After 33 years in business, Carpet & More has closed its doors for the last time, and owner Brian Kelley is looking forward to retirement later.
With more than 50 years of experience in the floor covering business, Kelley said he first dipped his toes into the business when he was a teenager.
"I actually started doing floor covering work when I was 13 years old," he said. "My mother was working in a store for a guy that's not been around here for a long, long time, but she was working there and I started hanging around a little bit. It wasn't very long until the installers started, you know, 'Sweep the back room and then come with us. You can start learning to do the basic things of installation.'"
So, he did.
Kelley said he started helping out every summer and on the weekends. By the time he graduated high school, Kelley said he was going off on jobs with his boss's teenaged son.
"I had the boss's son as my helper," he said with a laugh. "He had a 17-year-old and 14-year-old going out on jobs, and I've been at it pretty much ever since. I've done a few other things, but I've got over 52 calendar years in the business."
After years of working for someone else, Kelley said it was time to start his own business. That's when he and his mother, Irene Mishler, opened Carpet & More right across the parking lot from its current location at 2914 W. Hwy. 50 in 1986.
"We started with nothing," Kelley said. "We started over there on the other side of the parking lot and outgrew that after about nine years. Then we moved over here and we've been here ever since. I mean, we had nothing. We had no inventory, no displays, no jobs, but I had been installing for about 20 years and I had people who were interested, so we just opened."
With his mother's connections to flooring suppliers, Kelley said they were soon able to start putting up displays. But it was Kelley's reputation for quality work that really got the business going.
"We started out with very little, but we've made a heck of a good business out of it," he said. "We've had a nice clientele over the years, but we were pretty proud of the fact that we've done, I would say 80 percent of the work that we do is either repeat customers or referrals. We still get a few new customers."
Kelley said one of the challenges over the years has been finding people to take on the trade, an issue that has plagued many professionals over the years. Kelley said he has two excellent long-time installers, his son-in-law Cletus White and cousin Jarrid Blankley, who have both worked with him for years.
Kelley said it was important to him that both of his installers were able to continue on in the trade, and both will continue in the business as employees of Clark Carpet & Tile. Clark is also purchasing the rest of Kelley's inventory
"Clark has been our best competitor," Kelley said. "They've been really, really good. You couldn't ask for better people to be in competition with. They've always been willing to help us and we help them, you know, if they needed a bucket of glue or something like that, we always let them borrow it and things like that. The Clarks are going to buy my inventory, and they're going to actually take my installers. They're very ready for them there, and we're kind of referring people to Clark."
Pat and Lori Clark, owners of Clark Carpet & Tile, said they have enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Kelley over the years.
"He sells good, quality stuff like we do, so we've been equal as far as that goes," Pat Clark said. "If we were running short on a product, we'd give him a call."
"A lot of times we would tell people, if we couldn't get to them quick enough, to call Brian," Lori Clark added. "We've always done that and he's always done that equally, too."
Pat Clark said he was glad to bring Blankley and White onto his staff, too.
"They're both very good installers and they've got a nice following already," he said. "I think the customers will follow them."
While the Clarks said they want Kelley to enjoy his well-earned retirement, they also want him to know he's welcome to come and help out, too, if he finds himself looking for something to do.
"He's probably going to get retired and like it," Lori Clark said. "He deserves it."
Kelley said he's looking forward to spending some time with his grandchildren, fishing and going on trips with his wife, Jane, a teacher at Hartford High School.
"I'm looking forward to retirement," Kelley said. "But we never would have got this far without having great customers and great installers. We'd have never made it this far."