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Friday, June 12, 2009

Meet Carl Ruland - Floor Covering Institute Series

Back in April, I announced in Whittemore Joins Floor Covering Institute that I've become part of the Floor Covering Institute - Jim Gould's global flooring consultancy. We've started discussing, planning and imagining exciting possibilities and I'm discovering how talented my fellow members are. So much so that I thought you might enjoy 'meeting' them and learning more about them. I plan, then, to introduce each one to you individually, starting with Carl Ruland.

Carl Ruland is president of Global Flooring Consulting, based in Bonn, Germany. A true European, he speaks many languages in addition to his native German [an opportunity for me to brush up on the German I learned many years ago in my French-speaking school in Abidjan, Ivory Coast! Luckily, he also speaks French...]. He also has an affinity for cultural and marketplace differences that can make products like flooring challenging to sell -- as you can appreciate from his responses below -- if you don't know the lay of the land.

C.B.: Carl, please tell me about yourself - your business, your expertise, etc.

Carl: Yes, indeed, I am a true European and Europe is a fascinating continent with 27 countries, 25 Languages, 500 million people.

Consumers in Italy like tiles and natural stone; in the UK they install broadloom carpet even in bathrooms; in Austria they buy mainly wood floors.

In Germany you have the highest density of DIY stores in the world; in the UK the majority of flooring is sold through wholesale and in the Netherlands you have the small shops-around-corner.

There is a CE mark, which marks the European conformity of products; however if you want to sell to the public building sector in Germany you need additional certifications which are different from the ones you additionally need in France.

I have gained considerable experience from 25 years in senior positions in companies that produce solid wood, engineered wood, laminated flooring, broadloom carpet, vinyl sheet and vinyl tiles and can help flooring manufacturers that want to do business in Europe better understand the marketplace. Perhaps they need help with a market survey, market research, M&A, strategic sales network, portfolio strategy, or even product certification.

I speak 5 languages [see Carl's LinkedIn profile: German, English, Dutch, Danish and French], I have worked and lived in three European countries; I have travelled to all of them and done business in most of them.

Some examples of my work: I have established original equipment manufacturing business for a European manufacturer in the US, pioneered laminated flooring in China, realized a multi-million Euro investment in a manufacturing plant in Europe and help different management team positions including product management, sales- and marketing management and general management.

C.B.: How did you get started in the flooring business?

Carl: 25 years ago as a manager of retail sales at a wood wholesaler and retailer in Bonn I noticed a growing demand for engineered wood floors. This growing demand was driven by consumers while the installers still wanted the traditional stuff: 1 inch thick, 2 inches wide and about 24 inches long solid parquet.

So I began to realize that the core of contention was not between industry with pre-finished products but with installers with their experience and craftsmanship. It was the beginning of a new business model for my traditional wholesale company: we began to import directly from producers in Sweden, Finland, Italy and Malaysia and started distributing this in Western Germany to installers. I had left sales and was in business.

C.B.: What do you like most about flooring?

Carl: Unlike most other industries where you always meet limited users, literally everybody on this beautiful planet stands on a type of flooring. So this will be a never ending learning curve about differences in climate conditions, architecture, engineering, design, taste, application..... (this sounds a little bit like Bubba in Forest Gump).

C.B.: What do you like least about flooring?

Carl: Poor quality that destroys consumer acceptance, leads to no-profit and produces even poorer quality.

C.B.: What opportunities do you see for the flooring industry?

Carl: The biggest opportunity for the industry is that flooring provides the biggest surface in a building that remains unchanged and unmanipulated. Flooring will be installed as manufactured and supplied by the industry. In other terms: the industry itself determines the quality, design, life cycle, etc. of the floor. This is a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility. I see, and maybe this is a very European vintage point, the opportunity from three main areas:


In the future not only the use of ecologic material is important but the ecology along the entire value chain, from raw material, production, transport to the point of sale. What seemed to be the whim of a relatively limited group of LOHAS consumers will be more and more KO criteria for the entire business model. Reach, Leed, Low Carbon, etc. are regulations that force the industry to look at things through green glasses. Those companies that realize the importance of this approach and that are able to adapt their current business to this future model will not only survive but will make profit. It offers the chance to reformulate the business strategy to either differentiation with low volume and high profit or penetration with high volume and high profit.

Quality, Design and Sustainability

I see a big opportunity in the respite of this current crisis. Product quality, design quality and architectural sustainability should be big drivers for the flooring industry in the future. Value for price should matter again, world class designers should create appealing floors and all application should be sustainable in the sense of: if I am installing this can future users continue to use this or change it with reasonable efforts?


A German professor, now teaching in the Netherlands, asked the question why most people mean downcycling when they speak about recycling. We all know that recycling cost money both in landfill and re-use. Other than in the past where the value chain for the flooring industry stopped at the cashier the chain should continue, as all flooring removed from a building can be converted into another flooring. This costs money, but could generate contribution for our industry.

C.B.: What do you see being the greatest advantage that the Floor Covering Institute offers?

The big advantage of the Floor Covering Institute is the versatility of the expertise you can find there. Where else outside a company do you find a group of experts in flooring that go from 'is the subfloor good enough for installation?' to 'how do you think should I approach the market for my high end product?', and from 'can you help me to find a source in China?' to 'do you think this would sell in Russia?'

Danke schรถn, Carl!

Comments, questions, feedback?

I am fascinated with the glimpse that Carl offers us of the European marketplace and its complexity as well as his perspective on the opportunities ahead for the flooring industry.

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Jim Gould said...

Wow, Christine. I've known Carl for years but this interview gives me a greater insight and appreciation for this global flooring expert. Thanks for the post.

CB Whittemore said...

Jim, I am absolutely delighted to be the source of renewed appreciation for Carl's experience and insight. We can all learn from him. CB

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