People over Product: how this growing distributor stays humble | by Caroline Busch
A family-owned business with four generations of talented wood craftsmen, Quality Wood Floors has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the late 1890s, in a small workshop in Europe. Though times have certainly changed and the company has evolved into a business-to-business model that services independent retailers in Arizona, VP of Operations George Braica says the company’s core values have remained the same.
As one of the first three participants in Ceramics of Italy’s Young Distributor Program, which aims to bring a new generation of distributors to Cersaie each year, Braica feels inspired to apply what he’s learned about the ceramics industry to help grow his company even more.
How did your experience at Cersaie help grow your understanding of ceramic tile as a sustainable, architectural material?
Experiencing Cersaie really helped me understand the great capabilities and applications that are possible with ceramic tile. Ceramic can be used on floors, walls, sinks, showers, tables, and even countertops. The whole house and entire commercial projects can be covered using ceramics! It also taught me that ceramics are truly sustainable. An interesting fact I was reminded of is that porcelain tiles are the original waterproof flooring solution – they’ve been around much longer than vinyl waterproof flooring has been on the market. The pure fact that ceramics have no formaldehyde and are more sustainable than any other construction material in the home helped me gain a renewed perspective on the benefits of using ceramic.
Historically, Quality Wood Floors specializes in hardwood flooring. How do you plan to expand the company’s product inventory in the future?
We are planning to change our name to Quality Flooring Distribution so that our customers know we are not limited to wood-look flooring. We would like to diversify our product offering by bringing in carpet tiles to capture the commercial market, and that needs to be backed up by inventory. We are growing organically at an average rate of 18% per year. We are sensitive to market trends and have responded accordingly, but our direction for 2020 is to drive the market trend to what is better suited for different applications.
I am really inspired by the sustainable attributes of porcelain, which I learned more about at Cerasie. On a longer-term basis, maybe in 3 to 5 years, I definitely see the possibility of a whole new ceramics division with everything from porcelain slabs to hardscape pavers. Partnering with more porcelain tile suppliers would help us accomplish our goal of incorporating more “green” technology into our product line.
Who are your main clients and how have their demands evolved over the past 5-10 years?
Our business is comprised of mostly independent retailers, and we operate with a business-to-business model. We really value our long-term customers, who are like family to us. Everyone helps everyone at every step of the way – not only to sell a product, but on a personal level as well.
Eight to ten years ago, a majority of the sales were wood. Then within two to three years, laminates held a majority of the sales, but only with a small headway over wood. As wood-look tiles started being developed, they began to capture the sales market, moving from single to double digits. In 2017, vinyl waterproof flooring started hitting the market, and we have been riding that for the last two to three years.
We see the market still being dominated by SPC waterproof products for two to three years, but also a slight comeback from ceramics and laminates, as they have responded well to increased competition with vinyl waterproof flooring. As people are reminded about the benefits of ceramic, we will see a slight single digit move away from plastic-based materials and back to ceramics, wood and laminates, which are more organic products.
What are some key challenges facing the hard surfacing industry today? What steps can retailers and distributors take to overcome them?
These days, the market is cluttered with so much information and so many different product types. There is a lot to choose from, and clients are getting pulled in many different directions. The market is not as traditional as it used to be, with hard surfacing in the main areas and bathrooms, and carpet in the bedrooms. Today, clients are being advised to go with hard surfaces everywhere. And more than that, they are being advised by 4 different product categories: wood, laminate, ceramic, and waterproof flooring.
The first thing distributors and retailers can do is to make the selection process simpler and more user-friendly. Don’t clutter people’s minds with the specs – focus on the project’s main goals and help people select the products that meet those goals. By making the buying process simple and clear, you are more likely to close the sale. Secondly, businesses need to know who they are at the core and trust their business model to take them through any challenges. Who we are doesn’t change – our vision, our mission, our values and principles don’t change. Thirdly, take care of your customers. Don’t make it about the product. People stay, but products go. At Quality Wood Floors, our core principle is people over product.
What are your company’s core values, and how do you live up to them each day?
Our vision is to enhance the quality of life at every step. That is why we exist as a company – it is our motivation and what drives our everyday decisions. Our core values – teamwork, integrity, efficiency and service – are what tie us together as a company:
TEAMWORK means collaborative communication, shared partnership, and solution-focused thinking.
INTEGRITY means reliability, honesty and trust.
EFFICIENCY means simple and easy processes, clear pathways, and urgent digital speed.
SERVICE means knowing customers by name, positive impressions and interactions, and exceeding expectations.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love most is when we get to help people make their lives better by growing our team and challenging them to reach their full potential, sharing joy with our clients, being by their side throughout the whole process, and helping them grow their businesses. We love to help people, and that is the most rewarding part. Things come and go, but touching people’s lives is forever.