Ken Crandall says he doesn't like to brag.

But he and his wife, Sherry, have a success story that few entrepreneurs can match.

"We opened our first Carpets Unlimited store at 1160 Carter Road in October 1969," Crandall said last week. "It was 3,000 square feet."

An ad at the time said the store had $80,000 worth of inventory.

"Sherry was 17 and I was 19," Crandall said. "We moved here with $5,000 to start the store and nothing to live on. We were broke and had no place to live. I told Sherry, the good news was that there were area rugs that we can make pallets with and sleep in the store. She said she could do that."

He said, "We had a restroom, but no bath or shower. So, we had to take baths in the sink. She said she could do that. She was pregnant at the time. I knew then that she was an amazing lady."

Crandall said, "We lived like that for a year until we could move into a trailer in Friendly Village. I had had a basketball scholarship at Dalton (Georgia) College, but I gave that up to get married."

A Dalton, Georgia, native, he grew up in the carpet business in the city that bills itself as "the carpet capital of the world."

"My father made carpet," Crandall said. "He had a wholesale customer in Evansville, who said Owensboro would be a good place to open a carpet store. So, we did."

Carpets Unlimited quickly began to grow -- to a location on Third Street, then Frederica Street and finally, Salem Drive.

Readers of the Messenger-Inquirer regularly choose it as their favorite flooring store in the paper's annual Readers' Choice Awards.

"Today, we have around 170,000 square feet," Crandall said.

That includes the 30,000 square feet of Crandall's Home Furnishings, a furniture store located in the complex at Salem Drive and J.R. Miller Boulevard.

"We have 138 employees," Crandall said. "And we need 20 more two-man installation teams."

Ship all over the country

He said, "We ship carpet all over the country. John Bays (former owner of the Executive Inn Rivermont) is still one of my best customers."

Today, at 70, Crandall said he still works 80 to 85 hours a week.

"I get here at 4:30 a.m.," he said.

There's time for prayer and then a start to the business day.

It's not just carpet and furniture that keep him busy.

Crandall said he's a partner in six hotels and owns shopping centers in Owensboro and other cities.

The website for Crandall Properties lists 46 commercial properties, 11 vacant lots, 10 apartments and two houses.

He recently bought Shady Cliff Resort & Marina at Lake Malone.

"We've already gutted the first 13 rooms," Crandall said. "It'll be like new when we're finished. We're remodeling the dock and marina too."

The restaurant is already open," he said.

A second Carpets Unlimited store opened recently in Evansville.

Looking back, Crandall said, "In the beginning, we only had carpet. There was nothing like the hardwood flooring we have today."

He said, "We buy up to 100,000 square feet of flooring at a time. Some are made exclusively for us. We have several million square feet in inventory."

Tariffs on foreign flooring are running around 25 percent on some imports.

"So we're trying to buy as much as we can domestically," Crandall said. "But I support the tariffs. We have to do something about the trade imbalance."

At 70 and working 80-plus hours a week, he said, "I'm not going to retire. God will retire me. I love to work. But I'm trying to filter it and spend more time with my family. They deserve it."

Family includes his wife, three sons, six granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.

But when God retires him, Crandall said, "I have a succession plan in place. The business will continue. I'm not worried about the future. Our business is great."

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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