From Obstacles to Opportunities
Floor Coverings International Cherry Hill Advances Relationship Sales
Tucked away in Camden County, New Jersey, the township celebrated today as Cherry Hill has a rich and varied history of settlement dating back to the European Quakers in the 17th century. As modest beginnings go, those early forays into the territory were fundamental to the growth of the region. Pioneers and visionaries who developed the area were up for the challenge, recognizing that hard work, cooperation and trust are essential to survival and growth. Families took root. Homes were built and businesses were formed, and, in time, a community thrived. The rest, as they say, is history.
A lot of history has passed in Cherry Hill since those days, but some things never change. The same principles of trust, cooperation and hard work that laid the foundation for this community are what Jeff Bell, owner of Floor Coverings International Cherry Hill, has leveraged to establish a multimillion-dollar repeat and referral business for the last 27 years.
“We specialize in relationship sales,” Jeff says. “I’ve pretty much retained every commercial customer I’ve had since I started this business. So obviously we’re doing something right. Everyone says they have good service, but I truly believe our repeat and referral business is far better than anybody’s. We do a really nice job and we follow up. We’re a small group that really cares about what we do.”
How did a small carpet company grow to take on half-million-dollar commercial contracts, earn $6 million in sales in 2017, and receive Franchise of the Year kudos for six years straight? For the answer, we’ll have to go back to 1991, when Jeff’s environment and early dreams prepared him to turn obstacles into opportunities.
No Stranger to Risk
Jeff is no stranger to risk or modest beginnings. A native of Quebec, Montreal, he moved to Cherry Hill in 1991 to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a dream that would set the course for his future; but not in the way he had planned.
“I moved out here to chase my dream of training race horses,” Jeff explains. “I had recently married and my wife was from the Philadelphia area. I got into the horse business after college. My dad owned racehorses; not as a business, but as a hobby, raising trotters and pacers. So, I trained horses until about 1995, where it played itself out. I discovered it was a lifestyle, not a job.”
As a result, Jeff sought out opportunities that would make the most of his good nature and natural abilities with people. He worked in the sales department for a company that sold franchises. One of those was a carpet franchise, which he ended up buying.
“I liked the challenge of flooring and the whole construction end of the flooring business,” Jeff says. “I liked changing spaces and helping people. I didn’t know anybody, but selling was always my strength, and that’s where it started. Early on, the franchise was a one-man band.”
In those formative years, Jeff focused on residential projects, treating every customer’s home as his own, and transforming spaces so residents of Cherry Hill could dream, live and grow a family and a life. Jeff and his team were sought out for their expertise and were known for understanding a customer’s vision, complementing their taste and design preferences with their own expertise, and drawing up a plan that was specific to a customer’s home, budget and aesthetic.
Jeff’s business evolved from humble beginnings as a small carpet company in Cherry Hill, where he worked with a couple of subcontractors for a few years. Over time, as Jeff’s business grew and as he formed and strengthened relationships, he also looked beyond the residential space and set his sights on the challenge of commercial projects. Those projects were key to expanding the foundation of his company; and as his clientele grew, so did his team.
“In 1996, we were part of a small franchise system,” Jeff says. “In 2010, we were bought by a large franchise system called First Service Brands and became Floor Coverings International. Today, we have 26 employees in three states and also employ eight subcontractors. Cherry Hill is the main office and we do business in Pennsylvania and have a showroom in Vermont. We are the largest Floor Coverings International franchise (there are 150 of them in the United States) and are at least twice as big as the second closest to us. We are approximately nine times bigger than the average franchise,” Jeff adds proudly.
“Our sales people are also the project managers. We take it from sale to installation with the same person, which is great; and as the owner, I’m involved in just about every project and know what’s going on.”
Jeff Bell, Owner and President, Floor Coverings International Cherry Hill
The Challenge of the Commercial Market
Accountability, cooperation and trust have paved the way for Floor Covering International Cherry Hill’s continued success. Every sales person sees the job through from beginning to end. Jeff is very involved in the day-to-day business, ensuring every project meets his standards and goes off without a hitch. He has mentored and developed a team that aligns with his vision and that “works hard and plays hard.” His team gives everything to every job that comes their way, and every ounce of energy to every project. At the same time, they come together outside of work to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy one another’s company.
“Our sales people are also the project managers,” Jeff says. “We take it from sale to installation with the same person, which is great; and as the owner, I’m involved in just about every project and know what’s going on.”
One differentiator for this firm is the team’s willingness to take on massive commercial jobs with serious time restrictions. These projects represent challenges that Jeff and his team are known for; this attribute has established them “as the team to beat in flooring in the region,” according to Jeff.
“We specialize in occupied spaces,” he continues. “There are a lot of weekends and nights, moving things that nobody really wants to do. We do everything from levitating furniture (suspended from the walls or ceiling) to doing dialysis centers when we have only a window of 12 hours to get it done.”
Ultimately, the growth of this company is tied to Jeff’s competitive nature and his pursuit of commercial projects that push his boundaries and that excite and challenge him, and allow him to find new solutions to transform a space.
“There’s way more challenge in having a time restriction and trying to put together a team big enough to get something done in 12 hours,” Jeff says. “Commercial projects are obviously much larger than homes: they’re not just four bedrooms with carpet. It’s generally different commodities, whether we’re doing gyms or whether we’re doing a 90,000 square-foot tenant fit-out, or a dentist’s office that’s using state-of-the-art flooring.
“You get to see a lot more innovative products than in the residential market,” Jeff continues. “In fairness, residential is pretty flat: it’s carpet, it’s hardwood, it’s tile. In commercial work, sometimes you get to see spaces that really transform. You go from a concrete floor to a beautiful office space. We just finished a project with a marketing company for medical firms. They put in a Milliken Luxury Vinyl Tile with a blueprint imprint over it. It looks really cool. In the commercial market, you get to be more innovative. It’s way more diverse and way more challenging. We just finished a Primrose Schools franchise and they were on a deadline. We put down 12,000 square-feet of flooring in four days. It’s challenging and I like the challenge. I like to believe that we do it better than the next person.”
Growing and Nurturing Relationships
Jeff’s interest in the process of production aligns with a commitment and desire to be part of every project. “There’s not a job I don’t know about,” he says. He is proud of the company’s sustainability and growth, and aspires to continue to nurture relationships as the business grows.
“I’ve taken pride in not growing past what I can service so we can continue be who we want to be,” Jeff says. “We’ve grown comfortably and know the limits of our production facilities and we don’t oversell. We do what we say and provide the service our customers are expecting.”
That perspective and genuine care for fostering and strengthening relationships over time also extends to his team, many of whom have spent their whole careers in the flooring industry; a handful have more than 20 years’ experience. Jeff values their commitment and has made a life out of partnering with experts who put in the hours and who believe in the product and company as much as he does.
That purpose and perspective also extends to the people and community of Cherry Hill. Floor Coverings International Cherry Hill donates to Habitat for Humanity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
What does the future hold for Jeff and his team? “I want to take care of my customers,” he says. “I see us growing the same way and will continue to develop our relationship base with our customers.”