floor covering and design...with a fuzzy side

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beginnings: The story of how Bob Wagner started his business

Some of you may know Bob Wagner's story. Some of you have read his book, Fuzzy Side Up.  I'd like to share one of the stories, written by Bob Wagner himself, detailing the origins of his business -long before it became the premiere floor (and window) covering business in Chester County.


    By the end of 1974, Advanced Schools (where Bob was currently employed) was rumored to be going bankrupt.  Time for another job. I thought about looking for a job in insurance but I knew I could not pass their test.  So I decided to start my own business.  I went to the phone book yellow pages and read them A to Z.  I always liked the letter C; it reminded me of Mom’s canary, Arnold that was eaten by my cat, Henry.  What took up the most space in C was carpet.  It was a no-brainer –fuzzy side up.
     In our town there were five carpet dealers.  I visited each one as a customer for one reason or another.  I left each one with the feeling that it could have been a much better experience.  So the competition was weak.  That was good; who wants to compete with genius?  My first thought was to work for a future competitor.  I called all of them and told them my plan.  I said I was willing to work twenty-four hours a week for six months, doing whatever they needed done, for nothing.  The rest of the time, I had to make some money to live on. Believe it or not, no one took me up on this.  I remember sitting there thinking, This is not rocket science or brain surgery, so just go for it. That’s what I did.
     We didn’t have more than $1000 saved, so Di went to work as a bookkeeper at Downingtown Senior High School to make the $150 a month we needed for the mortgage and food.  I went to Philadelphia to visit carpet distributors.  They brought from the mills and sold mostly to Mom and Pop-type stores.  I bought $300 worth of deck boards; they were about three feet square with a large carpet sample on the front and little swatches underneath.  I called my business Chester County Floor Covering Company and had cards and flyers made up.  I said goodbye to my XKE and bought a Chevy Suburban.
     Now I’m ready, I thought.  I have a product, a supplier, work ethic, common sense, and thousands of people who need carpet.  The only things I didn’t have were a store or money for advertising.  No problem.  I went door to door and handed out my flyers to every house in Downingtown.  I still remember how cold it was that February.
     Two weeks later, someone finally called to ask about carpet.  Great!  Her name was Franny Eachus.  I went out with samples and a tape measure.  She wanted kitchen carpet.  Her choice wasn’t all that difficult since I only had three samples.  She asked me how much it would cost.  Her kitchen was 13’ x 15’, and the carpet came 12 feet wide.
     This possibility had never occurred to me.  I hesitated for a second, and said, “Mrs. Eachus, now that I have your selection and the measurements of your kitchen, I will go back and figure it out and call you tomorrow.  Is that okay?”
“Sure,” she said with a smile. 
     I think she knew I was new to this.  I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t figure out how I could put a 12-foot wide carpet in a 13’ x 15’ space.  I couldn’t call a competitor, so I called a store far away.  I found one in Delaware County, called Factory Rug.  I called and asked if they would help me.  It was a miracle; they said they would.  The next morning I went down, and they showed me how to figure it out.
     As it turned out, Fanny needed a 12’ x 20’ which came out to 26.67 square yards.  I didn’t quite understand how they did it, but I did understand that the carpet was going to cost me $4.00 a square yard.
     I went back to Fanny that afternoon, and she agreed to purchase the carpet.  I said, “I’ll order your carpet today and call you tomorrow to let you know when it will be in.”  I called my distributor Seymour Waldman and ordered her carpet.  Since I was new, I didn’t have any credit established with them, and was told that they would accept a certified check.  The next day, certified check in hand, I went to Philadelphia and picked up the rug.  I called Fanny and told her that her rug was in.
“Great,!” she said.  “When will you install it?”
     Problem.  I can’t install carpet.  After a short silence, I told her I would call her back with a date.  I called Nancy at Factory Rug and explained to them that I needed someone to install the carpet.
“When would you like it installed?” she asked.
“As soon as possible,” I told her.
“How’s tomorrow?” Great. 
     I told her how many yards were to be installed.  She told me it would cost $4.00 per square yard and $.25 per yard to glue down.
“How much metal reducer will you need?” she asked.  I didn’t know. 
“We’ll bring 12 feet at fifty cents a foot,” she said. 
     I put all the figures on paper.   They calculated as follows:

     Glad it wasn’t a big Job.  It was a lesson well learned.  I guess sometimes stupidity is bliss.  Thank you, Fanny, wherever you are.

To view this and more great stories about the origins of Bob Wagner's on our newly designed website.  CLICK HERE