Heather O’Brien, President of Easycove, joins the CoatingsPro Interview Series to discuss the growing market in 2020 for seamless flooring and the importance of coving for clients and contractors.
With hygiene a primary consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Easycove executive explains how cove base can be a part of the solution. O’Brien also explores market trends and challenges in 2020, as well as potential strategies to adapt to the changing marketplace. Tune in, and see below for a full transcript.
Ben DuBose: Heather, good afternoon. How are you?
Heather O’Brien: Hey, Ben, I’m doing great. Excited to be here. Thank you.
BD: Thank you for coming on. Before we get into questions — we’ll be talking largely about the coving market today because that’s, well, you can tell by the name where Easycove specializes — but before we get to the market itself, some of the trends we’re seeing in the field now there we’re in August 2020, Heather, go ahead and explain your bio, your history in the industry for anyone that doesn’t know you or the company. Just give a brief biography of your history in the field and your level of expertise.
HO: I actually started in construction for GC Company, so I actually had the opportunity to learn about construction and the needs of flooring installments from the ground up. I was really fortunate, I got to work side by side with my beloved husband. He’s been in the paint and resinous flooring industry for over 30+ years. So I got the benefit of learning a tremendous amount from him.
Believe it or not, though, prior to that, I was advocating and working with doctors and working in the healthcare field. What I found out through that, I would say, is that it was something I really believed it and I became extremely passionate about. What I’m doing now, I really believe in our current coving product. We’re growing, so I feel like I’m helping out, and I like to look out for people. That’s what I do best, and that’s what I do in this business. It’s really been a great fit for me. I love who I work with, and I love the industry.
BD: Let’s start there. For our audience on the CoatingsPro Interview Series, we’re talking a lot to coatings contractors. I’ll let you start by explaining the role, the importance of coving to an overall flooring system. I know it can be the bridge between the floor, the wall. If you could, just explain some of both the aesthetic and the technical benefits from having a quality coving solution.
HO: Hygiene is number one. Absolutely number one. Cove bases really need to be properly installed and completely sealed off. Especially right now, in the age of COVID, being able to sanitize surfaces is so very important. Fluid transitions are easier to clean than rough, sudden changes and angles and everything. So a 1-inch radius will be a lot easier to clean than a ½-inch radius. It’s a more gentle curve. It helps us do a better job at sterilizing and cleaning. Aesthetically, I would say that coving creates a smooth transition from the wall to the floor. Cove, in general, helps protect the wall. … The radius cove can be super functional and super aesthetic, but again, easy to clean.
BD: For our coatings contractors, what are some of the big challenges when it comes to actually applying cove base? Is it the expertise of how to apply it? Is it the technical challenge of having the right materials? What’s the big challenge as far as the application of it?
HO: I laugh because this is probably my favorite question of all time because trowel-down or hand coving wins the award. You literally need to be an artist to hand trowel, okay? So the challenge is they take — oh my gosh, the layout, the wall and floor preparation, masking, screed’s grip to the wall — it’s crazy. So much of that, if it’s not done properly — you can basically have too many imperfections. That’s why pre-formed cove bases are becoming more and more in demand. They’re time saving, and there’s less need for a skilled artisan. They really are artists. It’s amazing. I’ve actually seen them do it, and the level of skill that’s required. Cove is made up of aggregate… so when you push it up against the wall, it has lots of nooks and crannies. That’s where germs can access. So pre-formed cove is sealed up, so you don’t have the same level of porosity as you do with a hand-troweled cove.
When you're trying to seal up the floor with flooring materials, hand cove is — pre-formed cove just basically is so much simpler because you don’t have to worry so much about how many layers of coatings you're putting on to make sure that you’re not having those issues with hand troweled. You just need to worry about the topcoats or the broadcast when you're doing a regular cove. Honestly, I have a perfect story for this. We were in a food plant, and we pulled up the hand trowel and put it under a microscope. That’s one of the benefits I have of working with my husband because he’s a top-level NACE inspector. We had pulled up the hand trowel and looked underneath it, and the microbiology of that was crazy. Moisture had gone right through it, and the customer didn’t even know that it had a bunch of contaminants under the surface. It’s just crazy. That’s one of the things that the pre-formed cove base can help guard against.
BD: That makes a lot of sense. I think with a lot of things, especially in 2020 and the challenging logistics, the simpler you can make it, the better. I think that’s potentially a strong endorsement of pre-formed cove base. Speaking of 2020, what market trends have you seen? I know that you all deal a lot within resinous flooring, but are there certain business types that you're hearing in the field that are faring either better or worse than others, given a very unique marketplace in 2020? Is there anyone that’s particularly standing out in a positive or negative way?
HO: With COVID and the fear, it’s logical that seamless flooring has a bright future. I love market trends. I’m a researcher at heart. One of the things anyone can do to help grow their business is understand where the market trends are and where they’re headed. A wise person told me once, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” But I can tell you that I’m seeing a lot of restaurants, airplane hangars, airport facilities, a lot of industrial settings. I joke with my partner in Canada that marijuana plants are popping up everywhere. But again, I think there’s a lot of potential, and based on what I’m reading and what I’m seeing, seamless flooring definitely has a bright future.
BD: Anecdotally, a story I’ve heard a few places, I just don’t know enough examples to say if it’s a broader trend, but at least anecdotally I’ve heard about restaurants that — especially indoors, for obvious reasons, they’re limited for the time being, and a lot of them are saying, “Hey, this is a perfect time to look at all these types of flooring solutions.” Not just for the COVID era but long-term because generally, before COVID, the problem with installing a new flooring system is that you kind of have to take your restaurant or certain segments of it out of service for a while, and there’s the negative business repercussions that come with that. Whereas right now, because they’re not getting the business anyway, you might as well take care of that stuff. It sounds like you’ve heard that too.
HO: That is correct. Absolutely. We’re actually surprised by how many orders we’re getting. Through all this, our business has grown 35% in the last year. Now that’s either an indication that our product is great or the market is growing. We’ve definitely seen a large growth spurt. We had a 6,000 linear feet order, and that was going into a huge industrial facility. But yes, people are taking the opportunity during this time where you can’t have as many employees, where you have to be careful. They’re taking this opportunity to get things fixed and going when you couldn’t do it before. Like the restaurants. We definitely are seeing a lot of restaurants, too.
BD: When you look at your clients and I suppose especially your distributors — I know you at Easycove have a number of partners — what are they telling you? What I suspect is one of the more odd dynamics of 2020, depending on where it is that you’re based, what country, what region, what state, there can be so much variance based on the COVID conditions, the regulations. What have you heard as far as feedback from distributors, from clients? Is there much variance from one place to the next based on all the different conditions that are out there right now?
HO: Absolutely. That is such a great question. It’s just so hard. So many of us are working remotely at home. So many of us are unable to travel. But I have been in very close contact — I’m always in close contact — with my distributors as much as possible. There’s a backbone to our success. Everything that they’ve been telling me is they have been swamped. They have been so excited to get back to work again. They’re seeing huge growth.
I’m truly only hearing positive things. They’ve really been able to push forward despite all the hindrances — masks and only being able to have certain —. But because we are an essential business, I think some of those restrictions, while they do apply to us, I think that we’ve still been able to get done what we need to get done. Which, again, we go back to the last topic, where you have restaurants and you have all these things that need to get done. I think timing is everything. I’ve always been the kind of person that there’s always a silver lining, no matter where you're at and what situation you're in. I’ve heard nothing but positive things.
BD: What’s the transition been like with some of the logistical challenges that you referenced? For example, I know in a typical year for you, you go out to World of Concrete, you go to these various tradeshows and you can meet with distributors, clients, people that may be interested in your product or service. This year, you don’t have those face-to-face meetings, at least not anywhere near as much. I’m assuming those have been replaced by Zoom calls, phone calls, whatever it may be. It takes a little bit more creativity because you can’t literally show someone, you’re having to tell them.
From your perspective, what has that been like? Are people still getting the information that they need via these new formats? How have you seen people adapting to this environment where you can’t go out to a tradeshow the way you typically would and show your product to the marketplace?
HO: Ben, I am an innovative thinker, and my husband is such an entrepreneur. We actually — it’s funny that you mention this because we just went on a road tour. Tradeshows have all cut back. I had three tradeshows lined up in between February, right after World of Concrete — maybe it was the end of February, early March — and I had three tradeshows through September. All of them were cancelled. Obviously, I was really disappointed. But we — our other flooring business — put together this trailer.
What we’ve basically done is we’re bringing us to them. As opposed to expecting them to look at an advertisement, instead of the phone calls, we’re actually driving around the country, and we’re taking this big trailer that has a ton of product in it, including Easycove, and we’re trying to meet with our distributors. We’re trying to meet with people he wants to meet with, architects and —. We’re going to be doing that probably for another year. Number one, it still keeps that one-on-one, it still keeps that interaction, but you can still do it safely. You can all stand six feet apart, you can all wear your masks. But we’re going to have hot dogs for you, we’re going to talk about products, we’re going to have our own little tradeshow. We’re really having fun with it.
But we’re also — I’ve always been big on advertising. I think advertising, it’s not about just showing people the product. It’s about making sure they understand how it works, why we’re here, what’s important, what we want to do for you. I’m huge on co-marketing. One of the things I do with my distributors is I add all of their logos to my ads, because I want them, they’re the ones selling the product. Every lead I get goes directly to my distributor, I don’t even see most of them. I just say, “Here you go.” The point being is that, for me, it’s really important to get out there and show people and check in on my distributors, so I do one-on-one calls. Now more than ever, being a good, ethical business operator, especially in tough times. People want to work with who they trust. That’s that. You want to work with who you can trust, and you want that relationship. Relationships are so important. Kind of old-fashioned, a little bit, but customer service is so important to me. My distributors are my customers, effectively.
BD: That makes a lot of sense, especially in the current environment. You mentioned expecting this basically for a year or more. That’s probably a good outlook, because you can treat it as a pleasant surprise if things improve before then. Yet you're prepared from a business perspective to stay with this current approach, which sounds like it’s quite innovative. It’s one of those things, you prepare for the worst, you expect another year of it, and then if things improve before then, then you take it as a pleasant surprise. Is that kind of how you all are looking at it?
HO: Absolutely. Again, it’s the whole silver lining thing. You can look at this as a hindrance or you can look at it as an opportunity to do different things. I think now more than ever, people are really reaching out and telling you what they need and telling you what they want and telling you what they see. Because you’re not engaging all the time like we used to be able to. You have to force yourself to communicate and take on those relationships. That’s something I’ve always done, so for me this is a natural part of what I do every day. But it’s nice to see the growth for everyone. It’s so great to hear all the positivity that I’m getting and how great business has been. It’s just really encouraging. Did I answer your question?
BD: I think so. Yes, that’s a good answer. I’ve enjoyed having you on this because this is pretty positive in a dark time. I agree, having a positive message can really resonate, given a lot of the challenges that we’re all facing right now. As we finish up right here with Heather O’Brien, president of Easycove, for anyone listening that might want more information from you, from Easycove, about your products, your solutions, what’s the best way that people can get more resources in terms of your website, any additional information? What’s the best way that they can find out more from you or the company?
HO: Thank you for asking that, Ben. I am huge, again, on customer service. I get phone calls all the time. I don’t sell direct to customers, but when they call me, I am always there to answer their questions. The phone number’s on our website. You can go to www.easycove.com. We’re always trying to add more information there. I get people who love our product and will call me and say, “Hey, the only thing I think is you need to add this.” I’m always trying to better and provide what other people need. If there’s something on the website people need, people just let me know. You can reach us there. You can find a distributor on our distributor locator page. That’s all I got.
BD: Sounds good. Heather, thank you so much for the time. Look forward to having you on in the future. We’ll definitely reach out for more of these in the coming months or years, as long as we keep this series going. Hopefully it continues to do well. Thank you for coming on for the first time and look forward to talking with you again.
HO: Thank you so much. I love CoatingsPro Magazine. Appreciate it very much.
BD: We appreciate that plug, speaking of co-marketing. This will do it for this episode.
For more information, contact: Easycove, www.easycove.com