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Published: Wednesday, 2/11/2009

Small is good in carpet wars

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Jack Lynch, showing Sharon Supinski samples at his Carpet Source Plus store in Northwood, says sales are down about 50 percent in the last two years, but the family-owned company has been able to cope. Jack Lynch, showing Sharon Supinski samples at his Carpet Source Plus store in Northwood, says sales are down about 50 percent in the last two years, but the family-owned company has been able to cope.
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Like many young people, Otto and Dee Weik packed up their Volkswagen Bug and hit the road in 1969.

But they filled the car with janitorial supplies and carpet-cleaning equipment.

Forty years later, their local firm, Carpets by Otto, has switched to selling floor covering. It is one of the survivors in a local carpet retailing scene battered by the recession, competition from home-improvement warehouses, and America's shift to hardwood and wood-laminate flooring.

But surprisingly, this is one retail war in which many local firms are still standing and the national chains have bitten the dust.

Clyde's, New York Carpet World, and two of three Dalton Direct stores in metro Toledo have left the area in recent years. Meanwhile, most department stores have halted carpet sales.

With new-home construction at a near standstill and consumers cutting spending, Mrs. Weik conceded that business isn't going gangbusters at Carpets by Otto.

"It's a little bit slower," she said. "But we're open and still doing pretty good."

Other local carpet retailers tell a similar story.

A major factor in the market shake-up, they say, are home improvement chains Home Depot, Lowe's, and Menards, which have flooded metro Toledo with stores.

Meanwhile, carpeting is facing agrowing challenge from alternatives such as hardwood, wood laminates, and ceramic.

Carpeting accounted for 62.5 percent of the nation's nearly $22 billion in wholesale floor covering sales in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, said Anita Howard, spokesman for the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis, Mo.

In 2001, carpeting accounting for 65.3 percent of floor covering sales.

Sales of carpeting and most other floor coverings fell in 2007 as housing construction stalled and the nation's economy began to sour. Other top alternatives and their percentage of overall sales were: ceramic tile, 12.4 percent; hardwood, 10.5 percent, and wood laminates, 5.3 percent.

Jack Lynch, 56, comes from a family of carpeting retailers. The youngest of 11 children, he went to work at age 16 as an installer for his brother's store. Today, two siblings operate carpet stores in other cities.

He founded Carpet Source Plus Inc., and his wife and daughter run the office of the establishment at 217 Joel Ave. in Northwood. His sons install carpeting.

The falloff in home construction hit hard, he acknowledged. "We were doing four to five new houses a month," he said. "Now, we're doing four to five a year."

Overall sales have declined by about 50 percent over the past two years. "We're family owned and we've been able to absorb it," Mr. Lynch said.

Modern Floors Carpet One, on Secor Road in West Toledo, was founded by Dick Knight in 1959 as Modern Hardwood.

Carpeting became the predominant floor covering sold there, although hardwood has made a comeback in recent years, said Mr. Knight's son, Terry, who operates the store with other family members.

Also celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009 is Harms Carpet One Floor & Home on Key Street in Maumee. Both firms are members of a buying cooperative called Carpet One.

Randy Harms joined the family firm in 1970. Today, the business also provides employment for two of his three sons.

The store has responded to challenges by increasing product offerings. Its original 1,500-square-foot showroom has been replaced by one nearly 10 times as large. For smaller family stores, surviving is an accomplishment. "If you can survive, you can continue to get stronger," Mr. Harms said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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