SEEN talked with Hagopian President Edmond Hagopian to get his advice on running a family business, how to expand to new locations and the best way to save a rug if you’ve had a spill.
By Stephanie Steinberg
SEEN is introducing a new series called SEEN Around the Water Cooler. Each month, we will interview executives in Metro Detroit to get their business and career advice. We kick off the series with Hagopian President Edmond Hagopian.
Name: Edmond Hagopian
City: Manchester, Michigan
Schools attended: Harrison High School in Farmington Hills and University of Hawaii for BBA
1. How did you get started at Hagopian, and what year was this?
That question makes me chuckle! We all started when we old enough to follow direction, but I started getting paid to work while I was in high school 1977-1979. I worked my way up in the company doing just about every job from cleaning carpet to store manager.
2. How many stores do you now oversee and in what cities?
We have eight locations: Oak Park, Novi, Birmingham, Ann Arbor, Plymouth, Utica, Clarkston, Troy (Michigan Design Center). This year we are opening up a location in Grand Rapids. I also oversee the Roche Bobois furniture showroom in Birmingham.
3. For someone who wants to grow a business into several locations, do you have any advice for going about that?
Make sure you have all your processes clearly defined and in place. I found that going from one location to two was much more difficult than going from two to three. It is easy to communicate and operate in one location; you find out very quickly where the gaps are when you are separated by geography. When you expand you have to make sure that your customer service doesn’t suffer. If your company is small and your service is dependent on a small number of employees, you may have disappointed customers when you add locations. I recommend reading an excellent book called “The Alchemy of Growth” by Mehrdad Baghai, Steve Coley and David White.
4. Hagopian has been a family-owned business for over 75 years and has become a household name around Metro Detroit. What’s the secret to making a family-owned business succeed?
Hagopian had a difficult and public split in the late 1970’s, and we have taken away from that some hard lessons. I think you need to decide how to protect both the business with some simple guidelines and how you will also protect the family.
One of the keys to protecting the business for us is to limit ownership to those family members that are employed in the business with the goal of minimizing a culture of entitlement within the extended family. People who don’t run a small business sometimes don’t realize how much work you need to put in to make it successful. Having said that, being conscious of protecting the family is also important. You really need to be careful about taking work or the stress of work home. Respecting the different perspectives that other family members bring to your organization can be a strength, and that disagreement is valuable when weighing options. Once a decision is made though, everyone needs to pull together.
5. How many employees do you have? 150
6. Do you have any strategies for honoring long-term employees and keeping them motivated?
We have great group of long-term employees. For example, our cleaning crew leaders average more than 20 years of experience. That is more than three times the industry average. We have long-term employees because we have created a workplace environment that values them and treats them with respect.
7. Hapopian partners with the College for Creative Studies to host an annual student rug design competition. Why did this get started, and how has this competition benefited students?
My father started the competition and scholarship because he believed it was a great way to introduce students to the beauty of rugs. We do hear from past winners, and they share how much it meant to them to have us recognize their work. For everyone involved in this annual competition, the process of taking a drawing and making it into an actual rug is very exciting. Interestingly, this year one of our designer judges said that she had competed in the competition as a student many years earlier. Also, we just started a similar program with high school students at the Henry Ford Academy in Detroit.
8. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy hearing from people about how much they love Hagopian. Some people will even tell me stories of how my father or even my grandfather did something for them that they still remember fondly. I love that I can help write the next chapter of the wonderful legacy that my family has built.
9. What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Finding balance…I need to be careful that I don’t over commit.
10. What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Hard to say, but here are a few. I think transitioning from the 2nd to 3rd generation was a very big accomplishment and has to be at or near the top. Another is the work we are doing with The Henry Ford and Ford Estate — I am honored to have their trust. I also am very proud of the fact that during the great recession in 2008 we managed to not lay off any of our employees.
11. Who’s been a mentor in your career?
Of course my father would be at the top of that list. I also have a dear friend, Ashu Ladha (founder and CEO of Trade Am), who I have known since 1991. I don’t ask him for advice often, but when I need him he has always been there for me.
12. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The best thing my father did was to not push any of us into the business. He would tell us to find something that we enjoyed doing. That may seem like pretty vanilla advice, but coming from him it was a really big deal. My grandfather didn’t give his children that choice.
Now onto some fun questions…
13. How many rugs do you have in your home?
Tons at home on the floor, walls and on tops of dressers.
14. Are they all from Hagopian?
Yes, we have the best rugs.
15. Do you have a favorite rug?
No, that would be too difficult to pick one. I like rugs that are somehow unusual because I see so many. Something about it needs to separate itself from the pack.
16. If you spill something on a rug, what’s the best way to get it out?
Call Hagopian…but in the meantime get up as much liquid as you can with a towel. Don’t rub. We sell an excellent inexpensive spot remover at our locations that everyone should keep on hand just in case they have a spill.
17. Rugs on the wall: Yes or no?
Yes, rugs define a space on the floor, but can also be a focal point hanging on a wall. There is nothing like a silk rug hanging on the wall that you can touch every time you walk by. Would you do that with a painting?
18. Biggest rug you’ve ever cleaned?
Well, we have recently cleaned and restored the rug that Henry Ford used in his office, and that was a very big (and important) rug!
19. Favorite rug color?
Richer colors appeal to me.
20. When you’re not working at Hagopian, where can we find you?
Hiking the trails of the Pinckney Recreation Area or hanging out in the Midtown district.
Bonus question: Anything else you’d like to share?
I really love working in a family business. Over the years I have worked side by side with my father, uncle, aunt, cousins, brother and now my two sisters Suzanne and Angela. I am also fortunate to work with a wonderful group of long-term employees at Hagopian who really care about our customers. I believe that in the end, it really does matter who you spend your time with everyday, and in that regard, I am truly blessed.