Strategic Exchange: In difficult times, it’s important to see the silver lining - June 2020

By Kemp Harr

There are many who would like to wake up tomorrow and see the world as we saw it March 1st and say, “Wow, what a nightmare!” But as each day goes on, we realize we are not in a dream state. This is the reality-at least for the near term.

If you haven’t heeded the advice of your trusted advisers and limited your television news intake, there is really no help for you. Of course, there are other sadistic practices you might consider for entertainment, like sticking a bobby pin into an electrical socket. It does seem as if the list of journalists that wake up every morning seeking the truth is getting shorter and shorter-but I’m digressing.

There are many, like my wife, Anne, who see a silver lining in this virus-induced slowdown: cheaper gas, cleaner air, more family time, a slower pace of life, more time to exercise (bike sales are way up), less time in traffic, home-cooked meals, more time spent outdoors, distraction from political campaigns.

But, we are social animals that crave interaction. We miss the 4 a.m. wake-up calls, long TSA lines, priority boarding based on how much you’ve spent on your airline credit card, long flights with our knees pressed against the seat ahead of us, hotel check-ins where we discover our request of a king has been ignored. Wasn’t life grand?

All kidding aside, we do miss our friends in the business, the relationships we’ve nurtured and built that help us accomplish our strategic plan. As business owners, we recognize the need for regular installments of those relationships; otherwise we’ll no longer be plugged in and we’ll lose our competitive edge.

In the third week of May, I was invited to participate in a Zoom meeting hosted by I4F that attracted an impressive group of flooring business leaders. The goal of the meeting was to identify the changes within the flooring business that might become the new normal as a result of COVID-19. Refreshingly, every participant in the discussion was more interested in learning from the group than preaching their own stances.

We batted around the short-term share shift we’ve been observing and voted on what this might mean to the business long term. The shift to DIY from products requiring professional installation, the shift from independent retail to the home centers and category killers, the shift from soft surface flooring to hard surface flooring, the shift from brick-and-mortar retail to e-commerce, and the shift to home offices from commercial workspace. We also discussed whether country of origin might become a bigger factor to the American consumer, and whether Millennials will drive the demand for sustainable products that are more expensive.

I don’t have permission to publish the results of the discussion, but I can summarize a few points. The limited changes that will most likely become permanent were already underway, and all the virus did was speed the process up. The shift to easy-to-install products is being driven more by a shortage of installers than anything else, and the consumer prefers a more personalized buying and installation process when made available. So DIFM beats out DIY in the end. On the question of sustainability, the Millennials will drive the shift to greener products-even if they’re more expensive.

Right before press time, we learned that Huali Floors, one of the leading Chinese producers of rigid LVT, is opening a factory and a U.S. headquarters in Chatsworth, Georgia-just east of Dalton. The operation is slated to create at least 315 jobs. The 400,000-square-foot building they are moving into was built by Mattex in 2013 to produce carpet backing. Most of you probably haven’t heard of Huali, but they were one of the early pioneers in the business and they are major player in the fastest-growing flooring category. Soon, boxes of their product sold here will say “Made in the USA.”

Success seems to come to those who aren’t afraid to become a disrupter in the marketplace. I’m often amused at the business leaders that I meet that are fans of Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones. Often, one of their favorite songs starts with, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.”

In April, when most thought we’d never hear another new hit from the aging Stones, they released “Living in a Ghost Town.” So here we are, eerily living in a sequestered world and out comes a huge hit with timely lyrics that nails the irony of cities around the world with nobody on the streets. This is the Stones’ first single in four years. I urge you to watch the video to see 76-year-old Mick eating the microphone and playing the harmonica with a passion. “Life was beautiful and then we all got locked down. A party of one!”

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at

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