Tap the builder market

feature CO sept oct-2Multi-generation success based on relationships — and trust

How does a tiny flooring store become a large regional contractor almost overnight? No, it’s not magic. It has been done in the real world, and that path to growth and prosperity in Canadian contract flooring involves a combination of hard work, salesmanship, entrepreneurialism, and ingenuity. It also involves knowing how to tap a potentially huge growth sector in flooring: the builder market.

Just ask J.D. Pacione, vice president of Quality Rugs of Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont., whose company was founded by his father, Joseph, about 40 years ago under the most humble of circumstances. According to Pacione, “You know, my father used to work all day installing a floor, come home, take a shower, put a shirt and tie on, and go out there and sell. He was a hard worker, but he was also a salesman.”

The flooring operation and store were tiny at the time, but the man’s vision wasn’t. Joseph Pacione decided to approach one of the region’s most significant condo developers, Tridel, with a proposition they ultimately couldn’t refuse. According to the son, J.D., the stories have become legend within the family and company.

Pacione says, “In hindsight, it was ingenious. Tridel needed flooring installed for three buildings they were constructing. At the time, parquet floors were all the rage. This is where my father saw an opportunity. Why do what everyone else is doing? Why not offer customers something different, something of value, and something that would set them above the crowd? Tridel was convinced, they had Quality Rugs install broadloom in the three buildings, and the rest is history.”

feature CO sept oct-1

J.D. Pacione is proud of Quality Rugs’ success with builders, and confident that he can walk into any of their offices with an established reputation and foundation for trust.

In fact, the project was so successful that, according to Pacione, it started an explosion of broadloom installations across the region that set a trend lasting for years. Yet, if this seemingly rags-to-riches story comes across as being easy, it wasn’t. Growing a flooring company by developing relationships with builders involves proving oneself and one’s business in a number of ways.

Asked to explain what factor contributed most to Quality Rugs’ successful relationships with builders, Pacione says, “We’re tight. We watch each other’s backs. You develop a sense of trust. Doing work for a big builder isn’t easy. They know that. We also know their job isn’t easy, either. Builders only get paid once the home is finished, so we all work together to make sure that happens.”

Do stairs constitute flooring? They’re walked on. They have flooring product installed on top. So why not? Either way, stair companies develop relationships with builders just like flooring contractors do, and the formula for success is similar. According to Dale Shipway, vice president of Shipway Stairs in Burlington, Ont., “What works in homebuilding is providing value to the customer, excellent customer service, loyalty and working with great people.”

Shipway expands on what it takes to work with large builders. He says, “It’s a lot of things. They sometimes ask sacrifices of us, and we’ll do the same with them. For a certain project, they might need a better price. We’ll give it. On the other hand, we might tell the builder we can’t do a job a certain way, and they’ll listen to us. In the end, there’s trust and a long-term successful relationship building.”

It doesn’t take a very long examination of Canada’s construction market to realize the importance relationships have in the sector. Many of these companies grew up together, so to speak, and form part of the foundation of Canada’s homebuilding. Indeed, many of the founding pioneers of today’s large builders and contractors are being replaced by none other than offspring.

J.D. Pacione himself is an example of carrying on his father’s legacy in the construction industry. The Shipway brothers have children working in their facilities, too. Peter Gilgan, founder of Mattamy Homes, has tutored his son, Matt, in the finer arts of home construction. All these companies started out together, and grew and blossomed together, to form long-lasting relationships between builder and specialty contractor.

There are a few ways to look at these relationships. One is to conclude that they’re cast in stone and can never be replaced by upstart construction-sector businesses. Another way to look at such relationships is to follow their lead. Pacione provides some insight into how it’s done.

He says, “What many people don’t realize is just how important the day-to-day management is when working for a builder. Jobsite coordination is crucial. On top of that, flooring contractors come in near the very end, which is when all the time pressures exist. Only by ensuring a builder that you have the management skills necessary can you gain their confidence and keep getting work from them.”

One management technique Pacione says that Quality Rugs has used to maximum effectiveness is to test their installers through trial by fire. He says, “When you work with builders, it usually means you get a lot of work. So, when we first hire an installer, we give them a lot of work. If they can handle it, then welcome aboard. If not, we move on.”

It is this kind of discipline that impresses a builder like Mattamy, which predictably has established long-standing relationships with both Shipway and Quality Rugs. They all started out as small construction-sector operations, and used their talents and skills to help each other grow and prosper. Andrea Royers, contracts manager for Mattamy, says, “We’re always open to new relationships, but we also keep going with contractors that have proven themselves, too.”

Whether or not a contractor has worked with Mattamy in the past, there are certain qualities that the builder is looking for in a relationship. Royers says, “We work with contractors with good site-management skills, that have design capabilities, can handle many issues in-house, provide warranties, and can provide follow-up services to the customer.”

In other words, builders like Mattamy are looking for contractors, including flooring specialists, that can make their jobs as easy as possible. For Mattamy, this means, on the one hand, they choose the flooring manufacturers they like and, on the other hand, they hire flooring contractors to handle just about everything else, from buying the flooring from the manufacturer and working on design and installation, to dealing with the customer.

Pacione agrees that the way to a builder’s heart is to make his job as easy as possible. While cost is a factor, it can’t be the only factor. Builders need to succeed by providing value to the customer, and flooring contractors have to help in that endeavour. Pacione says, “We’re constantly looking for ways to give builders an edge in the marketplace.”

One way Quality Rugs does this is by scouring the earth, almost literally, for new and innovative products that provide value at lower costs. It’s a formula that worked for the company in the beginning when broadloom was the new and innovative kid on the block, but times change, and so has Quality Rugs with it. In fact, any flooring company needs to keep innovating in order to keep succeeding.

Pacione provides a brief history lesson on product innovation in the flooring industry: “While we rode the wave of broadloom installations when we first started, the mid-80s came along, and with it the pre-finished hardwood craze. No longer did customers have to wait to get their hardwood floors finished on-site, which came with all the logistical problems, smells, you name it. It was now possible to install pre-finished hardwood at a lower cost but higher value to the end-user.”

Pacione continues, “So, we had to start adapting, too, and not always as quickly or as early as we would have liked. We started doing pre-finished hardwood, too. Now, decades later, we’re not only doing carpet and hardwood, but other products like laminate — you name it. The key is to always keep looking, and always be ready to start a trend, or to ride it once it starts.”

That Quality Rugs’ success is owed largely to its business with builder clients is reflected on its website, where testimonials are provided by a who’s who in the homebuilder community, including Mattamy, Rosehaven Homes, Esquire Homes and PCL Constructors. Quality Rugs’ success with its initial builder customer, Tridel, was so successful that they shared the same building space for a period of time.

For flooring contractors and dealers across Canada, a story like Quality Rugs can be seen either as a hurdle or as an inspiration. It can be seen as a hurdle because the company has been so good at establishing and maintaining longstanding relationships with builders that are hard to compete with. Says Pacione, “Nowadays, I can walk into any builder’s office and our reputation speaks for itself. Much of the work has already been done.”

However, Quality Rugs’ story can also be seen as an inspiration, or even a model. There are countless established builders in Canada looking for a Joseph Pacione out there who can provide innovation and value to the market. There are also new builders coming into the market looking to grow and build with others, just as Quality Rugs, Tridel, Mattamy and Shipway did together all those decades ago.

Who knows, maybe your flooring company can be the next homebuilding partner that provides value, innovation, entrepreneurialism and ingenuity to the Canadian construction sector.

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