Business owners often talk about how relationships are the key to success. Many may talk, and there are businesses that spend 20 years fostering genuine, community-spanning relationships. Northwest Tile & Floors, a flooring sale, 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.
Emergency Room Call
And Jill remembers when a colleague at Aspen Homes saw her car parked in 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
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. Their research eventually led them to visit 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. 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. They won 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 to ‘make the cuts’ in the evenings, sometimes until midnight. This helped the carpet crews immediately get to work in the mornings.” “That project lives in infamy around our shop,” she said. “‘Remember the Cooper George!’”
Growth Can Take a Turn Downward
Steady growth continued from there, until 2009, when even Northwest Tile & Floors couldn’t avoid the construction downturn. “We had expanded so much in the years prior that the downward shift left us faced with making some really tough decisions,” Jill said. “The decisions we made regarding staff, expenses and 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.”
Credit Where Credit is Due
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.