Three hundred ninety-one miles. That is the distance between Buffalo, N.Y., and 20th Street in New York City. For LV Wood, a family-owned, boutique wood-flooring business, these two locations are the two centers of their retail and personal universe. One represents the past, while the other represents the future.
The company's journey from upstate to downtown has been full of both rough and smooth patches, much like the new and antique wood flooring that lines the walls of their bright and airy New York showroom.
With a regular ad campaign on New York's public radio station, but no other advertising, the company has become one of the most sought-after wood suppliers in the tri-state area. It's mainly the result of good customer service, unique products and a sophisticated, yet simple, approach to marketing and merchandising.
Unlike other companies selling what is essentially a commodity, LV has found a way to make its customers think of its products as a luxury. Even in a recession , customers looking for high-quality flooring are seeking the company out.
"For us, the most important thing is word of mouth and making sure that customers are blown away by what we have done for them," said James Caroll, principal at LV Wood.
'A reverence for wood'
Before LV Wood occupied its current location at 24 W. 20th St. in New York City, the company started as a small antique restoration business in Buffalo.
"My father was an antique restorer," said James Caroll, who owns LV with his father, Jim. "He would take old wooden antiques of any kind and refinish them. He became a master finisher and learned the art of wood finishing to a very high degree."
With his expertise in wood finishing, Jim Caroll laid the foundation for the family business in 1979 when he started A Reverence for Wood, an antiquing company that took its name from a novel with the same name by Eric Sloane. Caroll's company started out by restoring antiques and millwork in old homes in Buffalo. Soon after starting A Reverence for Wood, though, Jim Caroll saw an opportunity to expand his business in an emerging market – hardwood flooring. Looking to take advantage of this opportunity, Caroll started Buffalo Hardwood in 1985.
"My father found a market in Buffalo that was emerging," said James Caroll. "All of a sudden there was a building boom, and my dad became the real primary source for a new product: wood flooring. Coming out of that time period, wood became something of a luxury product that people wanted in their homes."
After years of linoleum and carpeting covering their floors, people in Buffalo were beginning to embrace wood flooring again in the mid-1980s and 1990s. For Jim Caroll, the timing couldn't be better for his budding company, but despite winning numerous awards from the National Wood Flooring Association, he was aiming to grow.
A European jaunt
Jim Caroll decided to expand the company's offerings by selling product imported from Italy. Once the Euro was introduced, however, importing wood from Italy became more challenging.
"Everything changed for us once the Euro was introduced ," said James Caroll. “We did manage to work with the Euro in Italy for a few years, but eventually the products became overbudget for the great majority of the work we were doing."
Looking for a new direction, the Carrolls decided it was time to head back home. This time, though, they decided to make a move to the big city. The company's flagship store opened in New York's Flatiron District in 2008, and its name was officially changed to LV Wood. The move reflected more than a change of headquarters. It also marked a change to becoming an "American-made" company in a time when much flooring material is imported.
"With the exception of one Dutch line that we import, everything is made in America," James Carroll said.
LV Wood maintains a manufacturing center and headquarters with 10 employees in Buffalo.
No sooner had LV re-established itself in New York City, when New York became central to the Carrolls’ personal lives, as well.
When James Caroll's mother [Jim's wife], Carolyn, was diagnosed with cancer, the flagship store in New York City became much more than a center of operation for the company. "I designed, built, oversaw and ran the store," said James Caroll. "My father lived in Buffalo with my mother. My parents kept a room in my apartment, and my mother would come down for chemotherapy and stay with me. My mom and dad would come down visit, and we would spend the weekend together."
After Carolyn Caroll passed away, the family business became even more important to father and son. Jim Caroll moved to Manhattan and joined his son at the store.
"Now we work together every single day like we used to back home," said James Caroll. "It’s a world full of huge changes for us as a family and business, and it is a bumpy road but it is all good and we are happy to be here together."
The customer is always right
The key to the success of LV Wood is simple, according to the Carolls.
"Leaving the customers happy at the end of the day is No. 1,," said James Caroll. "This business is very socially driven in the architectural design trade. You need to establish a good reputation from the beginning and maintain it in order to stay alive."
Having a unique product selection doesn't hurt, either. In addition to carrying traditional and more unique hardwood flooring, the company also specializes in reclaimed wood flooring salvaged from old buildings and oak horse fences, among other things. They've even been called to salvage a wood floor from a temple in Thailand.
To establish this reputation, Caroll insists that the way a company brands themselves is key. Being a new company in an established market taught LV Wood the importance of strong branding . But, by branding, the Carrolls don't mean flashy ads or rock-bottom sales.
Instead, their brand stays focused on promoting quality and beauty in its simplest form, much like the wood floors they sell.
"It is not easy to run a business," said James Caroll. "Every single thing that comes out of your door is you and it represents you. You need to be certain that everything on your shelves and everything that walks out the door represents what you want your company to be. What you are and your identity is extremely important."
Small businesses that keep it simple and stick to what they do best will experience success, according to James Caroll. By not overextending themselves, these businesses are able to keep focus on their products and better serve customers.
"Having a well modeled and branded company that knows how it is and does what it does best consistently is probably the best thing that you can do for your company," said James Caroll. "Do what you know."