by Steven Feldman
Fostoria, Ohio—Donald Miller, president and CEO of Roppe Holding Corp., was honored by Floor Covering News on March 12 with the Albert Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented to Miller at Roppe headquarters here in front of many of the people who matter most to him: his family and employees.
Floor Covering News established the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize and celebrate those people who have not only made significant contributions to the floor covering industry, but more importantly, worked toward its betterment and made a difference over a sustained period of time. It is intended to recognize service and leadership that is of a scope and duration to be considered a lifetime achievement.
“We wanted to honor those people who have dedicated their life to improving the floor covering industry,” said Mike Blick, CEO and president of FCNews. “This award annually honors an individual who has made significant contributions. We chose Don Miller because he exemplified that person.”
Past winners include Sandy Mishkin, president of CCA Global Partners, and Ralph Boe, president and CEO of Beaulieu of America.
Miller is a most-deserving recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, dedicating his life to an industry he broke into more than 50 years ago. After joining Roppe in 1958, Miller grew to become vice president. When owner Thony Roppe passed away in 1972, he left the company to seven employees including Miller, who received 55% along with a $1 million tax bill. Miller secured two loans to pay Uncle Sam. He will tell anyone he had no choice but to expand the business just to pay the loans.
Once free and clear, it was just about growth. Miller made key moves that would take the company to new heights. He purchased a mixer in the 1970s that basically tripled output—this in the face of overall industry decline. He expanded into vinyl in 1985 via the purchase of American Thermoplastic Extrusion Co. He acquired Seneca Millwork in 1992, putting the company in the wood trims and moldings business. And in 2001 he purchased major vinyl competitor Flexco, which had a strong position at price points below those of Roppe.
When the dust settled, the company Miller took over in 1972 that was doing $3.6 million out of 5,000 square feet is today selling well north of $100 million of product and operating out of more than a million square feet.
But it’s not only about Miller’s success in business that earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award. As one Roppe employee noted, “When you look at Don Miller, the adjectives he personifies are integrity, loyalty and humanitarian. That’s the way he has positioned the company and himself.”
Case in point: Roppe’s partnership with Seneca County Re-Ads, a program to employ mentally challenged and handicapped individuals for its sampling needs. The program is 28 years old and began with nine employees. Today there are more than 100 people. What’s more, when the county outgrew its space, Roppe offered 20,000 square feet of its own manufacturing space that it leases to the county for $1 a year. Everyone wins. Roppe has a dedicated work force with these individuals. The cost to taxpayers is lower than anyplace in the state of Ohio. And you have people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to earn a paycheck.
It goes on and on. Roppe has donated truckloads of material to rebuild from disasters, like Columbine, to reconditioning their school or to rebuild the government buildings after the bombing in Oklahoma City.
The news of Miller’s honor was met with approval from the flooring industry. One such person was Steve Kurtz, president of Roppe Northeast distributor Salesmaster Flooring Solutions. “I could not think of a man more deserving than Don Miller to receive this award. Those of us who are fortunate to do business and have a friendship with Don know how much he has contributed to our industry, our communities, his people and all of us he has touched. Don has set an example that most of us should aspire to.”
Kurtz credited Miller with teaching him the right way to do business. “He has taught us how to treat our employees and customers based on the way he has treated us. Don Miller has touched so many of us.”
As another example of Miller’s benevolence, Kurtz remembered how years ago, Salesmaster had an employee who unexpectedly passed away. The company put together an educational fund to help his wife and children. The next day there was a large check on Kurtz’ desk to help start the fund. “It was not solicited. No questions were asked. He knew the family was hurting, and he wanted to do something.”
Kurtz also remembered when Salesmaster got into the trucking business, Miller retired some Roppe trailers so his distributor could buy them at a good price and get in the business. He likens it to a father taking care of his child.
Miller was predictably humbled by the honor. “Winning this award is an unexpected honor. Any success I have is attributed to building good relationships with customers and employees.”
Despite the fact Roppe has seen its top line increase more than 40-fold in the last 40 years, the accomplishment of which Miller is most proud may surprise you: “It’s being able to pay our employees a good wage and provide good health care and other benefits. In addition, I am proud of the growth and success of our distributors, which has been a major contributor to my accomplishments as well.”
Miller said there has been no one event that proved pivotal in Roppe’s growth, but rather a combination of each new customer, each new product, each small company that was bought and turned around into a success.
At the end of the day, Miller subscribes to a simple philosophy: Trusting those who work for and with you. “You build trust over the years, and I’ve had many years!”