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Michael Freedman, the owner of FloorFolio, had a dream of what a company could be and should be. Instead of just showing products that a flooring company would want to sell, FloorFolio develops products for the customer’s needs leading with quality, choice, and value. Keith Buscio, Assistant Vice President, Director of Public Relations, Provident Bank, interviewed Michael Freedman to hear more about his success story.
KB: Tell us about Floorfolio
MK: FloorFolio started 11 years ago. FloorFolio is a nation-wide, complete manufacturer of luxury vinyl tile flooring produced for multi-family apartments, and college dormitories or student housing where sound is an important factor in the facility. In an apartment building where noise is a concern, our flooring is engineered to look like real wood, but is actually vinyl. This factor alone helps reduce the sound transmission from one floor to the next. Our specialty is in the commercial flooring sector. We work directly with developers and sell through distribution companies that can sell and install to the end user.
As for retail consumers, we do produce a similar flooring product that is actually magnetic with the same visuals. It can be placed permanently onto the floor or temporarily installed for easy removal.
KB: What challenges did you encounter while starting FloorFolio that Provident Bank was able to help you with?
MK: In the beginning, it was a matter of survival. The first Small Business Administration (SBA) loan was critical for the company. We started in the height of the recession and worked directly with the SBA lending division. At that point, we struggled. That’s when we met with Provident’s former head of SBA lending, and Steve Guidette, Executive Vice President. They asked us what our needs were, but more importantly, they wanted to understand our industry. Steve wanted to understand our marketplace and our customer base, as well as our ambition of opportunity for growth. This was the most interesting part for me because this is how our relationship with Provident began. I knew Provident was going to genuinely look out for the good of the company not just in the beginning, but long term too. From there, Steve approved the loan right on the spot.
After this, our relationship with Provident Bank grew. We were able to develop new products, including our triple patented EnviroQuiet LVT, the only product that can be put down as one complete installation solution that addresses sound reduction, and cuts installation time and costs in half. Provident stood by us as we developed these new products and provided the funds to help us through the entire process.
My vision was to build a FloorFolio factory here in the United States. This was something I felt strongly about. When I presented my vision to Steve, Provident gave me the funding to buy the equipment to make this possible and we duplicated the facility we have overseas here in the US. When FloorFolio exploded very aggressively, we needed lines of credits to continue our growth and further develop as a business. Provident needed to take a chance on us - and they did. We wouldn’t be where we are today if they hadn’t.
KB: How did Provident Bank demonstrate its brand promise of “Commitment You Can Count On” to help overcome these challenges and enable you to succeed?
MF: Whenever we have a thought process of what we want to do next, we can pick up the phone and call Provident and they listen. We have been doing business with Provident Bank since the birth of this company, and no other bank has ever been involved, which I think is an important factor here.
Throughout all of these years, they have always thoroughly explained why a certain decision would be beneficial for us, not just for them. They constantly made sure we were part of the process and have given us the tools to be more flexible within our company. The beauty about Provident, and what I have always loved about this bank, is even when I go into a branch, I am always greeted by my name. Yamille Chavez, Banking Center Manager, Woodbridge branch, always stops what she is doing and greets me, no matter how busy she is. She takes the time to sit and talk with me, and always follows up with an excellent level of customer service. There is no other bank I know of that does this. That is the major difference between Provident Bank and any other bank; with Provident, you are a person, never a number.
KB: How do you perceive your bank as a partner in your business? How important is a relationship with a bank?
MF: A relationship with a bank is vital. You cannot continue to grow without a bank behind you to ensure that you have the ability to do so. We grow 20%-50% each year and it’s very difficult to go from $1 of inventory to millions of dollars of inventory and not have the support of a bank like Provident. Provident is a true partner in our business, but more importantly, Provident is an interested partner in our business.
KB: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to make the leap to start or expand their business?
MF: Beyond the obvious, you work hard and get things done, that is a given for any entrepreneur. The advice to take away here is you need to be mindful of what you are trying to achieve. You can’t launch a company or a product line if you don’t have an end game in mind. There’s so many things involved with launching products from cost of entry, to marketing, to sales and profit. Be mindful of all of these things.
Begin with an end game in mind and you will be much further along than many entrepreneurs. Every entrepreneur is emotional, which is a good thing. But when you’re making hard-core business decisions, you need to take your emotions out of it and be level-headed. Do the right thing for your company financially to make sure you survive.