A successful flooring product comes from a deep understanding of the needs of the end-user, whether they’re in a care home or a 5-star hotel, says Pierre Delabie, MD, Tarkett UK & Ireland. In this interview, Pierre explains why true craftsmanship and expertise, in products and applications – with a good helping of creativity – make for a successful flooring contractor. He also quips that the worst flooring installation he’s ever seen was the result of his own DIY efforts…
When and why did you join your company?
I joined Tarkett in 2014 to work at the head office in Paris. I was drawn to Tarkett because of its excellent reputation as an employer, as well as its commitment to CSR and sustainability, which I’ve always admired. I came at the time from the building materials company, Saint-Gobain.
Why are your company’s products better than your competitors’ products?
Our products are all created following the Tarkett Human-Conscious Designphilosophy, which illustrates our commitment to stand with present and future generations. Tarkett Human-Conscious Designis a business culture which allows us to create products that have minimal impact on the environment. These products can then be fully recycled through our ReStart take-back programme at our own recycling facilities. ReStart is dedicated to the collection of post-installation and post-consumer flooring, with the aim to recycle and reuse it as a new resource. Our ability to recycle products after their use is unique in our industry.
Our products are also designed with people in mind – the end-users of our products. We design everything ourselves, which is more unusual than you may think, and when I say that I don’t just mean the pattern and colour, but the way the product feels, performs, contributes to indoor air quality and all manner of factors.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could give all flooring contractors?
Switch everything to Tarkett of course. It isn’t my place to tell contractors how they should run their business, however I believe that now more than ever we should be striving to ensure every project delivers as much as possible in terms of sustainability and potential future environmental impact. We need to be constantly asking ourselves what more we can do in this regard. For instance, there’s much ‘disinformation’ about the carbon neutrality of products in our industry – closer examination of those claims often doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Potentially in 10 years’ time we could have an awful lot of ‘carbon neutral’ flooring products in landfill or being incinerated – hence emitting C02 in the air. Ideally all floors should be completely recycled into new floors, which is exactly what we’re striving towards at Tarkett.
What’s the worst flooring installation you’ve seen, and why?
My bathroom. I attempted some ill-advised DIY. Yes, I’m sorry, I will always consult a specialist in future. It’s safe to say I’ve learnt my lesson!
Who, outside your company, do you most admire in the industry?
Prior to our acquisition, I was always a fan of the DESSO brand and the way they conducted themselves. Aside from DESSO I respect the tenacity and resilience of the UK residential carpet industry generally.
What’s the secret to a successful flooring installation?
I can now genuinely personally attest that it is to consult a specialist and rely on them to perform the perfect subfloor preparation. Luckily, I am surrounded by Tarkett’s installation experts who will make sure that there is no repeat of my bathroom flooring mistake. When it comes to installation, Tarkett is committed to supporting its customers every step of the way to ensure the best possible results and experience.
And what’s the secret to creating a successful flooring product?
A deep understanding of the needs of the end-user. From the person who lives in a care home to the traveller in a 5-star hotel, addressing their needs is what makes a product successful. That plus trouble-free installation and comfort for the installer is a significant factor.
What worries you most about the challenges facing the industry?
We must do a much better job in terms of convincing end-users of the need for genuinely sustainable products and recycling. Carbon offsetting is a good thing generally, but it is not the complete answer. Planting trees somewhere to offset the carbon emissions generated from making a product, which will be incinerated at the end of its life, is definitely not the way forward. We’ve also seen in the recent months how the supply chain for raw materials can impact on our ability to deliver products to our customers on time and at an acceptable cost, we’re working hard to ensure we minimise the impact of potential future scenarios of this kind.
What in your opinion is the most important characteristic of a successful flooring contractor?
True craftsmanship and expertise, in products and applications – with a good helping of creativity. A successful flooring contractor needs to think about the bigger picture of how flooring can be good for people and the planet, by thinking of wellbeing and people’s physical health and needs, as well as transparency of materials used, sustainability and environmental impact to name a few. Obviously as well as ensuring an attractive and stylish outcome and an array of designs to provide architects and designers with endless combinations and options.
In today’s economic climate, what’s the biggest threat to your company’s profitability?
Seemingly nothing has helped recently due to the pandemic. The raw materials cost increases over the past year have hit us, just like everybody else, and we have absorbed our fair share. The strength of Tarkett is our broad portfolio. We serve every market sector, so while we may lose in hospitality projects, we gain in healthcare for example. Multi-segment recession is the biggest threat.
In what state is the flooring industry emerging from Covid-19, in your opinion?
We cannot see the full picture yet. Projects are recovering, the market is recovering, however I believe the end of the furlough scheme may reveal some further issues. Generally, I think we can be quite proud of how our industry has behaved compared to some others.
How does the industry solve the problem of no new blood coming through the ranks?
It seems obvious to say but investment in our people, in training, in ensuring the industry and its disciplines are appealing enough. It is important to continually build trust through our industry, to show how we’re committed to creating more than just flooring, instead creating products with so many beneficial qualities for interiors, while protecting the environment around us. By building exposure and trust the industry will be more appealing to new blood.
Does your company do a good job helping contractors when products go wrong?
We like to think so of course, but it doesn’t happen often. Frequently an issue turns out to be down to training or erroneous specification. However, Tarkett’s policy is to always be open with our customers in all relevant aspects of the business. Our technical team spends a lot of time around the country supporting contractors onsite, providing quick and professional help.
What would you tell a contractor who complained about sustainable products costing them more money?
On top of just being ‘the right thing to do’, truly sustainable products and services will offer a competitive edge when tendering on a project. When we collect and recycle used carpet tiles or homogeneous flooring on a refurbishment scheme rather than sending them to landfill or incineration, we answer to a growing need among property owners and end-users to step away from a linear economy. That is creating value on its own.
If you weren’t in the flooring industry, what would you be doing?
That is a tricky one! I like to think I would have pursued my childhood dream of being a pilot – but with regards to being conscious about carbon emissions, this does not fit so well with my aspiration these days.
What is your favourite flooring installed in your home?
My last position was in Sweden where Tarkett’s wooden flooring is made, so I do love my engineered parquet as I got to experience the processes and story behind the mesmerising result. However, of course now as an ‘honorary Brit‘ I’m very much enjoying having carpets in the house – never in the bathroom though!