Even with today's slick specialty shopping and glitzy strip malls, who would have imagined that you could go anywhere on this planet and pick up a manure spreader, a security camera and a treadmill all in one store visit? Not to mention a hay baler, horse trailer and, oh, a home gym too?
The family-owned Flaman Group of Companies has established a thriving business in Western Canada based on an eclectic blend of products that don't seem to be found together anywhere else. They include agricultural machines, security and surveillance devices, trailers, and a wide range of cardiovascular and strength equipment, both used and new. Since founder Frank Flaman started in 1959 selling grain bins on his farm in Southey, Saskatchewan, the Flaman organization (www.flaman.com) has diversified and expanded to 10 retail locations with 100 employees in both retail and rental divisions.
Want a treadmill with that tractor?
With the company's agricultural roots, the addition of various farming products over the years certainly makes loads of sense. The security equipment is a relatively new category, brought on as crime has risen in rural areas and the company found farmers wanted to protect their machinery, livestock and property. But fitness equipment? How did that possibly fit in? Were farmers really asking for treadmills?
"I got into this partly by accident," Flaman told SNEWSÂ®, saying that for years he was never much into exercise -- until the late '80s. "About 15 years ago, I had chronic fatigue and was depressed, so I was given Prozac and Zoloft, which did nothing for me. Once I cut out sugar and white flour and started exercising, I didn't need the pills anymore. I felt great.
"Exercise did so much for me," he said, "so I thought, 'Why not start selling treadmills?'"
And he did about 13 years ago alongside grain bins. Business was slow at first, he admitted, and the company only sold about 30 treadmills a year. But he hung in there and the business grew steadily -- he now sells thousands of pieces a year and his stores added ellipticals, bikes and strength-training equipment four or five years later.
Although with roots in farming, fitness equipment now makes up about 25 percent of his company's revenue, and he estimates it could grow to as much as 50 percent. He began selling commercial equipment about three or four years ago, he said. Although every now and then someone buys, say, a tractor and a treadmill at the same time, for the most part, sales are separated by category.
Flaman, a rather no-nonsense kinda guy, said he is simply listening to customers and fulfilling their changing needs as he grows his rather odd mix of products. And he's quite the disciple of exercise too. At "70 years young," he said he spends at least one hour a day on his treadmill or elliptical (he's even got an elliptical in his office so there are no excuses).
Within the 1,000- to 10,000-square-foot stores in 10 cities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, as well as Great Falls, Mont., are a variety of brands that include, according to a manager, Keys, Trimline, Landice, Nordic Track, Nautilus and Quantum, as well as Taiwanese brands FitMax and Hsumoa, and even its own brand of strength equipment, Flaman Fitness.
"Some factories build for us directly so we have our own brand and can buy in volume, save money and offer a better deal to customers," Flaman said.
In the three Canadian provinces where Flaman operates, he runs not only Flaman Sales stores, which carry the entire rather diverse product line, but also one Flaman Fitness in Regina, Alberta, and a Treadmill Express in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His newest, a 45,000-square-foot space in Edmonton, has the largest fitness selection, as well as added warehouse space so Flaman no longer stores equipment in trailers and sheds scattered throughout Western Canada.
Taking care of people, not just selling stuff
Flaman said he considers himself, among other things, a specialty fitness retailer -- albeit a somewhat unique one -- and acknowledges that he has lots of competitors. So what entices someone to browse among Flaman's livestock equipment and land scrapers for an elliptical or home gym? According to Flaman, it's unmatched customer service.
"I have buddies, not customers," Flaman explained, "and we take care of people. I don't just take their money today, but I follow up with them later to make sure they are happy with their purchase and, ultimately, I make sure these folks will be taken care of in five to 10 years as well."
That means a commitment to stocking all replacement parts of virtually every product the company has sold in at least the past five years. Flaman told SNEWS a story about a woman who years ago purchased a treadmill at another store, but couldn't find any retailer that would help her get a new belt. He diligently tracked down the belt in Taiwan, which he said cost him $150 plus about $70 in labor, and he charged the woman $80 total for the belt and installation.
"She got a great deal and was so happy; where do you think she will buy her next treadmill from?" Flaman said. "A lot of folks are in business for today only, but when I can make people happy, then I'm happy."
And talking about incentives to exercise: Flaman recently began offering 100 percent refunds to certain customers -- "People who have about 100 pounds or so to lose" -- if they purchase fitness equipment and use it to make progress. No, he hasn't had to pay up to anyone -- yet -- but said he hopes that day will come.
Staffing his sales family
With the unusual inventory mix, we wondered if finding good sales staff is a challenge -- how do you find people who know the ins and outs of hay balers, but can also speak intelligently about exercise bikes? No worries, Flaman said, dismissing the question in his matter-of-fact way. He said he simply hires and assigns people, according to their expertise to handle corresponding product lines.
All staff -- whether a hay baler or home gym specialist -- is encouraged to participate in Flaman's fitness passion by utilizing the company's free exercise room.
"No one here works for me -- it's a team," Flaman said. "It's like a big family, and we all get along really well."
Speaking of family, Flaman's three sons each run their own Flaman companies. Nevertheless, it's evident that a huge element of the Flaman Companies' apparent success -- mind you, it has been around 45 years -- is attributed to Flaman's own optimism and values.
"You've got to be enthused and nourished by your work," Flaman said, "and although I spend about six hours a day at the store, to me, that's not work. The main thing in life is to be happy and enjoy what you do.
"I'm 70 years young and I intend to live forever," he added. "So far, no one has proven me wrong."