With thousands of contractors in all aspects of the building trade forced out of business in a sinking housing market, home construction numbers have proven to be downright depressing.
But something seems to be happening — something hopeful. Where most would expect cutbacks there is actually signs of growth, literally from the ground up.
Mark Hudrlik’s family has been in the home flooring business in the Brainerd area since 1948. Over decades in local business, Hudrlik Carpet and Tile has managed to thrive through even the toughest economic downturns.
“We’ve been around a long time,” Hudrlik said. “People are loyal.”
Hudrlik said flooring is a good litmus test for the strength of the building trade. “If builders aren’t building, we aren’t doing business,” he said.
The Hudrlik family has stores in Brainerd, Crosby and Aitkin and despite a slumping housing market has managed to continue with business as usual with a “keep cost down and service high” mentality, Hudrlik said. “It’s not about the cheapest thing — it’s about what my dollar can do.”
Hudrlik said surprisingly it wasn’t the housing slump of 2007 that presented the biggest worry for their business, it was actually the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.
“For two weeks we didn’t have to turn on our lights,” he recalled. As the nation emerged from the post-9/11 haze, so did business for Hudrlik.
While the slowed market in 2007 presented challenges, it didn’t really slow things down.
“There were still enough people who wanted to do business,” Hudrlik said. With new home building jobs slowed, there was still a big market in remodeled homes.
“That sustained us,” Hudrlik recalled.
Hudrlik said the slowing in the housing market actually presented an advantage to quality building-trade businesses because it forced so-so contractors out of the market.
“It weeded out the mediocre,” he said.
Unlike many businesses in the same industry, Hudrlik managed to avoid down-sizing their company at all.
“Not even a single lay-off during the slow times,” Hudrlik said. “Our staff is very loyal.”
Hudrlik said the business stayed ahead of the downturn by switching their focus from residential to commercial jobs and reaching outside their typical residential radius, taking on jobs as far as Rochester.
“You reach out if it means filling the schedule,” he said.
The Hudrliks also closed up shop at the store in Baxter for a move to Washington Street in Brainerd — a move that has proven to be profitable.
Hudrlik has also managed to pull off expansion into cabinetry in the last year following the October 2011 closure of Floor to Ceiling in Baxter. In addition to flooring, the store now offers granite countertops and custom or built to go high quality kitchen cabinetry. They are an area dealer for Woodland Cabinetry and JSI Cabinetry.
Hudrlik isn’t alone in growth despite the recessed economy. Family owned and operated Tyke’s Carpet & Antique Sales in Baxter has also reported it has expanded their store.
William “Tyke” Bassett started Tyke’s in 1965 and said business has been steady for the last five decades. He credits carpet replacement, not new home building, with Tyke's continued business.
“Carpet only lasts for 10 to 15 years,” he said. “Our name is out there so much that we keep getting our old customers back.”
Steady growth over the last several years forced Tyke’s to build an addition on their Baxter location in order to support their expanding inventory. The addition was completed in May 2011.
Bassett said he is hopeful in the recovering local economy.
“It is a good economy around here. It’s getting better,” he said. “It’s not what people think.”
Bassett said even during the slower months a few years ago he managed to stay ahead of the curve by continuing to advertise faithfully.
“You don’t back off on your advertising when business is bad — you do more advertising,” he said. “We’re getting people coming here from all over.”
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.