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Sustainability costs more? That’s a misperception…

Jake Parks, commercial distribution manager at IVC Commercial, says it’s a myth that sustainable products cost more, and asks whether there’s a true understanding of what sustainability really is.

Jake Parks answers several questions relating to the state of the flooring industry and of his company including challenges ahead and issues pertaining to sustainability and training

When and why did you join your company?

I joined in February 2012 after seeing an advert for a new commercial sheet vinyl brand building a sales team to enter the UK market. Having seen how successful IVC Group had been in other markets, and also being fortunate enough to have sold its residential products when I was working in for previous companies, I knew I wanted to be an integral part of the new team.

Why are your company’s products better than your competitors’ products?

For me, there are several reasons I value the products, but the main three are: attention to detail in product design and aesthetics, along with an understanding of what installers look for in products, and great dimensional stability. The ability to manufacture good-looking products that are user-friendly for the installers to work with is key to our success.

What one piece of advice do you wish you could give all flooring contractors?

Invest in moisture-testing equipment. It always amazes me the number of ‘professional’ flooring installers who take a chance on whether a sub-floor is damp or not!

What’s the worst flooring installation you’ve seen, and why?

I once saw a customer who had laid a domestic carpet upside down ¬– that was horrific.

Who, outside your company, do you most admire in the industry?

There are many people I respect in the flooring game, largely due to their success, but the one person I admire the most is Tim Booth. He gave me my first sales role in the flooring industry, taking a chance on a lad with a huge ego and no formal sales experience. It could have been an awful decision that backfired on him – I admire and appreciate the faith he showed in me.

What’s the secret to a successful flooring installation?

It’s a cliché but preparation is key, not just the subfloor but also acclimatisation of products, understanding the area of installation, access to site, the fitter’s abilities and ultimately the client’s expectations. If all aspects of the preparation are carried out correctly, more often than not, the installation will be successful.

And what’s the secret to creating a successful flooring product?

Confidence in your product. I see so many good products enter the market that never make the impact they should, simply because confidence in just how good it is seems to be lacking.

What worries you most about the challenges facing the industry?

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is in ensuring there’s enough talent and skill to deliver high-quality work in the future. There’s no doubt manufacturers are making huge inroads in developing products that are easier to install in a range of environments, but there’s still no substitute for best practice. Floor installation is a demanding and physical job, so it’s important that we’re in an industry that is attractive for other reasons, such as career progression.

What in your opinion is the most important characteristic of a successful flooring contractor?

Integrity. Every flooring contractor makes mistakes, but it’s the way they deal with them that deems how successful they are.

In today’s economic climate, what’s the biggest threat to your company’s profitability?

Ultimately, it’s about the difficulties of supply and the associated increase of raw materials compared to the willingness of clients to absorb price increases, but this isn’t exceptional to our business. Indeed, it affects manufacturing businesses across all sectors. The cost of goods is rising right across the board and while raw materials supplies are expected to stabilise, it’s likely higher material costs will remain.

In what state is the flooring industry emerging from Covid-19, in your opinion?

Well, I think the boom in residential flooring caught everyone on the hop, but unfortunately commercial sectors didn’t weather quite so well. The closure of construction sites at the beginning of the pandemic certainly had a big impact, projects were put on stop as businesses thought about their offices, and hotels and hospitality venues lost huge amounts of revenue. The office sector is certainly picking up and some might say that the adaption of existing stock is having a positive influence. However, in other sectors there’s still some way to go until confidence is high enough to consider investment in new interiors.

How does the industry solve the problem of no new blood coming through the ranks?

We must make it an attractive industry for people to work in, particularly for installers. As I said earlier, it’s demanding work. I think national apprenticeships and CSCS cards are a great place to start, but we could do with more regulation for higher standards right across the board, and not just on major construction projects or with the national contractors. Of course, we also need to make floor fitting in other ways too. It needs to be seen as a skilled profession – just like electricians or plumbers – and more regulation will help with this in time.

Does your company do a good job helping contractors when products go wrong?

Absolutely, it’s been fundamental to the success of the business. The key for us is to be ahead of any potential issues, and this can only be achieved by engaging closely with our contractors, so they understand a product’s limitations. Failures on site are far easier to address before they ever get to site.

What would you tell a contractor who complained about sustainable products costing them more money?

I’d challenge that statement from the off because I think it’s a myth. First, I would ask a contractor why they think sustainable products are more costly because I genuinely don’t think they are. Second, I would challenge them on what they think sustainability is. There’s a lot of dialogue in the market about sustainability without a true understanding, hence the misconception that sustainable products are more costly than non-sustainable alternatives.

If you weren’t in the flooring industry, what would you be doing?

A few years ago, I would have said I’d be a fighter pilot, but age isn’t on my side these days. With the internet being what it is, I’d probably have retrained to be a computer programmer or web-developer.

What is your favourite flooring installed in your home?

In my study I have our Studio Moods Trapezoid in Sierra Oak with a full-plank border in the same colour. The effect created using the shapes in Vortex is quite stunning. It was laid on Flex Pro Underlay too, so the installation was fast and clean.

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