Best Practices - February 2012
By Brian Hamilton
St. Louis commercial flooring contractor CI Select Flooring provides an entire flooring package to its customers as it strives to live by the motto “Delivering a Great Experience”. The Starnet member offers everything from design help to reclamation and installation, and ongoing maintenance. Having the whole array of services is a big key to its success. “We’re not as project oriented as some companies,” says Linda Goldstein, general manager of the flooring division. “We try to set up a partnership with our customers to solve whatever flooring issues they have.”
CI Select Flooring is part of CI Select, which is primarily an office furniture company. CI Select also has a division that specializes in audiovisual integration and communication systems. Each of the three areas operates independently. “We could stand alone, we’re not like an add-on,” Goldstein says. In many cases the three divisions have customers in common, such as mega-brewer Anheuser-Busch, so in those cases there is one point person to coordinate all the interaction to make communication easier for the customer.
Historically, most of the flooring division’s customers have come from the corporate arena, but in recent years healthcare (mostly hospitals) and education have become much more prominent, as the corporate market was hit harder in the recession than other segments and CI Select put greater emphasis on these areas. Last year was particularly good for education, especially K-12. “We had to go after something new and sales have expanded,” Goldstein says. “We’re thankful we have that.”
Most of the firm’s work is replacement—with some new construction—and the typical job is probably around $50,000, although CI Select will do a single room for a customer if requested. “No job is too small or too big for us,” Goldstein says. Most of the work is negotiated but CI Select does have ongoing contracts, especially for maintenance services. It also has some national accounts, and Starnet’s national network is especially helpful with these customers.
About 60% of installations involve carpet, and virtually all of that is carpet tile. Increasingly, Goldstein says, her clients are moving toward ceramic, wood and resilient products. Just a few years ago, carpet accounted for 80% of flooring sales.
Much of the work for CI Select comes through area design firms, whom they work closely with, so Goldstein and her staff focus on maintaining a good reputation for expertise and reliability. Typically the design firm makes the flooring choices based on input from CI Select. Sometimes Goldstein’s staff helps with cost averaging so the project can stay within a budget. For example, if the customer decides to use more expensive flooring than initially planned in a reception area, CI Select can help offset that with less expensive choices in other areas.
CI Select also markets itself to end users and contractors, and it’s largely a relationship building process. The firm has been around so long—since 1950—that referrals are commonplace. In addition, four of the firm’s salespeople have been with CI Select through all its changes over the last 15 years or so, and they’ve established strong ties in the community. CI Select doesn’t do much advertising, but its employees stay very active in a variety of organizations and causes in the St. Louis area to help build their networks.
SURVIVING THROUGH CHANGE
CI Select Flooring began life as Anchor Flooring in 1950, founded by Linda Goldstein’s father-in-law Joseph Goldstein. It’s always been a commercial outfit and has never serviced the residential sector. In the mid 1990s the firm was purchased by DuPont, back when many commercial contractors were being purchased by DuPont, Shaw Industries and Interface. “It seemed like the wave of the future that all of us were going to be owned by one of those three,” Goldstein recalls. Anchor decided to go with DuPont because of a reclamation relationship it had with the chemical giant. DuPont was experimenting with the best ways to reclaim carpet, and Anchor Flooring supplied material. “We had a close relationship with DuPont and when we were trying to decide what route to go, it seemed natural to partner with DuPont.”
After DuPont Flooring Systems was sold to Koch Industries in 2004, Linda Goldstein engineered the sale of the former Anchor Flooring to CI Select in 2005. “It’s all been good,” Goldstein says. “With DuPont, we felt like we were on the cutting edge. When DuPont bought us, we suddenly had a network of contractors around the U.S. DuPont really helped us grow as far as industry knowledge.” Getting access to a large network of contractors is one reason Goldstein eventually decided to join Starnet, where she is now co-chair of the environmental committee. “We debated about whether to join but we get so much support in terms of technology, maintenance and best practices, and I have a network of colleagues if I need advice.” She also has high praise for Starnet’s educational programs in business development and other areas. “They’ve done a lot to help us be effective.”
Installation is performed by union installers who are well trained and certified through the International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL). “We pride ourselves on having the best educated installers,” Goldstein says. Installation in hospitals requires special skills and precautions because there’s continuous traffic, areas can’t be shut down to replace the flooring, there’s great concern about off-gassing, and there’s expensive and specialized medical equipment throughout. Installers have to work quickly and professionally.
CI Select also puts major emphasis on reclamation of old flooring, especially carpeting. “We don’t send any carpet to the landfill,” Goldstein says. “This is a real value-added service for our clients. We give certificates to our clients telling them how much carpet they kept out of the landfill.” It’s a small gesture that is greatly appreciated, Goldstein says.
The fact that CI Select has a maintenance division also often helps make the sale, Goldstein says, and provides the basis for a long-term partnership. Carpet restoration, for example, can help a client get another year or two of carpet life if there’s no money in the budget for replacement. “We also offer an extended warranty if the maintenance package is purchased,” Goldstein says. “Because we know how products perform and how to maintain them, it helps build customer confidence.”
CI Select also has the local Saniglaze franchise, for cleaning and maintenance of tile. “It’s a great door opener,” Goldstein says. “We have three maintenance techs who are Saniglaze experts.” Healthcare, which uses a lot of tile, is the biggest market for CI Select’s Saniglaze work. Saniglaze is also a General Services Administration schedule holder, which brings government work.
Focus on Education
One thing that sets CI Select apart from the competition, Goldstein says, is its focus on education and certification for employees, and generally keeping up with best practices in the industry. For example, the firm recently became certified in concrete moisture testing through the International Concrete Repair Institute, and Goldstein says her firm is one of the first in the area to earn the certification. All her maintenance people are certified by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (recently renamed the Clean Trust). The firm is also a member of the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers, which is offered through Starnet.
Project managers and sales people have also recently been outfitted with iPads to help them with email, presentations, change orders and other tasks in the field. “We think it’s important to keep up with technology,” Goldstein says.
GOOD FRIDAY TORNADO
A tornado hit St. Louis April 22 and, among other things, caused major damage at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, tearing the roof off the terminal, damaging the control tower, and generally causing water damage throughout. CI Select had several installers working on tile on the concourse that evening when the power went out and the area went black. One of the installers made his way to a door in the baggage claim area and tried to open it. Once he got the sliding door open, the force of the storm blew him and two colleagues across the floor and into a wall. Fortunately, they were not injured. Easter Sunday, Linda Goldstein got a call from the airport begging her to send in a crew immediately to help get the airport into usable condition, as it had been closed for two days. "It was hard to track down people on Easter but we came up with a crew," Goldstein says. "When the airport needed to get something done, they called us." The three installers who survived the storm were on the Sunday team that returned to the airport to help get a concourse ready to go. They worked around the clock restoring carpet, cleaning bathroom tile and doing minor repairs. Since then, CI Select has completed a number of restoration projects in various concourses as well as a temporary space for the Admiral's Club. "But the bigger story," Goldstein says, "is how our entire construction community came together under the leadership of our airport director (an amazing woman named Rhonda Hamm-Neibrugge) to get the airport functioning at full capacity in record time. The restoration continues, but airline service has not been impacted."
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus