Hardwood floors have been good for ‘Great American’ owner

A musician in his younger days, a flooring company owner since 1985, Larry Bally says there are similarities between the two pursuits.

The skills a musician masters on one instrument carry over to others that he picks up. In the same vein, Bally has expanded from his original product — hardwood flooring — to include concrete polishing and other flooring choices.

"I just say that the greatest asset I own is my reputation," Bally, owner of Great American Hardwood Flooring, said. "I've spent 30 years building a reputation."

Actually a little longer than that. Bally had been running a paint contracting business under the "Great American" name for a decade when a hardwood floor installer messed up one of his jobs in 1985. Bally says he asked the general contractor in charge why he'd hire such incompetent help.

"He said, 'He's the only one in town. Why don't you get in the hardwood floor business?'" Bally remembers.

Bally did, and after struggling for a few years, was able to give up painting and concentrate on flooring in 1992.

"It's very hard work but you get more respect and a chance to make more money in this trade," he said. "The margins are better."

Bally opened his first showroom, on South Laura, in 1995 and moved to his current location on South Washington in 2006.

Great American installs, repairs and refinishes hardwood floors. Much of its work can be seen around Old Town in buildings like River City Brewery and the Player Piano Lofts.

In the early 2000s, Great American also worked "coast to coast" for restaurant chains such as Ted's Montana Grill. The recession put a stop to that and also shut down much residential work, but Bally found a new market installing gymnasium floors in high schools and colleges around the state. Residential work has started to pick up again in the past year, he said.

Great American employs about four office workers and from 10 to 20 workers in the field. Bally added concrete polishing to its service line in 2009. "Next thing you know, it exploded," he said.

Bally's son, Jeff, heads up residential work while another son, Tim, is the estimator for gymnasium jobs and supervises concrete polishing. In June his wife, Pam, joined the business to help start Great American Floors and Decor, offering carpets, laminate, vinyl, ceramic tile and area rugs, along with a decorating service.

"It was just a natural," Bally said. "She (Pam) has a really strong background in retail and decorating."

Bally, who used to play drums for the divekings and other local bands, doesn't play much anymore but allows a heavy metal band to practice in part of the building. He's busy running the biggest hardwood flooring company of its kind in Wichita and the largest gym floor installer in Kansas, a development he attributes to one simple rule: "We do what we promise."