Training is the Foundation of a Successful Business
As a commercial flooring installer, I always strived to attend every training session and seminar that became available. In 1993, I attained my Alberta provincial Red Seal Journeyman Floor Covering Installer certification and then proceeded to take commercial training courses from most of the major manufacturers. In 2004, I took over as instructor and developer of the Floor Covering Installer course at our provincial trade college, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). The course was in dire need of an overhaul, so I undertook the task of researching and collaborating with my contacts in the technical services departments of the major flooring manufacturers to develop a new, more modern curriculum for the course.
Calls began to come in for technical assistance from local architects and designers and from manufacturers such as Shaw, Mannington and Forbo for local installation-related issues in the Northern Alberta territory to assist with complicated job start-ups and troubleshooting. On one of those troubleshooting trips in the spring of 2012—a six-hour drive to a job in Northern Saskatchewan—I was with the Western Canadian sales manager for Forbo Flooring Systems, Chris Sokalski. We began to discuss the need for a commercial company with better trained installation crews and knowledgeable sales people who could recommend the best products for the end user applications and avoid many of the issues that we had to deal with on these troubleshooting trips.
After recovering from a bout with stage 4 colon cancer, I was ready for a shift in the direction of my career. I already had a large and well-trained installation crew in place, including three Red Seal Journeyman certified installers and several apprentices, and Chris was looking to move into something where he could be more in control of his own destiny. That was the start of Cutting Edge Contract Flooring Ltd. Chris had the experience of seven years as a manufacturer’s sales manager and several more in distribution, and I had the technical knowledge of 30+ years on the installation end.
As a start-up company, we expected business to be manageable with only a small team. Chris and I handled the duties of the operation, from sales, estimating and ordering to invoicing, collections, receiving, shipping and deliveries and even building the shelving in our warehouse. It was a grueling first year, but our plan to start slow and grow over time did not work out as we expected. With very strong relationships in the industry, we were swamped right off the bat and very quickly realized that we were on the right track and that we would need more staff. We were overwhelmed with business, which far exceeded our projected targets. We have recorded double-digit growth every year since we’ve been in business. Within a year we had attracted a sales associate who had over 40 years experience in commercial flooring sales in our market, and we added a warehouse manager and an office manager and we haven’t looked back.
In 2013, we moved our warehouse manager into a full time estimating position, hired a replacement manager for the warehouse and have continued to add estimating, warehouse, office and sales staff as we have grown. In 2014, we joined the Fuse Alliance, which has been instrumental in helping us bolster our relationships with our preferred manufacturers. Having their upper management in our contact lists has helped us establish larger credit lines to assist with our continued growth, and in emergencies, it’s nice to have contacts further up the ladder when we need to accommodate shorter timelines for production. We have also found our association with Fuse has helped us stay on the “cutting edge” of all of the new products and practices in the industry, further enhancing our reputation as a leading source for flooring advice.
As a go-to resource for designers and architects, our showroom is bright and airy with an extensive commercial library that’s always up to date. We have an “open door” policy with all of our local designers. We welcome them to bring in their clients or use our library any time without appointments. We can collaborate with them on projects, offering expert advice on what products may be best suited for certain applications. This approach can sometimes lead to direct involvement in a project from the ground up and can give us a great competitive advantage, even when a job goes out to tender.
This year, we opened a maintenance division headed by two highly respected leaders in hard surface floor maintenance, restoration and carpet care. This was met with great excitement from our suppliers, again filling a niche that had been long overlooked in our territory.
We have done many high-profile flooring installations in Edmonton over the years, including the Royal Alberta Museum, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton Public Library, and the Alberta Legislature buildings. One of our installations was submitted to Floor Covering Installer magazine’s Installation Awards in 2016 under the commercial flooring installation category and it won first place in a North America wide web-based vote!
With our emphasis on training, our installers have the reputation of being among the most highly skilled in our market. We continue to upgrade our training by sending our lead installers to industry training wherever it is available, as well as inviting technical advisors from many of our suppliers to come into our shop and do hands-on seminars with our crews. Our shop even boasts a fully tooled installation training booth for instant hands-on sessions with our installers to deal with very specific installation issues.
Edmonton has a vibrant business culture, even as oil prices remain unstable. We are currently experiencing a robust construction climate, as several 50+ storey towers, both commercial and residential, are under construction in our newly enlivened downtown core. This has allowed us to see continued growth despite the downturn in the oil market, which normally drives most of Edmonton’s economy. We are also active members of several local business groups, which leads to some great networking opportunities.
Our culture as a company is very important to us. When we look for staff members to add, we are not looking at bottom-line production or impressive resumes; it’s more important to us that a person fits our culture. With that, we will always have the same approachable feel for our customers, designers, specifiers and suppliers. We have maintained our reputation as being excellent to work with as we’ve grown, and our goal is to keep it that way.