In the 80s, Marty VanKeulen, the co-founder and CEO of The Carpet Studio Inc., thought the level of service provided by the flooring companies in the city could use a boost. He, along with friend Frank VanDenBiggelaar, took action.
“In 1987, we started The Carpet Studio with just Frank, myself and a receptionist,” says VanKeulen. “Two years later, we moved from our first location and opened a small store offering 24 different styles of carpet and one style of lino.”
He must have been right about good service because the company grew – fast.
“In 1989, we took over Economy Floor Coverings, and that doubled our volume overnight!”
VanKeulen continues, “Over time, we decided to diversify. Soon we were doing floor coverings for new home contractors and were starting to work with property managers, insurance restoration contractors and commercial developers.”
At the start of the new millennium, however, things changed dramatically. Sadly, in 2001, Frank passed away. In 2002, the lease on their current building was up. VanKeulen decided to become the sole owner, and to purchase a building outright for the still-growing company. With the purchase of the building on 156th street and 111th Ave, he doubled the operating and showroom floor space and added a roster of administrative staff.
Today, The Carpet Studio boasts 6,000 square feet of showroom in its headquarters, has three locations in Alberta, 35 staff members and up to 50 contract installers (depending on the season).
“We are a complete flooring shop, not just a carpet store,” laughs VanKeulen. “The name is a little misleading! We thought about changing it, but the longevity of the name is worth more than describing all of our products in one title.” Those products include residential: carpet, hardwood, luxury vinyl, tile, stone, linoleum, sheet vinyl, laminate, cork, area rugs, window treatments, and granite countertops, as well as a variety of wall coverings. A full library of commercial products are also available. In the South Edmonton showroom, customers can not only shop for flooring, but also purchase Benjamin Moore paint and accessories. The Jasper location boasts the Coronado paint line in addition to the selection of flooring products available.
The Carpet Studio was also selected for a partnership with Costco.
“The home shopping service for Costco redefines how flooring can be sold,” says VanKeulen. “We are very fortunate that Costco chose us to provide flooring to their customers in Edmonton, Sherwood Park and St. Albert. We were selected from among several other flooring retailers, and that’s been good confirmation for us and for our customers. When Costco chooses you, you know you are doing business differently than average.”
He continues with a smile, “The Carpet Studio is a large company that hasn’t forgotten that we are like a family. Our goal is to help people turn their project into something they will be extremely proud of. We have interior designers and can do everything from choosing colours to creating 3D renderings and more. We can coordinate everything, and thanks to the great contractor relationships we have built up over the years, we can also manage additional subcontractors if our clients need, for example, a plumber or a house painter.”
VanKeulen knows the key to running a successful business is to make sure he and his team are healthy, happy, inspired and engaged in their work and hobbies.
“People that know me know that I say we all should work to live, not live to work. I’m a big believer that family and life comes ahead of our business. Over the years, if you have one or two mishaps, you can let those things bring you down, or you can use the experience to assist someone else.”
The Holland-born entrepreneur has had his fair share of mishaps, but he has turned each one into an opportunity—and a chance to learn more about himself and the world around him. He has been on the volunteer ski patrol for 25 years, scuba dives all over the world and travels extensively.
“I personally feel that, in Canada, and especially Alberta for the last number of years, a lot of people have their work/life balance mixed up,” VanKeulen muses. In Europe, a 37-hour work week is quite normal. When you look at the years past in Alberta, people are putting in, 60-70 hours a week! You can’t be productive like that. When I was installing, I found with a couple of days off per week, I could get more done than working right through the weekend.”
The company owner works hard to make sure his staff have balance in their lives and feel appreciated for their hard work.
“It’s the people that have allowed us to be here for 30 years. A lot of the staff have been with me for over 15 years. I like the fact that The Carpet Studio attracts quality staff that remain with the company long-term.
“I’ve learned how to manage people, no matter their background or their age. Our staff ranges in age from 20-77. With different generations, cultures and religions, it’s a melting pot here. I’ve had to learn that not everyone is motivated the same way. Every person needs a slightly different management style. One thing that being a leader in ski patrol has taught me is that you lead people by being part of their team. You can’t lead people by sitting in your office and being demanding. You must lead by example. The general manger and I don’t expect anything from others that we won’t do ourselves, including driving the truck and assisting customers.”
He and his team also know that giving back is a big part of a balanced life. The Carpet Studio supports The Good Samaritan Society and cancer research-related non-profit organizations.
To lead his team, VanKeulen looks to Warren Buffet’s management style because “[Buffett] has shown that you can do business without stepping on people’s toes. He’s never been known to get ahead by cutting and eliminating jobs and positions. He does it by surrounding himself with great organizations and people. That’s the one thing I recognize from all our staff and suppliers. They helped us get where we are. All different types of people make up a company.”
VanKeulen is grateful to his staff, suppliers, vendors and customers for 30 great years in the Capital City, and he’s looking forward to the next phase of The Carpet Studio.
“Even in this market that is supposed to be down, we are busy, and part of that is because we are so diversified. We are happy with the amount of volume we are doing,” he concludes. “What comes next is growth, when and where we see the opportunity. We will keep continuing on the same path, recognizing that sometimes we have to bend when the path curves. There are still lots of opportunities.”