This article was originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine on November 16, 2023.
Back when Jeffrey Bell was a horse trainer hanging around racetracks all the time, his father-in-law poked at him to “get a real job.” His father-in-law had a friend who sold franchises, so Bell got familiar with the business model. In 2010, he took the leap and bought a Floor Coverings International franchise in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Today, Bell is the company’s top franchisee — largely, he says, because he got out of his own way.
“At some point, I really believed I was the best at everything,” he says. “But if that’s true, you better be a heart surgeon. I had to hire salespeople, and people to help grow my residential, and people to grow my commercial. There are franchises that are one person, but what I’m doing is different. It’s not a one-man-band.”
Floor Coverings International expects to close out the year with 250 locations, and Bell’s operation is on track to do $11 million in sales. But according to CEO Tom Wood, that’s in part because Bell looks outside his home franchise for inspiration. “One of his mentors is a franchise owner over at California Closets who is doing $40 million this year,” Wood says. “That’s who Jeffrey makes sure he talks to a couple times a year to think about the next level.”
Here, Bell shares three more of his success strategies.
1. Focus on “Who, Not How”
Floor Coverings International sends franchise owners books to read. Most recently, it was Who, Not How, by Dan Sullivan. Bell agrees with one of the book’s core lessons: “If you hire a good salesperson or a good marketing person, you don’t have to figure out the ‘how.’ They know the ‘how.’ You, as the franchise owner, just need to figure out the ‘who.’ I have employees who have been with me from the day I started. They were the ‘who.’ They knew the ‘how’… If I have the right people, I can leave 80 percent of my people alone.”
2. Embrace the Dark Side
Bell says marketing was never his forte. “My marketing was me going into a bar and introducing myself to people,” he says with a laugh. But he’s adapted to some of today’s data-driven realities. “We do things like geofencing, which is when you do a job and capture the IP addresses of all their neighbors to try and sell them too,” Bell says. “If you walk into a flooring store with your phone in your hand, I can capture that, and the next time you go online, you’ll see a banner ad for my store. I know it’s creepy, but it’s the world we’re living in.”
3. Build Up Repeat Business
Bell says 80 percent of the $11 million he’ll do this year is from repeat-relationship customers. It might be a disaster-restoration company that comes back to him again and again for flooring. It might be residential customers who give him a reference, or do another project. “When I look at franchises that are struggling, 95 percent of them come from paid-for leads. They’re coming from marketing and advertising,” he says. “That’s OK in your first year. It may be OK in your second or third year. But if that’s how it is in your fourth year, if you have no repeat business, you’re doing something wrong.”
Floor Coverings International was bought in 2005, and CEO Tom Wood says Bell’s approach to business exemplifies the operational changes the new owners want to see.
“Franchising in the 1990s, especially in home improvement, is what I would call man-in-a-van franchising. It was one guy, one truck, you worked from home,” Wood says. “But we had a vision to transform Floor Coverings International into an executive franchise. Bell has learned that business leaders, top performers, will always find a way to grow — and to grow profitably.”
The home-improvement category is struggling this year compared to the pandemic boom years of 2020 and 2021, Wood says, but Bell is figuring out ways to keep advancing the business.
“Jeff knows he might not grow 20 percent this year,” Wood says, “but he’s sure as heck going to figure out how to grow 10 percent.”