Originally created 05/02/04

Company sees demand for wood floors



Greg Hunnicutt and Charles Marks have worked together so long, they're starting to sound like a married couple.

They can finish each other's sentences and often disagree about how to use their money. Mr. Hunnicutt would rather save it; Mr. Marks prefers to invest it on new equipment.

But their close relationship has only helped them grow their business, Southern Wood Floors, into one of the Southeast's largest flooring companies, with about $4 million in annual sales.

Demand for hardwood floors has surged, recording double-digit growth in each of the past seven to 10 years, said Ed Korczak, the executive director of the National Wood Flooring Association.

"Low interest rates have helped people buy new homes or upgrade and renovate their existing homes," he said.

Mr. Hunnicutt and Mr. Marks, however, saw the trend coming before it hit.

The two met in the late 1980s when Mr. Hunnicutt, then working with Forest Sales Corp., sold wood to Mr. Mark's Augusta Hardwoods, which fabricated palettes and crates.

They then formed Southern Wood Floors in 1993. The two men figured Mr. Hunnicutt's experience in sales and marketing and Mr. Marks's experience in manufacturing would be natural compliments.

Their initial business plan was to create rough-hewn cyprus siding and cut some pine flooring on the side. But the plan changed just six months into the business, with flooring taking the spotlight.

"We didn't have a business plan of only doing wood flooring," Mr. Hunnicutt said.

"But the calls and the demand for wood flooring became evident from the day we opened the door."

Eleven years later, Southern Wood Floors sells between 1.5 and 1.7 million square feet of hardwood flooring each year, has 26 employees and operates four divisions.

And in that time, cyprus siding has been replaced by cement-fiber-based planks, such as Cemplank and Hardiplank.

Of its four divisions, manufacturing is what makes the company unique.

Southern Wood manufactures pine floors using virgin timber and reclaimed antique wood removed from century-old buildings and warehouses, the latter of which is known for its rich texture, having grown slowly for many decades. Most modern pine is cut from younger trees.

Many of Southern Wood's customers live in homes in coastal areas or built on concrete slabs, which often are not structurally designed to handle traditional wood flooring, Mr. Hunnicutt said.

But rather than give up the market, Mr. Marks and Mr. Hunnicutt hired a company in Sweden, Berg & Berg, to produce engineered pine floors, plywood planks with a pine veneer top. Engineered floors, also known as floating wood floors, work in homes with concrete subfloors because they sit atop a moisture absorbing layer of foam and are in essence floating above the subfloor.

Southern Wood ships some of its antique and new pine to Berg & Berg, which glues strips of the pine planks to uniform sections of plywood, complete with tongue-and-groove joints. The completed flooring is then shipped back to Augusta and distributed nationally.

Southern Wood Floors' contract with Berg & Berg makes it the U.S. distributor for all the manufacturer's engineered products, including oak, birch and maple floors.

Mr. Hunnicut and Mr. Marks round out their manufacturing operation installing and selling floors of all types throughout Augusta.

Traditionally, 2-inch oak was the main choice for floors

That started changing in the early 1990s and Southern Hardwood capitalized by offering different types of woods, such as Brazilian cherry, in varying widths.

"If you wanted any other size or species, we were the only people that had it," Mr. Marks said.

Outside the metro area, Southern Wood Floors sells their pine floors and imported products to both wholesale distributors and homeowners looking to install floors themselves.

They've built their national presence through their Web site, www.southernwoodfloors.com.

The creation of the site exemplifies how the two men can work so well together despite a 20-year age difference.

Mr. Hunnicutt, the younger partner, saw the power of the Internet and insisted on creating a Web page.

Mr. Marks initially resisted. After some discussion, the two agreed to start the site.

The company records 80 percent of its national pine sales through its Web site.

"I'm totally lost on the Internet," Mr. Marks said. "If it weren't for Greg, I never would have accomplished the Web site."

Despite their success, the two men still bicker.

"We try to meet twice a week to hammer out our issues," Mr. Hunnicutt said.

VITALS

NAME: Greg Hunnicutt
BORN: July 16, 1964
FAMILY: Wife, Susan, two daughters and one son
TITLE: Co-owner, Southern Wood Floors
CIVIC: Sits on the board of directors for the Morris Museum of Art

NAME: Charles Marks
BORN: Feb. 9, 1944
FAMILY: Wife, Janet, two sons
TITLE: Co-owner, Southern Wood Floors
CIVIC: Sits on the board of directors for the Augusta Training Center for the Handicapped.

HISTORY: Mr. Hunnicutt and Mr. Marks started out with plans of brokering and manufacturing rough cyprus siding for homes. After six months, they saw the need for hardwood floors and changed their business plan.

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.