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Tried-and-true interview techniques to pick the right person for the job

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Reginald Tucker


Finding the right employee for your business—whether you’re looking to bring on new salespeople, installers or even managers—can be a challenging, time-consuming task. First, there’s the creation and posting of the job listing. (Or perhaps you’ve decided to recruit via the networking route.) Then there’s the screening process, scheduling of interviews and, ultimately, the actual hiring and onboarding phase.

But experts in the field of hiring, recruiting and training believe the selection process needn’t be so arduous. Some say it can be an enlightening, eye-opening experience. Following are some trusted interview tips and techniques business owners, managers and consultants recommend in narrowing the search for the ideal employee.

Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions
In a recent CNBC feature titled, “Eight highly successful entrepreneurs reveal their best hiring secrets,” hiring managers and business owners—including

several start-up companies—emphasized the importance of avoiding run-of-the-mill questions during the interview process, such as, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?” Instead, experts recommend managers pose more probative inquiries—or a series of associated questions—to illicit more genuine responses and discern the true nature of a particular candidate.

“I’ve found that I learn the most from a candidate when I ask them a bit of an uncomfortable question,” said Liz Wessel, WayUp co-founder and CEO, in the CNBC report. “I like to see how they react and whether they’re able to stay calm. I don’t do this because it’s fun; I do this because I want to see whether can they keep their composure and how they perform when they’re out of their comfort zone.”

John Kelley, CEO of CoachUp, is in agreement. His technique? Pushing candidates to answer the whys. For example, “Why did you choose that college or that course of study? Why that company or that role? Why did you decide to move on? I feel this gives me a deeper understanding of their motivations and goals, which helps me determine whether our company and culture are a good match,” he said.

The more specific the question, hiring managers say, the more meaningful responses you’ll get from a candidate.

In 2010, Jenny Blake, who oversaw Google’s career development and mentorship program prior to launching her own coaching firm, started a global program at Google to provide scalable, drop-in, 1:1 coaching to all Googlers, which involved teaching dozens of senior-level staff members transformative coaching and career development skills. Her new book, “Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One,” offers a sampling of meaningful interview questions:

  1. “Tell me about a time when you solved a particularly interesting problem.” According to Blake, this question gets at problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
  2. “What are you most excited about learning?” Blake said this is a good alternative to the popular five-year question. “I don’t like the question, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’” she said. “Because things are changing too quickly, it is totally irrelevant.” Instead, she recommends employers get a sense of what potential employees are eager to work on and which skills they want to develop.
  3. “Recall a time when things didn’t go as planned—how did you handle it?” Regarding this question, Blake said, “I do think it’s good to try to frame something up around how someone handles uncertainty or even mistakes.” Missteps, she said, are inevitable; therefore, hiring people who bounce back is critical.

Properly structure and plan for each interview.
Statistics show that nearly 30% of candidates refuse a job offer because of how poorly the interview went. This is why it’s vital for employers to create—and consistently follow—the proper protocol for job interviews. Hiring and recruiting experts like David Romano, currently director of Romano Concepts—creator of six national restaurant models and multiple brands in the Dallas market—is a firm believer in this principle.

As the former owner of Benchmarkinc, which provided consulting services to retail businesses, including flooring dealers, Romano knows a thing or two about developing effective hiring processes. Once a regular columnist for FCNews prior to the recent sale of his consulting business, he continually stressed the importance of following a well-planned interview process.

Step one is to establish an interview agenda. “Build an outline for the entire interview, which should take no more than 45 minutes. Sketch out the framework with a set length of time for each section, covering information about the company, the job scope, position requirements, compensation. Include time to find out about the candidate through probing questions. Reserve a few minutes at the end for question and answer.”

Step two is to focus on the candidate. “Before asking the first interview question, review the job description, especially the hiring criteria, as well as everything the interviewee has submitted: résumé, cover letter, online profile, etc. This allows you to hone in on what you’re looking for in candidates.”

Romano advises against improvising during the interview process. While this might seem counterintuitive, it helps to keep the interview on track. “Prior to the actual interview, write down questions you intend to ask based on key areas of the candidate’s background,” he stated. “While it’s a good idea to have a core list of questions that you ask every candidate, it’s also helpful to jot down some targeted questions for clarification as you review the job description and résumé.”

Romano suggests managers ask more open-ended questions, as they require more thought and will help the person speak openly. Ask two or three hypothetical questions framed in the context of an actual job situation. More important, he said, it’s essential that hiring managers pay particular attention to the candidate’s answers. “Don’t rehearse your next question in your mind. Although you have your questions written down, don’t hesitate to veer from those if you want to reword or follow up, or eliminate questions already covered.”

Step three is closing the interview. After the candidate has had a chance to ask questions, end it by thanking him/her for his/her time and tell him/her when to expect to hear from you. “As soon as the candidate leaves, collect your thoughts, write down your impressions and summarize your notes. Get feedback from the other interviewers while the interview is still fresh.”

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National Floorcovering Alliance: Spirited discussions on thorny issues set the tone

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Steven Feldman


Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 12.01.40 PMNewport, R.I.—The National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) is 42 retailers and 256 storefronts strong, representing a collective $1.1 billion in annual sales. But the issues these dealers face every day are no different than every other flooring retailer; in fact, it can be argued that their sheer size creates an even greater depth of challenge than most.

The key topics discussed at the group’s fall meeting were diverse, ranging from ways to find quality installers and sales associates to dealing with manufacturers who want to eliminate discounts for paying invoices within a certain time frame and dealers who encroach upon fellow members’ territories—legal by bylaw but challenging the spirit of the group.

Dave Snedeker, division merchandise manager, Nebraska Furniture Mart and president of the NFA, called this one of the best meetings in a long time. “I feel we heard the voice of everyone—just a lot of participation.”

Participation is often fueled by issues that can affect the bottom line, and that was unequivocally the case when Shaw and Mohawk announced they were doing away with “terms”—percentage discounts for paying bills within a certain time frame (see related story on this page). Eventually the NFA and the two major mills reached an accord, but not before members weighed in vociferously.

“For a lot of people terms are a sacred cow,” Snedeker stated. “You have little control over price increases, but terms is a part of the business we believe is earned for being a good steward of your financial responsibilities. It’s not necessarily part of the price; it’s about paying your bills on time. So to have that taken away would be a negative for a lot of stores.” (There is no group terms rate as NFA members negotiate their own deals, just as they do on pricing. However, the power of the NFA is such that this one voice speaks at exceptionally high decibel levels.)

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 12.01.33 PM“[The elimination of term discounts] would seem to penalize the better customers who pay their bills,” said Phil Koufidakis, president of Phoenix-based Baker Bros. “They would seem to be taking away an incentive for people to pay their bills on time. I don’t know why the mills are doing it. They never communicated that to the group nor myself.”

Sam Roberts, president of Roberts Carpets and Fine Floors in Houston, said terms are very important in the specialty dealer community. “I think most quality specialty retailers are opposed to the removal of terms, specifically going to zero discounts in their terms, and I think the vendors need to think very carefully about what’s in everyone’s best interests.”

While the terms issue may have been resolved, another controversial subject lingered. That involved one member’s recent new store opening. But it was not your typical expansion. That’s because the store encroached upon another member’s turf, something not illegal by bylaw but a questionable decision in the eyes of some.

“Expansion into the territory of another member is not disallowed,” Snedeker stressed. “The NFA’s position is there are no bylaws that preclude it. In the case of a prospective member, anyone can protect their turf, but once they are established it gets a lot grayer.”

While not necessarily a common practice, it is certainly not unprecedented. For instance: Nebraska Furniture Mart expanded into Dallas, where Carpet Exchange is a member; and Star Lumber expanded into Oklahoma City, where Akin Bros. does business.

The prevailing issue is that one of the major benefits of NFA membership is the sharing of information and best practices. The fear is two competing members may be uncomfortable giving away secrets of their stores, which can be detrimental to the group at large.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 12.01.20 PMMembers are divided on the matter. “I did it, so I understand the issue,” said Roger Voge, division president, Star Flooring, Wichita, Kan. “I let the NFA board know I was coming to Oklahoma. I was working on an acquisition and had a non-disclosure, so I couldn’t call the competitor in town. At a certain point you need to go to another market for growth. I understand this could hurt the sharing of information within the group, but a lot more of that occurs in informal settings.”

Stuart Perque, president, Perque Flooring, New Orleans, has a different take. “I’m not too comfortable with that unless it is discussed prior. We were the eighth member of the NFA. There was pretty much a gentleman’s agreement when we were 10 people in the room that we would not expand into another member’s territory without bringing it up first.”

Steve Brannen, COO, Carpet King, Minneapolis, may not be opposed to the idea of expansion into another member’s area, but he agrees with Perque in that communication is key. “If you are up front with people and tell them what you are going to do, that’s OK. When you do it stealth it’s not the right thing to do. This group is based on openness and sharing.”

Koufidakis, a former NFA president, sees it as an issue between the two members. “The group has no bylaws about people expanding into other areas. Obviously we can’t control how members expand their business, and we do from time to time run into that expansion. That’s for the members in question to deal with on a direct basis more so than the group getting in the middle.”

Roberts, another former president, agreed. “Once you are a member of the NFA, there is nothing in the NFA bylaws that precludes any dealer from expanding into any market they choose to expand into. The only time we can pay attention to geographic-protected areas is when somebody joins the group. My thoughts are if somebody wants to expand, they are totally welcome to do that wherever they want. And as far as the impact of sharing best practices with competitors in the room, is it potentially an issue? Yes. Is it potentially a major issue? No.”

Desperately seeking salespeople
Replacing an aging sales staff is somewhat surprisingly a key issue for many NFA members. And they all go about it in different ways. For example, networking is the secret to success for ICC Floors in Indianapolis, but not at the management level. “We get some young people and then the word spreads amongst their group of friends,” Cam Haughty, president, explained. “The first one came through a Daltile rep a couple of years ago, and then we tapped into his network. They are big on social media, and they talk about our good work environment and that we pay pretty well.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 12.01.10 PMCarpet King’s Brannen told FCNews finding good salespeople is a perennial problem. But he has a unique way of accumulating good ones. “Ads don’t really produce. It’s more about interactions with people in other industries. If you find someone who offers good service you have to approach them.”

An aging salesforce is a big issue at Perque’s. “I’m finding the older people are just staying around for the health insurance,” Perque said. “We’ve been trying to find new salespeople for the last two years. We are bringing in people who have never been in the flooring industry. We can’t find anyone who wants to go on 100% commission, so we do the training, put them on a salary and then evaluate them after a year. It’s a very expensive venture, but we can’t seem to find anyone who wants to work full commission.

“We found one interior designer, and one was a schoolteacher. I find those who go on full commission, after four or five years they are going to make a good income. But it’s a process, and very few people want to go through a four- or five-year process.”

Baker Bros. has had four or five people retire this year. “We are finding them predominately through job postings,” Koufidakis said. “We have expanded the range of people we look for. We don’t worry about just looking for ‘flooring people.’ We look for really good people who fit the company and our culture. That’s the big issue for us—fit. We can teach them the rest.”


In other NFA news…

  • NFA members as a whole are up about 5%-7% in 2017. “Hurricanes have hurt overall numbers for a few dealers,” Snedeker said.
  • There were two fewer suppliers at the vendor-member round-robin meeting with Royalty shutting its doors since the last meeting and Beaulieu choosing not to come. “The board is looking at all the options about what we will do going forward,” Snedeker said. “We can bring in new core vendors, or we can keep it at 24. We have a couple of people interested in taking a spot if we choose to go that way.”
  • Snedeker is excited about the NFA’s Specialty Vendor Showcase, held the day before Surfaces in Las Vegas. The 2018 version promises to be the biggest yet with nearly 60 vendors lined up, up from a record 42 in 2017. “It’s a great opportunity to see different things you might not spend a lot of time seeing at Surfaces. The list is very strong this year.”
  • Carpet Den Interiors in Nashville could potentially be the 43rd member of the NFA pending unanimous member approval. The $30 million retailer has been in business almost 40 years, has 55 full-time employees and more than 100 installation crews. The stocking dealer is a Stainmaster Flooring Center and has a nice blend of builder, residential and commercial business.
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FCNews Webinar: Avoiding pitfalls when hiring subcontractors

November 21/28, 2016: Volume 31, Number 12

By Ken Ryan

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-11-14-49-amFlooring retailers who misclassify installers as independent subcontractors when the government views them as employees is an issue that threatens the retail trade. That’s according to Jeff King, general counsel of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), who was the guest presenter during a Nov. 10 FCNews Marketing Mastery webinar titled: “Subcontractors–How to avoid costly legal mistakes.”

The webinar, hosted by Jim Augustus Armstrong, FCNews columnist and founder of Flooring Success Systems, set a webinar record for registered attendees. King is the resident expert on an issue that is not going away anytime soon, not even with a new administration set to take office in January. “It is a hot topic, and there are not a lot of easy answers but there are precautions we can take,” he said.

In 2014, the last year in which statistics were kept, $400 million was collected nationally in lawsuits related to the subcontractor issue (not just flooring related). The federal government, state government agencies and plaintiff’s lawyers see this as a big-time revenue opportunity. According to King, construction is one trade in which lawyers and government entities see as particularly fertile ground for subcontractor abuses.

There have been some well-publicized cases involving this issue. In 2015, Lowe’s agreed to pay a $10 million fine for inappropriately using subcontractors, in some instances requiring them to wear Lowe’s clothing and placing company signage on work sites. In that one case, plaintiff’s lawyers collected $1 million.

However, it is not just the large retailers who get nailed. In fact, King said it is the smaller dealers who are most vulnerable. Uni Floor, a flooring dealer in Overland Park, Kan., was required to pay 22 workers a total of $159,144—representing $79,572 in back wages plus an equal amount in liquidated damages—after a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation. The Wage and Hour division determined that Uni Floor violated overtime and recordkeeping requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act when it failed to pay installers overtime and treated them as independent contractors instead of employees.

The investigation concluded the flooring installers met the definition of employees, triggering overtime protections under the FLSA. The company violated the FLSA’s recordkeeping requirements when it failed to maintain time records for these employees. In this case, Uni Floor provided the equipment used by the workers, controlled their day-to-day schedules and paid them flat salaries. The employer also bid for all work and supervised jobsites daily.

While flooring dealers may view the government entities and lawyers as money-grabbing opportunists, there are those in government who believe there are businesses trying to cheat the system. Brad Bobowski, acting district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Kansas City, who was involved in the Uni Floor case, said, “Far too often, employers misclassify workers as independent contractors when the law defines them as employees. We are committed to rooting out misclassification and, as this case shows, will take enforcement actions needed to achieve that goal.”

The Wage and Hour division said it has aggressively expanded its efforts to combat employee misclassification in sectors where workers are especially vulnerable and violations are rampant. To assist in combating the problem, the department has entered into agreements with 34 states to share information and coordinate enforcement efforts.

A complex maze
screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-11-15-04-amDuring his hour-long presentation, King said what’s particularly onerous for dealers is that there are multiple government and state agencies that can get involved, and there are multiple tests within these agencies and each state has its own laws. There is also reciprocity between most states and the federal government to share information.

As King explained, “The DOL alone has three different tests. You can be determined to be an IC by the IRS but not for Wage and Hours. You can satisfy one test but not another test.”

King said one important area to be cognizant of is control. As in: Do you supply your subcontractors with tools? Do you supply the benefits? Are they exclusively your contractors? Do you supervise them at work sites? The answer to all those questions should be no.

Demonstrating supervisor control is a red flag. In the Kansas case, a supervisor from the retail store went to the jobsite every day. “That was deadly for them,” King said. “You don’t look independent if someone is supervising you. So ask yourself, do you sit there and tell the installers how to do their job? Do you treat them like professionals? You don’t tell your lawyer how you do his job, so don’t tell your subcontractor how to do his. The more control you show the worse off you are.”

Equipment and tools is another key differentiator. If you are providing your subcontractors with vans or installation tools, you could run into problems. “Providing equipment is something you do for employees and not your subs,” King said.

Experts advise dealers to have a contract with their subs and to insist that the ICs fill out their work hours on an invoice. In fact, some states require that ICs put hours on their invoice. The work hours is mainly to protect dealers in the event they get sued—in which case it would be better to have a record of hours submitted. However, most dealers do not require hours and instead pay by the job, the square foot, etc.

Dealers can challenge any lawsuit but it can be costly. As King explained, “A client of mine once told me, ‘I have been poor twice. Once when I lost a lawsuit and once when I won a lawsuit.’”

King, who has viewed thousands of cases, told dealers their subcontractors should be a separate business with their own tax ID number and responsible for their own insurance. “You don’t want to be a giving them a 1099 with a social security number. They need to be a legal entity—they have to apply for a tax ID.”

Despite a new Republican administration taking over, King doesn’t see any great change, at least not immediately. Again, many of these situations are dealt with on the state level. As such, he says, “The states still want their back taxes, the states still see money and the plaintiff’s lawyers still see money.”

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H.J. Martin and Son hires 40, looks to add more

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 12.41.21 PMGreen Bay, Wis. – H.J. Martin and Son has added 40 new employees over the past three months, and is looking to hire 10 traveling skilled carpenters and flooring installers in the next three weeks, David Martin announced.  The available positions are in the national retail services division, handling store fixture installations, store décor installations, multi-store rollouts, store resets and remodels.

The need for additional employees was driven by an increasing number of projects H.J. Martin has been able to secure with national retailers, according to Martin.  “Our business is labor driven,” he said.  “National retailers trust us to be responsive, safe and productive.”

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Mohawk University refocuses program for retailers

Mohawk University (MU) was founded 16 years ago and has since “successfully trained thousands of flooring professionals and won numerous awards,” noted Tim Gray, MU’s director.

Despite the program’s success, he said the company has made “dramatic changes in its teaching methods” this year. “Instead of just conveying information in a classroom, MU has adopted new ways of helping flooring retailers turn information into action to create change in their business.”

The change followed a survey of flooring dealers to determine the areas where they needed the most assistance in their business. From that, four key issues were identified: sales growth and margins; financial results; management training, and improving employee performance. Continue reading Mohawk University refocuses program for retailers