Northwest Tile & Floors, a flooring sales, design, and installation company for commercial and residential projects around the Inland Northwest, has such a distinction. Opened in 1993, owners Jill and Rich Swoboda have rooted their business on staying in touch, sometimes years after a design project is finished. Projects like the Retzler Family home. Northwest Tile & Floors supplied the flooring for the house when it was built 17 years ago. Last year, the family returned for a remodel project on the same house.
“Mrs. Retzler was from Chicago, and she still remembered the story about my sister living there,” Jill said.
And Jill remembers when a colleague at Aspen Homes saw her car parked at the Emergency Room and called to make sure she was OK. “My daughter had been ill, and it meant so much that my colleagues were aware, and supportive,” Jill said. “We care about our clients, and that same care is reflected back at us.” That commitment to connection has helped Northwest Tile & Floors become a cornerstone of the regional construction and interior design industry.
“It’s amazing how good business ethics and customer care can set you apart from a competitor,” Rich said. “We may not have a $2 million marketing campaign, but we do just fine keeping things on a personal level.” The personal touch, Jill says, includes open communication with clients and constant scouting of new merchandise and modern design trends. They collaborate and provide guidance on all aspects of interior design and offer diverse flooring options from all over the world, including porcelain and glass tile, natural stone, hardwood and cork flooring, luxurious carpet, and vinyl and solid surface countertops.
Before Coeur d’Alene, Jill and Rich were East Coasters – Rich taught and coached swimming in the Baltimore County public school system, and Jill worked in R&D at Proctor & Gamble. Wanting an escape from the fast-paced lifestyle of the East, they researched towns in the West and eventually visited Coeur d’Alene. They were hooked. “We wanted to relocate here, and in doing so found a little flooring business that was for sale,” Jill said, adding that Rich’s parents helped them get started with the venture. “Basically we bought ourselves jobs so we could make the change.”
The North Idaho lifestyle may be slower, but business grew fast. Rich and Jill got a crash course in large-scale commercial flooring by winning a bid for a complete remodel of the 13-story Cooper George apartment building in Spokane. “I think the phrase is, ‘being Baptized by Fire,’” Jill said of the yearlong project. “Rich and I would go to the shop and ‘make the cuts’ in the evenings, sometimes until midnight, for all the carpet crews so they could immediately get to work in the mornings.” “That project lives in infamy around our shop,” she said. “‘Remember the Cooper George!’”
Steady growth continued from there, until 2009, when even Northwest Tile & Floors couldn’t avoid the construction downturn that affected North Idaho and pretty much everywhere else across the country. “We had expanded so much in the years prior to that, and the downward shift left us faced with making some really tough decisions in order to keep the store going,” Jill said. “The decisions we made regarding staff, expenses and the types of projects to focus on were all for the betterment of the company.”
It was yet another community relationship that further improved the scope of Northwest Tile & Floors – Jill and Rich sought advice from Idaho Small Business Development Center mentor Julie Gibbs. Gibbs led them into a mindset that scaled beyond the daily operations of the business. “Having a mentor see my business from the outside, without all the emotion, is truly enlightening,” Jill said. “The coaching forces me to step back, evaluate and forecast the future of the company. I feel empowered by the roadmap Julie helped me to develop.”
Gibbs credited Jill and Rich’s ability to balance daily duties with long-term strategic planning as a big reason Northwest Tile experienced over 20% sales growth from 2012 to 2013. “They set clear business goals and measure progress towards those goals on a monthly basis,” Gibbs said. “Jill has a high energy level and is very committed to helping her entire team succeed.”
Northwest Tile & Floors located at 3900 N Schreiber Way in Coeur D’Alene, currently has five full-time employees, including Operations Manager Deborah Miranda. They also work with a field of talented subcontractors, anywhere from five to 15, depending on the workload. At its current pace, Rich believes the business will be able to double its volume in the next 3-5 years, as well as add four full-time employees in the process.
And as important as the clients are, the most important relationships are the ones between the Swobodas and their employees. “An owner needs to see their business as something bigger than themselves,” Jill said. “The company develops its own soul through the contribution of the entire team.”
For more information about Northwest Tile & Floors please visit www.NWTile.com or call (208) 665-2121. For more information about North Idaho College’s Idaho SBDC visit www.IdahoSBDC.org or call (208) 655-5085.