Spartan Surfaces recently welcomed Brendan Ball to spearhead the buildout of the company’s new builder division. With an extensive builder product portfolio, the company has set out to serve builders' expectations through logistics, inventory positions and customer service.
Ball joins Spartan with nearly 20 years of experience on the supplier side of the flooring industry focused on new home construction. He held previous roles at Daltile, Emser Tile, and Interior Logic Group.
In a recent podcast, we spoke with Ball to find out more about his new role and to gain insights on what he is seeing for the home builder market for the remainder of 2023. Listen to the podcast or read the excerpt below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Floor Trends: Can you tell us about your builder background?
Ball: I started with Daltile in the early 2000s, starting in the warehouse, and I gradually worked my way up in the organization focused on sales. I had some success in the builder world and from there it led to increased responsibilities in the organization. In 2009, I ended up running the builder business for the company. It was an interesting time. Post-recession, we were at an all-time low, and the builder industry was changing. I did that for about four years with Daltile and then from there I took an opportunity with Emser Tile to open up a region for them in the Midwest and Northeast part of the country. It sounded like a good opportunity for my career, and it was. I learned—a lot good understanding of the operational side of the business, the challenges that come with opening up branches and markets. From there I spent a little bit more time back at Daltile as a regional vice president. Most recently, I spent nearly the last three years at Interior Logic Group as VP of sales for the eastern region. It was a completely different side of the business, and a lot of learning. I have a totally different respect for the installing partners for the builders because I realize how challenging it is.
Then this opportunity [with Spartan Surfaces] popped up. What a great company! The ability to start up something new in a space that I was familiar with, that had the operational experience and installation experience, it seems cool and something that I couldn't pass up.
Floor Trends: Tell me about your responsibilities at Spartan Surfaces.
Ball: I will be starting up the builder division. The responsibility is really develop the products, work with the marketing team to get message out there for what the builder division is, and then build a division to what we want it to be for the flooring and new home construction segment.
Floor Trends: What does Spartan Surfaces bring to the builder segment that is unique or different?
Ball: What's unique is the company itself— the culture of the company is relaxed. It's refreshing. We will be supplying all hard surface products: vinyl plank, laminate, hardwood flooring, and tile, and these will be branded exclusively under Spartan to the builders. You have to have good products that provide a value to all three customers: builder, contractor, and homeowner, and all really are equal parties. To make this successful, you have to have strong logistics to get it from point A to point B. You have to have inventory. If there's one thing we learned over the last two years, inventory is key in home builder, and you have to have customer service behind the scenes to take care of issues and keep things moving. Spartan has all those.
Floor Trends: What's your outlook for the builder business?
Ball: I would say cautiously optimistic...The interest rates definitely pose a potential issue, but I don't think that's impacted builders as much as they initially thought. When they first announced it back in July of 2022, builders were saying sales fell 40%, cancellation rates increased 35 to 40%. There's a shortage of nearly 3.8 million units out there in the market, so the the demand is there. Existing homes are at historic lows right now. You know the mortgage rates come into play because nobody wants to move and nobody wants to sell. The builders are more motivated to sell, because that's their business. And so incentives and things like that have helped them.
Floor Trends: What flooring products are builders asking for?
Ball: No matter what the price point of the house, builders are using vinyl plank versus wood. It's not in every case, but the wear and tear and the scratch resistance and the water resistance are really advantages to home buyers. Anybody who's got dogs—dogs definitely don't do well on on hardwood floors. The advancements that you see in vinyl plank have been taken by all builders and all flooring contractors. That's a big one for us.
In in the South, when you get to homes that are predominantly built on slab, you still see tile as being the major trend. In the South skilled tile labor is more affordable, so they can continue to use those products.
The challenge is hitting that affordability because that's where the need is in the market. Builders are trying to do that whether it's making the size of the house smaller or lowering the spec of the products that they're putting in the house. Back to Spartan, I think that's one area where we can be creative and help develop products for them. Listen to their needs and provide solutions that might help them meet that demand.
Listen to the entire interview podcast with Brendan Ball here.