Those who’ve done business with Bockrath Flooring & Rugs anytime in the past several decades likely have done business with its longest-serving employee.
Sales team member Tom Kenney, a tall, white-haired fellow with a calm demeanor and gravelly voice, got his start with the business five decades ago.
“In the flooring business, that is a big deal to be so loyal to one place for that long,” said store marketing and media director Jaxon Eggleston. “You wouldn’t be able to find anyone else in the industry around here that has stayed at one place for that long.”
Bockrath Flooring & Rugs’ roots stretch back to 1955 when Vic Bockrath Sr., who worked as the flooring manager for Rike Kumler Co., started the business. Teaching sons Vic Jr. and Ed the skills of the trade, the two brothers started selling and installing from their home in 1959. By 1970, they opened their first storefront at 1924 Brown St. next to the Pine Club.
The business expanded to its present-day location at 5557 Far Hills Ave in Washington Twp. in 1997.
Kenney, after graduating high school in 1968, put in a year-and-a-half of work with the company as a helper in installation, then was drafted into the the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War in 1970 and 1971. When he returned, he worked in sales for an uncle’s flooring business for a year-and-a-half before the place was sold.
“At that point, the two brothers were looking for a salesperson, so I kind of fit right in because I had a couple years sales experience with my uncle,” Kenney said. “One of them called me and said ‘Hey, if you’re looking for a place to go, we’d like to have you here.’ ”
In his job, Kenney sells any and all of the store’s flooring products in the showroom, working directly with existing customers or with interior designers and decorators.
“Over the past 50 years, he has really built a clientele and network of designers,” Eggelston said.
Kenney said what he enjoys most about the job is working with people.
“We kind of cater more to the middle and the high end, so we’ve got quality products, quality installation,” he said. “The Bockraths remind me of the old Rikes: If you got a problem, they just took care of it. They treat their customers well, so you’re always backed by the family. It’s just a good family to work for.”
That became even more apparent to Kenney 15 years ago when he fell ill and was off for four months.
“They made sure I had a check every week,” he said. “Anybody can tell you that works here, it’s like a family. If you need some time off, they’re always gracious about your time off. It’s not like somebody’s keeping track of how much time you’re taking.”
Kenney said that pays off for Bockrath Flooring & Rugs, which has been run by Doug Bockrath since 2003, because employees then become more attached to the business.
“You want to work harder and make them appreciate you,” he said.
Kenney who now works Monday to Thursday, said he doesn’t have plans to retire anytime soon because he has stayed active and healthy and enjoys what he’s doing.
“I plan on working as long as Mr. Bockrath lets me,” he said.
Bockrath said Kenney is “the foundation” of the company.
“He’s working on three generations of families” as customers, he said. “He’s now working on the grandkids as they’re grown adults, and he’s one of the reasons we have the name recognition. Tom Kenney goes along with Bockrath Flooring. It’s almost hand in hand. His clientele is huge and he’s just a great guy. He’s like family to us.”