by Steve Feldman
I know I’m no spring chicken, but I’m also not past the point where I can’t learn something. And that’s exactly what happened earlier this month when I attended the annual convention of the ReSource Commercial Flooring Network in San Francisco for the first time.
So I fly out there, thinking these guys are in the garden spot. Heck, 67 companies doing a collective $850 million. (You do the math.) But I fly home knowing these guys may have the toughest job in flooring and have my utmost respect.
It starts with profitability. You think flooring distributors have it tough? These guys work on razor-thin margins. But that’s just the beginning. They are forced to clean up other people’s messes, get chastised for other people’s mistakes, and what may be the worst, they often have no recourse.
Here’s an example. An architect specifies a certain car- pet to be installed in a job. The flooring contractor knows it is not the right spec for the job— like expecting an 18-ounce carpet installation to have every seam completely hidden. The flooring contractor can alleviate the problem by talking to the architect. But in many cases the architect won’t give the contractor the time of day. One ReSource member said to me, “They think of us only as installers. They value the opinion of a 22-year-old manufacturer’s rep more so than ours, and that’s because we can’t get to them. The librarian will stop us at the door.”
So at the convention, a panel discussion with three designers was orchestrated to find ways for flooring contractors and designers to work in concert.
When the whole idea of the gatekeeper was mentioned, the designers’ response was, “That’s their job. You need to find an avenue to build trust with us.” And, when one flooring con- tractor pleaded that all he wanted was a few minutes to correct a problem before it occurred, one designer advised that the only way to get past the front door was to bring food. And she made it a point to say, “Not just donuts, maybe something exotic like sushi.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
Another ReSource member told me that often the general contractor does not allow his subcontractors to meet with architects and designers. They can make recommendations on particular products for particular situations, but ultimately it’s not their decision.
By the way, I’m not even going to get into another issue flooring contractors often have with the general contractors: getting paid!
Yet another ReSource member explained how this is a relationship-driven business and how they have to deal with architects, designers and general contractors, pretty much with kid gloves.
“We are usually denied access to the developer. We rely on the general contractor for work, the architects and designers for work, and the developer for work. I’d like to go right to the developer and find out his expectations. But if we tell him the architect or designer’s spec isn’t going to work, we won’t get any more business from that architect or designer. We tell the general contractor something won’t work, we won’t get any more business. Yet the general con- tractor wants to know if there are any problems during the job so there are no surprises. It’s a tricky bag.”
Tricky isn’t the word I’d use.