Youngstown Tile does two prongs of business. It does commercial build-outs and residential projects. In this episode, Josh Cohol, the owner of the company, takes pride in the quality of service his business provides and how it still drives people into the market. Many businesses were greatly affected by COVID, but Youngstown Tile remains in the market and benefits after the pandemic. Although inflation is still out of hand, Josh shares how his business stands amidst the increasing rates. Tune in to this episode with Josh now.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
With Absolute Specificity #5 – Josh Cohol
I got a great guest. He’s one of our clients here at Specificity. He’s also a very good close personal friend of mine, Joshua Cohol. He owns Youngstown Tile. It does two prongs of business. They do commercial build-outs and residential projects and they are top-notch. I met Josh because I was in the process of wanting to remodel a home. I thought it would be fun to scare the shit out of a guy that took control of a new business, put his nuts on the chopping block for the first time in his life, being wholly responsible for the well-being of his company. I said, “Why don’t you put a $40,000 or $50,000 a year money on the table? In return, I’ll do some marketing for you. It’s all going to work out great.” He had the balls to do it. The house turned out beautiful. I think that the business relationship turned out pretty good.
What a shocking endeavor it was from the beginning.
It was fun to watch you through that process. I know you’ve been in your space a long time and are an expert at it. It’s always interesting when you find somebody that takes control or owns a new business. Whether it’s the first or not, it’s a new business. As a business owner, you got to take a capital risk. You have to big risk, a big reward. This was a good deal for both of us. I felt bad for you because the nature of the beast required you to go first in terms of timing to put because we were in your dead season. It didn’t make sense to do a huge marketing campaign in December and January. Tell me about that. Tell our audience about how much that was the risk for you.
It was one of the first large financial risks I took since owning the business. They’ve opened my eyes. I’m very trusting, but I always want to help people moving forward and have somebody like yourself, wanting to help and invest in me on the back side. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been promised something good on the back end and ended up getting burned because of who I am or what I do, the fact that I believe in humanity. Sometimes that kicked me square in the balls.
It was an eye-opening and learning experience. A lot of it developed that relationship with you and me personally and in our marketing campaigns. I walk into places I know tile, terrazzo, polished concrete, Cambria countertops, and everything we do in our business. I graduated with a Marketing Management degree. I love marketing and what gets involved with that. I’m not in the space. I pay you for that because you’re the expert. You paid me to do what I did because I was the expert. Mutually, I think it came out beautiful. We’ve seen narrow, thin growth in our business on the back end, then continuing to grow. Outside of our friendship, that’s why we still do business. You’re still driving people to us here in Little Youngstown, a little camp.
It’s funny to me. I was talking to a mutual friend of ours. I mentioned how in that effort to do that deal, we did that was great. That was it worked out well for both of us. No, only that it developed a friendship between you and me, and even in the business capacity, we couldn’t get the hell away from each other. I engaged Jim Landino and Sharon to do an office build-out. For us, who the hell is the one doing the office build-out?
We do a lot of work with Jim Landino. Jim, Jen and Sharon have been doing a lot of work over there and we continually do stuff for them. We’re working over Jen’s master bath and some of the buildings that they’re renovating.
That Taj Mahal over their downtown. That place is wow. I haven’t seen him for a few years. I can only imagine the additions that he’s made in terms of the aesthetics there.
He’s doing a phenomenal job over there. It’s visionary. That guy is way down the road.
You’re in the Youngstown market. We started this company up in that market and that’s how you and I met. I’m familiar with that market. That is one hell of a challenging market for companies like yours and mine. In your case, you cater to the more refined taste people that have the desire to do a project and not go to Home Depot by $0.50 or $0.99 square foot tile get to replace him for the rest of the time. They own their house every year. What’s that like in that market? It’s a tough economy. It’s brutal. You’re doing a commercial side. I know the big part of your business. Tell our readers about that.
On the commercial side of the business, It’s all public bid work that we do. We’re union contractors. We cover all over the state of Ohio and about three-quarters of Pennsylvania. We go up into New York a little bit along Lake Erie and down into the State Capitol, West Virginia. I’ve done terrazzo on the porticos there. Far of the South has gone. In the heyday, we’ve done work from Boston, Massachusetts, to Dubuque, Iowa was the last mall that we did for CAFARO out in Dubuque.
Our commercial business, a lot of its public bid, everything goes out there. You bid millions of dollars a year, throw it out, and hope that your relationships and your past history with these people bring you to work over the years. As far as the residential market goes, it’s difficult here. One of the things we pride ourselves on at Youngstown Tile is the service aspect.
I wouldn’t do something or sell you something in your house that I wouldn’t do in my own house. That means a lot to people. We try to make sure that when you leave here and you purchase something, you’re happy because you’re going to look at it for a long period of time. It’s not like you’re going to slap it up and two years ago like, “I don’t like that tile. I think I’m going to go ahead and change that.”At Youngstown Tile, we won’t sell you anything that we wouldn’t put in our own house. Click To Tweet
It’s not quite like getting a tattoo, but it’s pretty close. You have been married to it for quite a bit of time. You go full tile or you could get a tattoo to remove it. It’s funny to me. I normally start with this when I’m interviewing our friends and our clients from our home market in Youngstown, but I got to ask, that’s why they’re doing it.
I don’t know. It’s pretty shitty out there, like it always is. Give it ten minutes. It’ll change.
I made a lot of good friends in Northeast Ohio and Western PA. The people are the Salt of the Earth in that part of the world, but I don’t miss that weather. If it’s not raining or snowing, it’s at least cloudy. In Florida, the sunshine is night and day.
It’s attacking a lot of people’s sinuses right now and allergies. We’re going from 30 to 65 and back down to 30 in 48 hour period. It’s chilly in the late misty rain. It’s nasty, but there’s sun on the other side. It’s coming.
You guys would get at least 2025 sunshine days during the spring, summer and fall. I never understood why I got into sports cars in Northeast Ohio because, in three weeks, you could drive. You’re a smart guy. You host a podcast. You always want to cater to your guests’ ranks. Sometimes you can talk about more complex issues and certain guests. You and I have certainly had various presses and scars and talked about some very high-level stuff. What do you see in any economy, nationally and regionally, and what impact has happened on Youngstown? Where do you see all this going? Inflation is getting out of hand and the Feds are going to raise interest rates. All of this, what are you seeing as the net impact on not just your business but your home market?
It’s still strong. I say that optimistically, very cautiously. We’re still seeing a lot of traffic coming through the store. A lot of people are coming in. They have a big housing development being built across the street from others. There are a couple of others that are going and some local contractors are developing as well. People are very optimistic. We’re from a great economy in Youngstown. We fight tooth and nail for everything we’ve got. Nothing comes easy to the people around here.We're from a great economy in Youngstown. We fight tooth and nail for everything we've got. Nothing comes easy to the people around here. Click To Tweet
It takes a lot to knock them down. You’ve seen the stories and stories of Youngstown and the trials and tribulations the blue-collar workers here have gone through. I’m cautiously optimistic. I think we’re going to be. We’re going to muscle through a bit of rough times the housing markets are still going. We had a large home last 24 hours on the market for a decent chunk of change. People are still and I hope that trend continues.
The one advantage Youngstown has and this is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but it is an advantage. It’s what I experienced because I was a homeowner in that market is that. Youngstown never experienced the overinflated values of homes and the ability to buy a home for $500,000 and sell it for $1 million 24 months later like you can do in markets like Florida, New York and California. I like that consistency of home value in Youngstown is such that even when the real estate market dipped as it did in a way.
I happen to own a house in Portland, and it was worth exactly what I paid for it when it dipped, as it wasn’t high within $10,000. You guys don’t experience those dramatic swings. That plays a part, at least for your type of business. The market is strong because people aren’t getting hurt on the downside like they are in the markets.
You got somebody to throw in $20,000 or $30,000 in a renovation. They know in the back of their mind that, “When it’s time, I’m going to get my $20,000 or $30,000 back out. I may not make $60,000. I might make $10,000 or I’m at least going to walk out at a goose egg there. I’m not losing money. I improved my space. I enjoyed it for 10 or 15 years. It’s time to move on.” I agree with that.
We’re starting to see a little bit of a dip here and I’m in Lakewood Ranch. We’re seeing houses that were listed at $1.5 million and then a little trick down here. They don’t produce the price. They delist the home and then relist at a lower price. They don’t show and drop. Florida Realtors do that to protect homes here with that little trick. I’m in the market for a house and you’re looking at houses that we’re going around $1.5 million that are now $1.2 million in a few days. In those instances, if you got in at $120,000 and wanted to sell $1.2 million, you’re screwed and you don’t experience that.
Not at all. The cost of living here in Youngstown, we live in a bubble. We’re not seeing those dips and explosions. In certain neighborhoods and certain markets, you might pick up a couple of $100,000 on a sale when those little bubbles hit. Other than that, we don’t experience those.
That adds to its consistency in the marketplace. It is easier for people to say, “I’ll invest in updating my home.” I know COVID had an impact on Youngstown Tile from the data I looked at Nationwide. That market was fairly strong if you subtract out the supply chain issue because people were stuck in their houses and tired of looking at the same shit every day. Coming out of COVID was like a boondoggle for you guys.
I hate to say it, but it was great. We’ve benefited from coming out of COVID. The store continues to experience growth. I’m seeing a 15% to 20% year to date. It’s still continuing to move upward. We’re still young as a retail store. We had a store since 2016. It’s always been a commercial business. That’s where our main focus is. The fact that we have the ability to have the retail store with the experience that we have here and installation of products, and the fact that we treat people nice. We treat them like their family and how most people should be treated.
I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing. When I came into your showroom, you laid it all out, “I think you like this.” That level of like you had been in the house, you took the time to come out and check out the space and it was good. You got to put together a vision. For a lot of guys, especially single guys, but even couples, a lot of times they know they want to change and they have a sense of what they want, but to get detailed and say, “I want this pop or this aesthetic appeal,” but you and your staff are dope in that regards.
You guys pulled answers out of me that I didn’t even know. I’m like, “What the hell are you talking about?” “This is an Earth tone.” The way you walk people through a process of arriving and stuff they’re going to fall in love with, frankly, you don’t see that anywhere else. Before I met you, I’ve been chopping your competitors. They’re more of a commodity, “That’s $2 a square foot. Do you want that? Here are three things that match it.” It’s that kind of experience. It’s not the concierge service of Idiot like me certainly needs.
When you come in talking about your cabinets, your paint color, what things look like, we want to see pictures and what you’re trying to develop. People come in and we got these great smartphones now. They can look up things from Pinterest or house or whatever the case may be and say, “Can you find me something like this and make it work in my space?” That’s exactly what we do.
One of the things I love about you, or at least one to teach about, is you have a Marketing degree. Did you get that degree?
A couple of years ago.
Once a marketer, always a marketer. Even though you got into a different core competency in business, when you get bit by that marketing bug, and you’re fascinated with how all that works, consumer psychology and communication channels, you never stop at least keep track of it. What are you seeing in your business and other businesses in terms of like, “let’s start with communication channels, whether it be social, display, digital and all that mix search versus traditional, like TV, radio, print?” I’m not a silver bullet guy. I think it takes a good mix of marketing to maximize your ROI and all your marketing spending. What are you seeing right now as effective?
The most effective is clearly digital, but to go out and harness your customers’ information to locate your competition, geofencing them to drop ads on those people’s devices, you can’t beat that. It’s fun to do TV because, “I saw you on TV. That’s great. Come in and buy something” It started running some TV ads, and all sudden, you see my competition running TV ads. It’s fun watching them spend their money. On the front of going, “Go local. Go Youngstown, power on the backside.” I’m making sure if my customers are going to their store, I’m grabbing their device ID from you. We’re dropping. To bring my customers into your store, I can get them more advertising.
One of the things that I find interesting is the situational dynamics and local markets. Your business was situated right here in Lakewood Ranch. I would, from the top of my purge, advocate, scream deep and stop wasting money on TV and direct mail. Youngstown has a different mix. First of all, demographically, you’ve got a blue-collar mix, very solid salt of the Earth, people that make good money, but they’re not making 800,000 a year. That’s a different education level, different type of background demographically, and psychographically speaking in your market. You get some result out of some of these other communication channels due to that mix. Share that with us. What’s that look like for you guys?
It’s hard to track that. Obviously, we try to ask our customers, but when you see them in the store and they stop and I look at you, you’re like, “You’re the guy on TV. I have seen you on the news this morning when I was drinking coffee.” You do get some feedback in that manner. I can’t say that I use any type of tracking information. From that standpoint, I’ve tried billboards in the beginning, which is a waste of money. It’s funny because I put the billboards up in the circle of my competition, like geofencing. They had to wake up in the morning to see me coming to work, and they had to see me when they left.
Did you put your face on it?
I did not. You got that. The logos on the vehicles are always good in this area because people still say when they come into the store, “We didn’t know you had a store here.” We’re off the beaten path on the West side of 24 to drive traffic out here. Even though things are moving this trend, things are building up out by our shop, there are still people that I can’t capture and have a difficult time and doing and I hear that others still go into my competition. They don’t know why they go there. You ask. I’m going, “You get treated like shit. Why go there? Why put yourself through that?” They’re like, “I don’t ask myself the same question.” “You’re here now. Don’t go back.”
You’re a real humble guy. One of the aspects of business is being an active and positive player on behalf of your community and the kids, the education system in that community. I’ve marketed for thousands of different businesses in my career. I have yet to come across somebody that is more involved and spends more of their own time, as busy as you are, dedicated to improving the circumstances in the education realm, the athletic round. Tell them what you do. Explain to them the support that you’re doing with Canfield, what you guys have going on there, the golf stuff, and everything you do.
We have all kinds of things. I am involved with the Canfield Athletic Boosters. I am the President of the Canfield football Alumni Club. I’m the president of the Golf Boosters. I’m involved with Canfield Strong, a group of us trying to renovate certain buildings on a school campus through goodwill and donations from the community and outside people like yourself who have kicked in to contribute. We’re looking to renovate some of our buildings on the high school campus.
The current project I have on the table right now is we’re trying to build a girls’ locker room. The girls’ sports do not have adequate facilities. They are currently under the football stands at the high school, which was a locker room. That was disgusting when I was a freshman in high school. Imagine that hasn’t gotten any better. We’re trying to build a locker room. They encompass girls’ golf, soccer or whatever outside sports girls track, so they have a place to go and a place to change and get ready. We’re looking at putting a couple of simulators in the back of that so that the high school team has a place to practice. A few years back, we built a golf simulator room and spearheaded a project over there, which your great generosity kicked in and helped us there.
We put in two simulators, until that point, Canfield golf, and didn’t have any place to practice in the offseason. We’re literally in the back storage closet of the canceled middle school, where they’re looking to tear down and build a new middle school because it’s been around for over 100 years and desperately needs to be upgraded. I’m also part of the school facility planning commission for Cabfield as they’re looking to go through and renovate a little bit of work for high school, build a new middle school or maybe an elementary campus.
All the sports and athletics over there. I like to see the kids to be promoted. We have a great set of students over there. They’re going places to be a part of this community.” They like to see them get the recognition they deserve for athletics and those in scholastics. Whether it’s the STEM program over in the middle elementary schools, all the way to speech and debate and drama club. Well, these kids, we have all these tools, they might as well be utilized and get out there and help them.
Out of curiosity, how many kids in your own playing any sports have any success?
My two daughters are doing very well. My oldest is a sophomore in high school. She is actively trying to get a golf scholarship. We’re going to be heading down your way. She’s got a week at IMG Golf Camp then we have AJGA Tournament coming up. My middle daughter is a competitive dancer who has hit the ground running. She is actively involved. Every other week we’re at a dance competition or traveling. She’s going to be at Break The Floor in Los Angeles. She was in Buffalo. She’s coming back down to Orlando for another convention. It’s nonstop. My son has hopes and dreams of being an NFL player, like your boy Patrick Mahomes.
I love him. Boys are a trip. We talked about this. The funny thing they can do is hit you in the nuts. That’s how they are at that age. “Talk to me when you’re sixteen. We’ll see how funny you think that is.” Boys are a blast that way. Girls, for me, everything that happened decades ago, and you’re starting to see some of that come to fruition. What a beautiful day.
Your girls are both beautiful. I don’t envy you. You’re going to have to kill some teenage boys in your parenting career, I’m sure. However, to be so advanced and skilled in golf, dance and athletics they are involved in. You guys take it to another level. It’s impressive to watch. I’m running a company myself. Watching your Facebook posts wears my ass out.
You’re a hell of a good family man and a hell of a good member of your community, Josh. You run a hell of a business and at the end of the day, good players are more than just people to make money in business. Speaking of that, you are raising money right now for that locker room project. Provide some information on how they can get involved if you want to donate time, materials, money or any of the things that are going to be needed to make that happen. It’s only fair that girls have usable space.
They do need a nice place. Something is way better than what they got. There’s the normal expansion contraction in the roof and it leaks inside that locker room. We need something better. They deserve something better. My goal is to get this thing built and done for the season. Let’s go. I need some money.
Josh, thanks a lot for coming on.
Thanks for having me.
It’s my pleasure. I know you’re busy as hell. We wish you nothing but future success. We’re going to continue to kick ass and take names for you once you kill it there in the Youngstown market.
I appreciate the time. Thanks for all you guys do.
Thanks, everybody, for reading. We’ve got a lot of great guests lined up in the future. You can check us out on all the major platforms. You can subscribe. You can check us out at SpecificityInc.com. Go check out Youngstown Tile as well. Until the next time. We look forward to talking to you the next time. Josh, thanks again.
Thank you. Take care.