- Robert E. Gill's father started selling carpet at The Shinnecock Hardware store in 1975. His father owned the store. He had a few samples to work with. Today, the carpet samples at his grandfather's hardware store on Montauk Highway are a memory that led to the creation of The Carpetman.
The spacious store on County Road 39 has more than 10,000 carpet samples in the showroom providing customers who shop the store for their homes on the East End as well as in the city with one of the country's largest selections of area rugs and floor coverings in the country.
The Carpetman is a must stop for decorators and homeowners intent on finding the right area rug for their oceanfront home. It is also the go to store for little old ladies who want to spruce up their old fashioned kitchens with a new floor.
Gill's father Bob, the orginal Carpetman built the store on CR
39 in the 1980s. Today his son Robert E. Gill carries on the family business he started in the Shinnecock Hardware Store, owned by his father with a few carpet samples. Photos by Andrea Aurichio
"We can it for $27 a yard," Gill said pointing to a foam based linoleum floor covering that has the elasticity of a rubber band and a durability so impressive salespeople refer to it as "bulletproof" since it is nearly indestructible. "You can throw this in a swimming pool for three weeks and nothing will happen to it," Gill said as he pointed to the display.
This astonishing floor covering can be installed over existing floors and is ideal for old houses where floors are often less than perfect. It is great for renovations, remodels and new builds too. The loose lay installation cuts costs by eliminating the need to install sub-flooring before the material is installed.
"I've been in the carpet business so long I don't get excited by anything," Gill said, noting it takes a lot to capture his interest. "But these wool carpets from New Zealand are a big thing."
The distinctive carpeting comprised of individual coirs of wool that stand up like thick grass is among the most eye catching in the store. The natural fiber also reflects the growing trend to go "green" in the design and build community.
Gill, distinguished from his father Robert W., also known as Bob, and the original Carpetman and his grandfather, Robert V., of the Shinnecock Hardware Store presides over the showroom so aptly named by his father when he set up shop in 1981. Gill bought the business from his parents in 1993. His mother and father stopped in on a quiet weekday afternoon to check things out. "My mother works with me. She never worked with my father," Gill said "She does the books." The Carpetman has endured and is thriving as a second generation Mom and Pop business. "We are friendly, we are nice," Gill said as he sat in his second floor office trying to explain the secret of their success. "That's what people tell us." Of course you have to know what you are doing to keep customers happy year after year. "You have to deliver. You have to do a good job," Gill said.
According to Gill it is all about the service. Expert product knowledge and experienced installers add to the equation and equal success. Gill worked his way through college cleaning carpets and still runs a carpet cleaning division at the store. He took a long hiatus from the business heading off to a career in the food industry where he pursued his interest in cooking before returning to The Carpetman. "I wanted to try to do something else besides carpet,' he said.
The Carpetman heads into the fall selling season when homeowners spruce up their homes for the holidays often buying a new carpet.
A large photograph of his parents dating back to the 1980s dominates a wall in the front of the store. The outsized color photograph speaks volumes about the changes in the carpet business over the years. Veterans of the business look at the picture recalling the days when customers were given a color choice of sculptured carpets called high-lows, in red, blue, avocado green and mustard gold. These carpets seemed to last forever and wear like iron. This kind of product durability in the East End's year-round community comprised of thrifty farmers and sharp small town businessmen would seem destined to put stores out of business since no one needed new carpeting.
But it didn't. The floor covering industry evolved, the color pallet changed, berbers and other closed loop carpets became popular and sisal took the Hamptons by a storm. The building boom helped too! "There were more than 10,000 new houses built in less than 25 years,' Gill commented. Gill recalls the slowdown in 1986 when real estate prices fell and building and construction floundered before rallying to the unprecedented markets of the late 1990s to mid-2005.
"There's no question things have slowed down," Gill said. Customers want value for their dollar. "They will still spend money, but now instead of going over the top and spending $10,000 for an area rug, they will hold it down to $7,500."
If that seems expensive, Gill has an explanation. "This is the Hamptons."
The Carpetman offers customers high touch service and a wide range of products at price points that Gill describes as ranging from Home Depot
to high-end. They still cut and bind carpets to order right on the premises and have one of the largest selections of bin
ding tapes on the Eastern Seaboard.
The displays are eye-catching and well arranged in this user-friendly store where area rugs have come to rule the day as homeowners increasingly turn to floor coverings that enhance their hardwood floors. No carpet is too big or too small to be made to order either as customers soon find out. The Carpetman has a small branch office in the city on 26th Street making it possible for customers to pick up samples in Southampton and drop them off in the city.
The availability of samples has helped increase area rug sales over the years as the push for carpet swatches that could be transported to customers' homes increased. "It's from the bottom up," Gill said noting customers want to take a piece of the carpet home to see how it looks before ordering an area rug. These 2' x 3' samples called "corners" are the biggest thing since the invention of broadloom carpeting in the floor covering business. "It took years for the carpet manufacturers to realize this simple concept," Gill said.
Before these easily transported samples were available retailers would roll up area rugs, take them to the house, unroll them and hope the homeowner was happy. If not they headed back to the store to get another rug in another color until a sale was made. It was not uncommon to allow customers to go home with a 4'x 6' oriental to try it out in the house to make sure it worked with the sofa and the wallpaper.
Wall-to-wall carpeting is still popular despite the emphasis on area rugs. Broadloom carpet samples have been readily available for years and are frequently lent out to homeowners overnight - much like library books. The selection at The Carpetman is impressive. This season the color pallet is leaning towards earth tones with an emphasis on dark browns punctuated by light sea foam greens and pale robin's egg blue tones
"The area rug manufacturers are finally getting the message," Gill said. The well stocked store reflects years of browsing carpet markets and frequenting rug importers NYC showrooms. "Those places can be intimidating," Gill noted describing the practice of looking through a two or three foot stack of 9' x 12' carpets piled on a showroom floor as handlers roll the carpets back for viewing.
In contrast The Carpetman makes looking for a carpet easy. Samples are organized by manufacturer as well as grouped by color and texture. Displays are easy to reach and easy to understand. The swing arm racks composed of small samples makes it possible for the retailer to display more than 500 samples using less than 50 square feet of showroom space.
New technology has had an impact on the floor covering business as more retailers enter the field of hardwood flooring, once the exclusive provenance of builders. Hardwood floors once installed by builders in a laborious process are now available in easy to install layered panels comprised of a thin and incredibly durable top layer attached to a thick plywood.
"There are 14 layers of finish on these hardwood floors," Gill said. "The last two layers are coated with aluminum oxide to make the floors scratch resistant. It's stronger than steel wool."
The full service flooring center has come a long way from its early days at the Shinnecock Hardware Store when Gill's dad started a business with a few samples. His father, the guy that started it all, walked around modestly when he stopped in this week, clearly pleased to see his son carrying on the business. His larger than life photograph looked down on the showroom as his wife and his son headed off to work and the informative tour drew to a close. "See you later," the original Carpetman said.