Bob Hill, founder of the company, opened his first FCA store on December 6, 1976. He had just turned 40.
Back then, it was a different world: Wall-to-wall carpet was the rage. Builders carpeted every room in every new home, even the kitchen. Buyers of existing homes covered up hardwood flooring as if it was a disgrace to walk on it.
Dalton, Georgia, the world center of tufted carpeting, was home to several hundred carpet mills with such long-established names as Lees, Bigelow, Mohawk, Alexander Smith, Philadelphia, Masland, Karastan, Barwick, World, Galaxy, Coronet, Queen, Cabin Crafts, and many more. There were lots of manufacturers to welcome a new carpet retailer.
What’s more, there were almost no barriers to entry for a new business. Anyone could sell carpet. You needed only a name, a storefront and some samples, and you could be in business. If you had no credit, you’d pay cash and buy from distributors like Carson’s and Tri State Supply. If you had credit, the mills would open you up with a $10,000 credit line and give you cash terms of 5% 30 days; 4% 60 days and net 61 days.
As for competition, in addition to hundreds of mom and pop stores, there were two big regional carpet companies, Carpetland USA and New York Carpet World, both of which advertised regularly in newspapers and on TV, as did the big department stores. (Dupont 501 nylon, installed for $5.99/yd with cushion, was usually the loss-leader.) There were no big box stores like Home Depot or Lowes. So the ads also had the effect of sending buyers to smaller local stores as well.
When he began the company, Bob Hill believed that the “all carpet” fad would fade and that hardwood, tile, rugs and other products would eventually become popular again. Imagining a bigger future for his business, he decided to keep “carpet” out of the name, and to call it Floor Covering Associates, later shortened to FCA.
Finding a storefront was his biggest problem. There was simply no retail space available anywhere within a 40-mile radius at any price, so he ended up renting the back end of a metal warehouse building in the middle of a cornfield located between Shorewood and Plainfield just outside of Joliet, Illinois. This accident proved to be lucky because the area’s largest custom cabinet maker was merely 150 feet across the parking lot, and customers building new homes would drive out to select their cabinets and then walk across the parking lot to visit FCA and see what carpet they were offering.
Business boomed. Six months later a salesman who had previously worked for Hill asked to open up an FCA store in Kankakee, Illinois. This was followed by another store in Bloomington then Bolingbrook, Naperville, Rockford, Belvedere, Lombard, St. Charles, Saginaw, Michigan, Canton and Akron, Ohio and Merrillville, Indiana.
By 1990, operating a dozen stores, Hill decided that the time had come to rethink the business format. Consumers were finally buying hardwood flooring again, plus area rugs, ceramic tile and sheet vinyl. He not only had builder clientele, but retail and contract as well. Bursting at the seams, he decided that he needed more space to display the many new floor covering products, so he invested in larger format locations. His first super store was 20,000 sq ft; the next was 40,000 sq ft. He then made a tough decision to close all of the smaller stores and concentrate exclusively on large format stores in class A locations. The new plan worked.
FCA is a company that was created around a new idea, and new ideas are still at the core of company’s growth. The FCA Design Center doesn’t just sell furniture and draperies; it offers the customer design expertise in every aspect of home decorating.
FCA Network which was spun off in 1998 is now celebrating its 20th Anniversary. It is not just a buying group. It is an ever-expanding group of independent retailers, stretching from New Jersey to New Mexico. Their members are benefiting from FCA’s experience, sales strategies, marketing know-how, proprietary software and influence in the marketplace. They know the FCA strategies lead to success.
"We've come a long way from that cornfield," says Bob Hill, "and the best part is that we still have an exciting future before us. There is lots of room for growth."