CHUMS CORNER – These are the badlands of Traverse City: a place of transition and movement, of growth and decay, of ceaseless traffic, fast food and pole-barn capitalism. The place where new ideas get tried out, where old ideas go to die. These high, windswept flatlands south of town were once a place of wide farms. To this day, you can still glimpse occasional herds of horses and cattle, nudging the damp spring snow and fogging the air with their steamy breath.
But they’re gradually being replaced by other livestock: Ford Mustangs, Arctic Cats, Chicken Nuggets.Â Oh yes, and Flying Pigs. The winged porkers have become a regular attraction at America’s Carpet Barn, one of the many floor-covering outlets scattered up and down U.S. 31. The two-year-old company’s headquarters at Chums Corner isn’t very large or particularly easy to spot, but people seem to find their way there on a regular basis thanks to those flying pigs. “People either love them or hate them,” says Ron Rogers, who founded ACB in 1999 together with his partner, Mary Reese. “But even if they hate them they come in. They ask to see the flying pigs and they think they’re going to catch us – but they don’t, because we’ve got these babies hanging from the ceiling.”Â
Rogers, 33, believes first and foremost that being a businessman should be fun. Hence this unpretentious little carpet store with its no-frills surroundings, its laid-back atmosphere, its lack of any discernible dress code, its flying pigs. “Fun is the key word,” he says. “You don’t mind something taking up all your time if it’s fun, because then it’s something you love. It’s not a job, it’s a hobby. And this is the most fun I’ve ever had, more fun than any sport I ever played.” Born and raised in the Detroit area, Rogers came north as a tenth-grader when his dad retired from the automotive industry and moved to Marion. It was a big change from big in the Big Smoke, but he loved it. Even as a high-scholar, he’d learned how to install carpet, and after his graduation in 1986 he came immediately to Traverse City and went to work for Floor Covering Brokers, the area’s largest-selling carpet dealer. “What I learned there is that I’d never want to be Number One,” he says. “They work too hard.Â
Here, we’ve decided to have more fun and aim for Number Two.” He also learned that he preferred sales work to installation. In 1995 he took a sales job with another carpet outlet, where he met Mary Reese, who was working in the bookkeeping end of things. It wasn’t long before they started thinking about starting out on their own – “something less stuffy, less professional, where people could feel more at their ease” – and in early 1999 they started ACB, pigs and all. “We had a lot of built in customers right out of the chute, and we didn’t want to waste our money running the same kinds of ads as everybody else,” he says. “We kept thinking about that saying ‘when pigs fly.’ Meaning, you know, that something isn’t very likely. So our first slogan was ‘Cheap Carpet? When Pigs Fly.’ Don’t ask me why, but it worked, so we kept on doing it. The pigs have been good to us.” The pigs have appeared in the company’s advertisements as movie stars, opinionated editorialists and Santa Clauses, often accompanied by bizarre jokes and story lines.Â
Rogers has even enlisted real pigs in his promotions; this winter he offered free carpet remnants to anyone who would stand out in front of the store with a pig on a leash and wave to passing motorists. “It was a little more difficult than we expected,” he admits. “Pigs are strong. But there was one lady who brought her pig in, and she stood out there for three hours. We ended up carpeting three rooms in her house for free, she was such a good sport.” Even though he spends most of his time at the store, Rogers is a family man; he has two sons – Ronnie, 7, and Ben, 4. Together with Reese’s children – Meaghan, 15, and Mike, 11 – they enjoy climbing over the rolls and stacks of carpeting like underaged mountaineers traversing the Alps. “They’ll stay down there jumping around for hours on end,” he says. And why should the kids have all the fun? “Mary is the brains of this outfit,” Ron says. “I’m the one she works hard to keep out of trouble.
Ron Rogers shares a tender moment with some friends in the “not-very-fancy showroom” at America’s Carpet Barn.