After a total of 35 years in the flooring industry, Mike Roberts, managing partner at Bonitz, will retire from the company and industry this year. He reflects on his time in the industry, his professional growth while at Bontiz and what the future has in store for the company and industry.
Q: How did you get started in the flooring industry?
I was happy working in the real estate brokerage business when a close friend approached me about leasing a building that I owned. He had started a residential flooring business and was trying to find a location for his first office after working out of his home for about one year. After many conversations, he told me that he would like to lease my building but only if I would buy a 50% interest in his company. What he was asking me to pay for 50% of the business was considerably less than the value of a three-year lease on a building that was currently sitting empty. The idea seemed like a no-brainer, so I made the deal to purchase a 50% share of the business and he signed a lease on the building. We immediately realized that we were going to become a good team and that we had a great partnership. I continued selling and leasing real estate, but it seemed that every deal had a need for flooring, so there was synergy right from the get-go. We grew rapidly and soon began to focus on the commercial flooring segment of the business. After two years, I left the real estate business and started working as a commercial flooring contractor full time. We had to move four times over a 10 year period, each time to a larger location. We eventually were acquired by Bonitz in 2000, where I have worked as a managing partner for 20 years of my 35 years in the industry.
My flooring career is coming to a close as I have made a decision to retire this year. My luck at getting into the flooring business has been fun and financially rewarding. My luck at being hired at Bonitz for the past 20 years has been exciting and fun and this job has almost never felt like work. Bonitz has a culture and vision that is both meaningful and motivational. Bonitz has some of the smartest and hardest working flooring professionals that I have ever known. I have been proud to be a part of the Bonitz team and I have learned a lot by working at this company. I consider the last 20 years at Bonitz to be the apex of my career, and I will sorely miss my teammates and all the friends that I have made over the last 35 years in the industry. I have been fortunate to work for some great leaders at Bonitz, but most notably Harold Chapman, Pete Larmore, and Phil Ashley They have been great leaders and I have benefited from their council and advice and their friendship.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the flooring industry?
I have always felt like we are in the construction business not just the flooring business, and we do the final and most important piece of the puzzle. The products that we sell and the professional installation that we provide, brings life, color, excitement, and design and provides a stage for the culture and vision that a company is seeking for their own team. This is the fun part for me. To see it all come together, and provide a comfortable, and fun working environment for a business. There is nothing better than a happy customer at the conclusion of a job, and that is very gratifying.
Q: How is business? What opportunities and challenges are you seeing?
We are very optimistic at Bonitz that we are going to have one of our best years ever. The economy is strong, the interest rates are at nearly all-time lows, and the unemployment rate is very low. There are signs that would appear to point in the direction of a great year for the industry. Bonitz will continue to grow organically as we continue to add new people every month. We are in the process of growing a very strong internal foundation corporately that will permit us to launch new ideas, and new products, and new markets in the future. Bonitz has set some very challenging goals for our stakeholders, but they can and will be achieved.
Q: How do you see the state of the industry right now?
The industry continues to consolidate at all levels including manufacturing, distribution, and in commercial contracting. There will always be winners and losers in each of the channels but ultimately the consolidation will make us stronger and more relevant and more profitable.
Q: How did you become involved with FCICA?
Phil Ashley, an associate at Bonitz, was the chairman of FCICA 20 years ago, when our current management team, headed by Kim Oderkirk, was hired and put in place. Phil encouraged me to become involved in FCICA, and that was when I first came to understand what the association was all about. I began investing time in going to the meetings of FCICA and learned quickly the value and benefit of the Educational Sessions and training that were going on. The sessions were very professional and were taught by members of FCICA with some outside help occasionally. These sessions covered nearly every aspect of the business, and were very professional, and informative, and taught by experts in the industry. The information and instruction that has been provided has a value that far exceeds the cost of membership.
Another important reason for becoming a member of FCICA is for the ability to network with some of the best and brightest in the industry from every segment of the industry. These people are willing to share and help with the problems that are common to all of us no matter where we live. Most of the manufacturers are sending their best technical training and claims inspection team members to the FCICA meetings and they are eager to share their knowledge with training and conversation, and common problem solving. Getting to know these individuals and building personal relationships with them has been very rewarding. If you have a problem on a job and you are in the field and have the phone number of these people in your phone, you might be able to save more than the cost of membership with one phone call, even if that person is not involved with the product that you are having a problem with. Networking and building relationships with FCICA adds great value to our investment in membership.
The CIM program, (Certified Installation Manager) was launched several years ago as part of the solution to the lack of quality installers. The thought being that it is easier to train and certify installation managers than it is to try to train and certify virtually thousands of installers. If we can train and equip installation managers, then they can have better control of the job, and they can manage their installers, and their installations better than ever. FCICA has put together a very thorough and professional certification program with a number of training modules that have many of our members worked long and hard to put together. Those modules have been refined and put into a curriculum that we think is the best in the industry. The CIM program can be done online and initially that was the only way we offered the program. However, we are now teaching the CIM program as many as six to eight times per year in different locations around the country. Every candidate must pass a test for each of the modules and make a passing grade to become a Certified Installation Manager. This is a designation that qualifies the CIM to put this designation on his business card, or on his e-mail address. The program is growing by leaps and bounds and has been a very successful program for FCICA and for its members as well.
Bonitz has been a member of FCICA for 25 years or longer and I believe that this has been important for us as a company, and I believe that it has been important for Bonitz to find ways to help strengthen the industry that we make our living out of.