Choosing a winner in products or services takes careful consideration: Contractor's Corner - Apr 2017
By Dave Stafford
“I swear, Frank, this new carpet in a box idea has legs! All I need is a carpet mechanic and four guys to fetch and tote. And we can leave the power-stretcher and knee-kickers at home and forget about callbacks on ripples and bubbles.” Or, “All we need are some bottle jacks and those cute furniture slides. We don’t have to dismantle or store any of that modular furniture. Just lift it up, pull the old carpet out and slip in that new carpet tile. Simple!” As commercial contractors, we’re always on the lookout for new products or systems that both make our job easier and pull in more revenue. But choosing a winner hinges on putting in some research and analyzing how that new concept fits into your current portfolio.
Sometimes it is a chance occurrence, an idea that hits at 3:00 a.m., a gadget that is adaptable to flooring or a presentation from a new supplier. Maybe you’ve just attended a trade show like Surfaces or talked with one of your peers at the Starnet Worldwide annual conference. The fact is, many great products and systems will cross your path, but are they right for you?
Some of those great ideas from the past and present might include: vertical lifting of furniture; liquid applied flooring like epoxy and MMA (methyl methacrylate); fuzzy carpet that mimics sheet vinyl and has high slip resistance; entry matting using special carpet tile with a custom frame to adapt to practically any entrance configuration; non-wet adhesives for specialty flooring and accessories; ceramic and porcelain tile with epoxy grout and mortar for ultimate performance; rigid LVT products with a wearlayer rated for commercial applications.
New products and installation services can become real winners or mainstream staple services for those who jump in on the ground floor and take the time to sell the idea and learn the techniques to make it a reality.
FINDING WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
You need to be able to tell a strong story with compelling facts and visuals. Most anyone can build a product, but what you’re selling is the sizzle, not the steak. With the early technology in lifting modular furniture, the key was the methodology and experienced installation technique, not the lift jacks. No tear-down of modular furniture or damage, no unhooking of computers, no relocation of furniture, limited disruption to workplace productivity-a clean, after-hours project. The equipment provided a dynamite demonstration of the potential and justified the higher installation prices.
Remember when a world-class company introduced a powdered cleaning agent that allowed users to clean carpet without really getting it wet? Maintenance could be done as needed rather than waiting for weekends to allow drying time. The system’s dealers built a solid business and long-term maintenance contracts on that idea.
An old, cracked concrete floor, rough and uneven, was turned into a smooth, colorful and slip-resistant hygienic surface through careful surface prep, an epoxy primer and finish coats of epoxy (or MMA) with vinyl chips or quartz granules. Tired-looking bathrooms, jail cells, warehouse offices and temporary barracks are all candidates for this type of makeover.
Often, new solutions provide a commercial contractor with a leg up over their competition. I vividly remember a facility manager telling me, “I’ve got the money in the budget to replace the carpet. What I don’t have is the time to shut everything down so furniture and old carpet can be removed and new carpet replaced.” Of course, the answer was vertical lift installation of the furniture. Once demonstrated, we got the job.
In another sales call, the buyer grumbled, “Yeah, I’ve got an area for you. I need new carpet, but the old carpet has been glued down using something like contact cement (hot melt adhesive) to old tile from the 1960s. When we thought about taking up the carpet, the asbestos tile came up too, leaving a black residue (cutback adhesive) that was still tacky. I don’t want to spend the money to rebuild the area; we expect to be out of here in two years. Come up with a viable solution and I’ll buy.” Upon inspection, the main problem was that seams were fraying and carpet was stained and faded in many areas. This was a visual nightmare with tripping hazards for the company. We suggested a carpet-over-carpet solution using non-wet adhesive to completely cover the old carpet with new carpet. Since the old carpet was well bonded to the existing floor, it worked like a charm.
To find these new innovations, I suggest that you prowl the trade shows, like Surfaces. Every year, new suppliers exhibit their problem-solving solutions, including products that handle substrate moisture, fast-drying surface coatings, equipment to move large shelving on wheels, and user-friendly accessories for grinding or smoothing a substrate.
Take a few minutes with as many mill reps as possible and ask about their newest, latest, greatest ideas and products. It will cost you a bit of time, but you may just uncover a high-volume product or service that will work for you.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Profit and margin analysis is a must. Your profit potential should be at least equal to or greater than your staple business lineup. The loss-leader idea is just that, a loss.
What type of investment in equipment, product and training will you have to make in order to show a reasonable profit? The bigger the investment, the higher the barrier to entry, but the greater your advantage will be in terms of competition. Sooner or later, somebody will figure out how to do it cheaper and faster.
Will you have exclusivity and limited distribution within your geographic territory? How is that defined-by map or county or city? If there will be other dealers in your area, what is the maximum number and guidelines for their selection? Are there existing dealers, and how is their reputation? If possible, talk with them-what they don’t say may be more important than the tips they offer.
How will pricing be handled, and who will provide it? Will you have key dealer prices and also project pricing? Is there some regional consideration for you, and if so, on what basis? In most cases, it does make sense to have several qualified dealers within an area to allow competition.
Where will you market the product, and who will sell it? Many a product looks terrific when presented by an experienced mill rep and the technical attributes look great. However, will your target market find it visually compelling? Always do some preliminary presentations to key clients within your geographic area.
I remember a time when I was overjoyed with the concept of a newly introduced product and its technical presentation-nice colorways and designs to camouflage soil, a bulletproof product from the standpoint of performance in a messy, dirty environment. However, when we made some presentations, we got glassy looks, artificial smiles and a lot of “maybe that would work” feedback. Finally, one specifier said, “You’re wasting your time and mine! I would never specify such an ugly product-a bad color line that is three years out of date, terrible designs, and I don’t care if you can clean up mustard and ketchup. This is not carpet; it is a disaster.” On the other hand, the maintenance director for a nursing care facility thought the product was great. When I mentioned the limited designs, he responded with, “As long as you have something in blue, that’s fine. If they don’t like the design, well, they’ll get over it.” Sometimes it’s all about identifying the right targets and focusing your efforts.
When considering new products or systems, you must also ask yourself: is this a niche that will work seamlessly with my other products and existing installation teams? A classic mistake is to misunderstand the learning curve for installation excellence and the extent of training repetition for adequate performance. Your current installers may not be adaptable to a completely new process for installation. I did not find that the same team could be installing carpet one day and liquid-applied flooring the next; it was too big a change in mindset, equipment, accessories and technique, and the work van had to be outfitted quite differently. As one supervisor put it, “You can kick the bubbles out of the carpet or make a cut and re-seam. Spot repairs or blemishes in epoxy or MMA can be difficult to make visually acceptable, so a complete redo may be needed.” Instead of a 30-minute service call for one person, it becomes an all-day job for a full crew.
How complementary is this new product or service with what you are already selling to the client? Adding rigid LVT might just be a perfect product to gain more business breadth, as would unique custom flooring and non-wet adhesive tapes in various sizes. Offering concrete grinding, shot-blasting services, carpet maintenance or poured cementitious underlayments might be an entirely different story. More than one company has entered and quickly exited those areas.
Sell and install a few test projects before going all-in on your new promotion. Nothing beats real world field experience with your own installers. They will uncover glitches and nightmares one can only dream about.
One of my most uncomfortable failures was when I specified an early wood-look LVT for a bar area. The area was trashed within two weeks from cigarette burns melting the surface (back when smoking was allowed). The owner joked, “Except for all of the burn mark dimples, it’s great, a nice rustic look.” The problem, though, was the inability to clean the mottled, rough surface without machine scrubbing. Mopping up an area would not work. A total loss on that job, and we had to come back with an engineered hardwood where burn marks were less visible and cigarette butts didn’t melt the surface.
Ultimately, the goal is to identify solutions. A wise man sees a problem as nothing more than an opportunity in disguise. With blinding clarity, you may see how your solution can become a winner and mean a million dollars in revenue. That’s how new products and services are born.
Copyright 2017 Floor Focus