Mill Creek Carpet & Tile: Best Practices - March 2015
By Jessica Chevalier
Mill Creek is a unique venture comprised of three core businesses: lumber, mill works and flooring. The flooring side of the business operates in four states under two brand names, Mill Creek Carpet & Tile and Peek’s Flooring Company. Both flooring brands target the mid to high end of the market with a full range of flooring products, including area rugs in some locations.
Mill Creek was started by L.E. “Pete” Dunn in 1934 and is still owned by the Dunn family today. In the mid-1990s, employee Jack Rodden created the Mill Creek flooring brand as an add-on to the lumber business and began operations with a single store in Tulsa. Within a decade, the flooring brand had grown to 11 stores throughout Oklahoma, and in 2002 the company acquired Peek’s Flooring Company. Just last year, Rodden stepped down from his position as president, and in November industry veteran Gary Cissell took the reins as president.
Today, Mill Creek Carpet & Tile services the retail, builder and commercial markets with a substantial share in all three. In 2014, the business reached #62 on Floor Focus’ Focus 100 Retail list.
A MIDWESTERN APPROACH
Mill Creek Carpet & Tile’s logo includes the image of a saw blade. That image harkens back to the company’s heritage as a lumber mill and speaks to its Midwestern culture. In fact, Cissell sees those roots as one of the most important differentiators for the flooring business. “Mill Creek [Carpet & Tile] has a very Midwest customer service oriented culture,” says Cissell. “We’re focused on meeting the customer’s needs. We try to make sure that our people have the right attitude, so that they can understand, empathize with and communicate with the customer base. People here are genuine. They legitimately care about the company, the customers and their jobs.”
This “Midwestern approach” is also evidenced in the way Mill Creek Carpet & Tile treats its installers. The company spends a great deal of time on building relationships with these subcontractors. In fact, as president of the company, Cissell regularly participates in installer meetings, which are organized to be both fun and educational. These meetings typically consist of a 30- to 45-minute educational feature followed by breakfast, lunch or cocktails. The educational component might focus on correctly tiling a shower to prevent leakage or the proper way to clean a customer’s home after completing a job. Says Cissell, “These events make them [the installers] feel like they are part of the team.”
And Cissell is, of course, careful to hire or work with only installers who share Mill Creek Carpet & Tile’s dedication to its Midwestern style of customer service. Before hiring, the company puts potential installers through a battery of tests in addition to checking their backgrounds and references. Those who qualify are assigned jobs on which their work is supervised from time to time. After their initial jobs are completed, Mill Creek follows up with customers to make sure that the installer’s customer service meets their level of expectation.
A TWO-PRONGED APPROACH TO PRODUCT SELECTION
In selecting products, Mill Creek obviously chooses to carry the core products that customers demand day in and day out, but it also strategically seeks out products that will energize and excite its staff.
“We take a two-pronged approach. We carry the staple products that the customers demand; these are the things that make the business go. But we’re always looking for innovative products to use in advertising and to excite the staff and customer base. The sales staff gets bored with products that they see every day. We try to stir the pot a little with new products or by utilizing digital technology.”
Cissell offers Mohawk’s SmartStrand Forever Clean and Shaw’s Floorté LVT as examples of some of the more exciting products they have introduced. To further build interest around these innovative introductions, the company often creates an event around the new product launch.
Cissell adds that it’s never Mill Creek’s goal to replace “widget for widget” on a job. Instead, the business operates with the goal of making spaces—builder, commercial or residential—more beautiful. New products and product lines that help achieve these goals, such as the continually improving LVT category, are true wins for Mill Creek. “The LVT category continues to evolve and change,” explains Cissell, “and we are putting more resources behind that. It’s a product that solves a lot of problems for the customer.”
Currently, carpet and ceramic tile are the two largest categories for Mill Creek Carpet & Tile, but hardwood and LVT are the fastest growing.
ALL IN FOR NEW EMPLOYEES
Mill Creek hires for attitude. The company utilizes a series of questions and a methodology for asking those questions that allows them to screen for the desirable attitude and behavioral characteristics. The goal is to match good people to the right positions for them.
Once the selections have been made, new employees participate in immersion training, which, Cissell explains, provides them with job skills by teaching them one component at a time in repetition. For example, a new employee who must master the skill of on-site measuring may do nothing but measure jobs for a week, or until gaining proficiency. Next, that employee might move on to learning the proper ways to interact with customers by participating in role play scenarios with seasoned employees. That activity, too, would continue until the employee had achieved competency. Computer skills might be next on the list.
Ultimately, the goal is to make certain that by the time an employee reaches the floor, they will be assured of success because they have gained expertise with each of the required skills, a much more efficient use of both the employee and the business’ resources than simply tossing them into the action and hoping that they pick up the essential skills by osmosis.
In fact, Cissell considers continued improvement of the training process, for both new and seasoned employees, one of his greatest challenges within the business. “We want to make sure we are doing the right things for new hires and staff. We want to keep their skills sharp and keep them in tune with what the customer wants,” says Cissell.
The same holds true for the installation side of the business. Cissell explains, “We want to continue to improve the labor force, both from the installation standpoint and by making sure it is constantly evolving to meet the customer’s needs.”
Cissell has a big vision for the business moving into the future. In fact, currently Mill Creek is in the process of revamping its advertising campaign, website and social media presence, and, what’s more, Cissell has his eye on expanding its physical reach as well. “Long range, we will continue to evaluate each location as an individual business,” he says, “as well as expanding into other markets. We will be very aggressive over the next 18 months.”
Copyright 2015 Floor Focus