When Worlds Collide
ABS Floor Covering brings cultures together to build a better business
Located in Phoenix, ABS Floor Covering is a “trusted, turnkey” flooring solution company serving a wide range of commercial and residential clients throughout the American Southwest. The company offers a variety of traditional flooring products, including polished concrete, carpet, marble, porcelain tile, vinyl and other specialty solutions.
The firm has 12 full-time employees, but can swell to over 150 including subcontractors during the busy seasons. Most of the flooring teams ABS Floor Covering hires are multigenerational—fathers and sons, uncles and nephews.
It is a company incorporated in 1998 and acquired in 2006 by its current ownership. And, it’s a company where two divergent cultures meld seamlessly into a cohesive team with a singular vision of success.
The first culture is that of the time-tested mechanics (also known as installers) who do the work, best epitomized by Operations Manager John Salinas, who is a third-generation contractor. “When I was 11, my father would take me to work with him,” says John. “I would start mixing grout and mortar for him at 4 a.m. It’s in my blood.” After high school and college, John went into the field of concrete engineering and general construction management. “It was a good decision because now I can bring those tools to the flooring industry.”
The other culture is best epitomized by Terry Murphy, President of ABS Floor Covering. Terry, whose career began in Information Technology (IT), didn’t have any experience in construction or flooring before setting foot in the ABS Floor Covering offices. “I was an IT project manager in the semiconductor and utilities industries,” Terry says. Due to the outsourcing of IT work to other countries, in 2005 Terry found himself looking at other industries. He acquired the company in 2006 with his brother-in-law, Jon Bliven, the owner of Bliven Property Management. Terry hasn’t looked back since.
But it hasn’t always been easy, says Terry. “It was a hard transition and took a lot of work to gain the respect of the staff.” Terry earned his contractor license in 2008, which helped, but he still struggled. “I had to transition from an unforgiving and structured computer science environment to working with hands-on construction craftsmen who install their work as artisans. That was a significant and challenging paradigm shift,” he explains. “I leaned on Senior Estimator Chris Spillane and others to learn the nuances of flooring. And I learned the value of surrounding yourself with good people and providing them with a platform to flourish.”
“Flooring is a mix of engineering and art. There’s a lot of nuances,” adds John, agreeing that it can be hard to jump into the business without any real-world experience. “Some people think that flooring, and all of the construction industry, is straightforward. But it’s really a mix of science and art. That’s why I always came back to it—I was given a lot of artistic creativity. I enjoy creating something that has artistic integrity that I can look at and say ‘Wow, I did that.’ ”
Integrations and Installations
Maybe it’s the blend of two backgrounds—one born into the industry and the other choosing to enter the industry—that differentiates the company from the competition. “First and foremost, I believe what makes us different is that we are an installer-based company,” John says. “In this industry, I sometimes hear that installers are expendable and not as valued as they have been in the past. Also, there’s too much focus on the contracting company. But the truth is, contractors are simply administrators without their mechanics. If you have great mechanics, then you’ll be a great contractor.”
ABS Floor Covering chooses to put the installers first. “We recognize our installers, treat them with respect and admire their loyalty and hard work. We invest in our installers and are dedicated to helping them grow as professionals.” adds Terry, “That’s how we’ve kept a lot of the tenured professionals. And, that’s how we’ve gained our good reputation. When your installers are happy, your clients will be happy.”
John adds, “Every estimator and manager at our company has mechanical experience and time in the field, allowing for a more abundant exercise of professional empathy. Because they’ve done the work, they will know how to make the installers’ and clients’ lives easier. They can anticipate problems before they begin.”
The Science of Flooring
Not only is ABS Floor Covering dedicated to its people, but John also believes in promoting the science of flooring. One of the emerging areas of focus is slab moisture dynamics or how moisture moves up through or in flooring material. “In Arizona, people think there is no moisture; it’s a desert, right? But that’s not true,” John says. “There is a lot of moisture in concrete slabs; however, it evaporates so quickly in the heat that clients assume it doesn’t exist. So, some assume they have nothing to worry about. It’s actually to the contrary.”
His team has seen numerous examples where water has damaged or destroyed flooring. To help clients with water issues, ABS Floor Covering recently acquired its certification for the performance of industry-standard moisture testing from the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI). “This serves many purposes for us. First, we are able to bring awareness to this topic, and second, we can help clients test for and mitigate their risks.”
ABS Floor Covering also introduced other products, including a soft goods adhesive that can handle up to 100% of relative humidity upon drying. “This adhesive produces a migration barrier to stop moisture from getting through the slab to the flooring material itself.”
Out and About in Phoenix
ABS Floor Covering is the proudest of its work at the FOUND:RE Phoenix Hotel in downtown Phoenix. Completed in 2016, the $25 million sitewide restoration won several awards, including AZ Big Media’s AZRE Real Estate Development (RED) Award in 2017 in the Hospitality Sector.
“It was a project that we did for one of our most prolific general contractors, Sletten Companies,” John says. “The tile portion of the project was immensely challenging: the finished surfaces in all the bathrooms and showers were 1-by-1-inch hexagon and 5/8-by-5/8-inch penny round mosaics. The mosaics covered the entirety of the shower and bathroom areas, including floors, benches, walls, and additionally, every room had a shower requiring waterproofing systems and custom-designed curb transitions atop Schluter®-DILEX-AHKA metal cove base designs.”
The ABS Floor Covering team developed many streamlined programs based on its work at the FOUND:RE Phoenix. “The quality control program for this project had several growth spurts until, ultimately, we were able to streamline systems that produced an aesthetically pleasing yet fully functional wet and dry environment,” John says. “Add to that all the different applications of rolled and modular goods throughout the hallways and common areas, it was a great way to build and grow our existing processes.”
But you won’t just run into the people of ABS Floor Covering on job sites. Over the past three years, the company has donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of flooring material to organizations including Victory Outreach International and Habitat for Humanity. “We have donated thousands of dollars in labor to other nonprofits through working with some of our general contractor clients,” Terry says. “Additionally, we just concluded our first fundraising event where we raised over $6,000 for a nonprofit organization called Circle the City, which provides medical services to the homeless in the Phoenix metropolitan area.”
John adds, “We hold a yearly event that recognizes our installers’ good works via a merit platform known as the ZERO Awards. Due to its popularity, we decided to expand it into a fundraiser to take advantage of the high attendance and turnout. Moving forward, every year, we will select a different nonprofit or charitable organization that we will support through this event.”
In the end, ABS Floor Covering is relying on the differing backgrounds represented in its team to come together and make the company stronger through its diversity. “We don’t desire to be the biggest flooring contractor,” John says, “but rather the best flooring company. Ultimately our goal is to be a great tile and carpet contractor, not just one or the other.”