In 1970, four innovative brothers strived to start a business that was set apart by the way that it treated its customers. Tony, Harry, Steve and Jack Sarmazian started a Guelph, Ontario-based flooring installation company, and have since branched into other related services.
In business for just shy of half a century, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring is now run by the 10 children of the original brothers. The next generation of Sarmazians stand by the founders’ values of honesty, integrity, and family values – in both internal and external operations.
“The slogan that we like to use is ‘Where Customers Send Their Friends,’ and we try to live by that,” says Raffi Sarmazian, second-generation Sarmazian and Managing Director of the business. “We treat everyone like family. Our customers mean a lot to us. We do not only sell them products, but we also install the products. It’s a journey we go through with the customer, and it’s a big investment.”
At Sarmazian Brothers Flooring, the tight-knit team understands that their product isn’t something most people shop for every day. The flooring you use in your home should be high quality, elegant, and durable. Much of Sarmazian Flooring’s business comes from home builders in the new home construction industry, but the company also works with commercial institutions, and even directly with end users through its two showrooms. Sarmazian Brothers Flooring is uniquely both B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer).
Regardless of the customer, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring works to ensure that everyone receives uncompromising quality and meticulous craftsmanship. “People come to us, putting their trust in us that we’re going to do a good job, and if anything happens along the way, that we’re going to be there to take care of them. That is what our competitive advantage is,” Raffi Sarmazian remarks.
The diversified, family-owned company is a full service retail business. Its services include expert installation of a variety of flooring types, both in-store and at-home flooring consultation, and builder services for multi-unit buildings as well as single-family, custom homes.
Additionally, Samarzian Brothers Flooring, which is a member of the Insurance Claims Collaborative Inc., works with restoration companies and adjusters to give clients a home that is equal to or better than what was lost. The team works with property management companies, leveraging its buying power to find the right products for the right prices, with the durability and quality to withstand rental usage. It provides in-store products to independent contractors, such as flooring and sealing equipment at a renovator’s price point. What’s more, the company provides an impressive selection of options (with a designer’s discount) to interior designers and decorators who are looking to turn a client’s home into a space that reflects their unique personal style and needs.
On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring offers professional installation services for carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile and stone, resilient/vinyl flooring, luxury vinyl, bamboo, cork, and other commercial products. The company has expanded its specialties to respond to market changes; however, when it began back in the 1970s, it focused only on carpet installations. In the early days, Tony, Harry, Steve and Jack Sarmazian actually completed the carpet installations themselves. Proof of the business’ innovative spirit, the brothers created the kneeless carpet stretcher product as a way to alleviate some of the aches and pains that come with the skilled task of installing carpet flooring. The tool is an upgrade from the knee kicker, which is the product typically used in the industry. It requires no assembly and allows for more precise installation of carpet through control of tension and placement with an overall even stretch, even along doors and staircases.
“Over time, after repeatedly using the knee kicker, they thought to come up with a better way to do the job without putting so much strain on their bodies. The knee kicker product, when used repeatedly, can really damage your knees and your back,” Raffi Sarmazian tells us.
The original Sarmazian brothers decided to create the product for themselves, but also to offer it to other companies and DIYers who find themselves experiencing similar instances of bodily strain. The humble foursome hasn’t gone out of their way to publicize the crafty invention, but the business has it available for sale to anyone who may stumble upon it in store or while surfing the net. The product is also available through other flooring distributors who sell supplies.
“It’s still selling today. You can buy the kneeless carpet stretcher on the internet, and we sell it all over the world. It isn’t something that we push or brag about, but people find out about it. Those who do use it, swear by it,” Raffi states.
Sarmazian Brothers Flooring is a company that strives to do good in all of its endeavours. It is active in local charitable causes and organizations in the City of Guelph. These include: Guelph Gryphons AAA, Guelph Junior Gryphons Minor Atom AA, Kids Ability Foundation, Rotary Club of Guelph, Ride to Conquer Cancer, Habitat for Humanity, McMaster Children’s Hospital, Cambridge Memorial Hospital Foundation, and The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital.
Though Sarmazian Brothers Flooring is passionate about helping others as much as possible in a number of causes, it is very focused on its support for local healthcare. For the last three years, the company has been donating the proceeds it receives from a large annual sale to hospitals.
“This past October, we had a sale where we were able to raise $18,000. We are going to donate this money to the local Cambridge and Guelph hospitals. We’re making a long-term pledge where we are going to keep donating to this cause over and over again, so that our money isn’t going to be diluted. Instead, it will go to this central cause and make a bigger impact in that area,” Raffi explains.
There are many reasons that this local family business is held in such regard in its community. The Guelph Mercury Tribune Reader’s Choice award-winner is also a proud National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) member. Less than one-tenth of one percent of all flooring dealers meet the NFA’s strict membership criteria, yet Sarmazian Brothers Flooring has been a member of this elite group of 40 North American retailers for almost a decade, and is one of only two retailers that are located in Canada.
“We feel very privileged to be a part of the NFA, because of the best practices that we share together as a group, and the relationships that we share with vendors and suppliers. We get to be in contact with the upper management of these vendors and suppliers by being affiliated with the NFA,” Raffi says. In fact, he was elected to the National Flooring Alliance Board of Directors in late 2018.
“The NFA is all about change. We have a dynamic view of the world and consequently, we want to continue to be the change agents for our industry. Our vision for the future is firmly based on retail customer expectations. We and our supplier partners must find ways to continue to take costs out of the channels, enhance brand profitability, design innovative ways to educate staff and customers, and strengthen our categories against competing industries,” the company states on its website.
Starting as a business of four siblings, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring has now grown more than tenfold and has 45 fulltime employees, in addition to the subcontractors it hires. It operates out of two state-of-the-art facilities: its headquarters and showroom in Guelph, Ontario, and another showroom in Cambridge, Ontario. The award-winning company will soon add a third facility to its operations in Waterloo, Ontario. Construction on the new, 35,000 square-foot facility is scheduled to begin in spring of 2019, and it will be move-in ready in late 2019. The facility will feature 10,000 square feet of retail space in the front, and the rest of the building will be devoted to a Sarmazian showroom and warehouse.
With these future growth plans, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring will of course have to add to its current headcount of 45. Raffi Sarmazian says that he looks for those who care about what they do and have an interest in taking responsibility for their actions while minimizing mistakes. An eye for design is another differentiator that Sarmazian Brothers Flooring has been active in seeking out.
“We are transitioning to a younger generation of staff. We’ve hired a bunch of young people from the local interior decorating program at Conestoga College. We’re training people that don’t necessarily have a flooring background, but who do have a decorating and design background and we are teaching them flooring,” he shares.
Seeking fresh candidates with a design focus is atypical in an industry where many older flooring professionals know nothing of interior design beyond floor coverings. In fact, Raffi Sarmazian estimates that the average age of salespeople in the flooring industry is between 50 and 70 years old. “We understand that those people are getting older and are going to start to retire, so we are looking at getting a bunch of young people onboard now. That gives a business new life and enthusiasm. It’s a good thing all around,” he adds.
That isn’t to say that longevity isn’t just as appreciated as new perspectives. Sarmazian Brothers Flooring also likes to hire from within the company. “For example, we have had four employees who started in warehouse and admin positions, and have moved on to sales consultant roles. We have low turnover, with several employees who have been with the company over 10, 15 and 20 years,” Raffi describes.
Even so, a growing company will always need to hire new individuals. Why seek out interior designers? The company believes that having an eye on the bigger picture beyond the flooring of a home or institution gives Sarmazian Flooring’s new staff a unique set of skills.
“When it comes to flooring, at the end of the day it comes down to colour, style, and putting everything together as a cohesive whole. That takes a special skill beyond just a technical background and knowing about the installation of flooring. To have that designer background really is a value that customers look for,” Raffi states.
The ability to not only understand flooring but to help customers pick their paint, fabrics, and put it all together is a talent that not everybody has. Acquiring that eye for interior design first and developing a flooring specialization second has worked out well for Sarmazian Flooring’s new recruits so far. “It’s a very designer-driven market,” says Raffi.
Indeed, the flooring industry has changed significantly since Sarmazian Brothers’ early days when it was all about carpeting. In the 1970s, soft and shaggy carpets were considered chic, whereas nowadays people’s tastes have expanded and that classic comfy carpeted look has taken on a more vintage feel. Sarmazian Brothers Flooring moved with the market, expanding into other flooring types, and continues to follow industry trends.
“We change our product offerings to respond to the market. What we find is the carpet business is not as strong as it used to be, whereas other products are becoming more popular like rigid vinyl products and hard surface products. Do-it-yourself products are also becoming popular,” Raffi comments.
To get the word out about its products, the digital world is becoming increasingly important. (The “Kneeless Carpet Stretcher” promotional video, available to view on Raffi Sarmazian’s YouTube Channel, has amassed over 200,000 views.) “Television and radio are traditional media that we continue to find effective, but we’re continuously growing our online presence,” Raffi says. “What seems to be working lately is YouTube preload videos. If you are watching a clip on YouTube or streaming your TV show online, and ad will pop up before you watch these videos. We’re placing our advertising in front of those videos, targeted to the demographics that we’re looking for, and that seems to be working out pretty well.”
Since the majority of the company’s business is from home builders, the commercial sector represents another untapped market, as does ecommerce, a booming area that Sarmazian Brothers Flooring hasn’t yet utilized aside from sales of its kneeless carpet stretcher product. The business intends to start its ecommerce endeavours by selling area rugs online, and expanding further from there.
“After we open our third location, we want to look for other opportunities and markets we could expand into. We don’t want to grow too fast – we want to grow organically. We have a lot of second generation owners, so we have the people who could facilitate more expansion when the timing is right,” says Raffi Sarmazian.
One thing that will not change at Sarmazian is its strong focus on offering a full service solution: the whole package, from consultation to selection and installation.
“We’re a specialty retailer. Specialty retailers are a very unique business because of the emergence of the big box stores and larger companies that just sell product without installation. We have a unique position to offer value to other customers that they can’t get from other means, but as a specialty retailer there are always forces that are in motion, and we have to adapt. It is just a matter of staying ahead in a marketplace that is changing constantly,” Raffi Sarmazian concludes.
For more information about Sarmazian Brothers Flooring products and services, visit www.sarmazian.com.