A lot has been happening at Beaulieu Commercial in the past few months and at the epicenter of the activity is Steve Hillis, the president. Steve has been there and done that in all of the best places in the commercial floor covering business and was just about ready to take himself out of circulation and, yes, retire. That’s when his path crossed that of Karel Vercruyssen, president/CEO, Beaulieu America. You know the rest.
One prime distinction between Beaulieu and its major competitors is it’s a family business and doesn’t have layers of managers that sometimes make progress much too leisurely. Hillis signed on with total responsibility over manufacturing, R&D and marketing in the commercial-hospitality space, removing some of the impediments that always seem to slow things down.
Not a guy that’s ever been used to loitering, Hillis brought some wholesale changes to Beaulieu Commercial and we had an opportunity to spend some time with him recently to get a feel for some of the dramatic changes that are underway at this Dalton-based mill. You can watch this interview in its entirety at TalkFloor.com—it’s in the archives. Here are some excerpts of that conversation.
TF: How would you describe the commercial sector now in 2015?
Hillis: I would describe it as solid, upbeat and a pretty exciting time to be in the commercial carpet business. We’re excited about the growth we’re having this year and especially looking forward over the next five years to what’s in store. Certainly a great deal of it is driven by a resurgence of the economy. The big question for carpet manufacturers and many of our customers is: How long will this last? And how do we plan for this situation? After some of the volatility we have seen in the stock market and the markets in Asia there is some concern in terms of what next year will look like. If you break it down by market segment you get better clarity as to what is really taking place and how long things in the pipeline can continue.
Overall the corporate market has been very strong. If the markets do tighten due to concerns about the stock market and the economy around the world, I think the corporate market will be the first to shrink. We and the other manufacturers have diversified over the past several years and are in a better position. Especially when we look at healthcare and the senior living segment, they should continue to grow in spite of what happens with interest rates and the world markets.
We at Beaulieu are ramping up our products to be more diverse, we’re expanding our salesforce and we’re also expanding training. As a general statement I feel our industry struggles with training. One of the things we are implementing now is training salespeople by segment to be more of a specialist in senior living or corporate. It is our goal to double our business in the next five years.
TF: There are a number of brands involved with the company: Beaulieu Commercial, Aqua Hospitality and Bolyu. What are the plans with these brands going forward?
Hillis: Surveys have told us there is good brand recognition with the Bolyu brand. We’re ramping up our commitment to product and service. We are already running 95% on time with our Quick Ship program where we ship product in one to 10 days. We used to feature the Cambridge brand, which has since been discontinued. I recently had a dealer tell me at one time the Cambridge brand was viewed as the premier, number-one carpet brand for commercial flooring dealers because of the service and product. We are ramping that [perception] up and expanding the Quick Ship program and our goal is to regain that position as the number one dealer partner mill in the industry.
We had all of our regional managers in recently and dealer partnerships was a major topic discussed with our leadership team. We will begin having our salesforce in 25 at a time. Each group will be in for a week of training and a major part of that training will be centered on building a strong and meaningful dealer partnership.
Aqua is also a strong hospitality brand. A major initiative we have in this area is to expand that business into the public space. For the last 20 years Aqua has been a great guest room, solution-dyed tufted carpet company. We‘re now adding print and CYP, and carpet tile is being introduced, which is expanding our product offerings with this sector substantially. We’re also adding more salespeople as well as people in product development because we see this sector as a major growth area in doubling our business in the next five years.
TF: The company has also entered the LVT business. I suspect that will fit in most segments as well.
Hillis: Actually it will fit into every segment we have—commercial and hospitality. Our business is exploding with the resilient LVT we launched at NeoCon. It’s an innovative product: a wood vinyl that doesn’t exist out there yet. The feedback we have received from customers and designers has been phenomenal. We are the first ones out with the product. We are committed to innovation and expanding our product offerings. On the LVT side, residential and commercial and hospitality—every part of Beaulieu’s business—you will see expansion into LVT in addition to our carpet.
TF: Lots of things are happening at Beaulieu Commercial. Sum up for us the major thrust the company has in store for the future.
Hillis: Number one is we have made a commitment to quality and service. We have made a number of changes in the last three months to be in a better position to better serve. We have been really good for a long time, but we want to be great. Our second big initiative is in our people. We have hired about 70 people in the last couple of months and are training those people. Empowering them is a major part of our plan.
The next area is product. We have been in neutral if you will for the last few years in terms of launching new product. One of the things we are doing is breaking down the silos between manufacturing and product development to get product through to the marketplace. One of the factors I am extremely pleased about is the position I have responsibility for: manufacturing, product development, sales and marketing. Often there are silos where manufacturing is not talking with product development and sales is on a different agenda. We have torn those silos down, focusing on teamwork and getting things through. When we went to NeoCon we showed seven new products and we already have five of those products in books and in the field. It’s a real commitment to product, it’s a commitment to service and training and supporting our people, and at the end of the day it’s really about the customer, listening to the customer and giving them the service and the products they need. That’s what Vision 2020 is: to double our business by the year 2020.
Editor’s Note: To see the full three-part interview with Steve Hillis, visit www.floortrendsmag.com/eNewsletter and click on the Sept. 10th, 11th and 14th editions of TalkFloor. The three parts of the video can be found in these editions under the “TalkFloor Video of the Day” section. The videos are titled “Beaulieu Commercial’s Steve Hillis—Plans For the Future.”
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