Dave: Hello, and welcome to another “Business Talk” show, brought to you by the Sharonville Chamber of Commerce again. Once again, my name is Dave Sperry, a local business owner. I own Speedpro Imaging on East Camper Road right in the heart of Sharonville. Not Downtown, but in the heart of Sharonville, and also a very active member of the Sharonville Chamber, and we have another active member of the Sharonville Chamber joining us first off tonight, Katie Fitzgerald. Katie is the owner of Floor Coverings International. So as you can see from our set here, we’re all ready to talk about every possible type of floor that exists or will exist some time here in the near future.
Katie: You’ll learn more about flooring than you ever wanted to know.
Dave: There you go. Welcome, Katie, to “Business Talk” and we appreciate you being a member of the Chamber.
Dave: So, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Katie: Well, I’m married and we have two boys. Our older son just finished high school and he’ll be going off to college at Temple University in Philadelphia, and our younger one will be a sophomore at Madeira High School. About two years ago I left my career at PNG and bought this franchise. So, a lot of people ask me why in the world would I ever want to get into flooring, and well my first hurdle was to kind of realize that I wanted to get out of the corporate world and do something different. So, I got myself connected with a franchise broker, and she interviewed me and got to know me, and gave me a few options to consider. When she mentioned flooring I actually kind of laughed at her. Why would I ever want to sell floors? But as I got to know more about the world of franchising and more about Floor Coverings International, it’s just a company that I really felt like I could fit well with. The people were smart and fun. I felt like I could really respect them and have a good time working with them. The company makes a great use of technology, which I’ll get into a little later. I never expected that out of a flooring company that they would be technologically savvy.
Katie: The idea of being able to, in time, branch out into other areas of remodeling or construction just really appealed to me.
Dave: Well, tell us a little bit about exactly who Floor Coverings International is.
Katie: Well, it’s a franchise. It’s been around a little over 20 years. There are about 100 of us across the U.S. and Canada, and it has a bit of a unique approach to flooring, which was one of the things that really appealed to me. We have a brick and mortar showroom in Blue Ash, but we also have what we call our mobile showroom. So we have a couple of wrapped vans. I know you’re very familiar with that because you wrap vehicles. One of them we always keep chalk-full of samples. So, typically when we get a call from a client, we’ll go to the client’s home or place of business with our van full of samples. We’ll go in and meet with them. We’ll talk them through our little client manual, as we call it, and just kind of give them a background of who we are, where we come from, what we do. We’ll take our measurements with our handy little laser measure-er. So, again, technology comes into play, and we plug everything into our software application on our laptop. Our system, we have one system that does everything from keeping our customer data to, that’s where we draw our floor plans. That’s where we write our proposals, we keep our price list.
Dave: That’s probably one of the most proprietary parts of Floor Coverings International.
Katie: Absolutely. Probably one of the most unique aspects of the company is the visualization aspect of the software. We can go into a home, take a photograph of the room and within about five minutes we’ll show our clients what different flooring options would look like. We can change the direction of hardwood. We can change the layout of tile. We can change the grout color and switch from product to product, color to color, you name it.
Dave: It sounds pretty cool.
Katie: So, a lot more effective than showing up with just a little swatch of, say, carpet and trying to decide, “How’s my whole house going to look with that carpet in it?”
Dave: Yeah. What led you to start up your own business? You may have already answered that.
Katie: Well, it’s kind of interesting. I never wanted to own my own business. I grew up with – my father had small business after small business when I was a kid and was really never a success. A brilliant man, but just didn’t have the business sense to kind of go along with that brilliance. So, the corporate world for 22 years that I worked at PNG was a great fit for me. But when I started to investigate franchising and I began to understand more about when a good franchiser, the level of support that they offer to their franchisees, I thought, “Yeah, I could do this.” They filled in all the gaps, which were mostly gaps when I started. Didn’t know anything about flooring, didn’t know anything about running my own business, and they just helped me through it all. Starting your own business, when you get into the franchising world, I guess the biggest thing that you need is some gumption.
Dave: Mm-hmm. After you get it, it has to be part of your DNA.
Dave: What type of flooring do you carry?
Katie: Well, we carry all types of flooring.
Dave: Or what kinds you don’t carry? I don’t know.
Katie: There is one type that we don’t really do much with and that’s epoxy.
Dave: Okay. Well, you don’t do garage floors. Katie: I don’t do garage floors, but I’ve got a great guy who does.
Katie: But we do everything from hardwood, and there are various types of hardwood…
Dave: Yeah, you’ve got a few.
Katie: To laminates.
Katie: We do carpet, area rugs, luxury vinyl tile is a big thing these days.
Dave: Now this looks more like tile.
Katie: It looks like tile. So, that’s kind of what laminate is.
Katie: It looks like whatever it is.
Katie: So, laminate has a photograph of the flooring material.
Katie: So, you’ve got a pressed board core, and on top of that you’ve got the photograph of tile, or in this case of hardwood. The technology these days is getting to be so good that the photographs are just so darn realistic. They’re even putting texture into them now, as you can feel here. You could even get laminates that have the hand-scraped look, which is basically if you just beat the hardwood a bit and give it some character.
Dave: They’ve distressed it.
Katie: They’ve distressed it, yep. So, that’s laminate.
Dave: So what are some of the other current trends in flooring?
Katie: Well, in our business we do a little over 40% in carpet. So, still carpet is a relatively inexpensive way to freshen up your home and make it look new again. We do a lot of carpet for people who are looking to put their homes on the market. Our second biggest seller is hardwood, whether that’s a solid hardwood as you see here or engineered up here. Engineered hardwood, a lot of people misunderstand what that is. Engineered hardwood is not laminate. Engineered hardwood is real wood. What you’ve got is a core of wood and on the top you’ve got a thin layer of the species of hardwood, whatever it is that you want the look to be. So, that is a real hardwood layer on the top, on top of a real hardwood core. The reason engineered hardwood is popular and important is that when you take the layers in that core, we alternate the directions. That gives it more dimensional stability than a solid hardwood would have. Solid hardwood will expand and contract quite a lot with changes in humidity. Engineered hardwood won’t because those alternating directions of the layers kind of…
Dave: Stabilize it.
Katie: Fight against each other and stabilize it. So you can put engineered hardwood in a basement, for example, where you should not put solid hardwood in a basement.
Dave: Interesting. How do potential clients find you and where do you get most of your leads from?
Katie: Well, as our business grows and matures that’s changing a bit. I would say last year, which was our first year of business, we got most of our leads from Internet-based advertising, whether that be certain web portals or people Googling us and finding us on our website, that kind of thing. That’s still a very important aspect of our advertising and our marketing plan, but now we’re getting more and more of our business from referrals. As I’m sure you know, those leads are much better quality leads, and we have a much greater chance of closing them. Angie’s List, for us, has also been a great source of leads.
Dave: What do you find the most rewarding about owning your own business?
Katie: Well, I love the fact that I can be out and about in the middle of the day, meeting people who are not all just like me. In the corporate world, I think to a large degree, there are certainly differences. But people have a very similar DNA within a company. So, for me to kind of step out of that and get to know people of different professions, from different parts of town…
Dave: Same thing for me, I mean, you met people and know people and have friends that you would have never had in your previous life.
Katie: Exactly, yep. So, I love that aspect of it, getting to know their families, getting to know their pets. Dave: Well, you know their pets when you’re in there trying to put flooring in there. Right?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Helping them do something that will give them a more comfortable home is really rewarding. Dave: So what do you do when you’re not working?
Katie: Well, as a small business owner, when are we not working, right?
Dave: Exactly, yeah. Katie: But I do spend some time volunteering for a violin program that my boys are in and I’ve been a part of that program for years. Dave: Do you play the violin too?
Katie: I don’t.
Katie: I’m musically inept, but I love to volunteer, I love to listen to music and I love the fact that my kids are musical. I’m also involved in a number of different networking organizations throughout Cincinnati.
Dave: Cool. If someone wants to learn more about Floor Coverings International, but even more importantly your Floor Coverings International, what is the best way to go about doing that?
Katie: Well, several ways. One great way is to look on our website, and that’s cincinnatieast.floorcoveringsinternational.com. Lots of information on our website. Another way would be to give me a jingle and we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about the business. If you’re interested in flooring, fantastic. If you’re just interested in understanding the business, that’s fantastic as well.
Dave: If they want to see a demonstration of your, what is that, your laser measurer?
Katie: Yeah. This takes a lot of the guesswork out. It makes sure that we have really accurate floor plan measurements. So I can measure from here to that wall, for example, and we’ve got 11 feet, almost ten inches just like that.
Dave: I wish one of those would work for measuring cars to wrap them. I don’t think they’ve made one of those that will quite do that yet.
Katie: This even has Bluetooth on it, so I could hit…
Dave: So it goes right through there?
Katie: A certain number of buttons and get it to go right into my floor plan drawing software. So it’s fantastic. So I know that we have really accurate floor plans when we’re drawing them.
Dave: Cool. Well, Katie, we appreciate you coming in and sharing all that with us, and we appreciate all you tuning in to another “Business Talk” show brought to you by the Sharonville Chamber of Commerce and we will be right back.