Tarkett recently named industry-experienced Jason Surratt as president of its residential division. The appointment represents a departure from the revolving door of outside-the-industry presidents in recent times. Surratt, who brings a strong manufacturing and product background to Tarkett, was recently recognized by FCNews as one of 35 people under the age of 40 making their mark on this industry.
Surratt recently sat down with FCNews publisher, Steven Feldman, to discuss the opportunity and task at hand.
Tell me about your career up until this point.
I’ve worked for most of the larger flooring companies, starting in the fibers division of Honeywell, then moving to the manufacturing side, starting in direct floor supervision for Shaw’s commercial division at their carpet tile plant and working my way up through operations management. After venturing outside the flooring industry for about a year with an IT company, I came back to the flooring industry at Mohawk with product development on their commercial team. I was with them for about eight years in various roles, eventually taking over their custom design and development for commercial and hospitality. I left for a career growth opportunity with Phenix, where I was charged with their entire product development and design. Shortly after the Mannington acquisition, they wanted to split my role into two pieces—true category management P&L leadership and design. I thought having more of that true P&L ownership would be good for my career, learning more of the business side of things versus just the design and development aspect.
What makes this job attractive to you?
Well, for starters, Tarkett has an outstanding reputation in the industry. That, combined with the tremendous opportunity within their residential business, made this an extremely appealing position for me. The company has the pieces in place to make some big strides in residential, and I’m excited to be part of that journey.
Tarkett in the past has looked outside the flooring industry for leaders; their tenures often were not long. Is it fair to say Tarkett is better served by having someone who knows the industry in this leadership role?
Flooring is a very tricky industry to understand, specifically the intricacies of going to market and some of the things we do compared to other industries. I think it’s very difficult for an outsider to understand, and it’s a very strong, relationship-based market. So, having those relationships with those retailers and distributors—and understanding what’s important to them—is a plus. I think retailers appreciate someone in that role who understands the overall—from the nuts and bolts of how it’s made to how it gets shipped and all the interactions in between. I think an insider could be more successful in this role because he’s not trying to learn the company and the industry and the people underneath him. It’s one less thing to learn.
You’re a product and manufacturing guy. What skills do you bring to the table that will make a positive difference for Tarkett?
My overall flooring acumen through all the processes on the front-end prior to sale. Knowing how to efficiently make exciting new aesthetics and designs. And then just trying to bring more of that differentiation by voice of customer and understanding where the market’s trending. We’re going to build a strategy around our customers’ wants and needs.
How involved will you be in sales and marketing?
My philosophy is to not try to micromanage and let my team and their talents shine through. I’ll help lead and drive a strategy for where we want to go with the business, how we want to get there and I have a talented team well capable of executing in those functions.
How did you identify Tarkett’s strengths and weaknesses as a competitor, and have your first few days here dispelled any of those impressions?
I didn’t fully grasp our capabilities within our sundries business. In previous roles I may have been looking at this company more for the carpet, LVT and other hard surface categories. So I think that could be a key differentiator for us truly having a total flooring solution including the accessories business such as wall base. It’s good that we have that entire portfolio to be a single source for our customers.
As a competitor to Tarkett, what did you believe to be this company’s weaknesses?
I felt their overall carpet portfolio or presence in residential carpet could be stronger. I certainly felt where Lexmark once was, they probably lost some ground during the acquisition. So that’s an area we can certainly improve upon and grow within the market.
Once you get settled, what are some of the first things you’re going to address?
I’m trying to come in with a fresh set of eyes and not just try to utilize what I’ve done successfully in the past in other roles. I’m trying to give at least 30 days before I say, “This is the mark that I want to put on it.” I still need time to hear from my entire team and our customers to understand what they feel are opportunities and determine what we need to focus on to leverage for success.
Tarkett has picked up some solid distributors lately. Talk about that.
Ohio Valley Flooring and FlorStar are certainly strong distributors and give us much better presence in their respective markets. I think that’s going to be something we will be driving in the coming years—looking for the right partners within distribution and trying to get a stronger footprint across the country.
What are your thoughts on Surfaces? Will Tarkett participate in 2022 and beyond?
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a lot of questions around the overall trade show space and the number of shows, but to me, for the residential business, Surfaces has always been the premier opportunity to show your newest products. It has always been a destination for retailers. So, right now, the plans are to be there in January. I don’t foresee us not going in future years unless there’s a massive drop-off in retailer attendance.
You come from Mannington, which always has a very strong presence at Surfaces. A lot of that has to do with Jay’s Bargain Basement. Is that something that you would consider replicating?
As I said earlier, I’m trying to come in with a fresh set of eyes and not just focus on what I’ve done successfully in the past in other roles. That being said, it’s certainly possible. We’ve had brief discussions this week, and it hasn’t really been done in the past. I’m not sure yet of the reasoning for or against it in the past, but if we have the right opportunity and there are finished goods we could utilize, that’s something that we’d look at replicating.
How does Tarkett compete under your leadership against the Shaws, Mohawks, Armstrongs and Manningtons of the world?
When you’re up against the larger corporations, you’re at a cost disadvantage. We know we’re not going to compete on cost. So it’s really about bringing unique, competitive advantages and differentiation to the market, be it systems or tools for the RSA, or unique aesthetics or innovative technologies within a product type that’s at the forefront compared to other companies.
How will you help the retailer make money?
Having the right merchandising, having the right products, having the overall media and marketing and selling tools that make it easy for them to understand what the product’s about, why it’s unique and why they want to sell it to the customer. It’s really creating a package that excites them.
Are you looking to add any high-level personnel?
Right now I am focused on understanding my team and our goals and drivers. We’re going to work together to create a long-term strategy and continue to grow the business. Those activities will determine if and where we need to add roles throughout the residential business.
Talk about short- and long-term goals.
Over the short term, I want to understand who my team is and its strengths. I want to understand our overall portfolio compared to our competition. And then understand our footprint in the marketplace and where we have opportunity to improve. I think there are some areas across the map where we don’t have much brand presence. And we need to look at shoring that up and getting our name out in the field. Long-term, I have lofty goals where Tarkett is right there with all the bigger residential mills. We have to have a lot of growth to get there.
If I told you next year you were going to grow 10%, would you be satisfied?
I hope we grow more than that. With the way the residential market is trending and with the number of new house builds, I’d like to see us growing at a pace larger than the rest of the market and gain share.
I’m sure Tarkett is having supply chain issues as it relates to SPC. Any ideas you have in the short term to alleviate those issues?
We’re evaluating every opportunity as we feel the same pressure everyone else is experiencing, from container availability to resin pricing issues. It’s certainly the craziest market that I hope I only see once in my entire career.
Do you foresee making your own SPC domestically?
I think we have to grow our business to make it financially feasible and be cost effective. But, certainly seeing Tarkett’s overall footprint and domestic LVT operations in commercial, I would assume we would prefer to manufacture our own goods if it allows us to be more competitive in the market. I would love at some point down the road to be large enough to do that.
If I put 12,000 retailers in this room and gave you five minutes, what would you tell them?
It would be selling them on the fact that I took this position because I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about our team. I’m excited about the leadership above me at Tarkett. Everyone here is passionate about growing our business. And the only way we’re going to do that is by helping retailers grow and make money.