You meet the nicest people in the strangest places. Several weeks ago, I was returning from Surfaces, the floor covering market and found myself sitting next to Dan Buerkle and his wife.
Dan is the owner of The Rug Market in Rochester, New York.
We started talking, and Dan tells me his store, The Rug Market has been open since 1932 and was bought by his family in 1958. What makes his business unusual, is that Dan stocks 800 area rugs in his 3000 square foot floor covering store. Dan is the first person I’ve met that loves the area rug business and apparently is very successful.
Dan’s dad was a road salesman for Gullistan Carpets. He was tired from being on the road and felt if he owned a retail store; he would be able to spend more time with his family. We all know how this went. As a young man, Dan had several part-time jobs, one with Wegmans. In 1963, Dan decided he would try working alongside his father.
“I thought it would be a temporary job, but the industry was getting to me. I contribute much of my enthusiasm to industry educator Frank Mayfield. Frank was the first inductee into the World Floor Covering Hall of Fame and was considered a leader in the flooring and home furnishings industry. As I continued to listen, I realized the opportunity that was in front of me. I knew I could be part of something very valuable, and I could cause a change.
In 1968, Dan’s dad retired and Dan assumed the leadership role.
Area rugs seem to be a mystery to some retailers. However, Dan dedicates approximately 50% of his showroom to area rugs, and the other 50% to floor covering products, lighting, window treatments and accessories.
Rochester was one of America’s first “boomtowns” and rose to prominence initially as the site of many flour mills located on the Genesee River, then as a major manufacturing hub. Rochester is now an international center of higher education, as well as medical and technological development. It continues to grow although experienced the recession of 2008 like the rest of the country, and I wondered how Dan made it through the recession.
“In 2008, we lost a total of $54.00. Since then our business has continued to grow, and December 2014 was the best month we ever had. It has been all about knowing our costs, our customers and staying focused.”
How does a small upstate rug store continue to grow and thrive? Here are Dan’s tips:
- 1. Do your best to understand your business and your customers. Know their buying habits and watch the trends. When rugs don’t sell, get rid of them and find better ones to replace them.
- Attend trade shows. I attend the Atlanta Rug Mart, Surfaces and whatever else I feel will give me new ideas and products for my store. Look at fashion magazines, and look at new colors and styles. Fashion is fashion.
- Enjoy what you do. I realized I love area rugs; they’re magnificent and really dress up a home. I carry price points from $150.00 to $3000.00. I make sure the customer likes the rug they choose and suggest they take the rug home and make sure it is what they want. It’s just a question of finding the right rug.
- 3. Work with interior designers and let them know you want to be their resource. I have designers who have been with us for years. I let them know what I’ve seen at markets and what I’m planning on buying. I want to make sure I have things that will please their customers.
- Join a group that focuses on education, Dan is a member of joined CarpetsPlus Color Tile.
CarpetsPlus Color Tile is a national chain of premier floor covering design centers. Founded in the fall of 1996, CarpetsPlus began with a philosophy that emphasizes the independent store ownership backed by the buying power of a national chain. The buying power has been extremely valuable to Dan as well as networking with other members.
- Continue to update your showroom. Dan says he’s in the business of making homes look good, so he has to invest in his own showroom.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be optimistic and learn as much as you can about your industry. Dan finds the trade shows stimulating and enormously valuable. He and his wife love the trips, but the focus is on the products and education.
- Find your niche. I love area rugs and realized I was good at it. I built our brand by doing lots of advertising and word of mouth. You can’t be everything, but you can determine your path. When you find it, get better at it and stay with it.
What’s next for Dan? “I realize social media would take us to another level, says Dan, and my daughter is coming in to help me.” I’m wondering, is she just visiting or will she be inspired by what has been in her family for generations?
It may be hard for Dan to give up this temporary job.
Dan can be reached at 585-544-8690.
Lisbeth Calandrino has been helping businesses become more profitable for over 20 years. To have her speak to your staff or schedule a consultation, reach her at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.