The Success of the Flooring Industry is Built on Relationships
Our industry continues to successfully adapt and change. The market is still carried by the salespeople working together to enable other businesses to thrive. They sell high-quality interior spaces supported by high performance flooring systems. Each side has many capabilities to bring together in order to offer enough value to earn a relationship with the client. Our industry speaks so often about the relationship defining success. Relationships only develop through the delivery of value. The delivery of value occurs in repeatable areas—deep understanding and response to client needs, operational and service excellence, and innovative approaches to solving problems with services and products. The sales representatives for the manufacturer and the commercial flooring contractor complement each other to serve the client, add value, and earn a right to the relationship.
This opportunity to partner for success eventually leads to dream teams for clients.
Clarity and Certainty
People crave clarity and certainty. Unfortunately, our business lives are filled with moving cheese, permanent whitewater, transitional competitive advantage, black swan events, and tipping points all contributing to upending our daily routines. In the commercial flooring business, two roles that are desperate for clarity and certainty are the flooring manufacturer’s representative and the commercial flooring contractor sales representative. In partnership, these two roles can influence and define local markets to the benefit of the stakeholders and end users.
For the manufacturer’s representative, their business responsibilities have become much more complex. The traditional mill alliance system that supported soft surface dominance of commercial floor space has evolved in response to changing office interior and construction trends. Soft surface, resilient, and hard surface are commonly used together in all segments. Manufacturers who offer more product categories work hard to communicate the breadth of the offering as a competitive advantage. They have also evolved compensation models, brand communication, computer systems, warranties, distribution channels, training, and internal customer ownership norms. With all of these changes, the manufacturer’s representative always has a team member ready to support with them at a professional flooring contractor.
For the flooring contractor sales representative, the current requirements in the market are also daunting. After the mill alliance system gave way to the vertical integration of the 1990s, the market became extremely sensitive to concepts of sustainability. The sustainability movement drove massive changes in product and adhesive chemistry while buildings become more open, glass filled, and far more difficult to manage for site conditions during compressed schedules. Sustainability also drove more and more document management into the flooring contractor salesperson’s daily workload. More people or time were needed to support sold projects despite the promises of BIM and the internet to simplify and speed the paperwork. While all these changes were a reality, products continued to be delicate after leaving the factory floor. Until the time the flooring contractor delivers the actual value of an installed product to the end user in the space, so many variables must be managed as the limited warranty for all manufacturer’s states: not too hot/not too cold, not to wet/not too dry, protect from other trades, and when the end user moves in protect the floor from the furniture. Despite these pressures, the professional flooring contractor always has a team member ready to support them in the field from the manufacturer.
Starnet members have demonstrated success in response to client needs, operational and service excellence, and innovative approaches to solving problems with services and products along with their partner manufacturer sales representatives.
Response to Client Needs:
Roger Judd, Sales/Project Management, Next Generation Surfaces
“Next Generation Surfaces has a focused strategy related to the K-12 market segment. This strategy includes multiple contact points with stakeholders at the architectural and design level as well as active engagement with school district officials. The local expertise brought to this segment is supported by a partnership with Julie Meseck, district manager, Colorado for Mannington Commercial. Julie has more responsibility to deliver in other segments for Mannington. Next Generation Surfaces compliments and amplifies her effort in K-12, allowing her to be more successful overall.
“We specifically target school districts where we might bring complementary strengths. In one case we had a relationship with a district looking to move from VCT to LVT, and they were concerned about the impact of the changes on operations and long-term budgets. During this discovery period we brought Mannington in to support a strategy of product and maintenance education along with design services. We were able to position the value and communicate a product comparison, pricing strategy, and layout ideas that met the target budget over an 18-month period. We worked through site conditions with mitigation and prep as well as some product solutions recommended by Julie. We further reinforced our value proposition by engaging with the maintenance staff and additional district facility employees. We brought everyone together to share demonstrations on their new product system and increased the comfort level of all involved.
“The district was so impressed with the attention to detail and enthusiasm of our partnership, that we were successful in changing the standard to a higher value offering. The respect and trust we have built with several projects will go on and continue to cultivate business together as a team.”
Service and Operational Excellence:
Elias Shanine, Floor Care Division Manager, Lippert Flooring & Tile
“We established a Floor Care Division three years ago with a focus on appearance retention of flooring for end users, mainly targeting preventative maintenance for carpeting. From the beginning of the startup, Dave Beedie, the principal at NeverStrip Floor Coatings, complimented and enhanced the services we offered clients. Dave helped educate and demonstrate ways to lower floor care costs, enhance the appearance of floors, and improve the coefficient of friction. When we work with clients in their spaces, it involves much more than following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance procedures. That sets the minimum standard.
“We work closely with our manufacturing partners to test products, develop operating plans, and provide demonstrations that exceed expectations. The buildings we target are operating and have varied surfaces with varied maintenance procedures. We are often called in because the complexity of interior space is overwhelming to building operations, so the day to day upkeep of their interior assets begin to suffer.
“One of the major challenges with all manufacturers is the post installation maintenance. Due to compressed schedules, the trades are working over each other. Brand new carpet is often full of drywall joint compound and the protective finish that manufacturers apply to resilient flooring has been weakened. When end users take over their new building, they often have no idea their flooring investment has been compromised. Unfortunately, symptoms do not appear until many weeks or months after they move into a space. With help from Dave, we have been successful in enhancing the product and installation division of our business through success with handling project final cleaning services. We can renew and transform tile, grout and resilient surfaces compromised by other trades or general construction site issues. In many cases, with Dave’s support, we have protected the manufacturers of resilient flooring from claims.
“Our service efforts reduce the incidences when salespeople must manage unhappy clients due to circumstances beyond their control. End users who have positive experiences with their flooring investment are more enthusiastic and more generous with their budgets in the next replacement cycle.”
Monica Lenahan, Project Manager, Intertech Flooring
“Our Partnering for Success team is developing approaches that bring speed and clarity to decision making for end users. Our strategy is innovative because we are focused on eliminating the barriers to a decision. Often projects are lost due to lack of commitment in the end user organization. A ‘no decision’ is often worse than the failure of a contract to move forward after the client verbally commits to a project. We work together to eliminate the communication barriers and risk avoidance associated with major budget spend.
“My partner Elizabeth Clarke at J + J Flooring Group has a deep technical knowledge from years of practicing interior design and having her own design firm. She focuses on the design teams and key stakeholders at the end user. I assist her by lining up all the other solutions required to complete the project, because they carry the budget too. If the other elements are not managed well, the carpet project never happens.
“One of the new selling tools we take advantage to drive decisions is the spot rendering tool. This is different from visualization tools of the past as it allows me to create confidence in the outcome in that moment. You do not have to wait for the output over a few days. I can drive the decision while I am in the space with the client or walking a project with our general contractor partner. Simply by taking a photo on-site with my phone or tablet we can insert a product in real time to create excitement and consensus when working with clients. This combination of strengths we bring together helps us to be innovative in the selling process, clearing the way to faster decisions and eliminating the uncertainty of more traditional approaches.”
Annually, the Starnet Dream Team Celebration program recognizes the dynamic selling relationships between Starnet Members and the Starnet Preferred Vendor Partners. These strategic selling teams highlight the power of Partnering for Success with strong candidates demonstrating excellence in the delivery of value and earning relationships. Every year there are hundreds of daily successes between the Starnet Vendor Partner sales teams and the Starnet Member sales teams. The power of this collaboration brings clarity and certainty to an inconsistent market full of change.
Teamwork makes the dream work!