When There's No Going Back

HERNDON | Friday, May 05, 2006

When Moe Shokri came to the United States to attend college in 1977, he planned on returning to Iran to pursue a career in the construction business. The Tehran native had no idea how drastically his life would change, and that three decades later he still would be here running a flooring business. As the 47-year-old owner of the Washington-area franchise of Floor Coverings International, Mr. Shokri sells more than $1 million a year in hardwoods, ceramics and carpet. Surrounded by what looks like a library of wooden squares, Mr. Shokri appears at home in his Springfield showroom. After all, it has been nearly 25 years since he opened his first store at the age of 23. "My father was a businessman, so I really liked to be in business since I was a kid," said Mr. Shokri, who as a child followed his father, a developer, to and from construction sites. But Mr. Shokri's story has more twists and turns than the average entrepreneurial journey. While studying business at New York University in the late 1970s, revolution flared back home in Iran. His father disappeared amid the chaos, and so did his uncle; Mr. Shokri presumes both were executed. A sister and younger brother fled the country, but his mother and another brother couldn't get out. Mr. Shokri moved to the Washington area to be closer to his brother. He gave up his dream of returning home and took a job as a salesman at a furniture and flooring store to help pay for his tuition at American University, where he received a bachelor's degree in business in 1981. "When we had the revolution in Iran, of course my parents were supporting us here going to school, so after the revolution and after all that happened to my family, the money stopped, so we had to start working," he said. After his second year in the business, Mr. Shokri was promoted to store manager. He and a partner opened their own flooring store, Carpet World, in 1983 in Waldorf, Md. Looking back decades later, Mr. Shokri said he learned important lessons from the experience. "I knew the flooring business, but I didn't really know anything about ... business itself," he recalled. "I was only 23 years old, and a lot of my friends and family, they thought I'm crazy because I'm so young and why would you want to take that risk?" In a few years, the partners closed the business and parted ways; Mr. Shokri moved on to his next project: a rug wholesaling company. Several jobs later, he and his wife, Houria, moved to San Francisco in 2000, when he decided again to try his hand at running his own business and purchased a franchise from Floor Coverings International (FCI). FCI was started in 1988 by the Franchise Company of Ontario as a shop-at-hom 734 e flooring business featuring sales representatives who visit customers' homes to survey light patterns and paint colors before returning with sample products. The company, with 72 franchises in the United States and Canada, reported revenues of $23 million in 2005. "The consumer often finds that when they bring [samples] home, it doesn't look the same. So, what we've really identified in the market is helping bridge that gap from the array of products and the design needs of the homeowner," said Tom Wood, chief executive officer of FCI. Mr. Shokri returned to the Washington area and opened his FCI franchise here in 2002. His store was the first in company history to exceed $500,000 in sales during its first year, which Mr. Shokri achieved by working seven days a week as the store's only employee. Mr. Shokri oversees eight employees today and no longer farms out the installation part of the business. About 70 percent of his sales are for hardwood floors, which cost on average about $6 per square foot. "You take up the carpet and you install a hardwood floor and it's a totally different house," said Mr. Shokri, whose Herndon home has hardwood floors throughout. Anita Howard, spokeswoman for the National Wood Flooring Association, said consumers should be selective when it comes to choosing a hardwood retailer and installer. "This is not a first-timer, do-it-yourself project," Mrs. Howard said. "The bottom line, like anything else, is you get what you pay for." For Mr. Shokri, giving customers what they pay for is part of fulfilling a childhood dream. "Because my father's business was construction, I was always exposed to visiting homes or office buildings, and I really liked this business," he said. "I liked creating something."

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Floor Coverings International
5250 Triangle Parkway Ste. 100
Norcross, GA

Phone: (770) 874-7600
Toll Free: (800)955-4324

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