Heidi Steele, founder of Surface Resources in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says the built environment, both residential and commercial, is on a precipice of change. The environmental impact of the products used are weighed alongside price and quality of design. For specifiers in the flooring industry, finding quality, beautiful materials that meet the highest global standards can be challenging.

Steele said she believes that it’s the industry's responsibility to make conscious choices about the materials we use—from where they are acquired to their impact on human health and the planet. She spent years working as an architect and designer throughout the Southwest U.S. before creating Surface Resources. Her goal: to help other designers to source sustainably certified, high-quality finish materials with local representation. We spoke with Steele to learn more about her unique market position and becoming a resource for well-crafted surfaces in the Southwest.

Floor Trends: How did you get into the flooring business? 

Steele: I’ve been in the industry my whole life. My dad was a builder, and so I have literally been walking job sites since before I could walk. By age three, I was already telling everyone that I was going to be an architect.

It’s been an interesting life. I’ve had a lot of hands-on opportunities that most architecture interior designers have not been afforded. I ended up getting a degree in architecture and worked in the industry for many, many years, as well as interior design.

When the recession of 2008 hit, I felt the time was right for becoming a solution to the finished material challenges that I had been facing for years. Surface Resources was actually formed to eliminate my greatest professional frustrations and those of my peers.

Floor Trends: What were those frustrations? 

Steele: Although I love living in the Southwest, that Southwest Intermountain region is a bit of a black hole for manufacturing representatives. Without local representation, we really struggled for introductions to really high-quality materials. There's a lot of misinformation out there about our budget—that our budgets aren't good enough for these products. Good sustainability stories—that was another one for us—we always want to make sure that the spaces that we were creating promoted healthy indoor air quality and wellbeing. Also, just cost and availability of getting manufacturers to actually bring products to this part of the country was, believe it or not, actually difficult.

Floor Trends: Tell me about your your customers.

Steele: We serve commercial and residential markets. Our customers range from rural school districts and regional healthcare networks to custom luxury residences. What makes this really large geographical track unique is that with really only one notable exception, Phoenix, our market is dominated by mid-tier cities and small towns.

Floor Trends: And those locations looking for different types of flooring products?

Steele: You know, they are. Building here tends to have a significantly longer life cycle. Of course, they want to be on trend, like everybody does, but they also know that when they build a school that those schools will be in use for well over 100 years. We just put in flooring into a high school in El Paso, Texas, and literally the school building is over 120 years old they're still using the building.

Floor Trends: How does maintenance factor in?

Steele: That’s a big deal. Not only does the product need to have a significantly long life cycle, but it also has to be something that's easily maintained.

Floor Trends: What are your customers asking for? 

Steele: The trends that I'm seeing these days are different than what I've seen prior in my professional experience. I think today our customers are returning to classic flooring types that offer beauty, outstanding durability and healthy attributes. So we're seeing terrazzo, for instance—very trendy very popular. We're seeing cork, you know, again incredibly durable. When you look at some of the old Andrew Carnegie libraries that are still in use today, many of them still retain their original cork floors.

Floor Trends: How have the pandemic and supply chain issues affected how you do business?

Steele: It definitely changed how we do business, I was just saying recently that I think that the pandemic will prove to be the greatest professional disrupter of my lifetime. It has completely upended how offices work, so I still see offices today struggling to get employees back in the door. It has introduced a whole subset of virtual technology on to the world that I don't think we would have ever adopted as eagerly had we not been forced to.

In some ways, I think that it’s made people in our profession a lot more efficient. Instead of having to drive for every site visit, now you can do some remote, you can certainly hold meetings that are as productive as any in-person meeting.

I think that we've always had a very progressive business model by not being brick and mortar, by having a 100% remote workforce. We are 100% non-stocking, and it's the reason we have been able to create a business model that's so different in the distribution world.

We have taken a much more targeted approach with our customer base. We've always been relationship-focused, but with a pandemic, we've really leaned into that even harder. Now, instead of having maybe six or seven appointments in a day, I might have four. But we spend more quality time with those appointments, and we really dig into the nuts and bolts for providing solutions to our customers and I think it's really helped us.

Floor Trends: Tell me about your outlook for this year and going into 2023.

Steele: I actually feel really positive about it. When I look around me, and I traveled nearly every single week for business across our our territory, I see cranes everywhere. I see roadwork and infrastructure and bridges everywhere being worked on, so... That plus the economic forecasts that I read, I really see continued growth well above the early 2020 economic positions for almost every single sector. Yes, commercial office buildings and retail are rebounding more slowly, but overall, the economic numbers look really good just compared to a year ago.

Floor Trends: In high-end residential, what do you see happening there?

Steele: No slowdown there—none whatsoever. They are just steamrolling along. The biggest problem right now for residential is really just the lack of available hands.

The forecast for our business—our company—has just exploded, and I really think it was based on the business model that we created.