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Columns

Persevering as business gets bigger and scarier

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published May 25, 2007


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After 29 years in the carpet and flooring business, Rufus Ashby was back at square one.

His parent company, Carpet Max, grew too fast and went out of his business in 1999. Undaunted, Ashby took over a shuttered building and opened a new carpet and flooring store.

Today, that fledgling operation has blossomed into 12 Flooring America stores in Tampa, Jacksonville and Jupiter.

The business success story proved perfect for the Leadership Brandon Class of 2007.

As part of the class' public image day, I interviewed Ashby about how he persevered through the difficult times, and why he is an active member of the community.

Pull up a chair and join us.

ERNEST: Where does your confidence come from?

I learned a tremendous amount in the six years I worked for this big public company. I learned a lot about what not to do. I learned a lot of things about what you needed to do to be a success. I would say the one thing we do better than a lot of people is that we have a lot of great systems in places, starting with merchandising and trying to bring great value to the customer. Confidence comes, I guess, with doing well. I've always been willing to take a calculated risk. I've always felt like if it didn't work out, well, I've started over before and I'll do it again. Were you worried at any point?

Last year at this time, business was so good it was scary. Of course, the builders' business went down the tube, and home sales dropped. And with 12 stores, there's a lot of overhead. The bigger I get, the scarier it gets. We've always been profitable. Right now, we're buckling down and trying to sell to everybody who comes in. It's not bad; it's just not what it was last year.

How much has the trend of hardwood and laminate floors helped?

Our growth has been an average of 25 to 30 percent every year. We're not seeing any more people, they're just buying a lot more. Hardwood, to get it installed, an average price might be $10 a square foot, where carpet averages $3 a square foot. When I started out in 1980, carpet was 99 percent of the business. Now hard surface - laminate, hardwood and ceramic tile - is 70 percent of our business. That's been tremendous for the industry. You obviously have a lot going on, and no one would fault you if you focused solely on your businesses. Why do you still take time out to help with various charitable efforts?

It's because of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Brandon that we've been successful. I like people. I like to network. We get back tenfold whatever we give. We have been successful, and we are a big contributor to different things that touch my heart. I feel good about it, and I enjoy it.

Do you think a business could come into a tight-knit community such as Brandon and succeed without getting involved in a charitable way?

I'm not sure you have to be a charitable person to make it, but you definitely have to get involved in the community. Brandon is a tight-knit group, and that's one of the things I like about it.

What advice would you have for people interested in starting their own business?

First you have to be highly motivated. A lot of people think it's a great thing to say they own their own business, but if you're working 40 hours now, you're going to work 80, easily, getting it going. Cash also is important. You don't want to be worried every Friday about making payroll. You don't want to be worried about not having the cash to buy that inventory. Align yourself with the banks. Unfortunately, if you need the money, they don't want to loan it to you. But little by little, I established a minimum credit line, and it's like six times that now. Without cash you're dead.

DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest

In his free time, Ashby loves to play tennis and spend time with his wife and three kids. As far as business, Ashby reasons if that his employees do well, the company is going to do well. My response: Are you hiring?

[Last modified May 24, 2007, 07:37:42]


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