Building a rock-solid reputation is no easy task, but Lonnie Presson, owner of Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, has established a longlasting credibility with customers.
Lonnie Presson has never cared about a guaranteed paycheck. The owner of Lonnie’s Stonecrafters and Lonnie’s CarpetMax has always had bigger, more creative dreams.
“I’ve been self-employed since I was 19,” Presson says. “I was a carpet installer before opening my own store. My dad thought I should work in a secure job, because that’s what he did, but I never wanted to do that. I’ve always thought that if I could do what I love and work twice as many hours, why shouldn’t I be able to make more money?”
Presson started out in the flooring business, opening his own small store in Loves Park, Ill., in 1986. Today he’s easily found at the current showroom, Lonnie’s CarpetMax, 6551 E. Riverside Blvd., in Rockford. During the years between, Presson realized the importance of adding granite into the mix of products he sells, which led him to opening Lonnie’s Stonecrafters in 2004, now located at 3291 S. Alpine Road.
“We were doing so much new home construction that it became a necessity to get into granite,” Presson says. “When it comes to colors, people want their flooring and their granite countertops to match. We were constantly waiting on the granite to be finished before we could do the flooring, so we decided to get into granite ourselves.”
Presson makes the granite-buying process easy for customers by showcasing full slabs in his showroom, instead of small samples. His philosophy is to provide the best visual for customers, so they can imagine what the granite will look like in their homes.
Lonnie’s Stonecrafters additionally sells quartz, a man-made stone that outsells granite on a national average. This isn’t the case for Presson, however, which he credits to the large displays of granite in his showroom.
“We have a lot of people who walk in saying they want quartz, but after walking around and seeing these full slabs of granite, they change their minds,” Presson says. “I think it’s seeing the beauty of what God created, and not what a machine made. It’s hard to believe that something so beautiful came out of the ground. Buying granite is like buying jewelry – it just hits you. It’s one of those things that’s hard to show a small sample of because you really need to get the whole idea of it. I think that’s why granite oversells quartz for us. We show people how magnificent it is with our large slabs.”
In addition to seeing the full slabs, customers can also watch up close as workers cut and polish the stone. All measurements are precise, thanks to a laser measuring system that’s integrated with a CAD (computer-assisted design) cutting machine. Not only does the diamond tooling achieve advanced results, it also significantly speeds up the cutting process, which lowers the overall cost of the granite for customers.
It’s important to Presson that customers feel involved in their stone-buying experience.
“Most people never get to go into a factory of sorts,” Presson says. “It helps people to see the process. You get to stand there and marvel at how the machines can do these amazing things. To stand there and watch is truly remarkable.”
Keeping up with the changing technologies may seem complicated, but Presson makes it a priority to learn new equipment. He frequently meets with manufacturers to understand new products and discuss day-to-day business with others in the industry.
Other components of Presson’s success involve consistently advertising in local outlets, working hard in the day-to-day grind and making wise spending decisions. This combination of factors has made Presson’s companies household names in the region.
Presson advises aspiring business owners to hire employees who deliver results. Prior knowledge is not necessarily important, but personal relationships are.
“You need people in your company who yield results instead of take up space,” Presson says. “I learned a long time ago that if a person pays you $10 a day, you’d better make him $20. I’ve been very lucky to bring on people who do that, and I remember most of them saying they knew nothing about flooring in the first place. I told them, ‘Good, because I’m going to teach you.’ I don’t think of these people as employees – I think of them as friends. There isn’t anybody here who can’t call me any time they want.”
While Presson knows that it’s important to earn more than you spend, he also stands by using honest, hard work as the means to achieve a profit. Even in times of economic downturn, taking the low road has never been an option for him. Despite losing 40 percent of his business and having to go backwards in sales, he still managed to come out on top after the 2008 economic strife – a feat he views as “miraculous.” Commitment to customer service was the key then and now.
Presson is often personally involved with customer service, and strives to fix any issues that may arise.
“I’ve tried for my whole life to just be honest and do the best possible job I can do,” Presson says. “I’m not perfect, but I’m always trying to make everything right. There are always gray areas in product, because sometimes there will be manufacturing problems that aren’t our fault. But customers didn’t buy the product from the manufacturer – they bought their product from me. So even if it costs your company money, you’ve still got to step up, do what’s right, and fix the problem. I’m not sure if everybody does that, especially in larger corporations, but that’s what’s made our company what it is. Having good credibility is the most important thing.”
Sterling credibility comes with company longevity, which comes from successful company branding, Presson says. Name recognition is tough to achieve, but Presson has consistently used print, radio, television and other advertising vehicles.
In addition, Presson’s unwavering commitment to community involvement has played a large role in his success. Whether it’s a Little League baseball game or a golf outing, Presson’s name is on the back of shirts as a sign of support.
“Statistic-wise, most businesses fail,” Presson says. “To be in business for more than five years and get to even $2 million in volume is almost impossible. Our company has grown beyond that. It’s truly amazing to think how we got our business this big in such a small market.”
When it comes to surviving as a business five years into the future, Presson envisions his companies growing even larger, especially with the help of his sons, Mark and Luke. Working closely with family is difficult for some people, but not Presson; he can’t imagine his business any other way.
“It’s a blessing that I can be with them all the time,” Presson says. “They have bigger and better plans than I could ever even dream, because they’re expanding from a structure that’s held up for the past 30 years.”
Presson also attributes much of his success to his wife, Wanda. Her support throughout the years has helped both businesses to flourish.
“Wanda has handled everything from our office procedures, to our company’s real estate, to everything in between,” Presson says. “She’s always been involved from day one, and I couldn’t have done this without her.”
Presson encourages business owners to always dream of becoming bigger and better.
“Beyond being extremely lucky, one of the reasons why I’ve survived is because I’m always thinking five years ahead,” Presson says. “I never stop dreaming of doubling and tripling everything I do. My goal is to never let up, no matter what, and the day I decide not to be that way anymore is the day I’ll move aside.”