Gerry Swift, vice president of Lotus Building Services, entered the flooring industry in 1986, and since then, he’s seen many ups and downs, but none quite like the current pandemic we are experiencing. While Swift believes that the flooring industry will be changed forever in the wake of the pandemic, his influence on the industry will be long lasting with the pivotal role he played in creating and implementing FCICA’s Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program.
Q: How did you get started in the flooring industry?
I started in retail flooring back in 1986. I managed the retail flooring sales for a paint and carpet business that started with two stores, then quickly grew to 21 stores by 1990. In the spring of 1991, I was offered a job with a local commercial flooring contracting company, Potomac Floor Covering. I quickly learned the commercial side of our industry. I became a partner within five years as we soured to be one of the largest and finest commercial flooring businesses in the Washington D.C. Metro area. During the early 2000s, I also saw that I needed to be further involved in our industry. I worked to get our company into Starnet. A few years later we joined FCICA.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the flooring industry?
There’s been lots of things in the flooring industry that were favorites to me throughout my career. The evolution of PC-based estimating has to be at the top. I had the pleasure of working with Larry Nickerson with Safeharbor Software for decades during the evolution of his estimating program Estimat-All. PC-based estimating and project management enabled us to be significantly more productive and greatly reduced errors.
Q: How’s business? What opportunities and challenges are you seeing?
After taking a big hit during the the Great Recession of 2008, we sold Potomac to a local competitor in 2011. I stayed for a few years, then moved on. I am now on my own doing smaller scale projects with end users and some select general contractors. After COVID-19 hit earlier this year, my number-one customer, a large conference center with more than 250,000 square feet of meeting space and 900 guest rooms, shut down. We had a lot of flooring projects that were budgeted for 2020. Everything stopped after COVID-19. As much as I would like to feel sorry for myself, I feel for the employees and management that lost their jobs as a result of this horrible pandemic. After losing that business, I began to focus more on my GC customers. Unfortunately, that segment also began to suffer as a result of the pandemic. Projects were put on hold and competition grew sharply as we all began going after the same projects, driving profit margins down significantly.
Q: How do you see the state of the industry right now?
Although there will be a short surge in business after we’re all vaccinated next spring, I believe our industry will be changed forever in the wake of the pandemic. Businesses that didn’t offer remote work to their employees were forced to purchase and adopt the technology to allow them to work from home. The corporate interior projects that were put on hold will surely be redesigned to a much smaller spaces. Seeing your doctor has and will continue to go to virtual FaceTime or Zoom appointments. Financial institutions with brick and mortar buildings will begin to disappear as they continue to adopt improving technology that enables their customers to do their banking transactions on their smartphone or PC. Even restaurants were forced to adopt, and will likely continue curbside and take-out services. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but being 59 years old and in the twilight of my career, I have to be realistic.
Q: How did you become involved with FCICA and what benefits does the group offer?
Getting involved in FCICA was the best thing I’ve ever done for my career. There are tremendous benefits in joining and attending the conventions, but the true rewards are in getting involved. I believe it was my third convention when Marty Murdoch with M.E. Sabosik approached me to join a committee. From that point on, I took on various committee chair positions, joined the board of directors, then the executive board. I was elected chairman of FCICA in 2011 on a platform of bringing training and certification to our contractor’s installation managers. The Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program became, and remains the crown jewel of FCICA. FCICA has always been the “Installation Technology” arm of our industry. Most of our associate members are technical people representing manufacturers of flooring products, substrate preparation products and tools, as well as software vendors.
I’ve learned so much about the installation side of our industry. We stay informed through education and networking with other contractors, the continuing evolution of installation systems, including new flooring products, adhesives, moisture mitigation systems, tools, and technologies. This training and education enables our contractors to stay on top of the latest and greatest products and installation systems. This has greatly reduced claims for our contractor members.