By Ken Ryan
When suppliers and distributors talk about their business experience with Rite Rug, they invariably invoke the name of Michael Goldberg. That’s because so much of Rite Rug’s legacy stems from Goldberg—his passion, business acumen, vision and willingness to take risks in transforming a carpet retailer into a multi-dimensional flooring enterprise.
“I admire Mike Goldberg for taking over a successful business that his late father built into a significant size, and then taking it to an entirely new level of business,” said Jeff Meadows, executive vice president, Beaulieu Residential. “I’m sure Duke Goldberg would be very proud of his son.”
Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential, said he was reminded of a quote by a famous English novelist that applies to Goldberg. “When asked the secret of his success, Charles Dickens responded, ‘Whatever I have tried to do in my life, I have tried with my heart to do well.’ This statement also reflects the reason Michael Goldberg has led an enduring business for so many years,” Lape said. “Michael pours his heart and soul into Rite Rug. The same passion he has for his business he has for travel and his art collection. Michael is direct; he’s a skilled negotiator and he’s tough. However, when he makes a commitment he lives up to that commitment. Business is never easy, but it takes heart to do well.”
Vance Bell, CEO of Shaw Industries, has been doing business with Rite Rug and Goldberg for nearly 30 years. He says the one thing that separates Goldberg from other retailers is that he is part old school and part new school. “I compare him to some of the old-line retailers like Marv Berlin. He knows exactly what he wants and has a plan to get it. He is very focused, very aggressive, understands his business model and executes it very well. He knows what he wants and knows where he wants to be.” On the other hand, Bell said he keeps up with the latest innovations—product or otherwise—and is always keeping his stores fresh and vibrant. “Not many businesses can claim a 75-year history.”
Ralph Boe, president of Beaulieu of America, also acknowledged Rite Rug’s past and present. “Rite Rug continues to flourish, even during a difficult economy. As the company celebrates its 75th year, its success is clearly a tribute to the excellent leadership that Michael Goldberg portrays, establishing a new path for an already fine company.”
David Flaum, president of Ohio distributor CDC, agreed that Rite Rug’s strengths and accomplishments today can be traced to Goldberg “and his energy to challenge his distributor and mill partners to come up with the most competitive program he can get behind to drive sales.”
Goldberg’s passion and drive benefits not only Rite Rug, but its customers and suppliers as well. “The thing you like about Rite Rug is it is obsessed with making itself a better answer for the consumer,” said Frank Ready, CEO, Armstrong Floor Products. “The company is always asking how does it do better, whether it is product presentation, marketing, merchandising, selection, offering value, etc. In turn, it is always pushing us to be a better vendor. Rite Rug is always telling us what we are doing right and where we are falling short in the eyes of its customer, and it pushes us to do better. That makes us a better company.”
Like Armstrong, Shaw recognizes the importance of doing business with Rite Rug. “Rite Rug is a bellwether account in Columbus and the other areas in which it does business,” Bell said. “So it’s always important to have your product positioned with him. He likes us, and we do a good job servicing him. Michael is more than a good customer; he is a good friend.”
Ready agreed. “Armstrong has had a longstanding relationship with Rite Rug that has grown particularly in the last several years. It does a great job partnering with us on laminate, vinyl and hardwood. It is among our largest retail customers in the industry.”
Multiple roads to growth
For most of its 75 years, Rite Rug was a large and successful seller of flooring in the Columbus, Ohio, market. When the time came to increase business through diversification, Goldberg seized on opportunities, including acquisitions and expansions. Today, Rite Rig operates 10 divisions: Rite Rug retail stores, new construction, property management, commercial, Michael David Design Center, Rite Rug Floor Care, Flooring Distributors Wholesale, Creative Hardwood Floors, Realtor Direct and Windows Treated Rite. Rite Rug has also been a Mohawk Floorscapes retailer for the last 10 years.
“Rite Rug’s strengths are similar to other enduring businesses,” Mohawk’s Lape said. “It has multiple stores leveraged among many different areas of business such as retail, builder, multifamily and commercial businesses as well as professional cleaning services. It has continued to expand into new markets, and it is customer focused.”
Meadows added, “By diversifying its business over the years and getting into the builder and commercial markets, Rite Rug has spread out the risk of any one market being down.”
This risk-reward approach has earned Goldberg a legion of admirers among his suppliers. “Michael is a businessman who is committed to and passionate about his company. He challenges us to be our best, and if we deliver he rewards us with business,” said Casey Johnson, vice president of retail for Shaw Industries.
“Michael has tremendous buying power and is not afraid to commit to buying inventory to drive sales,” said CDC’s Flaum, whose company has been doing business with Rite Rug since its inception in 1976.
To illustrate Goldberg’s risk-taking flair, Flaum recalls an episode where Goldberg was negotiating a deal with a manufacturer. Goldberg and the manufacturer’s vice president of sales went back and forth negotiating over $10,000 in advertising money. At some point, Goldberg stopped the haggling and challenged the executive to “flip for it.” Goldberg, “naturally,” Flaum said, won the bet and took the 10 grand.
Jay Kopelson, vice president of corporate accounts, Mannington Mills, said Rite Rug’s philosophy is similar to Mannington’s. “Hire great people and let them do what they’re good at,” Kopelson said. “Combine that with Michael’s business sense, and you’ve got a winning combination. It has been a solid company for so many years.”
Perhaps no company has had a longer relationship with Rite Rug than Armstrong, which stretches for several decades, according to Steve Staikos, general manager, strategic accounts. Staikos said Rite Rug has built the success of its company on the pillars of focus and customer service. “It is diversified in multiple markets, which gives it a competitive advantage. Rite Rug has also built its brand with aggressive advertising and promotion.”
Staikos shared an anecdote he feels best exemplifies the kind of business partner Rite Rug is. “A few years ago many flooring companies were looking to China for less expensive wood imports, but Rite Rug elected to focus on quality and service,” he said. “Even though many importers continue to offer deals, Rite Rug continues to believe in the quality and performance of Armstrong products.”
Midwestern distributor Gilford has only been doing business with Rite Rug for a year, but the brief experience has already left an indelible mark on Gilford, which sells Pergo laminate to Rite Rug stores in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. “Our experience with Rite Rug has been brief but has been very pleasurable and rewarding,” said Rob Purkins, vice president of sales and marketing. “It is a forward-thinking company trying to compete, and it is doing what it takes to thrive in a challenging economy.”
Ohio Valley Flooring has also been a distributor partner of Rite Rug’s for more than 20 years. Al Hurt, president, spoke for many customers when he said, “We appreciate its support of our company and the products we carry. We congratulate Michael and the company and wish them well in their 75th year.”