Strategic Exchange - July 2011

By Kemp Harr

 

There are two pockets of business in the flooring industry right now—multi-family housing and contract commercial replacement. Summer is always the seasonal highpoint for multi-family but there are some age demographics and other statistics that tell us that this sector could be strong for a while. Today, occupancy rates are back up to the 90% level, and by 2015, 67 million Americans will be between the ages of 20 and 34—and that is prime age for apartment renters. Based on this prediction of increasing demand, permits for new apartment construction are currently running at a two year high. 

The NeoCon show, which serves those sectors, is now behind us and most people left that show feeling good about business. Granted, the phrase “new construction” continues to be an oxymoron—even in the commercial business—but activity in the remodel/replacement side is encouraging. As you can tell by reading our coverage of NeoCon in this issue, many key suppliers came to the market with a robust offering of new and innovative products. 

Commercial interiors are changing and more and more emphasis is going toward what the floor looks like. Thanks to LEED construction practices of the past decade, natural lighting is a big factor so interior walls have been coming down for a while—but the latest trend is lower cubicle walls or no cubicle workstations at all. 

At NeoCon, David Oakey with InterfaceFlor was quoting passages from The M-Factor, a recently published book on how Millennials, who are now old enough to go to work, are changing the face of the work environment. Millennials were born between 1982 and 2000 so they’re now between the ages of 11 and 29. They’re motivated more by having the latest laptop and smartphone than by where their office is. Because of their passion for collaboration, they’d rather have their desks pushed together than separated by paneled walls. 

And as many employers know, you get the best talent by offering your recruits a work environment that exceeds what they just saw during an interview with company X a week earlier. The challenge, as we go through this workplace transformation, is meeting the privacy needs of older workers with collaborative needs of the new workers—all in one location. But there’s one thing for certain. Any office space that doesn’t have walls or cubicles must rely heavily on the flooring to set the tone of the decor.

More Workplace Transformation
Remember when there were only a few area codes per state and we could tell where a call was coming from based on those first three digits? Then faxes and cell phones came along—exponentially increasing the number of unique numbers needed—so more area codes had to be added and it was just too many to memorize. Then along came the Internet and a protocol was devised whereby website addresses were most commonly ended with “.com.” In fact, dot com endings are now so common that Apple added a shortcut “.com” key too its iPad keyboard. 

Just recently however, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) met in Singapore and decided to expand that naming system from the current 22 that include .net, .org and .com to an almost unlimited number of extensions.

Who will be the first to have a .floor address?

Vacation to Recharge 
Most of us will take some kind of a break from work this summer to spend time away and hopefully with family. The trick is to get out of your routine, get into a fresh environment and relax. If you are addicted to your smartphone, you may want to consider a cruise or remote location so that you can’t check in even if you wanted to. Last year, we did a bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands and there was no WiFi or cell service. It was scary at first but it was good to get totally away for five days. And when I came back, everything was fine. For those of you with aging parents, you can always set up some type of dire emergency communications plan—just in case.

If you are a true entrepreneur and work is as much a hobby as it is your means of revenue, you may want to take your vacation time to reflect and work on your business, instead of in your business. In this case, you may still want to try to sever the “day-to-day” smartphone umbilical cord. 

The trick to getting creative is to relax and free your mind up to start thinking about things from a different perspective. Sometimes a good short business book can help get your mind in the right gear. We’ve all heard about the shower being the place where fresh ideas pop into our heads and the reason is because we have relaxing warm water running over our bodies and we’re in a tile closet with limited distractions. 

Another trick is to create a few lists. Think about the people you know who might be good advisors. Make a plan to nurture these relationships so they can become a sounding board for your growth initiatives or hiring challenges. Try to identify people who aren’t wrapped up in themselves and who only network with people who can help them get ahead. This, by the way, brings up a whole different perspective. As you make a plan to nurture these advisors, make sure to work hard to give as much as you get. 

Another list to work on is your plan for growth. Ask yourself what value you bring to your customers and see if you can build on that value. If you’re having trouble building out your list, perhaps you should lay out a plan to visit with some of your best customers when you get back from vacation and ask them why they buy from you or, more subtly, “What was the highlight of the last project we worked on together?”

But wait a minute; you’re on vacation, right? Isn’t that the time to get away from thinking about work? What about the kids who are with you, who before long will be off on their own? What about that spouse that you neglect when you get into your normal work routine? Will this vacation be memorable for everybody involved because you took the initiative—and a little time off from work a month prior to the vacation—to lay out a vacation activity plan that would get your kids and your spouse to want to put down their iPod, cell phone, Gameboy and pick up a paddle, a beach volleyball or a tennis racket? Or better yet, go see something they’ve never seen before? It’s all about balance, isn’t it?

Independence Day
By the time you read this, our country will have just celebrated its 235th birthday. America is pretty young to be who we are—the global leader both economically and militarily. How did we get here and are we smart enough to stay here? What was the magic that allowed us to rise so fast into this position? Is it because we are a republic, because of our Constitutional freedoms, our natural resources, our faith in God?

These are all factors, but the answer lies in the first three words of our Preamble to the Constitution—it’s the people. From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin to Alexander Graham Bell to Orville and Wilbur Wright to Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs. These are people who understood the challenges and created the solutions. 

The only force that can kill this freedom is a government that has grown so big that it feels it has all the answers.

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

 

Copyright 2011 Floor Focus 



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