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Taiga Building Products' Sven Johnson on Meeting the Challenges of the Day

Posted By NAFCD, Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sven Johnson currently serves as General Manager, Flooring Division of Taiga Building Products, providing leadership and responsibility for sales, marketing, and profitability of the division. Taiga services its retail customers with 15 warehouse distribution locations across Canada with two additional locations in Northern California. Taiga is a relatively new NAFCD member company, and flooring is a fairly small part of its product mix. But the Canadian company is looking to grow the division with Johnson's help.

They have the right man, for sure. Johnson has over three decades of experience in the flooring business. As such, he is a great resource to talk to when discussing the industry's current challenges and future opportunities. We sat down with him recently to discuss such matters and more. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: What do you see as our industry's biggest challenge of the moment?

SVEN JOHNSON: Margin discipline. I say this because the world has become very small making an abundance of product easily accessible and available in the marketplace. The various costs associated with distribution ensuring dependable delivery and services to today’s consumer puts margin discipline as a key factor in running the day-to-day operation of a healthy distribution organization. Today’s flooring industry has some of the best quality, price-valued products ever seen in the industry. The value proposition in providing quality products and dependable services while exceeding customer expectations comes with a cost, though. It will be those distributors who have the right people dedicated to their company’s "secret sauce" of margin discipline, who will be the leaders in their marketplace.

NAFCD: Would you say that improving services to meet today's market demand is also one of today's major challenges?

SJ: Yes, I will speak specifically to hard surface. Using one example, the market buzz is luxury vinyl. Here in Canada, it's certainly a product that has gained popularity and usage in many markets. It's become more and more a part of our interior décor. The most important area of service improvement will be keeping up with product and installation knowledge. When there is such a heavy supply of material, you must remain focused on the basics and make sure the product promotion is correctly specified and properly utilized in the space it is intended for. That is the number one area to improve.

Also, the timing, logistics, and having product arrive safe and sound and delivered on the date specified are becoming more and more important, especially with the advancement of technology. That facet of the business is where a lot of attention will need to be applied. Providing efficient and effective delivery of material to the market and ultimately to the consumer when called upon is key.

NAFCD: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

SJ: The people, both inside the company and externally. I love the business aspect of helping customers, especially when we are called upon in a time of need. My tagline is: "People deal with people." What really got us here today is the relationships with our customers, built on trust over the many years. It becomes a business partnership with some having fostered into lifelong friendships.

NAFCD: How has the business changed since you first got involved?

SJ: The biggest change has been just the amount of product available, the amount of accessible product. As a distributor — call us the "middle man" — we are in this channel where we are obviously trying to improve our value while keeping the channel organized and efficient. Every one of us in that straight and narrow channel to the market has to make a profit. When there is so much product and the channel of distribution gets clouded or broken and becomes scattered, the challenge becomes: "How do you put margin back into every one of those channel providers?" And by channel providers, I'm talking manufacturer to distributor to retailer to end user, the consumer. As a mentor of mine once said, "One may think you can eliminate the distributor, but you cannot eliminate the cost of distribution."

NAFCD: What advice would you have to anyone entering the flooring industry today?

SJ: It is a very exciting business. It's always changing. There are always new challenges. There is emotion attached to it. You get to influence people and environments with color and design. So, always put your best foot forward. This is a very professional industry. Do your best to always stay professional. Integrity is key.

NAFCD: You serve on NAFCD's board. How has the association been of value to you personally and to your company, in general?

SJ: NAFCD's value is second to none. You are surrounded by dedicated and professional people with a wealth of industry knowledge who desire to share business advice and ideas. We are always looking to improve and support one another and the industry. NAFCD and the executive team are so willing to serve and provide the necessary tools to help us grow as business individuals and companies alike. I believe the association will someday become an all-inclusive network of services and knowledge, with an efficient and effective resource base for all distributors to access.

NAFCD: What has you most excited about the fourth quarter of 2017 and the new year ahead?

SJ: The dawn of new products and fashion trends to be ready to go to market for 2018 makes our business exciting, while helping our retail partners become more relevant in their local markets to become profitable for many years to come. The fourth quarter is going to finish strong with our company forecasts, and we are very optimistic for 2018.

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