“It’s challenging but I love every minute of it,” says Joe Cole, owner and president of Dehart Tile in Christiansburg. The flooring firm began when brothers Ed DeHart and Bill DeHart were doing floor installations in the early 1960s. Bill decided the market was ripe for more business, so he bought out his brother and opened a flooring store in 1964 on Roanoke Street. It moved to its present location at 1140 Radford Street 14 years later.
Bill DeHart’s stepson, Jerry Childs, eventually ran the business, and when retirement rolled around in 2016, Cole was looking for a local business to buy. He strives to maintain the family atmosphere while keeping up with market trends, and under him the business – both walk-in traffic and contractors sending their customers – grew every year.
With COVID-19, store traffic, which had been phenomenal prior to April tapered off for a while, then picked up again. Communication never stopped, and technology bridged the gap. Now people are looking at changing spaces in their homes, and Cole has seen an uptick in re-decorating, with people renewing spaces or adding new ones like a fitness room. Technology is an asset as Dehart can offer virtual room scenes to folks at home or use apps in the store and email results to customers.
This entrepreneur isn’t cowed by larger competitors. “Big box stores have their place,” he says, “but there is still a strong market for an independent flooring and tile company.” Dehart Tile has the largest flooring showroom in Virginia west of Lynchburg with 11,000 square feet of showroom space. The big boxes only devote 4,000 to 5,000 square feet to floor samples and information. Additionally, Dehart carries high quality Hunter Douglas blinds and shades.
While the family name has the capital H in DeHart, Cole simplified that with DEHART or Dehart. The business offers distinctive advantages, starting with its staff. Interior Designer Jessica Hall has a degree from Virginia Tech and local roots. Other core staff members include Bruce Jenrette with 40 years at Dehart Tile, Randy Barnett with 20 years and others. Each one is knowledgeable in project design and knows how to guide a customer through each step of the flooring process. Dehart’s installation crews have remained the same for decades, and their experience leads to high performance installations.
Staying in the forefront of design also helps keep Dehart Tile going strong. Cole says that by being independent, the firm can deal with importers from all over the world. He works with leading manufacturers to bring in stylish products at affordable prices. As a result, he is able to offer unique products, and the company stocks old style tile that is hard to find elsewhere.
“We have a higher end selection and stay competitive,” says Cole. Keeping up with changing times is a challenge in terms of knowing what materials to buy. In normal years, Cole goes to national trade shows to view products and determine which ones will be most interesting to his New River Valley and beyond customer base.
Then there is the dilemma of what to keep in stock for instant gratification versus what needs to be ordered. “Managing expectations and timing for installation can be challenging, but receiving flooring materials from the manufacturers and scheduling the best installation crew for the job can build positively on the anticipation. New floors are exciting,” Cole explains.
Cole enjoys discussing flooring trends. “People said carpet was dead, but there has been a resurgence in carpet this year as manufacturers have garnered new technology to make it more versatile. Tile continues to grow in popularity.” Cole seems most excited about a new luxury vinyl flooring that looks like tile or wood and has myriad advantages. It’s waterproof and offers a great variety of colors and patterns. And it is realistic; the wood-look version has knots and grain that mimic real wood.
Cole’s son, John Cole, helps handle the marketing, especially social media, and the company connects with potential customers through Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce, advertising in New River Valley Magazine and interviews such as this. Of critical importance is word of mouth. “Reputation is everything,” he states.
Cole, 57, is so conversant in flooring lingo that it is hard to believe that he worked in the corporate world for 30 years. For more than half that time, he was involved in branch banking construction so he is familiar with construction and renovation projects. And he always wanted to follow his parents’ footsteps in being a local business owner.
Looking into the future, Cole says Dehart Tile wants to stay relevant to the community. The business will stay on the forefront of technology and the flooring industry in order to be a valuable resource. Dehart Tile may move into other product lines as well. Regarding his appreciation for this relatively new endeavor, Cole says: “There is nothing like seeing a face light up when a project comes together.”
1140 Radford Street
Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper
Photos by Tom Wallace