Realizing Growth With a Narrowly Focused Go-To-Market Strategy
Recently, Floor Solutions Inc. (FSI) celebrated its 26th year in business, and it was our best year yet. In fact, we ended 2016 by being recognized as the 81st Fastest-Growing Company in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times. The Times also named us the 35th Fastest Growing Company in the East Bay for years 2013-2015. Considering we are in the heart of Silicon Valley and competing against an extremely large concentration of computer and software tech firms, we are very proud of this accomplishment and the recognition that comes along with it.
FSI is a full-service flooring contractor, catering to architects and designers and considered go-to experts for projects that require the simplest or more intricate flooring designs and installations. It all started in 1990 when we moved from the Boston area with our two children ages six and four. We didn’t have a friend, relative, house, place of business or customer; however, we did have a dream of moving to the lovely San Francisco area and starting our own business. And, that’s what we did. I am third-generation in the floor covering business. My grandfather Ben started Ben Elfman Co. in Boston in 1907 and my father, Malcolm, joined him after fighting in Patton’s army in the Battle of the Bulge and attending the University of Pennsylvania in 1947. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1976, I worked for my father for 13 years where I learned the business. My wife Holly and I then ventured on our own to the West Coast. Holly was a stockbroker at the firm Kidder, Peabody & Co. in Boston before starting FSI. Today, we are headquartered in Livermore, Calif., which is in the East Bay of San Francisco. Because we offer an array of products including specialty collections from global brands, we opened a downtown San Francisco showroom for architects and designers in the Jackson Square neighborhood. Our showroom location is very accessible to the design community, allowing us to get involved early in the design process, help designers make the right selections for the right applications and offer a breadth of product that may not always be available.
Basic Principles that are Narrowly Focused
So, how did we realize such growth? How are we different from other flooring professionals, and what sets us apart from the competition? A few basic principles. First, we are a non-union company, very narrowly focused only on the commercial flooring market, and, we don’t do a lot of things. We do not do any housing projects such as multi-family, condos, or houses. We do not sell retail or direct to the public. We do not do public works projects. We don’t sell ceramic tile or stone products. We don’t do polished and stained concrete projects. We don’t do carpet and floor maintenance. So, what do we do? We build relationships; strong relationships and long-lasting relationships, specifically in the Bay Area. We focus on the corporate market and have a client list that includes companies such as Tesla, OsiSoft, Airbnb, Amazon, Shell Oil, Think Surgical, PG&E. We also focus on health care projects such as John Muir Hospital and San Ramon Medical. We focus on private education projects and retail chain stores like Gymboree, Janie & Jack, Mancini’s Sleep World, Tiffany & Co. We also install many restaurant projects including The French Laundry, Tartine Bakery, The Progress and wineries like Freemark Abbey and The Resort at Meadowood. Our go-to-market strategy is clear and concentrated on projects in segments that we are extremely knowledgeable about and skilled in.
Our relationships are also very focused on our suppliers. We continue to build strong partnerships with a few key suppliers. As a result, we are very important to each other. Do we lose a few projects because of this? Yes, but because we stay the course, we believe we gain more in the jobs in the long run. Our customer relationships are also narrowly focused. We are non-union, so we don’t sell the big union general contractors. However, we enjoy selling the smaller non-union general contractors and have developed personal relationships with them over the past 26 years. Today, many of our clients are the same clients we’ve had since we first opened in 1990. We call on a lot of commercial property managers such as CB Richard Ellis, Jones, Lang LaSalle, Colliers International and Equity Office Properties. We service the heck out of them whether it’s a full floor tenant improvement project or a minor repair for a tripping hazard. We service our clients even on nights, weekends and holidays.
A Robust Online Strategy
Believe it or not, our aggressive social media program has worked extremely well for FSI. For the past three years, we have allocated resources to working on and improving our social media presence. In fact, we believe it has led to a substantial increase in leads and business. We are active on all of the major platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc., and are always adding new content to keep our followers engaged. The more varied the content, the more engagement happens with our clients and potential clients via these avenues. Whether it’s an exciting project just completed, a new addition to our team, new industry regulations, or recycling news, we’re letting our customer base know what we are up to. And, all roads lead to our website. Our website tells our story: that we are niche and narrowly focused on the commercial flooring market and consider ourselves experts in that field. We don’t try to be everything to everybody!
Delivering Projects with Speed, Details and Skill in Mind
We are very detail-oriented and take much effort in trying to make sure each project runs smoothly and stress-free for the customer. We pay strict attention to detail whether it’s the color of the transition strip, the right floor leveling product, taking moisture tests on every job, tracking deliveries so we can keep to schedules and alert them if something is late, getting submittals in on time, offering suggestions if the client is trying to save money by using a comparable product, just to name a few. Reaction time is key. We focus on returning bids and proposals in a day or responding quickly to client’s questions and concerns. That’s why we do most of our business with reliable suppliers that also respond quickly, so we can get back to our clients quickly. We turn an installation around in three days if necessary. We conduct a field measure or a computer estimate in one day, submit the proposal the same day, and if accepted and the customer has good credit, we’ll buy from our suppliers with West Coast inventory and install in two days after that.
Skilled installation crews are extremely important. We pride ourselves on the installation crews we hire. They are reliable, professional and we invest in getting them trained at the mills whenever possible. These mill-trained installer certifications have a great investment return with fewer callbacks and less time on the projects. Also, we strongly believe in protecting the environment and recycle every yard of carpet that we pull up. It is all diverted from the landfill and recycled into many uses such as parts for automobiles.
Ultimately, Our Success is Because of Our People
A large part of our success is our people. Of the 26 years we have been in business, we have a number of associates that have been with us for more than 24 years. We consider FSI a family and because of that we treat our people with respect and dignity and fairly. Our FSI family has developed wonderful relationships with our customers over the years, utilizing the same philosophy of being specialists in our field and fast to respond. Being consistent in everything we do is a watchword of our corporate culture. As part of the Fuse Alliance network, we can continue educating and training our team with extensive access to marketing, Fuse University, industry knowledge and veteran experts whether they are consultants to the organization or learning best practices from other network members. Our membership to Fuse gives us the ability to service clients on a national level. For instance, this year we installed carpet for Tiffany & Co. jewelry stores in 10 different cities throughout the U.S. and used a Fuse dealer partner in each case. We enjoy the Fuse annual conference, where can exchange best practices with other non-competing network members. What’s more, we have made great friendships throughout the network.
We have been very lucky over the years, building our business with the help of so many people whether it’s our employees, our suppliers, business associates and our customers. One thing my father instilled in me when I first went into business with him in 1977 is a culture that is centered on treating others how you would like to be treated. That remains our philosophy to this day.