Much of the United States is in growth mode. More people and changing demographics represent a shift. Construction in healthcare, education, housing, and other sectors is struggling to meet demand. The commercial building industry is booming and it isn’t likely to slow soon.
This sort of economy creates opportunities, but it also creates challenges. Demand is ahead of supply on the economic curve which leads to higher costs. This fact is evidenced by the frequency of material price increases recently encountered. Labor is following a similar trajectory, and is one of the greatest challenges commercial flooring contractors must face, both today and for years to come.
Finding and keeping quality installation crews is a huge issue. It does more harm than good to win projects if we cannot provide qualified craftsmen to handle the work. As contractors, we don’t typically sell floorcoverings in a box; we sell it on the floor.
Floors, Inc. opened its doors in Lincoln, Neb., in 1964 and has been selling and installing commercial floors ever since. The original owners expected challenges, but believed success would follow if they worked hard and operated with integrity. The company flourished and grew into one of the leading commercial flooring dealer-contractors in the area.
Floors, Inc. ownership changed in 1991, and added a second facility in Omaha, Neb., a few years later. The organization responded to shifting market demands by adding new products and services to the mix. Despite major changes, the company’s commitment to integrity never waivered. If anything, it grew stronger, and a set of core values emerged to serve as Floors, Inc.’s DNA, and now they are part of everything we do as a company.
Becoming Installer Centered
Our business has always been customer centered. After all, customers are the source of demand, and their needs fuel the economy. It isn’t rocket science; product selections and installation methods must match the purpose of the project.
As time passed, our business learned it also must be supplier-centered. We rely on manufacturing reps and product experts. They educate and inform us about new and improved offerings. They drive the market in many legitimate ways. Strong supplier relationships help everything work.
More recently, we have come to understand that we also need to be installer centered. The people we utilize to put floors in place are vital to our success. Whether they are employees or subcontractors, we need to treat them as partners.
How can we maintain and improve our existing installation crews while adding quality installers to the team? It is a difficult question. In the near term, we need to offer a more attractive situation than our competitors. In the long run, we need to offer a career path that attracts new talent to the industry. Neither is easy, but both are possible.
Floors, Inc. is approaching the issue strategically. Last year, we started using “Everybody Wins” as our mantra. For Floors, Inc. to win, customers, suppliers, and installers also must win. Everything breaks down if one part comes up short. The installer piece of the puzzle was not always emphasized as strongly as it could have been, and that needed attention.
Being installer-centered means putting the full force of our values to work on their behalf. Floors, Inc. is committed to treating installers with integrity, being loyal to them, providing quality support to them, treating them as team members, and compensating them fairly. In return, we expect them to operate according to the same standards.
Honesty and Integrity: We don’t mislead our installers. Scheduling timelines, jobsite conditions, and client expectations are part of it. Recognizing their expertise is also part of the equation. We strive to get their input in advance regarding various project-related challenges. It is a matter of respect.
Loyalty: This is more than doing repeat business with established installation partners. It is rewarding crews that persevere in tough conditions. It means not blaming an installer without all the facts. Most importantly, it means never blaming an installation team outside the confines of the Floors, Inc. family.
Quality: Floors, Inc. is committed to offering our installation partners quality support. We arrange training and provide the educational tools they need to succeed. Historically, that training was limited to factors related to their craft. In the future, we intend to help them build quality businesses as well. Nobody wins when a quality subcontractor fails as a business person.
Teamwork: This is about playing your position on the team. Communication starts with the coach, and Floors, Inc. is the coach. Good coaches get feedback from their team. Our installers are knowledgeable, and they spend most of their time on the job. They see things that can escape us. Some of our most successful 2017 projects were those where we extensively engaged installers during the planning stage. Bottom line: it is easier to win when players are involved in the game plan.
Cost Effectiveness: The application of this value is clear. Floors, Inc. needs to be competitive from a cost perspective or we will fail. That said, being cost conscious doesn’t mean hiring the least expensive installation crews. We gladly pay more than our competition, but we expect more in return. Consistently better installations justify higher rates. It illustrates the “everybody wins” philosophy, and represents a sound business practice. Clients are delighted with attractive and well-built floors, suppliers are thrilled because quality installations serve as billboards for their products, and installers are pleased because they were paid fairly for their craftsmanship. Floors, Inc. wins as well with fewer call backs and stronger relationships on all fronts.
In summary, treating installation crews as partners elevates their standing and makes their contributions more apparent. Floors, Inc. has always said thank you in the form of compensation, but emphasizing installer centered behavior is new. It adds credibility and prestige to a difficult profession. We now express appreciation by the way we behave—not simply with a check. Our aim is to attract more quality craftsmen to the team. By spreading the word to other quality dealer-contractors, we hope to see commercial flooring installation become a career path that appeals to a new generation. It starts and ends with values and mutual respect. We don’t control everything, but we do control that much.