Successful Floorcovering Business Plans Start with Installers, End with Lifelong Clients

By John T. McGrath, Jr.

In our industry, a box of vinyl planks is a box of vinyl planks. A roll of carpet just takes up space. A stack of tile is nothing more than a heavy pile of breakable squares. It isn’t until these products are installed and used on a daily basis that they add value to a designer’s project, a facility manager’s building or an employee’s workspace. However, the true value of flooring is determined by how it’s installed and who completes the installation.

 

We work in an era of fast-paced construction, shifting design demands and proliferation of new and universal products that serve a variety of purposes (we’re looking at you LVT). Floorcovering contractors and their businesses must be trained, educated, forward-thinking leaders in installation who have the product knowledge and the skills necessary to create happy repeat customers.

 

When looking to leaders in the floorcovering industry today, there are several attributes that each and every one of these businesses possesses. They find and utilize a highly skilled and knowledgeable labor pool, they invest in their employees, and prioritize their people.

 

For contractors, subcontractors, and independent installers looking to build their own successful business plan, there are important lessons to be learned here.

 

Find the Right Labor Pool

You can’t sit back and expect other people to solve your problems. If you do, you’re in store for a heap of trouble. Rather, businesses and contractors need to be proactive in finding the right labor pool, instilling them with the training they need to succeed, and setting them up for long-term success in the industry.

 

“Creating a successful business and executing a lasting business plan is all about assembling the right group of people,” says Garrett Ulfig, west coast operations director for INSTALL Warranty Contractor MasterCraft Floors. “It comes down to creating a harmonious family of employees that serve as the backbone of the company.”

 

Cultivating and nurturing the right team is key, but it’s just the start for Ulfig and MasterCraft Floors. “The entire process, from receiving products on a jobsite to a client calling us two years later to do a second, third or fourth installation project, is a puzzle,” he said. “We keep adding pieces, and sometimes you need to do a little searching for the right one. However, if you keep your eye on the finished product and grow your business with the right individuals, you will find success.”

You can’t sit back and expect other people to solve your problems. If you do, you’re in store for a heap of trouble. Rather, businesses and contractors need to be proactive in finding the right labor pool, instilling them with the training they need to succeed, and setting them up for long-term success in the industry.

For Marty Murdoch, executive vice president of M.E. Sabosik Associates, it’s all about developing the right attitude. “We are proud to be a union shop for many reasons, but mainly because it allows us to expand and contract with the needs of our jobs. This flexibility has made me loyal to the union fold,” he said.

 

“The beauty of working with INSTALL and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters is that installers can go out and get a job tomorrow and we don’t have to worry about laying off people during slow times. Conversely, if we contract a job that needs 15 people tomorrow, we have a ready source of labor to pull from,” said Murdoch.

 

This ready and waiting labor pool extends beyond contractors’ backyards to larger regions, allowing INSTALL shops to pull from wide areas. Not only does this add flexibility, as Murdoch stated, it helps lessen the blow when seasonal shortages affect building industry trades. It also ensures that installers and journeymen can keep food on the table and pay their mortgages without fear of prolonged unemployment.

 

Another way the floorcovering industry is finding labor in a time of national trade worker shortages is through Helmet to Hardhats. This national nonprofit program connects National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military service members with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry. The program is designed to help military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the construction industry.

 

“I first learned about Helmets to Hardhats at the UBC International Training Center in Las Vegas, NV,” said Murdoch, who has two employees working for him that came through the local training center via the program. “They have the right attitude and became an important part of our family. They know how to take orders, follow orders and are respectful to our team and our clients.”

 

Training is provided by INSTALL at no cost to the veterans and no prior experience is needed; in fact, most successful placements start with virtually no experience in the floorcovering industry. All participating trade organizations conduct three to five year earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship training programs that teach service members everything they need to know to become a construction industry professional with a specialization in a particular craft.

 

Because these apprenticeship programs are regulated and approved at both federal and state levels, veterans can utilize their Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits to supplement their income while they learn valuable skills and on the job training.

 

Invest in Your Employees

“You have to give installers the respect they deserve,” says Ulfig. “Once we hire a team member who has proven himself and does quality work, we invest in him or her. We find or create the right position for them so that they flourish. This in turn drives our business and leads to less turnover as dedicated, heavily invested employees are engaged and committed employees.”

 

Murdoch agrees with Ulfig. “The key to happy clients comes from your installers on the ground,” he says. “Pay them a competitive wage, encourage them to learn new skills, have seminars, incentivize learning opportunities, take care of them and treat them as family. I can’t stress how important this is to creating a lasting and successful business in our industry.”

 

While it might be difficult to keep employees motivated, Murdoch has found several ways to drive attendance for seminars and lunch and learns. “We use door prizes like free tools to encourage our installers to attend continuing education courses. If days are hectic, we will serve pizza after work and turn a lunch and learn into a dinner and learn.”

 

Another tactic is to partner with industry manufacturers to create hands-on-training sessions. Rather than a lecture, representatives from Armstrong Flooring, Tarkett and other industry giants come to the offices and conduct installation and product trainings. Murdoch and his team will send an attendance list to INSTALL, which provides his installers with updated training credits.

 

A Successful Business Plan is All About People

The common thread that runs from contractor to contractor, business to business, is the emphasis on people over everything else. You can have the best marketing in the world, a beautiful headquarters, hard-working sales representatives, and the latest tools, but without quality installers word will spread and reputations will be ruined. In the age of the internet and online reviews, this is more important now than ever before.

 

“Our business is built on our installation team and the reputation that comes with it,” says Ulfig.  “Without proper installation, our customers would go elsewhere, and INSTALL is a key part of the training that has lead to this excellence. The organization makes sure our team is up-to-date with the latest and greatest installation techniques and partners with manufacturers to gain access to their product experts.”

 

When asked about the power of people to drive a business forward, Murdoch shared his favorite quote. “If you can’t afford to do it right the first time, how the hell can you afford to do it twice?” Without the right team of trained, dedicated installers, this is an impossible task.

 

An important lesson indeed.

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