How Piet Dossche and Thomas Trissl created the most recognized names in their categories
January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16
By Ken Ryan
It has been said that a company’s brand is its lifeblood, its reason for existing, its greatest success and, potentially, its biggest failure. Few flooring industry executives understand that principle better than Piet Dossche, president and CEO, USFloors, and Thomas Trissl, president, Schönox–HPS North America.
This year’s Surfaces marks five years since COREtec was introduced to the flooring industry, albeit with a mere 13 SKUs. Since then, USFloors’ WPC has become the most talked-about product in flooring. There are now 650 COREtec SKUs blanketing the market. This is just the beginning, according to Dossche, as he now pivots his marketing approach straight to consumers to elevate COREtec as the consumer brand of choice for waterproof vinyl flooring.
Trissl’s quest to build Schönox began shortly after he sold Centiva. Admittedly not one who can sit still for very long, Trissl learned from previous experience he had with Schönox in Germany through his family business to launch the brand in North America. Leveraging his hands-on knowledge of Schönox products and his business acumen for building companies, he has led Schönox to its position today as a leading subfloor prep company in North America.
Speed to market, ‘plactivation’ and exposure helped build COREtec into an epic flooring brand
First we wanted the recognition that we were participating in the LVT category. We had a desire to find a unique product instead of a “me-too” product. We discovered the WPC core in China and made the [decision] to use this as a waterproof core instead of an MDF core. We perfected the product to 95%; for us, speed to market was more important [than completing it 100%]. Get it out of the gate, the starting blocks, was our goal. We knew we had a winner, a beautiful product bringing a solution to an existing category. Then it was about putting the resources together from a small organization that we were to get it launched. We then applied for a patent, which put our competition on notice. All of a sudden people were like, “Whoa!”
Next, we wanted to give it a catchy name. With COREtec, the technology and the uniqueness is in the core. Then we went all out in hiring salespeople to take the product to market as fast as possible and capture real estate at retail. We knew we had to go fast. We were flexible with the cost of the displays, but we insisted on activation or what we called “plactivation” (place and activation). We set lofty goals and aimed high.
We engaged the trade press to talk about it, create awareness, informing the market and competition about the strength of the patent. We advertised heavily to expose the product, plastering it all over the trade press.
Our goal was to be a disruptor. We said “yes” to interviews, “yes” to all opportunities to present and tell the story. We made our sales team drink the Kool-Aid and turn customers into raving fans.
I became a spokesperson for the product/category—the source customers trust for authenticity, quality and knowledge. All along we wanted to stay ahead of the competition through product innovation. We accelerated product innovation to create second-, third- and fourth-category products while the competition was scrambling to get to the first stage.
We protected the margins for all and made sure all channels were profitable. The worst thing you can do is create a brand and see its margins eaten up like we have seen with other categories. With COREtec, we breathed, ate, drank and lived for the product and brand. We wanted to be a fanatic, passionate believer.
If you look at the competition behind us, it is a relentless pursuit for creativity. We need to be first, and we will be first again in Vegas [this year].
How would you advise flooring dealers to build their own brands?
You have to advertise, you have to recognize what’s important in your market, know your market and your customers. If you are in, say, the Houston market, where they had all these floods, you need to go online and talk about it—not talk about your products—but about the problem at hand and how you can help people out. Be in tune with the local community, be seen as a community leader. It’s important to be a spokesperson for what’s important in your market. Show and take leadership. Be the expert and, most importantly, be authentic.
Innovation and differentiation, coupled with passion, experience and resources, helped expand the Schönox brand in North America
I began to research those companies in North America that might be competitors, many of whom I already knew from Germany. Seeing the opportunity to innovate and differentiate in the subflooring business, I put together a business plan to present to Schönox. It didn’t take long to pique their interest, and shortly thereafter we partnered. The fact that we had the resources, the passion and 15-plus years of American flooring industry knowledge gave Schönox [investors] a comfort as it didn’t have U.S. experience. Once we agreed to move forward, we formed HPS North America (known as HPS Schönox) and began to execute the plan.
By combining outstanding products with expertise in sales and marketing we were able to transform a new, unrecognized brand into an industry leader. That is especially underlined with our new 2018 campaign “Ön It,” which sums all aspects of our daily business. We build trust, not just through fantastic products but also through some unique services. We keep our promises. We act with honesty, integrity and transparency in everything we do. We believe serving our customers builds long-lasting relationships. We are folks who are not driven by a quarterly P&L or EBITDA. We drive innovation to transform flooring. We use science and technology to drive solutions that move flooring forward through innovation. We never rest. We ensure sustainability by using products that are environmentally responsible and promote sustainable construction practices.
You must have a vision for what you want to do that is driven by a passion for it. You must assess the opportunity for success honestly and then develop a plan for your success. You must build a culture of people who share your passion and commitment to excellence. You must continue to innovate to become better. You must cultivate an environment of shared knowledge and shared success. You must differentiate by standing out because you are outstanding.
By growing up in my family’s business I was taught one of my father’s basic principles: You either do it right or you don’t do it at all. That requires a sense and passion for high-performance products that exemplify excellence and enduring value. Success is nothing other than never making the same mistake twice.
How would you advise flooring dealers to build their own brands?
Many flooring retailers truly neglect to build their own brand. Instead they bow to large manufacturers who dictate products, styles, practices and price. I can only advise that no matter what size of company one is running, as an entrepreneur you should always create value in your own brand instead of relying on the manufacturer. Once you diligently work to become best in class or best in town, your value will emerge eventually to be appreciated by customers, vendors and employees. That creates the platform necessary to build a long-term, sustainable brand.