Ben Henwood's job with United Flooring Mills has evolved considerably in his 3 1/2 years with the company.
Once working from his vehicle showing potential customers samples he stored in his garage, Henwood and co-worker Chaz Doffing now escort buyers through 4,000 square feet of showroom space that features carpet, hard-surface flooring and other merchandise.
It's a groundbreaking step for United Flooring Mills, a Bolivar, Mo.-based business that has sold wholesale to more than 750 dealers nationwide since 1989. In September, Mike Day, United Flooring Mills' CEO, announced the opening of the Wichita location as the company's first model retail store.
"What we've done is gone through and taken lots of thoughts, lots of demands that contractors and builders have had over the years and put it all into one business model," said Henwood, the store's manager.
Henwood said United Flooring Mills has been in the local market for about six years. But with Day's desire for a retail presence, the company acquired a 10,000-square-foot building near I-135 and Central. The warehouse-style facility offered a sizable space upgrade from the Design Centre building, where the company operated for more than a year.
"We started here with stacks of pallets," Henwood said. "We took some of the product out and laid it on top. To get to the point where we are now, it's pretty exciting."
While most of the building space is used for warehouse storage, customers enter the store's custom design center, which displays various flooring selections arranged by product type, color and pricing. Henwood said all showroom merchandise is special order.
"What we've done allows the general public to buy just like the biggest contractors do and not have to pay true retail pricing," Henwood said.
The store also includes a virtual home showroom concept, which Henwood said is in the development stage. For example, a mock shower will soon be constructed that shows customers the product's layering process.
"Most people aren't real visual," Henwood said. "You can talk about it and I can sketch it out on pencil. But if you can show them what it really looks like, it makes a world of difference."
Henwood and Doffing also do site consultations, going over various flooring options for homebuilders and remodelers. United Flooring Mills provides installation services, but Henwood said he also works with it do-it-yourself types.
"We still get people walking in each day saying, 'Wow, I had no idea you were here,' " Henwood said. 'It's just because we've lived pretty much below the radar working with contractors and builders to this point in time.
"The feedback has been positive. Our showroom definitely has enough to see. We've got a lot of products in here, but it's not overwhelming."