Swiff-Train Co.

Swiff TrainSwiff-Train’s family culture and strong customer and supplier relationships continue to thrive after 80 years in business.
By Jim Harris

Swiff-Train Co.’s main office in Houston was fortunate to not have sustained major damage when Hurricane Harvey swept through the region in late August. Although the facility itself was not flooded, roughly half of the company’s 200 employees were based in the path of the natural disaster.

“We had a handful of employees who had damage to their homes or vehicles, and many of them couldn’t get from their homes to the office [because of flooded roads],” CEO and President Jonathan Train says.

The Houston office shut its doors for four business days during the disaster. When it reopened August 31st, it was with a partial staff that included employees from Swiff-Train’s seven other offices, which include six locations in Texas and one in Oklahoma City. Swiff Train box

After two days with a partial staff, most employees returned to work, with many taking on extra shifts or working overtime to help the company make up for the time it lost. The Houston distribution center handles roughly 70 percent of the company’s total sales volume, Train says.

In addition to returning to their work duties, many Swiff-Train employees also pitched in to help their fellow staff members who suffered losses from the storm. “I’m proud of the dedication of our people, especially after [Hurricane Harvey] and seeing what they’ve done to help each other and their neighborhoods,” he adds.

The dedication shown by Swiff-Train employees during the hurricane reflects the company’s overall culture. “A family-like atmosphere is the essence of our company,” Train says. “We have a commitment and loyalty to our people.

“The tightness our employees have and their willingness to help each other out is what stands out for me the most,” he adds. “We enjoy coming to work and doing our best day in and day out.”

Doing What’s Best

Swiff-Train’s family culture extends back to 1937, when Joseph Swiff and his son-in-law Herbert Train founded the company in Corpus Christi, Texas. The company processed damaged or loose cotton until World War II, when it expanded into exporting and importing steel and agricultural products.

In 1959, Swiff-Train began serving central and south Texas with flooring and countertop surfacing products, and in time the success of those sides of the business led the company to focus on flooring distribution.

The company today is a full-line flooring distributor. Jonathan Train and Jason Train – Joseph Swiff’s great-grandsons and Herbert Train’s grandsons – are its fourth-generation owners and leaders. Swiff-Train is one of the “Top 25 Flooring Distributors” for 2017 as recognized by Floor Covering Weekly.

The company celebrated its 80th anniversary in January during an open house/trade show event attended by employees, customers and vendors. “We’ve lasted as long as we have because we believe in putting aside personal agendas and have the mentality that if something is best for the business, it’s best for everyone involved,” Train says.

Business is Personal

The company has two main lines of business. In addition to distributing flooring products from several national brands, Swiff-Train also develops and designs its own line of flooring products.

Swiff-Train’s flooring distribution business serves 2,000 customers in Texas and Oklahoma ranging in size from small flooring stores to large flooring contractors. Flooring distributed by the company is used in new homes built by national homebuilders including Lennar Homes and Pulte Homes.

The company’s flooring product lines, Earthwerks & Pinnacle are distributed nationally and internationally by outside full-line flooring distributors. Swiff-Train can also develop non-branded products for big-box retailers and maintenance supply companies.

Swiff-Train distributes products from a combined 300,000 square feet of warehouse space. It manages and operates a fleet of leased trucks for its business in Texas and Oklahoma. Roughly half of the branded and non-branded flooring product business is factory direct, with distributors receiving products right from the manufacturing floor. The company also uses a third-party logistics provider to handle shipments of its branded and non-branded flooring products.

Balancing two lines of business serving two distinct customer bases gives Swiff-Train an intimate knowledge of its clients’ needs. “The expression might be ‘it’s business, not personal,’ but we feel that business should be personal,” Train says. “We try to understand what our customers’ needs are, be empathetic to those and be reasonable in our work with them.

“When you’re carrying thousands of SKUs and dealing with a large customer base, problems arise, and we believe in handling those problems on a personal level,” he adds. “In our national business, we are selling to companies like ourselves, so we understand what it’s like to run a distribution business. For these customers, we try to be one of their best, if not their best, supplier.”

Ahead of Trends

The company also maintains relationships with the manufacturers of the flooring products it distributes and sells. Swiff-Train carries flooring made by U.S. manufacturers as well as products made in China, Southeast Asia, South Korea and Taiwan.

Overseas factories provide the company with much of the luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and hardwood flooring products it distributes and sells. Members of the Train family regularly visit these factories and vice versa. “We have a close, exclusive relationship with those factories,” Jonathan Train says, noting the company has worked with many of its suppliers for more than 30 years.

Swiff-Train continues to add new products to its distribution offerings. “Fifteen to 20 percent of the SKUs we sell are changing every year from a design and material standpoint, so new product launches are critical in our industry,” Train says.

The company also continues to develop new branded products. The demand for LVT products in particular has grown during the past few years. “The LVT market this year will be a $1.5 billion business nationwide, and it was less than $900 million just a few years ago,” he adds.

Swiff-Train is also adding to its hardwood flooring offerings. “We continue to innovate with new products and have stepped up the overall look and image of our products,” Train says. “It’s always important for us to be at the front of the trends and get new products out to distributors as soon as we can.” 

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