Universal Metro: Best Practices – June 2014

By Sonya Jennings

Grant Petruzzelli, David Triepke, Dave Sprenger, Payam Riazati
Universal Metro, a commercial flooring contractor located in Santa Fe Springs, California, has been serving the Los Angeles metro area for 30 years. The firm’s main focus is on the healthcare market, along with tenant improvement, corporate office, education, hospitality and government. Owner and CEO Dave Triepke attributes his success in the highly competitive Los Angeles market to a handful of key strategies, including strong partnerships, shrewd capitalization procedures, and a commitment to hiring and retaining the best employees.

In fact, it was Triepke’s approach toward Universal Metro’s employees that was instrumental in his purchase of the business in 1998. The firm, which was founded by the Hillis brothers in the early 1980s, was sold to Southwestern Publishing in 1988. Triepke worked for the firm from 1990 until 1996, when he left to briefly work for a competitor. He returned two years later with a business plan and a couple of investors, and made an offer to buy Universal Metro.

Although his offer was not the highest, the decision was made to sell the business to him because everyone at the company knew him and valued his competence and character, and also because he planned to keep most of the staff. “The other offers to purchase Universal Metro were focused around the attainment of current accounts or a few salespeople,” Triepke says. “I was going to try to keep as many employees as possible and that was important to Southwestern.”

Finding and hiring good employees is a challenge, but through experience Triepke has successfully honed his process. When he first started, if he had a position to fill, he would reach out to various industry professionals and friends to ask if they could recommend a prospective employee. Often, he was given the name of someone who was either not working or unhappy in their current position, instead of someone who wanted to learn and grow with an ever-changing industry. Now, Triepke seeks educated people with a great attitude who are open to learning new things. “I’m not looking for an industry expert when I hire a new person,” he says. “I’m looking for an educated person who is teachable with a positive mental attitude.”

He also lives by the “ABR” principle—Always Be Recruiting. When going about his daily life, if he notices a stand-out person or employee, he takes the opportunity to plant the seed about working for Universal Metro.

About three years ago, Triepke started working with Amtec, a staffing firm, to help him recruit and hire new employees. Amtec screens potential employees in the areas of personality, history and integrity. One simple screening test, which requires the potential employee to call in at a certain time, answers one of the main questions employers want to know before they hire someone: Is this person going to do what they say they are going to do?

Finding great employees can be difficult; keeping them is crucial. To meet the personal and emotional needs of the company’s staff, Universal Metro has a chaplain available for confidential counsel. Triepke says, “I think our employees are healthier and more balanced because we have Pastor Jim, a person who is always available to comfort and coach our employees on any matter personal or professional.”

Pastor Jim is available 24/7 for employees and contractors. Triepke believes that there are many life problems people face that require a good listening ear or even some sound advice. In addition to the corporate chaplain, Triepke himself tries to be a support to his employees. He states, “I try to keep my phone calls short and my door open. I want my staff to come to me at any time with questions or concerns.”

To run a commercial flooring business, proper capitalization is essential. The capital for products and labor is typically paid upfront by the flooring contractor, and payment from the end user or general contractor is not received until 45 to 60 days after the completion of a job. To minimize losses, Triepke has an employee actively calling on receivables. He also works closely with banks to make sure loans are properly structured.

Another key is doing the best possible job of prescreening projects to make sure they are “safe” projects. In other words, the project has to be evaluated to ensure it’s worth the time and effort, and that also means making sure that the end user or general contractor has the money to pay for the project when it is completed.

Triepke comments, “It definitely helps to know the general contractor. Also, as is the case with many hospital projects, I’m already familiar with the end user.” It is a big advantage that, with 30 years in the business, Universal Metro has become an expert in the healthcare flooring segment, with over 50 hospitals or hospital chains as clients.

In 2003, Universal Metro joined Starnet, the commercial flooring partnership. For Triepke, Starnet offers camaraderie, collaboration and teamwork. He says, “Starnet brings together the best manufacturers in the country and combines that with the best floorcovering contractors in the country to benefit the end user.”

Universal Metro, whose salespeople call on both general contractors and end users, has recently begun to jointly market its services with Ardex Corporation, the subfloor preparation and concrete restoration company. Universal Metro and Ardex share customers by presenting together on projects and offering services for each other to clients. Triepke comments, “This just makes sense because both services are needed on many projects, so we work together to get the business for both of our companies.” The two companies even offer dual logo promotional items to emphasize their complementary efforts.

Copyright 2014 Floor Focus