30 Years Helps Define The Path Forward: Is this a celebration, a milestone or a wakeup call? - Aug/Sept 2022
By Kemp Harr
Are you nervous about the future? Did you hear Howard Brodsky tell me in his retirement interview on FloorDaily that he attributed his success to hiring talent and a healthy dose of paranoia? When was the last time you told a customer no? Oh, but wait…more fundamentally, who is your customer?
Our team has compiled this historic perspective of the statistics and right and wrong decisions that have been made in the past 30 years so that we can collectively learn and continue to raise the bar for greater success as an industry-one driven by dealers, many of whom are independent, family owned, and the lifeblood of this industry. Which path will success follow? Does our destiny lie in the hands of the big boxes? Or with the digital gurus who hope to flatten the channel and enable the consumer to click on their smart-phone and have the right floor appear at the their door on a Monday morning like a Casper mattress or a used Carvana automobile. That might work in certain industrial segments, but our product is a construction material that has to be built on site to satisfy the consumer’s aspirations for a look that defines who they are as an individual.
You’re giving us your valuable time by reading this, and we don’t take that lightly. I do want you to have an aha moment right now and take stock of your actions and consider whether you need a change. We need leadership in this industry, and you might just be the answer. You remember what Einstein said about insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If that quote speaks to you, it might be time to take a deeper look.
So where do we start? We’re at a fork in the road, and we get to choose our destiny as an industry by the path we choose to take. The path to the left is labeled commodity, and the one less traveled, to the right, says differentiation and profit. And the next crossroad says foreign and domestic. And just down the hill from there is three paths: public, family owned and private equity. And if you hit that little Y-shaped icon on the lower right side of the map and zoom out, you see more and more intersections. There’s the intersection of rent or own, distribution or direct, private label or branded, sustainable or carbon-heavy, durable or untested, performance or failure, transparency or deceit.
Let’s go back to the fundamentals question: What is your purpose-your why? If you’re a retailer or designer, is it to be the best at enhancing the lives of your customers by upgrading their living space with curated products that perform. If you are an industry supplier, I hope it’s to develop distinctive, innovative, high-quality products that not only allow your trade partners to achieve their purpose but ultimately satisfies your shared consumers’ quest for beauty and performance in their space…and to do this so well that your brand drives traffic to their door.
So, what’s in your way? Five years ago, in our last anniversary issue, we were mopping up the bankruptcy of Beaulieu of America, and this time round, it’s Armstrong. What did these billion-dollar companies do wrong? At some point, at one of these crossroads mentioned above, they chose the wrong path.
The good news for those of you in the little companies is that big does not always mean secure. And small does not mean frail. Just look at what U.S. Floors, I4F and Schönox-just to name a few-have been able to achieve through innovation and differentiation. Or consider why Mannington is still here and Armstrong is not. And at the dealer level, check out who’s on top. Sure, Home Depot and Lowe’s killed Sears, and perhaps Floor & Décor will kill the home centers. Fortunately, there are still plenty of family businesses out there doing very well. In most cases, staying on top is as simple as passion, purpose and ethics and, perhaps, a little paranoia.
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