Successful growth as a commercial flooring contractor is a tricky endeavor. In most cases, you start out with a small crew of one or two capable installers. Your work and customer service quickly become known for their high quality. You steadily gain ground with an increasing customer base, trying to balance the workflow coming in with what your small team can execute. So now what?
“It’s the chicken and the egg scenario,” said Jim Wilkinson, vice president of Kansas City-based contractor Image Flooring. “You need trained and certified installers to win more bids and work on specific projects, but you also need to secure the projects and provide jobs to attract trained and certified installers.”
With Image Flooring, Wilkinson experienced firsthand all the challenges and opportunities involved in growing from a small, single-shop operation in Kansas City to a fast-growing industry leader with three satellite offices and 40-plus employees throughout the region—and counting.
That kind of success is a testament to a sound business strategy geared for growth. But it wouldn’t have happened without another element in the process: a strong partner within the flooring industry to help refine and support Image Flooring’s business goals.
Wilkinson founded Image Flooring in 2000 with just two full-time employees, and they contracted out all labor. Expansion was a key component of their approach from the very beginning, and they grew steadily from the Kansas City metropolitan area to smaller markets within a couple of hours from their office. With a reputation built on quality, they began to earn larger, higher-profile jobs, such as the flooring installation for the Kansas City Chiefs training facility.
While the work was high-caliber, the more they expanded the more they saw everything from scheduling and business development to quality control and customer satisfaction was becoming more challenging with a shifting staff of untrained, third-party laborers.
As a result, Image Flooring turned to INSTALL, an association of flooring industry professionals that supports the trade by partnering with contractors and manufacturers to advance installer training and market specialization. The INSTALL Partnership Program—a time-tested method of collaboration with flooring contractors to grow their business in new markets—helps contractors locate key geographic hot spots of construction growth, offering in-the-field expertise, recruitment and cultivating industry relationships.
By taking advantage of this partnership, Image Flooring supported its sales efforts by recruiting installers within the industry and advancing their skills through INSTALL’s cutting-edge training curriculum and certification programs.
“Image Flooring was a trailblazer,” said Jason Engels, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central South Carpenters. “They address every situation strategically. When it comes to recruiting, they go all in. On-the-job training—they revitalized it. And their approach to market growth and outreach to customers is excellent. When they started with the Partnership Program, no other contractors were doing these kinds of things.”
Image Flooring’s Wilkinson attests to the value of the INSTALL program. “We feel like we have a true partner standing side by side working to get more work and more qualified labor. This collaboration has really helped to move our efforts forward.”
To Kansas and Beyond
In 2016, when the Image Flooring team began considering expanding beyond its immediate and nearby markets, the business potential was considerable. At the same time, there were many unknowns. For example, what geographic areas were prime expansion targets? How could they attract customers in a new market without the luxury of name recognition? How would they enlist qualified installers for their expansion and make sure new jobs would be executed with the same level of quality on which Image Flooring had built its reputation?
Early on in the expansion journey, the market Image Flooring was attempting to conquer—namely Texas and the entire South Central U.S.—was too large to be sustainable. With INSTALL’s help, they refocused their target markets to three main geographic areas: Wichita, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“These locations made the most sense from a geographic standpoint,” Wilkinson explained. “They’re close enough that we can send installers and other resources from our home office, if necessary, and the support of INSTALL’s industry networks in the areas made it very beneficial in hiring and obtaining new business.”
There was also a tactical advantage—market familiarity. “We knew who the players were, from end users and the specifying community,” Wilkinson said. “We also knew who our competitors were and what they had been doing in the past.”
Since 2017, Image Flooring has seen steady sales growth in all three markets, relying in no small part on attracting high-caliber employees who are committed to quality. Two key recent hires include experienced project manager Amy Pile and 24-year flooring industry veteran Dan Sparks in business development.
Presently, two office staffers are based in each of the markets to help with organization, along with four installers in the field. And through INSTALL’s reputation and connections in the labor pool, there are enough new installers in training ready to come on board as business continues to increase.
“We are beginning to get enough work to start looking at very specific installers,” Wilkinson stated. “And INSTALL is committed to getting our new members trained and certified.”
As Image Flooring’s success continues in newer markets, the team is eyeing even more strategic growth based on the two main guiding principles that differentiate the company from its competitors: unrivaled quality and customer satisfaction. All efforts, from hiring and training to installation and market outreach, stem from these philosophies.
“It is very difficult to grow profitably in today’s market,” Wilkinson noted. “Looking for market areas with a thirst for quality that has been missing for years has been a good strategy.”
Along the way, Wilkinson and his team will continue to look to INSTALL as a trusted partner to help them maintain and expand their industry foothold and position the growing business for success in future markets.
“INSTALL has been the catalyst for recruiting, training, certification and expansion,” Wilkinson stated. “The fact that manufacturers recognize INSTALL as the leader in these areas helps us present those values to all potential customers. Current specifiers of INSTALL, like designers of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, help proved a base of work to build our team around. Meeting with INSTALL on a regular basis in a collaborative fashion with a common goal of expanding is the single-most positive thing we are doing to grow.”