Industries of all types face their own unique set of challenges. The flooring sector in particular has a number of specific bridges to cross. In this feature, we look at some of the top challenges that the flooring industry faces and explore a few solutions that many business owners should consider to come out on top.

1. Getting the most out of a slow economy

Focus on networking and obtaining referrals when the economy slows down. In the construction industry and built environment, projects can take years of planning before they go out to tender. Making sure you are talking to the right people and setting up the right contacts can put you where you need to be when the tide starts to change. Besides focusing on networking more, you should also diversify your networks because you need breadth as well as depth, so participate in different types of forums and communities.

Being visible is also important during times of economic turmoil and slow growth. Make sure you are getting your message to the right people by continuing to invest in smart communication strategies.

Turn your focus inward and start looking at your current marketing messages. Remember that marketing is the most effective when you’re focused on solving problems or challenges that your clients face. Consider how information sharing in the form of articles, whitepapers or checklists via your website, for example, can help your clients and also portray you as a thought leader in the industry.

2. Overcoming unskilled labour

The skills shortage in the flooring sector has been top of mind for business leaders in South Africa as well as abroad. While vacancies go unfilled because of a lack of people with the required education, skills and experience, we need to look at ways to address this serious issue that has the potential to undermine the strength of the industry as a whole. Some potential strategies that can be followed include:
• Reinvent how you’re currently doing business: Companies need to consider different ways to run their businesses. Besides looking into different organisational structures, they can focus on creating career paths that are centred on skills rather than business functions.
• Re-evaluate your current skillset: It’s worthwhile to begin to better understand the talent that currently resides in your own business and the potential of your employees. This will enable you to identify skills and competencies that can be put to work in a more effective way.
• Broader recruiting: Companies could be hampering their search for talent by being too narrow in their search criteria when recruiting for new skills. Instead of looking for people who perfectly fit the job description, consider candidates who demonstrate a capacity and willingness to learn a specific skill and who fit your company culture.
• Collaborate: Work with other industry players and training institutions in the flooring sector to build a pool of skilled workers. This way, the costs and risks of establishing training programmes can be shared.

3. Poor service delivery

Poor service delivery is a major problem in many industries across South Africa. In the flooring industry specifically, poor service delivery tarnishes the reputation of companies as well as the broader sector. A number of strategies need to be employed to improve service delivery:
• Choose the right people for the job.
• Make sure staff are adequately trained to deal with customers.
• Ensure employees have the knowledge and experience to meet customer needs.
• Ensure all communications are clear and easy to follow.
• Apologise and rectify the situation when a promise is broken or a mistake has been made.
• Listen to customers to understand their circumstances better.
• Make sure your organisation is customer focused at all times.
• Make sure there are service standards and response times for all services that your company delivers.
• Inform customers about what fees cover and the benefits that your company offers.
• Focus on always exceeding expectations.

4. Lack of take up in new technologies

Despite a lot of money being spent on research and development, there often remains a persistent and troubling gap between the inherent value of new technology in an industry and companies’ ability to put it to work effectively. According to Harvard Business Review, managers within a business usually experience the following key challenges when implementing a new technology:
• Their inescapably dual role (as many people implementing change serve as both technical developers and implementers)
• The variety of internal markets to be served
• Legitimate resistance to change
• The right degree of promotion
• The choice of implementation site
• The need for one person to take overall responsibility

When implementing new technologies in your business, it’s crucial to know that new innovations do not win automatic acceptance and that it is optimistic to believe that an innovation will sell itself. A good strategy is to conduct a pilot operation before introducing an innovation across the board in an organisation. Not only will this help determine the technical feasibility of a new technology, it can also create a model to demonstrate how the technology can be used in other departments or in other companies in the flooring industry.

The source of legitimate resistance to change can usually be traced back to overlooked issues in an implementation plan. Don’t shrug resistance aside based on the assumption that people are irrationally clinging to the status quo. Some of the strategies to overcome this resistance include anticipating opposition, appointing champions to nurture the implementation of new technology and make sure that the reason for opposition isn’t the fear of the loss of skills or power among users.

5. Lack of innovation

Companies and industries will cease to exist if they don’t innovate, but there are many barriers to creativity and innovation that have to be identified for innovation to take place. Fear of decision-making, failure, ridicule and the unknown are often at the core of lack of innovation as it keeps people from exploring new ideas. Another barrier is poor leadership and commitment to change.

Not only do the minds of key stakeholders in the flooring sector need to be stimulated, excited and nurtured to produce creative thinking, it’s also vital that everyone in the supply chain pulls together to explore how different types of innovation can take place. This type of collaboration and future-oriented thinking can lead to better innovation in the industry that benefits everyone.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.creativityforlife.com, www.hbr.org, www.ssc.govt.nz, www.theglobeandmail.com and www.entrepreneur.com for the information contained in this article.