Contract Dealer Survey 2017: Product, process and partnerships - Dec 2017

By Darius Helm

According to contract dealers in this biennial survey, while the commercial flooring market is making gains, doing business in that market seems to be more challenging than ever, with competition from novice contract dealers, a lack of experienced craftsmen, direct selling from manufacturers and compressed construction schedules all combining to create a volatile business climate.

Whatever equilibrium once existed in the commercial contracting world has given way to tilted fields, with the various players struggling for control on projects that require a cooperative philosophy to succeed. From the perspective of flooring contractors, they’re not sufficiently consulted at the front end of projects, general contractors don’t allow enough time for flooring installation, subfloor conditions are inadequate (in part as a result of those compressed schedules), payment is excessively delayed and back-end fixes, frequently not their fault, shrink their profit margins.

Not all contract dealers are overwhelmed by these turbulent conditions. About ten percent of the respondents to this year’s survey seem to navigate the waters with relative ease, reporting strong partnerships with facility managers, manufacturers, designers and even general contractors, along with a steady, seasoned labor force.

Where all contractors do agree is on how projects would run a lot better and be more successful if their advice were more frequently solicited-and heeded. It’s a safe bet that every other player in the process feels the same way, but at least on paper, contract dealers do seem to have expertise in all the key elements. They know what is required in jobsite conditions, along with the timing and duration of their product installation, and they know the products themselves, across all categories and generally many manufacturers. They would argue that architects and designers know more about the color and design of products than about their performance, installation requirements and maintenance profiles. And reps, of course, only represent the interests of their employers. Facility managers are too overwhelmed with the escalating complexity of their jobs to stay on top of all the product specs, installation and maintenance. And general contractors don’t understand the requirements for flooring installation, yet they manage the project.

That’s not to say that contract dealers are always the unbiased purveyors of unsullied wisdom. They may not be aligned with a specific manufacturer-unless they’re part of Shaw’s Spectra contract dealer network-but if they’re a part of groups like Starnet and Fuse they do have a network of preferred flooring producers. And even independent contract dealers form mutually beneficial, if informal, partnerships.

One contract dealer summed it up best this year, in response to a question about what changes dealers would like to see in their relationship with manufacturers: “I want to see continued growth in sales with our key manufacturers. It’s important for us to maintain a relationship with reps that bring opportunities to us and to specify their products as often as possible in return.”

The issue becomes moot when manufacturers sell direct to end users, who then turn to contract dealers for installation. Some contract dealers refuse to install flooring they didn’t sell. Others will do it if they can also provide ongoing maintenance, or they’ll do it for a manufacturer partner.

Floor Focus asked contract dealers about their position on installing product they don’t sell. This year, 51% had a negative response, about the same as the last survey, with 14% taking a neutral stance, 10% claiming they’ll do it under certain conditions (e.g. national accounts, Starnet members), and 25% saying they’re happy to do it-as one contract dealer put it, “Allow us to get our pricing and I have no issues with it.” Another dealer noted that it “has to be a very important relationship to tie up manpower for this segment.”

Contract dealers point out that the problem is not just that they’re losing an opportunity to sell the flooring, but there’s also the issue of who ends up being responsible for the project. One dealer said, “We prefer not to [install flooring we didn’t sell], as it results in no one being ultimately accountable for a finished floor. Clients want accountability, but take the risk in the interest of a perceived lower price, though in fact when the functions are separated, no one is responsible for the final flooring project.”

For the complete Contract Dealer Survey results, see the December 2017 issue of Floor Focus Magazine.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc., The International Surface Event (TISE), Fuse Alliance, Fuse, Spectra Contract Flooring, Lumber Liquidators, Starnet