The story behind Southern Flooring is the classic American Dream come true, in which hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity pay off, ending in a successful, family-run business that gets passed down through the generations.
Of course, this story may have less to do with America than it does the Counihan family. We spoke with owner, James Counihan Jr., and learned how things could have played out in Canada or Australia.
From the Family Farm to the Flooring Business
James Counihan Sr., who tends to go by Jim, grew up on a small family farm in County Kerry, Ireland with four brothers and a sister.
“When they came of age, they would leave the farm and go to London to find work, which was what he did. His first job was digging gas mains for British Petroleum,” says Counihan Jr.
British Petroleum happened to own a company called Granwood Flooring, which made special tile installed in schools, hospitals, airports, and other commercial settings all over the United Kingdom. The decision to join Granwood put Counihan on a path towards a future in flooring. After quickly being promoted from installer to crew leader, another interesting opening came his way.
In the 1950s, when Granwood Flooring was beginning to export its products to North America, Jim Counihan had been dreaming of starting his own flooring franchise in Australia. Instead, he chose to gain experience in a different market first.
“He left Ireland for Toronto as a stepping stone to go to Australia,” Counihan Jr. explains. “While he was there he worked for a company that was doing well and doing some work in the U.S.”
With opportunity presenting itself in North America, Jim Counihan went back to London to marry his sweetheart, Pam, and took her back to Toronto. After several years in Canada, he and a group of investors started American Granwood in Louisiana, later relocating to Greenville, South Carolina.
By the early 1970s, business had started to slow down for American Granwood, but Jim Counihan had his eye on a sector of the flooring industry that was ripe for growth.
“The demand for wood flooring was getting greater, most of it came from K-12 schools,” says Counihan Jr. of his father’s foresight. “He wanted to diversify and get into wood flooring, but the franchise wouldn’t let him. So, he left and started our company.”
Striking out on his own was a major decision, but it was one that paid off.
Making an Impact on the Sports Flooring Industry
Southern Flooring started operating in Greenville, South Carolina in 1972. The business has since grown into one of the largest sports flooring companies in the country. It serves states across the Southeast and has installed courts for many high-profile clients, including NBA teams and prominent university sports programs.
James Counihan, Jr. estimates Southern Flooring is responsible for installing around 25 million feet of flooring to date. However, the family’s contributions extend beyond the dealership. Counihan, Sr. is responsible for at least a dozen patents in the maple flooring industry. His son says that’s due in part to the fact that the founder of Southern Flooring stayed closely involved with the work of installing floors.
“My father worked in the field himself until he was probably 50,” James Counihan explains. “So, he saw a lot of problems with floor designs that were out there at the time, and he developed some of his own flooring systems.”
Flooring manufacturers purchased the patents for those flooring systems, helping Southern Flooring grow and cement its reputation as a leader in sports flooring.
Anyone working in sports flooring today will recognize the design elements Jim Counihan helped develop. One of his best-known innovations was a system combining attributes of fixed and floating floors.
“You have an element of the floor that’s attached to the concrete, yet it still allows the floor to move within the parameters of the design so it wouldn’t have dead spots, Counihan, Jr. explains. “That was and still is a big problem with floating floors. It’s something he saw in the field and came up with a way to correct.”
In 2008, James Counihan, Sr. was inducted into the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA) Hall of Fame. Southern Flooring placed its first order with Action Floor Systems in 1989, not long after we opened our doors. The company became a certified installing dealer for Action Floors in 2009. East Coast Sales Representative, Dave Fields, says he sees how the business mindset at this dealership has made it a major player in the industry.
“Southern Flooring bids with an aggressive manner to maintain market share while providing the best installation capability,” Fields says. “They stress the desire for a completed project with total customer satisfaction and no call-backs. This attitude gives the company a reputation that brings back general contractors, construction managers, and individual owners for repeat opportunities.”
Building a Family Around Flooring
Family ties are certainly strong in the sports flooring industry, and Southern Flooring is yet another example of that central theme. James Counihan, Jr. says he went to work full time at Southern Flooring straight out of high school. He and his sister, Helen Lorenzen, who now serves as Southern Flooring’s vice president, purchased the business from their father when he retired in 2006.
Now, James has two sons working for Southern Flooring, and the plan is to keep the business family-owned for many years to come. James Counihan, Jr. has been leading the business his father founded for more than a decade now, continuing a tradition of excellence and innovation. However, the concept of family at this company goes beyond relatives.
What makes Counihan, Jr. proudest isn’t the millions of square feet Southern Flooring has installed or all of the high-profile projects.
“It’s seeing everyone that works with us do well with their lives,” he says. “We do lots of work, including many big jobs. We’ve done some of the biggest gyms in the United States. But, that’s just the work part of it. I enjoy watching the people around the company change and grow.”
A sense of family is certainly something we understand and appreciate at Action Floors. And, it’s one of the reasons we’ve had a longstanding relationship with Southern Flooring. Counihan, Jr. says Action Floors’ sales rep, Dave Fields, is part of the extended Southern Flooring family.
“Dave is like a member of our staff and he’s a friend. He does a really good job with us and he’s part of the reason we continue doing business with Action Floors.”
Fields echoes that sentiment. He’s spent the last eight years working closely with Southern Flooring and considers the Counihans close friends as well.
“I can say it has been a most enjoyable experience,” Fields says. “Working with an owner who has a business mindset like James’ is a pleasure and provides me, as a representative for Action Floors, with a great deal of pride.”
Action Floors is proud to partner with leaders in the industry like Southern Flooring as well as newcomers looking to grow. Contact Action Floors today or call 1-800-746-3512 and learn more about opportunities to work with us.