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Keeping the Northland Floored

She has survived economic downturns, barroom brawl-type fights in her showroom and 25 years in her male-dominated industry. Heather Cunningham says the experience has made her a strong woman.

Cunningham and her husband, Michael, moved to Flagstaff from Akron, Ohio, to be entrepreneurs. They bought a family-owned business, Carpets of Dalton, and then completely overhauled the store and built a loyal clientele. “We had no interest in flooring,” she said. “We wanted a business to run and this one was available.”

In 2016, she bought out her partner – who was ready to retire – rebranded, remodeled and is now the sole owner of Cunningham Flooring.

“I enjoy helping people create beautiful spaces out of a complete lack of direction and confusion. Clients come in and have no idea what they want. We are able to help them select and coordinate their interior spaces. When they experience the final product and are completely satisfied, that’s rewarding.”

Learning the flooring business has been a career-long lesson in on-the-job training. She’s watched trends come and go, and new improved products become the foundation of interior design.

“Fiber and hard surface materials have become increasingly durable and really look authentic. Digital photography has opened up the ability to make faux wood, tile and carpet all look amazingly realistic. No need for zebra skin when we can just use a digital photo. Same goes for exotic woods. No need to cut down trees when you can get that exact look from a digital reproduction. Fibers are softer, more scratch-resistant and more waterproof than ever. But I would have to add that prices have increased accordingly. All that research comes at a cost.”

Trending now is highly resilient vinyl plank composite that looks like wood. Although, she adds, wood, like porcelain tile, is still very popular and carpet is still king in the bedroom.

“Neutrals with heavy textures are the current movement. Black accents are big and everything is transitional, which is just a fancy way of saying you can add the right throw blankets and pillows to get the current trends right, anything works.”

Cunningham draws inspiration from within. She loves to travel and says seeing the world with all its color and culture helps her to be inclusive of all styles. And, she reports, Cunningham Flooring is on solid ground, especially with the remodel and the decision to drop in-house installation. “I have great employees and they do their jobs really well. So as long as they want to run the race with me, I am game.”

The local flooring business, now a quarter-of-a-century old, survived the uncertain times of Sept. 11 and the Great Recession. There have been successes and failures, wonderful employees and horrible ones. Through it all, the couple raised a family and made friends.

“It’s never been boring and it’s been, for the most part, finically rewarding. Owning a business is not for the faint of heart, it has formed me. I was 24 when we opened the store. It has made me insightful. It has shown me the best and worst in the general public. It’s been quite a ride – and even though I needed a barf bag some of the time – I am very happy I did it!” FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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