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August 2010
On the Sands of Time
By Carol Gifford

     Longevity is a theme at Barefoot and Company. The company operates on the same principles as families—values, integrity, accountability and a strong work ethic—and never forgetting your roots.

     That’s by design, says David Barefoot, president and CEO of Barefoot and Company, the leading supplier of specialty products to the building industry in Charlotte and customers in a 100-mile radius, and one of only a very few suppliers who have successfully completed NHQ Certification in the Charlotte area.

     Barefoot and Company provides superior specialty products and service at competitive prices. The family-owned company furnishes and installs shower doors, mirrors and glass, wire shelving and custom closets, windows and screens, door hardware, bath accessories, interior blinds, shades and shutters. The company serves three different customer groups: builders, remodelers and homeowners.

     Founder Bob Barefoot was well-known in the Charlotte market and left a company legacy of hard work, honest prices and standing behind his products for his family and employees, says son David. Bob fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship and encouraged his children and grandchildren to work with the company and try out new business practices.

     “We’ve been around for 39 years; the third generation of family members are working here now,” says David, who adds there are six family members in the 50-person employee list. “My father was born and raised in Charlotte. I was, too. I started working with my father at age 17 and learned the business from the ground up. I’ve never worked anywhere else.”

     The family also has a well-established mantra: “If you treat your employees better than your best customer, you don’t have to worry about your best customer.” David carries through with an open door policy to all employees. “This is very important to us,” says David, “because our employees make Barefoot what it is.”

 

A Firm Footing

     In some ways, says David, the company has come “full circle.” During the gas/energy crunch of the mid-70s, storm windows and doors became a big product line for Barefoot.

     “Now, we’re replacing windows that we installed 30 years ago—the same windows that I installed in my early years of working at Barefoot,” says David.

     Through it all—some trying times and today’s recession – the company has worked hard to do things right, says David, by continuing its mission of working hard and paying attention to customer needs.

     “If we take care of the business we have, we’ll have a business to take care of,” says David. “Quality is extremely important to us and we do it right the first time. It’s a small world around Charlotte—everybody knows everyone—so it’s important to uphold your good reputation.”

     “We’ve been with several of our manufacturers for 25-plus years,” says David. “We stick with people who stick with us because we know that they are going to be there. We’ve worked with Coral Industries shower doors for 20-some years and ClosetMaid for just as long.

     John Wieland Homes, one of the largest new home builders in the area, chooses Barefoot and Company to provide and install products in its new single family homes and townhouses.

     “We’ve been working with Barefoot for more than 20 years now, and we consider the company a favorite trade partner, rather than a vendor,” says John Feezor, president of John Wieland’s Charlotte division.  “Barefoot supplies us with mirrors and shower doors, closet shelving products, hardware for bathrooms and towel bars and holders, and windows.”

     Feezor says Barefoot supplied many of the products in thousands of existing Wieland homes in the Charlotte area. At the peak of its new construction in Charlotte in 2005-06, says Feezor, Wieland was building about 400 homes a year.

     While new construction work has slowed in Charlotte, Wieland continues to build neighborhoods, and Barefoot continues to be Wieland’s supplier of specialty products in new construction neighborhoods including Homestead, Brookhaven, Bridge Mill, The Club at Longview, Waybridge and McCullough.

     “They help our homeowners get the products they want,” says Feezor. “Our customers make individual choices for their homes at our design center, choosing products from Barefoot. Many times customers choose to upgrade their amenities and work with someone from Barefoot to add things like closets or shelving units.”

     Feezor says he can’t remember a time that he’s had a complaint or concern about Barefoot. “They make it very easy to work with them—the quality and craftsmanship is there.”

 

Shifting Sands

     “Taking care of business means keeping a close watch on the pulse of customers to recognize potential issues and new opportunities,” says David. With the recession, Barefoot and Company saw a dip in its work with new home builders.

     “When you have a downturn like this, you need to reevaluate your business from top to bottom. You need to reconnect with your employees and make sure you’re moving ahead in the same direction to achieve your vision,” explains David.

     “I’ve been through a number of recessions at Barefoot and each time in the past, the new home construction business has led the economy out of the recession,” says David. “That’s not going to happen now. The two new homebuyer tax credit programs provided a false sense of security. This time, the new home builders are not going to spearhead an economic turnaround as fast as in the past.”

     He expects business to grow again in the next few years, but says it is very difficult to predict future growth until there is a realistic economic recovery.

     Recognizing that a too large percentage of Barefoot’s business was tied to the new homebuilding industry, the company began to look elsewhere for new customers. Barefoot proactively changed its business practices.

     “You have to think outside the box and diversify your customers and business, and ask, where are our new opportunities?” says David. “We began to shift our focus to the remodeling, contracting and homeowner side.”

     It was a good move.

     “Right now people are staying put,” says contractor Brian Macuga, owner of Arbor Construction Group in Charlotte. “It’s more difficult to sell your home and people aren’t interested in moving to a new neighborhood where it’s not 100 percent finished and there are concerns about whether or not the developer can afford to finish the work.”

     Instead, he sees people investing in their homes to make them more livable by choosing renovations such as room additions, screened porches or patios that “aren’t budget busters and provide immediate enjoyment.”

     Macuga uses Barefoot as a resource, calling the company “whenever I have a weird question about how to fix something and need some advice.” Macuga says that Barefoot provides him with quality service.

     “They do a great job upfront,” he says. “Barefoot locates the product you need and presents it, providing all the help to understand the directions and install it.”

     Barefoot already has established relationships with many contractors.

     Kevin Holdenrid, the owner of Clear Lake Development Co. in Charlotte, had worked with Barefoot for several years before opening his own development and construction company in 2008.

     “There’s a simple formula that guides the way I do business. I look for five things: service, quality control, time frame, the ability to stand behind your product, and then price. If you can’t do the first four, I’m not interested in the price.

     “You can always find a better price,” says Holdenrid, who builds new homes and does renovations and commercial upfits.

     Holdenrid says his relationship with Barefoot was cemented by a situation he witnessed earlier in his career when he was working for a national homebuilder who used Barefoot windows.

     “I was working in a large subdivision and the windows installed in some of the new homes had seal failure as a direct result of a manufacturer issue,” says Holdenrid. “Barefoot immediately took care of the problem.  They replaced all the windows right away and then went back to the manufacturer to deal with the problem.

     “There’s no price value you can put on that,” says Holdenrid. “That was a big deal and could have taken months to resolve. Instead, the head of the company was out there doing the work.”

 

Taking New Steps

     Another way the company boosted sales was to start a new marketing campaign, spearheaded by Laura Barefoot, David’s daughter, who joined the company in 2007 after completing her MBA.

     “I’m old school so she had to do some convincing to get me to change how we do business and add in a marketing component,” says David. “We’re fortunate to have new blood in our management, someone with the expertise to tackle new challenges. But Laura had to sell me on her new marketing program and how she wanted Barefoot to reach out to new customers.”

     “I started telling him we needed to do this about three years ago. If we wanted to continue to be successful, we needed to establish our company name so people would recognize it…we needed to get the Barefoot and Company name out to as many media sources as we could,” says Laura. “We refreshed our brand, updated our Web site, adding more information and ways to do business online, including case studies and product catalogues.”

     The new marketing campaign is just beginning for Barefoot and Company, says Laura.

     “Right now we’ve just got our toes in the water,” says Laura. “We’re looking at everything from how we answer the phone to adding yard signs where we’re working. We started a customer newsletter, and we wrap our vehicles.”

     She added door hangers to the marketing outreach efforts, and has them attached to the doors of new homes where Barefoot and Company was a supplier and installer for the new home builder. Another new program is an upcoming builder drop-in show at Barefoot for new home builders and contractors to see the Andersen 100 Series Window and Door line and meet the Barefoot and Andersen company representatives.

     “We’re doing a lot more grassroots marketing,” says Laura, “and it is increasing our market share.”

     The other part of the equation is David’s nephew. Michael Najaka, who is focusing on customer relations and ideas for process improvement He is in the field focusing on customer relations to bring the new strategies full circle.

     Barefoot also expanded its product line. Previously, it stocked many name brand product lines such as Andersen windows and doors, ClosetMaid, Coral Industries, Graber, Kwikset, Moen, Schlage, and Silverline windows and doors.

     “All of the products we stock are available for our customers to see, but we can also get many other brands should our customers choose them,” says David. “We can pretty much supply the ‘good, better, best’ in our product lines.”

     In 2007, Barefoot added a line of interior blinds, shades and shutters to its products, available to all its customers.

     “This is a very successful line for us,” says Laura. “It’s a turnkey service, homeowners can purchase and install the window coverings themselves, or they can use our installers to do it for them. With this addition, we can now market to homeowners that we can supply all the fixtures, hardware, doors, windows and window coverings that they need inside the home.”

     Despite the challenging economy, Barefoot is poised to continue to compete strongly in the Charlotte market.

     “It’s all about relationships and services,” says David. “We know that you have a choice of products and people who service them.

     “Because we are a family-owned business, we have more ability to determine our own destiny. I want the third generation of my family to have the same opportunities that I had—to be able to take something successful and continue on with it, and never forget your roots.”

 

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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