Bill Luallen chats with Mark Bischoff, Vice President of Sales at Tarkett, to discuss flooring industry trends and standards.
Mark Bischoff learned very early in his career that doing the right thing for customers is key to longevity and success. While paying his way through college, Mark worked for Sears, the third largest flooring retailer in the country at the time. He notes, “Sears was a great place to learn the business because it was ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back’, even on installed products and services.” That experience helped to form his value system and, he states, “I still carry those lessons with me.”
How does Tarkett try to meet customer expectations? By offering a world-class system of products and services that satisfies the customer and improves their flooring experience. “Our industry tends to bundle products, but bundling is not a system,” Mark points out. “A modern grocery store is a bundle of products, and what Apple brings to the marketplace is a system.” Tarkett’s goal is to provide the ultimate flooring experience for their customer. While there’s still work to be done to meet that objective, he states, “Tarkett has found great success developing a broad and deep portfolio to support the client’s priorities.” He adds, “Clients recognize and respond to groups of flooring products and services that work together in a coordinated way – color, design, function, sustainability, life-safety, maintenance, reclamation.”
Everyone’s focus should be on the end user.
“The major issue we have as a manufacturer are the gaps in the customer experience after the product is in the field,” Mark notes. Customers tend to hold the manufacturer responsible for a negative experience. “If we are fortunate to provide perfectly manufactured flooring to a job site, the challenges in the schedule, site conditions, quality of labor, work of other trades, finished floor protection, and post construction maintenance can negatively impact the final result.” If end user experiences continue to be compromised, he believes, “More manufacturers will take control of revenue streams that used to reside in the channel to mitigate manufacturer risk.” He states, “Tarkett views this as a huge opportunity for the industry, not the manufacturer, to provide innovative solutions, but the value story is not being delivered to the correct audience. So much of the channel communication is directed toward the general contractor and managing suppliers instead of telling the value and outcome story to the end user.”
“The end user should be everyone’s target audience. Flooring helps to support end user business objectives, and we need to spend time with them to tell a sincere and compelling value story. The best value story shared with sincerity always wins.”
Building and providing a varied portfolio of solutions can be very effective in increasing business. Mark explains, “We try to manage the market opportunity as a chess game, not a game of checkers.” The acquisition of “best-in-class” companies in the last decade has expanded Tarkett’s reach in the marketplace. “FieldTurf, Johnsonite, Centiva, and Tandus were companies that were well-positioned and very successful in the marketplace when Tarkett acquired them,” he notes. “None of the brands were in trouble; in fact, they were all very healthy. Each acquisition brings unique manufacturing capabilities as well as incredibly talented people into the business.”
Appreciation is key when leading others.
“The early years at Johnsonite were an informal MBA course for me because I had a lot of exposure to superstars in the business – Jeff Buttitta, Carmen Pastore, Dick Major, Bill Riter,” Mark muses. He feels that many people were generous in sharing advice and encouraging him to succeed. He states, “Early on, I felt obligated to make that generosity count for something, and I did that by achieving as much as possible with their gifts to me.”
He has now shifted his focus to guiding others. “I want to be generous to my colleagues and customers, helping them achieve their career and business goals. I believe I have collected enough lessons that I can switch all of my focus to helping others succeed.”
“I have a great group of people on my team, and I am very interested in making sure that they surpass all of my successes. Another early career lesson for me – ‘It is an honor to lead and develop others.’ That is a fact.”
Tarkett’s technical team, lead by Scott Hopwood, spends quality time with industry organizations to support and enhance training. Working with these groups to promote continued education throughout the industry, “We take our participation in these organizations very seriously.” Because the travel and expenses to attend various functions and events can become a signicant budgetary item, Tarkett tries to add as much value as possible when they are in attendance. Mark mentions, “In addition to our industry participation, Tarkett provides training to our channel partners on a regular basis based on the specific needs of the account or project.”
Flooring innovation faces challenges.
Mark believes that resistance to innovation delays growth in the flooring industry. “The last few major examples of innovation in North America were the introduction of carpet tile, laminate flooring, and large format porcelain tile,” he notes, “And each of those innovations were resisted for decades.” Mark adds, “The construction industry puts up many hurdles to change. Incremental innovation – new patterns, larger sizes, adjustments to formulas – is accepted as long as it does not disrupt the pricing/bidding process or labor education levels.”
The slow process of updating building codes and ASTM standards also contributes to the lack of industry innovation. “Changes in technology have been outpacing the speed of the adoption of ASTM standards and building code updates for decades,” Mark points out. “Some would argue that this delay is healthy because it creates a time delay for the technology to be proven effective before being put into broad use. Others would argue that the delay harms industry productivity and profitability as well as protecting the established manufacturers.” But he notes, “The slow adoption of new ASTM standards minimizes the potential disruption by new market entrants, because ASTM standards take years to move through committee.” He feels that all of these issues are important for the industry to resolve.
“If the flooring industry embraced new technology and innovation at every stakeholder level like the automotive industry, we would all be much more profitable.”
Mark’s advice? Look to the automobile industry for innovation and how to work within standards and guidelines. “They set a great example for us to follow in the number of real innovations that occur every year – ABS, GPS, airbags, electronic fuel management, remote locks/start, Bluetooth integration, soft touch materials.” He acknowledges, “The automotive companies have standards that they have to follow as well as government, non-government, safety, emission, performance, and consumer influencers that they have to respond to globally. Despite all of those challenges and restrictions, they continue to innovate and deliver incredibly exciting products.”
Let’s preach the gospel of maintenance.
Unfortunately, Mark has had countless experiences when his team has been called out to a newly completed project because the end user wasn’t satisfied with the floor. “Post construction maintenance is rarely performed at the appropriate level to allow an end user to begin ongoing maintenance with positive results,” he states. Protecting the floor from other trades before project completion is also a concern. Mark mentions, “Carpet fiber that has been saturated with powdered joint compound or resilient flooring that has been exposed to construction traffic enhanced by clay soil will not meet the end users expectations for long term performance.” Maintenance issues highlight the gaps in the user experience that the industry must work to resolve. As he points out, “Happy end users create a thriving and profitable flooring industry.”
“Ongoing maintenance is important for the long term performance of the flooring material and the safety of the building occupants. Most of the products available in the industry today will perform well, even if they are abused.”
Mark also believes that shifts in real estate management will dictate changes in flooring maintenance. “We will see more products installed for shorter time periods,” he believes. The resilient flooring industry, which has traditionally been focused on the “life of the building” performance, could certainly be impacted by that trend. “Resilient products will have to be engineered for easy installation and reclamation in a 5-7 year use window,” and as he states, “That is a challenging design problem.”
Where is flooring headed?
Where does Mark see the industry headed in the future? He believes all flooring categories will experience surges in popularity due to new products and design trends. “Each category will continue to innovate incrementally, and you will see trends swing decade to decade,” he says. Mark also believes the word ‘custom’ will be rebranded as personalized design. He explains, “End users will demand continuity of design across the hard, resilient, and soft surface flooring. End users and their consultants will want more personalized design in resilient flooring than the industry currently provides.”
Technology will play a huge role in the future of the flooring industry. “At some point, the application of nano-LED lights or other visual technologies could make print film and embossing look like Stone Age technology,” Mark states. ”The entire floor could soon be as interactive and entertaining as a giant iPad!” These new and exciting changes in the industry will make the argument of resilient versus carpet mild in comparison.
Removing flooring from the general contractor’s scope of work, Mark believes, would have the most positive impact on the commercial flooring industry. “If the flooring was managed and purchased like office furniture, the client experience would have much more value, and the industry would be much healthier.” He adds, “Direct interaction with a client to uncover their expected outcome always leads to better choices – a better experience.”
“End users do not purchase flooring to cover the concrete. They purchase flooring to support their business mission and attract and retain the best customers and employees in the marketplace,” Mark notes. Consideration of the user experience should always be at the forefront of every project. He concludes, “Flooring helps to support end user business objectives, and we need to spend time with them to tell a sincere and compelling value story.”
Learn more about Tarkett today!
A world leader in integrated flooring and sports surface solutions, Tarkett has been providing unique flooring experiences each day for over 130 years in homes, schools, workplaces, hospitals, retail stores, hotels, and wherever sports are played.
Tarkett’s drive for flooring industry leadership through sustainable, profitable growth is based on key success factors that create value for all stakeholders.