October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Ken Ryan
Michael Halebian & Co. (MHCO), a New York-based distributor since 1931, has been doing business with Consolidated Carpet for 60 years. By any business measurement, that qualifies as a long-standing partnership. And yet, as solid as that relationship is, Michael Halebian Jr., president and CEO, continues to heed the words of his late father, Michael Sr., who warned about never taking anything for granted—not even a 60-year customer.
“He would always say to never feel entitled to the business even though we have been with Consolidated for all these years,” Halebian Jr. said. “He would say you have to earn their business every single day.”
When told about that comment, David Meberg, owner of Consolidated Carpet, said: “I can hear Mike Sr. saying that…he was always diligent that way. Our bonds are strong with Halebian. We are family.”
That credo of serving the customer every day, buttressed by a conservative, fiscally sound growth strategy, has served MHCO well for 85 years, from its infancy when it sold supplies such as needles, threads and tools to the oriental rug repair trade in the New York Metro market, to today.
Michael Halebian Sr. entered the business in 1945 upon founder Sam Halebian’s retirement, bringing a work ethic and vision about how to grow the company. “My dad was one of the original pioneers of the flooring accessories distributor model,” Halebian Jr. said. “At that time it was believed that an accessories distributor could not exist as a standalone distributorship, but his success—and that of several of his contemporaries around the United States—proved this belief to be wrong.”
The flooring accessory model flourished throughout the balance of the 20th century. It existed to fill the needs of flooring installation firms, or labor shops, that existed. For many years and decades it was a successful partnership as accessories distributors and installation workrooms grew together.
In many ways, Consolidated Carpet has paralleled the growth of Halebian. Both companies started out in supplies and other sundries before growing into full-service companies. “Michael has taken what his father gave him and expanded and grown and diversified the business, and I would like to think I did the same thing from my father,” Meberg said. “Both of our businesses have grown exponentially over the years.”
A new era
Michael Jr. entered the business in the early 1980s. While recognizing his father’s success he realized that competing distributors who sold similar products were being established in great numbers. “This reality, coupled with the entrance of the big-box stores, motivated me to consider how we could differentiate ourselves into a hybrid entity whose presence would be needed by our clientele.”
Halebian Jr. knew MHCO would have to expand beyond New York if it were to grow and prosper and compete with the major players in the marketplace. When Joe Choflet, current general manager of MHCO, joined the company in the late 1980s, he and Michael Jr. created a commercial flooring specialties distributor with a strong emphasis on specifying large jobs. “Although we continue to perform the duties of the traditional distributor in terms of inventory and delivering commodity products in a timely manner, our primary importance to our clientele today is in our ability to specify large jobs and pull them through the commercial flooring dealer chain,” Halebian Jr. explained.
MHCO has seven full-time specification reps and 18 full-time salespeople strategically placed within its Northeast footprint. The distributor maintains two warehouse locations in Carlstadt, N.J., which services the New York area. “We are the only distributor with a showroom in the Times Square area of Manhattan, which is available for use by our dealer community and is often the venue for new product introductions and training seminars,” Halebian Jr. said. Meanwhile, the company’s Hartford, Conn., warehouse location serves New England and upstate New York. Its Bensalem, Pa., location services Philadelphia, central Pennsylvania, the southern portion of New Jersey and the northern-most county in Delaware.
Once it developed a reputation for specifying resilient flooring including sheet goods and LVT, it set out to enter the competitive hardwood segment. “Wood flooring presented a challenge that we never anticipated from the beginning but would ultimately become a huge source of success for us,” Halebian Jr. said. “Our first wood line was Kahrs, which offered an innovative floating engineered wood line that at the time was not well known or accepted in our market area.”
Bill Baker, MHCO’s commercial wood manager, worked to introduce this new technology to flooring dealers as well as facility managers and developers. His efforts over several years resulted in this new technology being embraced and used extensively in multifamily housing sites.
Prior to its entry into wood flooring, Halebian was strictly a commercial distributor. Today, it has taken its wood lines into major retail stores. Marty Ackerman, residential wood manager, has grown this segment dramatically to where it is now 25% of total volume. The company expects its residential mix to grow over the next few years.
For five consecutive years Kahrs has named MHCO its Distributor of the Year. Halebian, which is Kährs’ largest wholesale partner in the U.S., also represents wood flooring lines from Johnson Hardwood, Mercier and Somerset.
The distributor has a major presence in resilient as well, with the likes of Tarkett, Azrock, Johnsonite, Toli, American Biltrite, Raskin Industries, Centaur by Ecore, Floor Source WPC and Burke. Raskin honored Halebian with a distributor award at Surfaces in 2016 for achieving the largest percentage increase in one year. Michael Raskin, CEO, said Halebian “is invested in people who can generate specifications and also commercial jobs. It’s hard to find a good distributor, and we found one serving the New York market.”
Halebian Jr. credits Lou Socia, resilient flooring manager, with elevating the resilient business. “Lou’s ability to forge strong, mutually beneficial relationships with architects, designers and end users continues to make us a primary go-to distributor for our flooring dealers.”
MHCO also does large volume in subfloor preparation products, with Ardex, Mapei and USG representing its main lines. “Our floor prep manager, Tom Gillespie, is often found on construction sites making suggestions to our dealers who actively promote floor preparation as well as moisture mitigation,” Halebian Jr. said.
MHCO plans to continue to grow at a measured pace, with a near-term view to expand in New England. As Halebian Jr. put it, “I have no desire to have 4,000 branches. I don’t want to go to Baltimore, Boise or Baghdad. I don’t want to be the biggest; we just want to be a major player in the Northeast.”