CB Flooring's Eastern Seaboard operations: Best Practices - Oct 2015

By Jessica Chevalier

Carol Bode and Chuck Bode share an ongoing joke about the name of their business, CB Flooring: which partner’s initials are referenced with the CB moniker? The pair started CB Flooring in 1997, after selling their first commercial flooring operation, Bode Floors, to Shaw Industries in 1996. 

Today, the couple, who have been married for 40 years and worked together throughout the entire span, operates six locations—two commercial firms, two to-the-trade operations and two retail locations—across three states, grossing $70 million annually. And, as for the CB, it seems reasonable to assume that the name honors both partners because, while Carol is the main stockholder and president, the pair operates as a true team. “I create havoc, and she cleans it up,” Chuck explains with a laugh.


A STARNET AMBASSADOR

CB Flooring is a member of Starnet, and Chuck serves as a member of the organization’s board of directors. The Bodes are big fans of the organization and, in fact, their first floorcovering operation, Bode Floors, was also a Starnet member. 

“Honestly,” says Chuck, “it’s a group of the best commercial flooring entrepreneurs in the U.S. The members of Starnet are really good at what they do. We spend time swapping best practices, and the camaraderie between us is enormous. And, if I win a job in virtually any market across the country, I can cover it with Starnet members.”

 

BUILDING A SERVICE BUSINESS
Like many of the most successful dealers in the industry, Carol and Chuck believe that the key to the success of CB is taking good care of customers. “We are really a service business,” says Chuck. “You can buy floorcovering from anybody. The only way to differentiate yourself from other commercial flooring dealers is to have the systems in place to provide a high level of service that customers really can’t get anywhere else. Most GCs [general contractors] focus mainly on price, but they eventually come to their senses and realize that it’s less painful to deal with a substantial firm than a low bid.”

And, in Chuck’s view, the key to service is building relationships. First, at the employee level, “Take care of your employees, and they, in turn, will take care of your customers,” he says, and then with all the cogs that make the floorcovering wheel turn: vendors, contractors, A&D and end users. “I grew up an operations guy. When you perform well in the field, you will get the next order,” he notes.

Increasingly, part of the commercial contractor business is helping customers decide which product is right for their specific application. “More and more, we are becoming relied upon because we know about such a variety of products. A mill rep can only show the products from their brand, but we can show all the brands and make sure the user gets what they are looking for, the best product for their job.” Chuck notes that excelling in this role depends on getting in on projects early, and that is something that Starnet, to which CB Flooring belongs, is encouraging its members to do. 

In order to build CB’s ethos as a go-to source for product information, Carol and Chuck recently hired a full-time designer who will, at no charge, assist clients in choosing products. “We are trying to deliver a customer experience that results in a satisfied customer on a regular basis,” Chuck explains. “We try to be as attentive as possible to our customers’ needs. There are a lot of choices in the market. If you don’t differentiate, it’s an issue. We go out of our way to forge relationships that are long-term in nature. We are not interested in winning one job, but multiple jobs over multiple years.” 

The foundation of CB’s work is commercial, which accounts for 60% of its total revenue. The company performs commercial jobs ranging from $10,000 to $3 million. The remaining 40% of the business is divided between multifamily (25%), builder (10%) and retail (5%). 

While CB Flooring has an ad budget for its retail store, it does very little advertising on the commercial side of the business. In fact, the commercial branch of CB has more demand than it can fulfill. “Our salespeople are always looking for good corporate customers, end users and general contractors, and there seem to be plethora of them in our market.” In addition, Chuck reports that the multi-family end of the business has been on fire for the last three years. 


THE MARRIAGE & THE MAGIC

A married couple that has lived and worked together for 40 years? Carol and Chuck get a lot of questions about how they make it work. 

To start, the couple separates their duties. Carol handles the financial end of the business, and Chuck oversees sales and operations. 

But that isn’t the only key. Though Carol and Chuck spend the day in the same office, that office happens to be 75,000 square feet. Chuck’s office is at one end, and Carol’s is at the other. Says Chuck, “We are literally a football field apart, so we don’t have to interact every hour of the day. We each have our own domain.”

In addition, Carol and Chuck have a strict church-and-state separation of life and business, so, if at all possible, they don’t discuss business at home. 

“We could never have grown a business to the size that ours is without the qualities that each of us bring to the table,” says Chuck. “Our differing strengths are the secret sauce.”

 

CHUCK’S TAKE ON THE FLOORING INDUSTRY
Chuck has some strong ideas about the most pressing issues that the flooring industry is facing. First and foremost, he believes that the lack of qualified installers is a significant problem, and that retailers and commercial contractors are both contributors to and victims of the dilemma.

“I hear about this all the time from Starnet members,” Chuck says of the installer shortage. “The fact that we’re all using subs isn’t helpful in that regard. Training is different with a regular employee.” 

In essence, because the bulk of commercial contractors and retailers are unable or unwilling to bring installers in-house as employees, they are forced to accept the available installation subcontractors at whatever level they exist, and, as such, they have little leverage in raising the quality of the profession. Very few shop owners, after all, are going to invest significant time or dollars in educating individuals to whom they have no contractual allegiance. 

Along with that, Chuck expresses concern about the government’s current restructuring of the criteria defining independent contractors. “The situation with installers has changed over the last ten to 15 years,” Chuck adds. “We used to use mostly W2 installers, but there was a big switch. Today, 80% of labor dollars in the flooring industry go to subcontractors. The Obama administration is focused on this issue right now because of Uber, and it is very relevant to the flooring industry. Every dealer needs to be apprised of it and make sure their contractors pass the litmus test as actual subs.” CB Flooring has a least 50 subcontrator installers in the field working daily, overseen by field supervisors who are, in fact, W2 CB Flooring employees. 

HIRING TALENT
Chuck cites the challenge of attracting talent as one of the most critical for CB Flooring, noting that finding good candidates is the first and most crucial step. 

“The best referral is from an existing employee,” says Chuck. “The least effective means of finding an employee is to advertise. We use some of the new technologies, like LinkedIn, that are okay, but I still believe that the people who enjoy working at your business will make the best recommendations.”

In hiring, Chuck subscribes to the idea that you should hire for attitude and train for the job. “I try to find people with the right attitude and good energy, and train them. This isn’t brain surgery. It isn’t anything that a person can’t learn if you are willing to invest a year.” 

Unlike some retailers who are wary of youth, Chuck, who is 62 and the father of two Millennials, prefers to hire the younger generation. “Young people bring a different perspective. They are forward thinking. Their tech abilities are phenomenal. They have a willingness to network, a high energy level and social media skills. Our industry needs a youthful infusion.” 

Chuck notes that, in hiring the young, it is essential for employers to realize that work-life balance is very important to the Millennial generation, “and some fun in the workplace.” 

Chuck and Carol’s son, Matt, who is 26, joined his parents in the business about three years ago and is currently in sales. Their daughter, Emily, age 23, is a recent graduate of the University of Miami and currently works as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers.



BITTEN BY THE ENTREPRENEURIAL BUG

Carol and Chuck were high school sweethearts at Glenelg High School in Howard County, Maryland. Chuck trained as a lawyer—and passed the bar exam—but when his father asked him to join him in the original Bode Floors, the idea of being an entrepreneur appealed to Chuck, so he passed on law practice in favor of the flooring business.

The entrepreneurial bug once again bit Chuck after he sold Bode Floors to Shaw Industries in 1996. Though it was initially agreed that Carol and Chuck would stay on as Shaw employees, the couple missed the process of building a small business of their own, which led them to start CB Flooring the very next year.  



Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 


Related Topics:Starnet, RD Weis, The International Surface Event (TISE), LG Hausys, Shaw Industries Group, Inc.