Memphis Business Journal – by Michael Sheffield
While you’re watching a basketball game in Memphis, and admiring the great looking gym floor, most likely you’re admiring the work of Sports Floors, Inc.
The company, started by Bruce Gleneck in 1994, has supplied floors for LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis Athletic Ministries, as well as for Rhodes College and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. And Gleneck says his company is having one of its best years ever.
Gleneck started the company with a partner he bought out five years ago. He says Sports Floors, Inc., has already had $2.5 million in sales this year and has plenty more work contracted.
Gleneck, who got started selling gym finish and other chemicals for Huntington Laboratories in Indiana, literally wore a shirt and tie and gym shorts to work, depending on if he was meeting with hospital executives or athletic directors.
He was good at sales and realized he wanted to keep some of that money for himself.
“My former partner installed the floors and I did the sales. He said we should work together because he was looking to slow down and eventually retire,” he says. “We moved slowly in the first five years, but I knew we could go faster.”
Gleneck says the company started out bidding on projects and never heard back from their potential clients. His partner’s philosophy was that the business would come, but Gleneck wanted to know what he could do to get their business.
“I would call them and ask them why we lost the bid,” he says. “If we were outbid, the next time I would bid that much less. Eventually the phone started ringing.”
Gleneck says his partner, who was looking for a leisurely job, eventually was overwhelmed by the pace and wanted to retire. As a Connor Floors distributor, Gleneck would have to fly clients to Atlanta where Connor’s southern showroom was located. After having a 90% success rate doing it that way, Gleneck says he inquired about building a showroom at his facility and invested $30,000 in the company’s current 1,400 square foot showroom.
Now, with the total package, Gleneck can show clients what they’re getting and explain the product to them under one roof. That includes basketball goals in the showroom so customers can shoot and see how the floors will react
“We would have to bring small samples to customers, but we’ve got 32 different floors. We want to narrow that down to three or four,” he says.
While it may seem like a floor is a floor, the business is more complicated. The floors can be as simple as the surface being glued to a plywood base, which is attached to the concrete gym floor, or as complicated as the UniForce floor, which has anchored cushions and a control cushion that is made from recycled Nike shoes.
“That floor offers the most support and that is important,” he says. “That’s the difference between healthy ankles, shins and knees and injuries.”
Willie Gregory, director of U.S. Community Affairs for Nike, worked with Gleneck on the LeMoyne-Owen project, which Nike donated the floor for. He says Gleneck “gets it” when it comes to the product.
“He understands the Nike concept of preparing products for use by world class athletes,” he says.
The floors don’t come cheap, Gleneck says, with the UniForce retailing at $13 a foot. The typical high school floor is 15,000 square feet.
The company does have other floors, ranging in price from $8-$9 a square foot, but they don’t provide as much protection. He makes sure clients understand where the money is going. The UniForce Floor is one of the nine Connor Floors that are DIN certified. DIN, which stands for Deutschland Institute of Normalization, is only granted to floors that pass a series of tests that assure their safety.
For the non-DIN floors, Gleneck says a simpler test is available. He simply puts a glass of water on the floor and dribbles a basketball around it.
“On the really good floors, the water in the glass won’t even move,” he says. “On the others, the glass will literally walk across the floor.”
Once customers see that test, they may move up on their choice. When the choice is made, the floors are shipped and installed by Sports Floors’ staff. Total installation, from acclimating the wood to the environment to painting logos onto the floor, are all done by his staff in 30 days.
“We’re always the last ones in and the pressure is on,” he says.
Gleneck says his company didn’t do the highest profile floors in Memphis — the Grizzlies practice and game floors at FedExForum — but the company’s relationship with the team includes the MAM and Rhodes (where the Grizzlies used to practice) floors. Because of that, Gleneck says he’s gotten to rub elbows with Jerry West.
“I love this job and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of famous people,” he says. “I do still get nervous around Jerry West though.”