Client Spotlight: Gary DiStefano Jr., American Abbey Flooring & Design/Rhino Home Pro | SBDC UNF

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Client Spotlight: Gary DiStefano Jr., American Abbey Flooring & Design/Rhino Home Pro

Gary, Missy and Gary Jr., of American Abbey Carpet and Floors

How did you wind up in the carpet and flooring business?

I was in Ohio, working for a Fortune 500 company, thinking they were making money in spite of themselves. Visiting my parents over Christmas vacation one year, I talked with my Dad about expanding his 800 s.f. retail carpet store. I jumped at the opportunity to find out if I could manage a business on my own, and moved to Jacksonville in September of 1994. By 1997, American Abbey Flooring and Design had grown to over 4100 s.f. of retail space and expanded our product lines from just carpet and vinyl to include tile, hardwood, laminate, stone and window treatments. While it wasn’t as easy as I thought, it certainly has been more rewarding.

What are you doing to stay afloat in a down economy?

The largest contributing factor to our survival has been our responsible money management when the economy was booming. Building up cash reserves during the good times if vital to survival during down turns. Another important thing to do, is to apply for, and build credit resources during good times. It’s cliche, but true, that the only time banks will lend you money is when you don’t need it. Our lines of credit have helped us many times through the years. This slowdown has been tougher than any other we have gone through though, as it has lasted longer. To survive, two things are necessary, becoming leaner and finding new revenue streams. Traditionally, residential replacement accounted for the lion’s share of our earning. We have greatly expanded our commercial business, and although the profit margins are not as high, the cash flow is a big help. Although it greatly pained me to do so, we have sacrificed margins for cash flow.

You have always been in carpet and flooring. Tell us about Rhino Home Pro and what made you diversify into that product?

This came about while looking for additional revenue streams. I actually got a marketing piece in the mail about the product. After doing research, it seemed like a perfect match. Although I was not an expert on the product, I knew a lot about the areas in which the product would be installed, wood and concrete sub-floors. The product was like nothing I’d ever seen, and backed by a name known nationwide for quality and professionalism. Although the actual chemicals are different, they are made by the same company that does the Rhino truck bed liners.

The Rhino Home Pro product, called Fast Floor competes directly against epoxy floor coatings, with the advantage of being four times as strong, twice as flexible, amazingly more chemical resistant and better looking. One huge advantage is the 24 hour return to service. Instead of having to be off the floor for three to five days, the floor is totally cured and ready for use after just one day. The final nails in epoxy’s coffin are that the product is thermally and UV stable. If you’ve ever seen an epoxy floor in a garage, you’ll notice that it dulls quickly, and you can tell where the cars park because there are areas of bare concrete right where the tires sit. UV dulls epoxy, and the heat from freshly driven tiles cause it to release from the concrete. Neither of these are problems with the Rhino coatings.

Do you do commercial work?

Absolutely, we currently have several contracts with the Navy are working with several architects on getting Fast Floor specified on their commercial projects. Fast Floor is perfect for warehouses, commercial kitchens, bathrooms janitor’s closets and store rooms. It’s even installed on the concourses at one of Disney’s baseball stadiums in Orlando. I had high hopes for this product, but it has exceeded everyone.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned in running American Abbey

You can’t know everything, getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of going into business right now.

Proper funding is vital right now, as loans are hard to come by. If you have sufficient capital though, go for it. The timing is perfect. Real estate leases are incredibly low, quality employees are readily available and there are great advertising deals being offered. If you’ve done your homework, have a product or service that is in demand, and have the capital, owning a small business will be more secure than working for someone else.

Gary DiStefano, American Abbey Flooring and Design

10109 Atlantic Boulevard, #2,

Jacksonville, FL 32225


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