A flooring dealership within a larger furniture operation must understand—at the most basic level—that in order to thrive it must exist as a strong and independent entity. Fuse Alliance member RGO Flooring, located in Alberta, Canada, is just that—a stand-alone flooring company partnered with RGO Office Products.

RGO has a 49-year relationship with Steelcase, and is recognized as one of Canada’s “Best Managed Companies.” RGO has four distinct divisions—Furniture, Window Coverings, Equipment and Flooring—each recognized as a leader within its individual market. Generally speaking, Furniture works with end-users directly; Equipmentworks with end-user IT departments; Window Coverings works with developers, base-building contractors and property managers, and Flooring primarily works with tenants, their designers and their contractors. On any given project RGO often ends up with multiple divisions providingproducts and services, but rarely do the various divisions deal with the same people.

Let’s be frank. At a dealership level, all flooring dealerships basically purchase and install from the same range of products and services making differentiation extremely difficult.

Differentiation must therefore happen at levels that can be controlled by the dealer. At RGO Flooring, we believe this starts with integrity. With integrity as our guide, everything else naturally falls into place. This philosophy aligns with the Fuse Alliance network as well, further crystallizing our approach to business whether on a higher visionary level or simply getting a project completed.

Integrity helps guide a business toward growth, then influences the management of that growth. In order to remain in a position to deliver what is promised, in reality, managing growth is more important than growth itself. Growing too aggressively can result in over-extending your business and failing to meet commitments. Integrity also helps to identify potentially problematic projects up front and allows the freedom to say “no” to those that do not fit your expertise or exceed current capacity.

However, once committed to a project and when challenges inevitably arise, integrity demands those problems be embraced. Problem resolution is perhaps the single best opportunity to prove a dealership’s worth and cements long-term relationships.

Within a multi-faceted organization such as RGO, navigating political minefields on any project is paramount. All parts of the organization need to have a clear understanding of all the players on each project. In order for RGO Flooring to work independent of the other divisions but still support the bigger picture, it is important to first understand how each of the divisions’ sales cycles differ and how divisional processes impact our industry partners.

Understanding the fundamentals of working with general contractors, the tendering process and the construction industry in general are key elements in the success of any flooring dealership. There are a myriad of relationships and landmines that exist within the industry and combined dealerships need to have a keen understanding of these relationships as well as project financing models. Overlooking financing frameworks to perhaps go around a general contractor in order to package flooring with a furniture opportunity is akin to competing with your customer.

This practice is often needless, if for example, the carpet is part of a leasehold tenant-inducement package paid by the landlord and the furniture is an end-user purchase. The effect muddies waters and damages relationships that were in no way related in the first place.

Ultimately, this means RGO Flooring works mostly on projects that are disassociated with the furniture side of the business. Only after careful consideration will flooring and furniture be packaged direct to an end user, and it will never be at the expense of taking work away from our general contractor partners that support us daily. As part of Fuse, many of these relationships are already established with service partners and suppliers on whom we trust and rely.

RGO Flooring refines our philosophy further to ensure all current projects—regardless of size, complexity or issue—are no more important than all the jobs that follow. We put trust in our team and allow them the freedom to make decisions; with the only question ever asked: Was it the right decision at the time? There is never a good time to make a bad decision or to cut corners on a jobsite.

One specific example is RGO Flooring’s efforts as part of the team tasked with rebuilding the Calgary Zoo after the catastrophic floods that decimated large parts of Calgary and southern Alberta in June 2013. Virtually the entire zoo was under water, with approximately 30 buildings in need of a complete gut and rebuilding.

We sourced all of the ceramics and various other flooring needed for all the buildings. The obstacle was insurance adjusters that would not approve the use of decoupling systems under the new ceramic floor tile, because “they weren’t there before the flood.”

Knowing the zoo was completely under water and all the ground and slabs were saturated from the flooding, we simply could not install directly over the old concrete and just hope for the best. The easy decision would have been to get a signed waiver and then install over the suspect slabs. The right decision was to step up on behalf of the zoo. We donated $100,000 to the reconstruction fund so it could pay for the required materials, ending up with flooring that was correctly installed with a manufacturer’s warranty and a relationship with the zoo and its contractors that continues to this day.

Having a clear vision for your business and what you stand for also helps vet the right people for your organization. RGO Flooring focuses on recruiting the very best and hiring proven performers who share a similar philosophy. In fact, the combined service experience our team brings to the flooring industry is very close to 300 years.

As the leader of that group, and entirely confident in each person’s abilities, I take pride in simply providing the systems, tools and guidance required while refusing to micromanage. In many instances, when business leaders focus on the minutia, they lose sight of the big picture. Finding the right people for your team and trusting them to lead a project, solve problems and serve customers with integrity, means you can continually raise the bar on your overall customer service and deliver beyond what is expected.

A clear message and a defined vision are keys to success. As a leader, it is my responsibility to stay focused and lead with purpose. I now work more “on my business,” than “in my business,” often reciting from my personal guiding principles:

  • Always operate from the highest ethical ground.
  • Reputation before profit.
  • Lead the industry toward a more professional way of operating.
  • No business is better than bad business.
  • The courage to say “no.
  • Hire good people, empower them to make good decisions, stand behind their decisions and get out of their way.
  • Embrace problems.
  • Add value at every stage of a project—to both your customers and your vendors.
  • Buy and use the best tools to optimize performance and efficiency. This applies to in-office tools such as software and in-field tools required for project execution.
  • For as long as any team member works in the flooring industry, I truly want RGO Flooring to be their last stop. That means leading with integrity, treating them fairly, paying them well, empowering them to make decisions and surrounding them with the required resources to succeed.

This is how we have chosen to differentiate our dealership—ethics, commitment and expertise. In reality, it all comes down to this: RGO Flooring desires to be the dealer of choice when choice exists. 

RGO Flooring Ltd. is a stand-alone dealership established seven years ago out of RGO’s broader diversification strategy. Tim Johnson, president and 50% owner of RGO Flooring, has spent the majority of his 25-year career in flooring working with and managing flooring divisions inside of large furniture dealerships. In its seven-year history, RGO Flooring has grown to 13 in-house team members across two locations. The majority of RGO Flooring’s projects are in the contract market segment with more than half in tenant improvement, a quarter in raised-access flooring and the balance in institutional and residential. RGO Flooring was one of the three original members selected when Fuse Alliance expanded to Canada two years ago. For more, call (403) 536-5799 or email tjohnson@rgo.ca.