Best Practices: Texas-based Intertech, a commercial flooring contractor - Aug/Sep 18
By Jessica Chevalier
Bill Imhoff started Intertech in August 1988 in Austin, Texas while the state was amid a depression. Carpet Resources-the commercial flooring operation Imhoff was working for-had just shut its doors, and no local banks were offering loans to start-up businesses. But Imhoff had a team he believed in-associates from his prior firm-and a contact on a job that was left unfinished when Carpet Resources was shuttered. As fate would have it, those elements, paired with support from many and varied sources, helped the business-which turns 30 this month-find its footing.
The job for which Imhoff had a connection was 3M’s Austin office, and the contact was Ed Scharlau, facilities manager for the location. Imhoff called Scharlau and told him that he and his newly founded firm, Intertech, were willing to finish the million-square-foot job Carpet Resources had started if 3M could offer him better cash flow than net 90 days; Scharlau listened. Shortly thereafter, Gary Buck, director of purchasing for 3M corporate, called Imhoff back and offered him net five days and permission to bill weekly. In addition, he offered $10,000 up front to assist with cash flow, telling Bill that he could pay the money back at completion. It was a demanding job-with Intertech installing 1,200 yards per day-but the firm succeeded.
While success on that $700,000 job was a real boon, it would take even more to get Intertech on its financial feet; Imhoff tapped into he and his wife’s private funds, borrowed $30,000 from his father-in-law and used other creative means, such as joint checks and deposits from customers to fund Intertech’s early days. Says Imhoff, “Austin, Texas is a very entrepreneurial town. Back then, our customers really wanted us to succeed and did what they could to support our company.”
BUILDING A TOP-NOTCH ORGANIZATION
One of the most important elements to Intertech’s early success was the fact that it had experienced staff and laborers from the outset. Thirty years later, several of those individuals are still with him today: Terry Bessire as VP operations, Austin; Mark Jones as VP operations, San Antonio; Dixon Matlock as VP of corporate services; Glenn Richter as director of production and senior project manager, San Antonio; and Tim Welch and Tom Coyle as project coordinators. In addition, Intertech absorbed the best of Carpet Resources’ labor force, which was an in-house, union-affiliated group. Intertech chose not to be a union firm, but it did bring the group in-house as employees.
When Intertech started, it worked only in carpet and resilient and was focused primarily on corporate tenant finish work and higher education. Today the company serves all the sectors and has expanded into a full range of flooring finishes-broadloom and carpet tile, ceramic and stone, resilient, wood and wood-look, rubber and sports flooring. Soft surface flooring accounts for around 60% of business and hard surface 40%.
In 1991, Intertech added raised access flooring to its portfolio. Says Imhoff, “There aren’t many flooring companies that are successful in raised access flooring. It’s a very different installation than other flooring, and the product lines are sold more like furniture. Most of our competitors in raised access flooring are people who do that only.” Imhoff estimates that raised access flooring accounts for between 5% and 10% of business annually. Interestingly, Intertech’s team holds numerous high-security clearances for installing raised access flooring and other types of flooring in sensitive facilities across the U.S. and worldwide. To go along with its raised access flooring piece, the company added under-floor modular electrical systems as well.
In addition, in 2012, the company invested in offering Laticrete Supercap, a self-leveling compound that “gives us the ability to finish any slab issues on a grand scale-fixing the whole slab instead of just part,” Imhoff explains. The company can pour 40,000 square feet of Supercap in a day. It also has in-house certified International Concrete Repair Institute test engineers who use four systems for concrete substrate moisture vapor and alkalinity analysis as part of the company’s protocol.
DEVELOPING STRONG RELATIONSHIPS
Intertech enjoys repeat business with many large organizations-including 3M, Motorola and 3scale-and Imhoff believes this success is based largely on Intertech’s attention to detail. “When we work with a general contractor, we work on all the types of projects that they work on, and we also have folks that go in and help specify products with architects in each location,” explains Imhoff. “This helps drive the products that we sell. Most of the work we do is with repeat clients.”
Intertech works hard to foster relationships in all strata of decision-making. Over the years, the company has hosted a variety of unique programs for the A&D community, including bus trips to Mexico for shopping, regattas and scavenger hunts on Lake Travis, and dove hunts. The company also sponsors an endowment at the University of Texas San Antonio called Intertech Flooring Endowed Travel Scholarship in Interior Design, which offers the winning design student each year a trip to NeoCon.
Intertech has made three acquisitions over the course of its life. When DuPont sold off its DFS branches, Intertech purchased the Austin and San Antonio offices.
In addition, in 2009, it acquired RWA Flooring Solutions in Dallas/Fort Worth.
TAKING THE INSTALLATION BULL BY THE HORNS
While Intertech had an in-house labor program from inception, the company struggled to find like-minded subcontractors to supplement its house team, so it decided to do something about it. “We came up with our apprenticeship program,” recalls Imhoff. “The first version of it was a sheet of paper with 20 items scrawled on it that we wanted to teach. As we became more sophisticated, we found that the biggest draw was in high schools. We figured that if we could come up with a Department of Labor-approved program, it would be helpful to us, so we engaged a University of Texas graduate program to help us put together a three-year apprenticeship.” The first year of the program covers what Imhoff calls “installation 101,” the second year focuses on more advanced installation techniques, and the third covers project management and labor supervision.
Intertech submitted its plan to the Department of Labor, and it was approved, meaning that anyone who completes the 4,000-hour course-which includes 133 hours of classroom training during each of three years-is a certified journeyman. Today, Intertech partners with the Austin Community College and Northwest Independent School District for recruitment.
Says Imhoff, “We have trained about half the installers in this town [Austin] and San Antonio. As the company grew, we had more affiliations with outside sources to help us recruit and keep the program growing. Currently, probably 50% of our installers are in-house and 50% are subs.”
He continues, “I can’t tell you how many high school speeches I’ve made to folks, telling them that construction is a good alternative to high tech work in our marketplace. I’m on the WorkSource board and spend a lot of time with them working on workforce training. For a long time, the state of Texas had a law that required that school system to teach, basically, that every kid should go to college. That was a really tough thing for us to accept. They changed that law about five or six years ago, which allowed for an alternative direction program. It made a big difference in our ability to recruit. In fact, I met with the mayor of Austin recently, and we are looking at alternatives to offer more training at the high school level.”
In spite of all this, Imhoff reports that Intertech’s greatest challenge is and, in his estimation, will continue to be, “finding the right people to help us on the labor side. That’s a constant from here on out.”
Intertech was asked to join Starnet as a founding member but declined. “At the time, I just didn’t feel that I needed to network outside the local area,” says Imhoff, “but as I thought about it more, I thought networking with other commercial flooring contractors would be very beneficial, which it has been. We’re alike but not competitors. You really get to know others and help them do a better job.” Imhoff decided to join the organization in its second year.
When the country saw a string of corporate failures in the news, such as Enron, Imhoff decided it was time to construct a code of ethics for Intertech, which he did, and Starnet modeled its policy after Intertech’s.
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