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Susan Kang Sunderland

Magic Carpet Ride

As American Carpet One celebrates its 40th anniversary, longtime president David Arita plans for the future in naming son Daniel vice president. And as with other aspects of modern life, technology in the flooring biz is amazing

It’s easy to be floored by David Arita, president of American Carpet One. It’s even more likely as his company observes its 40th anniversary. Here’s a guy who walks into a room and instinctively looks down at the carpet and flooring.

Natural reflex or occupational hazard?

Ever since MidWeek put Arita on its cover (July 2009) in bare feet, we have metaphorically walked in his shoes to follow his path in flooring. He has made great strides.

We ask Arita and his son Daniel, recently promoted to vice president, to roll out the latest developments in modern flooring. We uncover a lot below the surface.

American Carpet’s start in 1974 as a five-person operation in the old Consumer City furniture store on Kamehameha Highway to today’s thriving enterprise on Sand Island Access Road with 110 employees has been transformative. Through several location moves, partnerships and eventual consolidation to a sole proprietorship, Arita took prudent steps to progress.

A key alliance happened in 1988 when it joined Carpet One, a national organization of independent carpet dealers, to benefit from mass-purchasing clout, cooperative advertising power and collective operations wisdom. Today, the Carpet One hui has more than 950 stores in North America and the Pacific, with more than $5 billion in total sales.

Arita’s American Carpet One is the local distributor for premier brands such as Pergo, Karndean Vinyl Flooring, Shaw Contract, Phoenix Carpet, Dixie Stainmaster Carpet, Beaulieu Indulgence Carpet, Karastan Carpet, IVC Vinyl and American Tile.

As kamaaina businesses can attest, sustaining a home-grown enterprise is challenging. It ultimately is rewarding but requires dexterity and vision to survive.

What fortunately drives it is an island lifestyle, where comfort and a tropical sense of place create ambiance. As long as people are into home design and improvement, suppliers such as American Carpet One find loyal customers.

“Fifty percent of our business comes from repeat customers,” Arita says. “What keeps us going is the excitement of selling products that improve the quality of life of the customer. We know that new flooring makes a huge difference, but it has to be affordable and installed properly for complete satisfaction.

“Our challenge is providing the right products that have the right look, color, texture and price for residential, commercial or hospitality use.”

As competition stirs market share with big-box offerings, Hawaii’s independent carpet dealers must work smarter to set themselves apart.

“Constant improvement drives us,” Arita says. “We put a substantial investment into training salespeople, office staff and installers. who are the front line of customer service. We also have a huge inventory in our 14,000-square-foot warehouse that creates opportunities such as expanding into wholesale distribution to Neighbor Island dealers.”

Daniel adds, “Customers want something right away, and we can provide it within days. Ordering from the Mainland can mean a three- to five-week delay.”

While competitors also offer products off the shelf, selection often is limited, and full-service consultation and installation might not be available.

With Hawaii’s largest inventory valued at more than $2 million and having more than 1,000 SKUs or stock codes, American Carpet One is not in the business of disappointing customers.

Like most industries, floor covering has made great strides in production, meeting consumer needs and becoming more fashionable. In fact, if you haven’t ventured into the carpet and flooring market recently, you’d be surprised at the innovations.

We’ve come a long way from shag carpeting and linoleum tiles. Now one can opt for softer stain-resistant carpet, and luxury vinyl that resembles rich wood (like koa) and ceramic tile.

Who says flooring can’t be sexy? Walk all over that outmoded notion.

Carpeting is still largely a U.S.-made product with manufacturing centered in Dalton, Ga. Arita says overseas production in Asia and Europe has not advanced as much as good, ol’ American ingenuity.

Still, global competition keeps everyone on their toes.

According to the Aritas, here’s what is trending in modern flooring:

* Bamboo. Eco-friendly, renewable natural hardwood especially popular in strand woven planks

* American hardwood. Classic, sustainable wood with smooth finish and exotic looks

* Large format tiles. More tile surface, less grout, 12-by-24 or 24-by-24 inches

* Cork.Amazing acoustical quality, comfort

* Luxury vinyl. New category of high quality flooring; extraordinary photo technology mimics wood, tile, ceramics

* Carpets. Softer, durable, more textures and patterns

* Healthy living installation. Systematic antibacterial approach to soft flooring installation for a cleaner, fresher-smelling room and minimizing allergens, dust and mildew

“Eighty percent of flooring buyers are women,” Arita says. “I guess the traditional role of setting up house still belongs to the woman. But the similarity stops there. No two homes are alike. Therefore, having a wide selection of products and complementary services are important.”

In addition to flooring, American Carpet One helps customers with wall and window coverings, including drapery and blinds.

Why would that be relevant?

Well, living in a sun-and-surf environment such as Hawaii means exposure to the elements. Fading is an issue. Proper wall and window covering can address that concern, according to Daniel, who hails the professionalism of the sales staff trained to anticipate diverse customer needs.

“Even the technology with which we do estimates sets us apart,” he states. “We get faster, more accurate room measurements with a laser system that beams dimensions right to our computer. No more old-fashioned tape measure.”

Added to that are 30-35 well-trained installers who are certified to maintain the high standards of their work.

And you thought laying down carpet was just unfolding it in a room. There is a specialized science to fit, format, seam-matching and décor scheme.

“Installers are often recruited without experience and knowledge,” the 66-year-old Arita admits. “They are carefully trained on how to handle, lift and cut carpet or flooring in addition to proper conduct and etiquette in a customer’s home. As their experience increases, they are paid well and are among the most loyal employees in our business.”

Daniel knows the hard work involved in warehousing and installation.

“My dad did a good job of grooming me,” he says. “He showed me the good and tough parts of the business. But one can make a good living working in the flooring industry.”

Spoken like a carpeting champ.

As Arita prepares for the next generation of business management and fastidious consumers, he knows that every aspect of the company must be cutting edge. He is particularly gratified that his youngest son Daniel, 28, has taken an interest in the family business. The Hawaii Baptist Academy grad started at age 14 in the back office shredding old files and cleaning up. He eventually moved into warehousing, installation, customer service and sales. After graduating from Point Loma Nazarene University in business administration, he returned to work for his dad.

Formerly assistant manager, Daniel becomes vice president this month. Applauding and encouraging him are mother Chris, brother Darin, a New York financial adviser, and sister Jessica, a Honolulu social worker.

But no one is cheering louder than Arita, who claims this is a pattern at American Carpet One. There are a number of first- and second-generation employees (see box) who provide sustained tracks to the future.

What else rolls out the red carpet to success?

Arita answers, “Having faith in God is very important to me. We are accountable to him.”

An extension of that faith involves active participation in the Salvation Army and Rotary Club. Arita recently was recognized as a top Volunteer in Philanthropy (VIP) by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Aloha Chapter.

As he reflects on the 40th anniversary of American Carpet One, he quickly acknowledges that “people bring a business to life.”

Products are but merchandise on the shelf. The heartbeat belongs to employees and customers who make the decision whether an enterprise survives and thrives.

It is the wind beneath the wings of Arita’s magic carpet ride.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

First and second generation employees:

David Arita,
president, 40 years

Daniel Arita,
vice president, 6 years

Helen Tinai,
revenue administrator, 33 years

Tiana Tinai,
customer service manager, 10 years

Tino Amato,
journeyman installer, 26 years

TJ Amato,
warehouseman, 3 years

Marlo Tapaoan,
journeyman installer, 10 years

Zachary Tapaoan,
installation helper III, 7 years

Liz Alarcio,
production administrator, 26 years

Alyssa Alarcio-Damo,
customer service administrator, 2 years

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