Best Practices: Vertical Connection Carpet One Floor and Home – June 2023
By Jessica Chevalier
Founded as a vertical blind retailer, Vertical Connection Carpet One Floor & Home is a second-generation business in Columbia, Maryland run by Adam Joss, son of founders Kathy and Steven Joss. Over the last 46 years, the Joss family has grown their business from an evening side-hustle to a full-scale flooring operation with significant to-the-trade and shop-at-home arms.
A SEED SPROUTS
In 1977, Kathy and Steven were a young, married couple with a toddler-aged daughter. Needing vertical blinds for a sliding door in their home, Kathy and Steven visited several local retailers, where they experienced a bit of sticker shock at the cost to purchase the window covering. So, Steven contacted his cousin, who operated a vertical blind manufacturing business in New York, gave him the measurements of the blinds he needed and was surprised to learn the wholesale cost on the product. Realizing that they could partner with his cousin and sell vertical blinds at a price lower than local retailers, while also making a profit, the Josses decided to launch a vertical blind venture.
At the time, Steven was a toy salesman, and Kathy worked part time as a proofreader at the local paper. The couple determined that their first step in getting the word out about their new business would be running a classified ad in Kathy’s paper, and, as it turned out, classified ads were free for employees.
Excited about their endeavor, Kathy also felt a bit of trepidation, worrying that an unhappy customer could make life in their small community uncomfortable. The couple promised one another, then and there, to commit to going above and beyond to achieve customer satisfaction and to develop not just customers but friends.
With a background in sales, Steven was the face of the business; Kathy worked behind the scenes. Steven spent days on the showroom floor and traveling to customers’ homes in the evening to do measurements. Per his and Kathy’s customer-centric commitment, if a customer would offer Steven a glass of wine after he measured their home, he’d agree and sit down for a chat. In the Josses tight-knit community, that conviviality went a long way.
Frequently, while on the job, Steven would be asked for recommendations for floorcovering dealers, and, by the mid- 1980s, tired of referring business to others, Steven and Kathy decided to get into the floorcovering business for themselves. The couple, who had no background in flooring, set up a floorcovering and window covering showroom in an industrial park, which had virtually no drive-by traffic. In 1994, they joined Carpet One.
More than a decade later, Steven and Kathy’s son, Adam, was in New York City working at an investment bank when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Nearing 30, Adam had an entrepreneurial itch, and, single, he had nothing tying him to his job or New York City. So, he quit, moved home and, forgoing a salary, set out to grow his parents’ business.
“I have always been a hard worker, like my parents,” says Adam. “A year after I started, we moved into a larger location in a strip mall with double the showroom space and better visibility. At that time, I was working seven days a week because we didn’t have enough staff.”
He continues, “It was a scary time, a risk, but we doubled business that year because of it.”
That risk paid off, and, more recently, Vertical Connection took another. “We expanded into shop-at-home,” reports Adam. “This is another big step up. Going out and reaching out has been helpful in growing. We have three vans today, and the business is going very well. I believe it will probably be larger than traditional retail at some point.”
Today, Vertical Connection’s revenues are nine times what they were when Adam joined, and Adam, always hungry, has his sights on doubling the size of the business as it stands today.
Vertical Connection still sells window treatments today, and those account for around 20% of business.
The flooring portion of Vertical Connection’s business includes carpet, fabricated area rugs, vinyl, hardwood and laminate, with carpet being its largest flooring category. “Carpet is still a massive segment of the flooring industry,” says Adam. “It offers a lot of opportunity and is somewhat protected. With hard surface, retailers are competing against anyone with a saw or a box-cutter. Carpet is a protected trade, and we focus on it.”
As of right now, traditional retail remains the company’s largest arm, with to-the-trade coming in second, followed by shop-at-home. Of the to-the-trade business, Adam reports, “We work with a lot of designers, contractors, realtors and do insurance work.”
SERVICE, SERVICE, SERVICE
“We are big on making sure that a customer has an exceptional experience from the first moment of interaction,” reports Adam. “We have over 1,000 reviews across the platforms. I started thinking about customer service the way e-commerce players like Amazon do; we take care of problems without question. If a customer has a concern, we don’t fight with them; we just take care of it.”
Of course, a single person’s philosophy can be challenging to roll out across a team of 20. Adam reports that, from the first interview with any potential staff member, he shares the story of his parents’ initial commitment to pleasing the customer and continues on from there, never relenting on that messaging.
As with many businesses today, staffing is the most significant challenge for Vertical Connection, so Adam works hard to give his staff independence and properly reward them for their efforts. “To attract good employees, you have to pay them well, provide opportunity and support them,” he says. “If you do all that, you will find and retain good people. I think of everyone on our staff as business owners. They are running their own business, and I am there to support them. My responsibility is to help them grow their business however they want.” That care, Adam finds, yields reciprocity.
“If our sales team delivers well, they are sharing our customer-service message, our origin story and the take-care promise with customers, and then pointing to our online reviews,” he adds. Some of Vertical Connection’s sales staff focuses on flooring, some on window treatments and some on both.
Additionally, per his corporate background, Adam believes strongly in continuing education. Vertical Connection holds regular staff meetings that are focused on education efforts and leans into Carpet One’s university program as well. “Part of my responsibility in supporting the team is helping them learn and develop,” notes Adam.
With Vertical Connection’s first store being in a somewhat out-of-the-way location, advertising became an important part of the business’ success from its early days, and that has continued under Adam’s watch. Both Adam and his children appear in the company’s television commercials, which are available for viewing on YouTube. Adam believes that because people connect with people, having faces in Vertical Connection’s ads is highly important. In addition, the ads often include “shop local” messaging.
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