Matt Thornton had never planned on joining his family’s Sioux Falls business; rather than selling flooring with his parents, he was going to become a doctor.
But you know what they say about making plans and God laughing.
“I had always said I wouldn’t be in the family business,” Thornton said. “I actually was on my way to going to med school, but I was working at Thornton Flooring at the time.”
In 1997, with seven interviews lined up for medical school on the east coast, he decided to do some soul searching.
“I went to lunch with my dad and asked what he thought of me skipping my interviews and staying in the flooring business,” Thornton said. “That was a big decision.”
At the time, Thornton Flooring was a company with seven employees — Thornton; his parents, Richard and Dawn; and four non-family employees — working out of a single warehouse just north of the business’s current location off the I-29 Tea exit.
Thornton had no way of knowing then that he would one day lead the business in opening additional locations in Sioux City and Rapid City, or in building a massive 109,000-square-foot location set to open in 2024.
And yet, he let go of his dreams of medical school and joined the family business.
From one garage stall to a 109,000-square-foot building
“My dad got into carpet installation in the 70s, and he was doing work for some apartments,” Thornton said. “They basically said they would buy product from him if he were selling it, so he started selling carpet and vinyl out of our garage at our house in Sioux Falls.”
Thornton’s parents made one stall of their garage into a carpet room, where they started off with just two rolls of vinyl and three rolls of carpet in 1975.
Thus, Thornton Flooring was born.
“My dad jokes around that the best-selling carpet was the carpet that was in our house,” Thornton laughed. “He’d take people in and show it to them, and they would buy it.”
From there, the business moved through multiple locations around Sioux Falls — stepping up in size with each move — until, in 1985, his dad bought his first large warehouse at the I-29 Tea exit, three blocks north of the current Thornton Flooring location.
“He kind of grew into it,” Thornton said. “He rented out part of it until he needed more space. Eventually, he added on a showroom and had the warehouse and showroom there.”
It was at that point that Thornton decided to join the family business. And two years later, in 1999, the family built their current location on the southwest side of Sioux Falls.
“When we built it, it was 40,000 square feet,” Thornton said. “We added another 10,000 square feet a couple years later. And we worked out of this building together, as a family, until I bought my parents out of the business in 2016.”
“And then, with the growth we’ve seen in Sioux Falls over the last couple of years,” Thornton added, “we bought a few more buildings for additional storage.”
But as both Sioux Falls and Thornton Flooring continued to grow, it became harder to effectively do business out of so many locations.
“Operating today, in Sioux Falls, out of five warehouses is just not efficient,” Thornton said. “We’re trying to get everything back in one warehouse — under one roof. The new building will achieve that.”
Everything under one roof
“I first started looking into building a new warehouse in 2020,” Thornton said, “and I bought the land across the interstate from our current location.”
However, due to the pressures of COVID and Thornton’s focus on opening their Rapid City location, he decided to put the new building on hold.
“Come mid-2022, we started discussing the building that we had originally planned on doing,” Thornton said. “We started designing the new building about 16 months ago, and we’re hoping to be in there, fully operational, sometime in January.”
The new warehouse will achieve several goals for Thornton Flooring as the business continues to grow:
As previously mentioned, Thornton and his team will be bringing their five warehouses’ worth of inventory, as well as their showroom, under one roof; in fact, this building offers more storage space than the other five combined, according to Thornton.
Then, it will also provide more room for the business’s approximately 85 employees.
“We are out of space for employees in our current location,” Thornton said. “Basically, with this new building, we’ll have plenty of room for our employees as well as for future growth.”
The future employee break room.
But this isn’t just a practical move for the growing flooring business — it also provides Thornton an opportunity to build the showroom of his dreams.
“I’ve seen a lot of flooring stores, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Thornton said. “You’ve got my 26 years of flooring knowledge put into this building — as far as design ideas, concepts, things we could do to make it better — combined with the knowledge of all of my employees.”
“Yes, we’re building something to make our operations more efficient,” he added, “but I’m also trying to build something that I think Sioux Falls needs as far as high-end appearance.”
And though the project may seem ambitious or even ahead of its time for a city like Sioux Falls, Thornton recalls what his dad used to say when they originally built their 40,000-square-foot building in 1999.
“Everyone thought it was huge,” Thornton reminisced. “And my dad always said, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ He stole that line from the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’ but we always laughed about it because we would say, ‘They came.’ Customers came like crazy when we built it.”
“Now,” he added, “we’re hoping that they’ll come to the new one.”
The Thornton Flooring success story
“They’ve made it super simple, really,” Thornton said. “For example, the loan was originally set to expire at the end of September, because we didn’t know when the building would be done for sure. And our banker, Matt Teller, sent an email saying he felt we needed to extend the loan to December. He’s just making that happen, which is awesome.”
Likewise, our team at First National Bank couldn’t be more excited about the new building.
“This project is just a reflection of the Sioux Falls area in general,” Business Banker Matt Teller said of the new warehouse. “It’s great to see a locally owned, family-owned business experience this level of growth. I think it’s an amazing success story for sure.”
In addition to a great business banking partnership, Thornton feels there are other notable aspects of the project that set Thornton Flooring apart from flooring stores across the country.
“Our biggest differentiator is the way that we show product,” Thornton said. “We’re going to be showing product that is readily available, on hand, and yet, it’s going to show and appear in a way that makes the selection process simple.”
Not too far off, it seems, from his dad’s original business model in that single garage stall in 1975.
“Because we’re buying large quantities of product and keeping it on hand,” Thornton added, “we can sell at a lower price. And, if someone needs something quickly, we’ve got it. You can walk in the store and take it with you that same day.”
But at the end of the day, the most important thing that sets the business apart is Thornton’s commitment to serving the Sioux Falls area.
“If we can create businesses that give people no reason to go anywhere else to buy something, then that’s a really good thing for Sioux Falls,” Thornton said. “And, yeah, I guess I’m a little bit arrogant in thinking that we’re better than anyone else — but every business owner should strive to think that way.”
“I’m also just proud to be part of the Sioux Falls area,” he added. “And I think this project is going to be better than any flooring store in the country. At least, that’s what my goal is.”
You can check out the new Thornton Flooring location just off the I-29 Tea exit when it opens in early 2024.