Building A Global Brand
Advantage Flooring Inc. expands to provide a full range of solutions throughout the U.S. and abroad
Billy Saul, President of Hanover, Maryland-based Advantage Flooring Inc., knows how important brand recognition, attention to detail and innovation are for building a small company into a global enterprise. The firm specializes in finished flooring, concrete polishing, epoxy and specialty coatings, self-leveling underlayments and moisture mitigation systems.
“I was fresh out of high school when my dad, Bill Saul, and I started our own business in 1993,” he says. “It took a long, hard 10 years to establish ourselves as a quality brand because we weren’t salespeople—and we didn’t have social media to share information about our work quickly and easily. Now that I use LinkedIn and Facebook, the phone rings off the hook. We use #ifyouwalkonitwedoit to distinguish ourselves from companies that only install one or two types of flooring. We are now a national brand with 72 full-time employees.”
Building Brand Recognition and Relationships
Without a network of established clients and referrals, Billy built brand recognition in creative and enduring ways. This started by establishing a professional image on the job site. “All our guys wear orange shirts and our foremen wear black shirts,” Billy says. “We color-coordinate everything and people always know who’s in charge.”
Billy also makes sure his staff knows how much he values each person’s contributions. He started as an installer, so he says he’s happy to work “in the trenches” with his employees when needed. “The fact that I would not ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself goes a long way with my guys,” he says. “We are a team here and I truly make people feel as if they are family. I enjoy having our annual crab feast and end-of-year lunch. We play fun games and the guys can win prizes. At our annual Christmas party, we give employees who’ve worked for us for a full year a jacket with their name on it. It’s like a rite of passage.”
According to Billy, this esprit de corps extends into other realms. “We do most of our work using in-house employees, while our competition subs everything out,” he says. “With in-house employees, we deliver a higher level of work quality and build long-lasting relationships with our clients. They enjoy seeing our guys grow from basic installer to foreman to project manager over the years. We try to elevate our guys within the company to give them better opportunities for higher pay. We have clients who go back over 20 years because of this close bond between employee and customer.”
Billy says the teamwork that is so crucial on the job site is equally important in the office. He credits his sisters and other firm leaders for helping to build Advantage Flooring Inc. into a successful, thriving company. “My sisters are amazing,” he says. “Laurie Inglis, my Vice President, handles all account receivables and payables, payroll and subcontractor payments. My other sister, Tonda Reighard, is our Senior Executive Project Manager. She handles all change orders and oversees all our jobs. When we are awarded a project, she reviews the scope and makes sure all materials are ordered correctly. I would not be where I am right now without these two brilliant women.”
He continues: “Another key player is Chris Kremonas, Vice President of Sales. Chris oversees our sales department and addresses issues that require on-site client review. There’s also Gil Arnold, our Operations Manager, who oversees warehouse activities and schedules manpower for our jobs. Shawn Prato is another amazing individual. He manages our estimating department.”
Expanding to Better Serve Clients
At first, Advantage Flooring Inc.’s crews concentrated on installing finished flooring. However, as the company developed an expertise in occupied renovations, Billy saw an opportunity to improve how these projects were delivered. Observing how his crews often had to wait for other contractors to complete their work, Billy decided to expand Advantage Flooring Inc.’s services to include painting, moving furniture and renting crates that customers use to store and relocate their belongings during a renovation.
“Normally, building owners and landlords hire a general contractor that subs out this work to separate companies,” he says. “We can handle all those aspects of a project, saving our clients time and money. This was our primary source of revenue for a decade. From there we grew into other segments and—in the past three years—began to change directions.”
New Areas of Expertise
Although Advantage Flooring Inc. still installs all types of finished flooring, Billy says the company’s focus has shifted toward surface preparation and leveling, concrete polishing, coatings and moisture mitigation. “We are now one of the biggest companies doing concrete polishing in the U.S,” he says. “Most of these jobs are very large. Just recently, we polished 250,000 square feet of concrete at the United States Army Ordnance Training Support Facility in Fort Lee, Virginia, 50,000 square feet at Yelp’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and another 60,000 square feet for a global social media company based in Menlo Park, California.”
The scale of projects done by Advantage Flooring Inc.’s other divisions has also grown. “We did a big coatings job for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) in Baltimore, Maryland,” Billy says. “They brought us in to recoat about 100,000 square feet of floors. We invested in a half-million-dollar pump truck that can reach up to 40 stories. We are currently using this truck for a 500,000-square-foot, self-leveling job in Washington, D.C.”
The Full-Range Advantage
Billy says clients value the full range of floor installation and related services Advantage Flooring Inc. offers.
According to Shaun Simons, Senior Project Manager for Kalmia Construction Company Inc., Advantage Flooring Inc. has provided vinyl composition tile (VCT), luxury vinyl tile (LVT), carpet and polished concrete for office and high-security government projects ranging from 2,500 to 40,000 square feet in size. “Advantage’s best attributes include planning,” he says. “Billy and his team take time to review the complexities of projects that require extra attention. They have always been willing to help our clients understand what the end product will look like.”
This expert planning and attentiveness have also been key to the success of multifaceted projects Advantage Flooring Inc. has completed for Target Corporation and Capital One Arena. “We just finished a 60,000-square-foot Target store in Oxon Hill, Maryland,” Billy says. “About 50,000 square feet of this was polished concrete. The center section was carpet. We installed the walk-off matting near the entry, vinyl floor in some of the offices and a specialty floor in the pharmacy.”
While Advantage Flooring Inc.’s crews often work through the night to avoid interrupting clients’ daily business activities, the Capital One Arena renovation presented especially complex scheduling challenges.
“We started in June 2018, right after the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup,” Billy says. “We only had three months to get the job done, so our crews worked a 24-hour schedule. Every few days we had to break down and clean everything up because there was a basketball game or concert. We did the main concourse and the fourth-floor arena, which was roughly 125,000 square feet of polished concrete. We also demoed out the existing quartz tile, polished the concrete and replaced the coatings in more than 40 bathrooms and did the floors in the concession stands.”
Clean and Simple Specifications
As their experience in polished concrete deepened, Billy and his team realized that the existing specifications for this flooring type were confusing. So, he began to hold lunch-and-learn sessions at architecture and interior design firms. “I gave a PowerPoint presentation for a huge design firm and put up all the jobs they’d advertised in the previous two months,” he says. “Then I showed them all the questions I’d sent back as part of Requests for Information (RFIs) for these jobs because we couldn’t understand their specs. People then realized why they were getting incorrect bids that were leading to a lot of change orders.”
The discussions he had with designers during these presentations inspired Billy to write a specifications section that the applicator, designer, contractor and building owner could all understand. “It’s clean and simple,” he says.
Concrete Polishing & Prep Solutions Inc.
In June 2019, Billy launched a new business, Concrete Polishing & Prep Solutions Inc., which is a separate distribution company that sells equipment and supplies for prepping and polishing concrete. He says that since no single supplier provided the full-purpose system his crews needed to achieve high-quality results, his new company also developed a branded product line called Reflective Floor Architectural Polished Concrete Systems (Reflective Floor).
“The brands available are a mix of diamonds and chemicals,” Billy explains. “We took the chemicals we knew worked well and put these together with the best diamond and tooling to create a simplified system that is understandable and delivers a better floor. This brand took off like wildfire, so we developed a second product line for coatings called Reflective Coating Systems. We already have locations in New Jersey and Maryland and by the end of 2020 will be opening ones in Nashville, Tennessee; Tampa, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Dallas, Texas; there are also 11 more cities on our list.”
Billy says he initially thought other applicators would be standoffish about renting or buying equipment and purchasing supplies from his new distribution company because they might view Advantage Flooring Inc. as a competitor. However, when he posted an announcement about a class he and his team would be giving, 40 people signed up immediately.
“We had people flying in from Mexico, Europe, New York, Texas and California,” he says. “The guy from New York had an opportunity to do polished concrete as part of a job he was already working on. We helped him price the polished concrete part. Then he called and said: ‘I got the job, now what?’ We rented him the equipment and put a purchase order together for everything he needed to buy. He paid for two of our guys to help. He did the job in six days with his top six guys and the two we sent. He has three more jobs coming up and would like to work together on these. What we are is a safety net to allow new or smaller companies to expand into polishing, leveling or coatings, with pricing and labor support. We give them the confidence and training to get the job done.”
All of this has culminated in Billy and his team creating a certification program for Reflective Floor. “If you want to use the Concrete Polishing and Prep Solutions system, you need to come to our class and learn how to do polished concrete with our chemical and tooling technology. Then we’ll certify you. If you aren’t certified to properly do the work, you cannot buy the Reflective Floor system. The growth of this product offering is just crazy. We recently closed a million square feet of jobs in Europe and have clients throughout the U.S. and Canada,” he says.
Summing up his companies’ 27-year journey from 1993 to the present day, Billy concludes: “We are constantly improving the way we do things by utilizing new technology and by investing in training our staff. I truly feel the work we do is art, and we are changing the way the polishing industry is doing things.”