. “We have awesome installers,” she reports. “Retention is just about treating them right. We have found our core and continue to use that core. We are loyal to them, and they are loyal to us.” The company provides educational opportunities and events for its subcontractor installer team.
Anderson reports that while she learned business working alongside her father in the family liquor enterprise, she got her competitive nature from her mother. “People usually think of competitiveness only in relation to sports, but to me, it applies to everything,” she says.
At the age of 40, Anderson’s mother took up tennis and became competitive in the sport, eventually becoming the doubles partner for British pro Virginia Wade. Anderson herself plays tennis, and all three of her children do as well, the oldest two having competed in Division 1 during college.
“Last year for the Christmas party, we took everyone curling. I had never done it before,” Anderson laughs. “You either want to be on my team or you don’t want to be on my team, because I play to win.”
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