Even though it’s a small business, American Floors & Interiors is making a big name for itself.Fortune magazine and the Initiative for Competitive Inner City ranked the Toledo-based company first in the nation for the fastest-growing inner-city construction company and 11th fastest-growing inner-city company overall in its 2014 Inner City 100 list.
“Because of my passion for the community and my commitment to the inner city, for me [the award] was heartfelt,” said Gary Johnson, the company’s CEO and UT alumnus.
“I’ve always believed in wanting to go and try to identify people who are willing to work hard, but would not necessarily have the opportunity to be trained with skill sets that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”
The company, which is located at 305 Morris St., was started in 2005 when Johnson moved back to Ohio. While highly successful now — the company’s revenue was nearly $3.85 million in 2013 — the first three years the company actually lost money, Johnson said.
“It took three years before people had enough confidence and faith in our business to really want to start using it,” he said.
But the company got its big break when Johnson got involved with the UT Minority Business Development Center, a program that helps grow businesses in Toledo by offering training, mentoring, advising, and office space to budding companies.
Johnson said he worked with Larry Burns, UT vice president for external affairs, and Dr. Shanda Gore, UT assistant vice president for equity and diversity, who were able to connect him to Chuck Lehnert, former vice president of facilities. Lehnert and Johnson came to an agreement that resulted in Johnson getting a contract to do flooring at the University.
When the recession hit, Johnson said his company capitalized on the needs of the public sector because it continued to renovate and upkeep its buildings.
“While everyone else was complaining that business was going down, I was complaining that my business was growing too fast,” Johnson joked.
“Being a minority business, there was a big push for diversity at that time, so we capitalized on that market and delivered,” he said.
Johnson said there are three standards he holds his company to that sets it apart from other businesses: being No. 1 in customer service, No. 1 in quality service and No. 1 in community service.
“We feel if we serve all three of those entities equally, build a team of great estimators and skilled trades people, we have and will continue to succeed,” he said. “[The award] was almost like a measurement of how well that formula works.”
Johnson said he takes a hands-on role in ensuring these factors are all met by working directly with his employees, personally visiting customers, and taking roles in the community — including serving on UT President’s Council for Diversity. He said he also plans to run for city council next year.