The History of Barnum Floors
The Barnum Family’s Decades of Quality Hardwood Craftsmanship
In the 1980s, Al, Gary, and Kathy Barnum operated a bail bond company on Court Avenue in Des Moines called Barnum Bail Bonds. After closing that business, the father and son duo, Al and Gary, began talking about going into business together again. Gary had been working in carpentry for several years, but both desired the benefits of owning their own business. At the time, Al was retiring after 35 years as a stockbroker. Although Al was ready to leave the demands of the financial industry, he was not ready to retire.
As the story goes, in 1994, Al was sitting at a resort in Costa Rica visiting his youngest daughter, Kelly, who was serving in the Peace Corps. He began a conversation with another American who was in the business of exporting teak. He told Al, “Hardwood flooring is coming back into style. There will be a need for quality hardwood experts.” The gentlemen planted the seed for entering into the hardwood flooring business.
In 1995, Barnum Floors was born. For the first two years, Al and Gary worked day and night. Gary took every hardwood installation and sanding course offered by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). He practiced in the homes of friends and relatives. Oftentimes Al would join him on-site to help as he could. Al set up the books for the company and began a marketing campaign for local builders. They adopted the motto, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” from Benjamin Franklin.
Al and Gary set up their first office with leased floor space in the Westport Home Center in Urbandale, Iowa. From the beginning, their commitment to excellence and customer service was the driving force. Business was quickly beginning to pick up. Al was running the office and marketing while also seeking sales. Although they added three new employees in the field, Gary continued to finish, install, handle new sales, and meet with customers in their homes. The company was growing faster than the two of them could handle.
In the Spring of 1998, two additional family members joined the ranks. Kathy Barnum, Al’s oldest daughter, left her job at Principal Financial Group and joined forces with Al in the office where they implemented payroll, job sheets, inventory, and benefits. Today she still manages the office and marketing efforts. Gary’s stepson, Austin Moore, also started in 1998. Austin grabbed hold of a sander and still represents Barnum Floors as the lead sander and finishing expert. By this time, Gary had moved almost exclusively to outside sales and managed a larger team of new employees in the field.
From 1998 to 2000, Barnum Floors exploded with sales increasing by 300%. In 2000, they moved into their location at 9379 Swanson Blvd, Clive, Iowa. They remodeled the location and installed a new hardwood showroom. Capitalizing on the strength of their name and the motto “Barnum Floors ~ Greatest Floors on Earth,” the logo was born. By this time, Barnum Floors had acquired numerous new builders and were becoming well-known for their exceptional work, employees, and customer service. From 2000 to 2004, the business continued to boom and Barnum Floors had grown to a staff of 25, with nearly 10 employees being added in 2001. Nearly all hardwood floors installed during this time were #1 Red or White Oak, Maple, or Red Birch. The choices within the market were still very narrow.
By 2005, Barnum Floors was bursting out of their location at 9379 Swanson Blvd in Clive, so they were on the search for a larger place to call home. One day, as Al sat at this desk, he saw the answer right in front of him. The large concrete building across the street at 9460 Swanson Blvd, Clive was for sale. Barnum purchased the building from Taylor Ball and began renovations. The project included an extensive interior and exterior renovation, parking lots, 7,500 square feet of warehouse space, and a new 1,500-square-foot showroom. Gary Barnum designed the new showroom which was later featured as a “Floor of the Year” contestant with the National Wood Flooring Association. Barnum Floors also became active members of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines where Kathy Served as President of the Women’s Council for three years and won the title of “Women’s Council of the Year” in 2007 at the International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida.
This period of time was tough for all those involved in the building industry. The banking crisis was in full mode resulting in the Great Recession. The housing bubble burst, leaving many land developers in bankruptcy and those in the construction industry at a standstill. It was during this time that the largest homebuilder in Iowa, Regency Builders, closed its doors. Barnum Floors was forced to lay off a large majority of their workforce as they searched for a way to set themselves apart. It was during this time Barnum Floors began to research hand-scraping hardwood in their shop.
Since 1995, Al and Gary Barnum have been active members of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Both had formed relationships with those in the wood flooring business worldwide. Gary knew colleagues working in extremely high-end projects across the country doing very custom work. He brought mentors to Barnum Floors to teach staff how to hand-scrape hardwood. It was during this time the range of species, widths, and grades of hardwood options exploded, as did the ability to provide customers with individualized and custom colors. Barnum Floors would hand scrape each board in our shop where it would be colored and delivered on-site for installation. Barnum Floors survived, yet was reborn.
By 2013, Barnum Floors was enjoying the results of years of hard work and dedication to maintain a successful small business. They were known as the leading wood flooring company in Iowa, and Gary’s reputation as an expert in all things hardwood was recognized by contractors state-wide. This was the year Amberle Barnum, Kathy’s daughter and Al’s granddaughter, joined the ranks, starting work in the office. She was a quick learner and soon demonstrated she too had an uncanny ability to sell, joining Gary in the field.
2013 was also a year of great grief. In early 2013, Al was diagnosed with lung cancer and began chemo treatments. Hopes were high as he tolerated the treatments and appeared to be winning the fight. In November 2013, he developed several infections and passed away on 12/19/13, a mere days after his 75th birthday. The grief and loss felt by the Barnum family and the hundreds of builders and customers he touched was felt deeply. His spirit still fills the walls of our location.
Providing exceptional customer service and quality workmanship has always been the keystone of Barnum Floors. Amberle Barnum was recognized in the “Top 40 Under 40” by the National Hardwood Flooring Association (NHFA). Over the years they continued to reinvent themselves in the hardwood flooring market, reinforcing the trend of being a leader in new technologies. The company has three full-time employees scraping wood all day, as well as two employees that build stair treads and risers and work on custom colors. Barnum Floors is leading the way in the Midwest with burnished hard wax oil finishes, patterned floors, fuming, bleaching, and custom dyes and stains.
In celebration of 25 years of business, Barnum Floors remodeled their showroom, created a designer’s loft, and held a “new” grand opening with a dsm Magazine unveiling. They currently staff around 25 people —14 who have been with the company for over 15 years. Barnum Floors prides itself on creating a work environment that develops artisans and nurtures a sense of family. Along with their ability to complete any on-site hardwood project, Barnum Floors offers a wide range of pre-finished and engineered hardwoods in all price point levels. They invite you to visit their showroom for all your hardwood needs.
Invest in Your Home With the Hardwood Experts
Stop by our showroom or give us a call and our team would be happy to discuss your hardwood needs.