When your company motto is “innovate or Die” you’re pretty much left no choice.
But for Boca Raton, Fla.-based Q.E.P. Co., Inc. the motto not only frames its philosophy to continually stay on top of its industry but also reminds it that a company’s contribution to its customers lies in its ability to continually self-assess and move forward. And this latter part has come to Q.E.P. through a lot of muscle and hard work.
Founded by Lewis Gould in 1979, Q.E.P. began in Gould’s garage in Rockland County, in upstate New York. Gould hit a milestone after two years when he was able to add one person to the payroll. Thirty years later the company employs over 400 employees and has grown to 31 locations around the world and has weathered many changes along the way. “Jobs were harder to do and took a lot longer than what we have grown accustomed to since the tools and technology were not available,” explains Lewis Gould, company founder and CEO, reflecting on the industry in 1979. “New flooring products, such as laminate, were emerging, forcing flooring professionals to find better ways to install these products.” Given this transition, Gould’s product line has likewise evolved from a bathtub edging kit, to cover the joint where tiles meet the bathtub, to an assortment of ceramic tile and carpet installation tools. Today, with sales in excess of $250 million, Q.E.P. occupies a top-three spot in every category of tools used for flooring installation around the world.
In 1997 Q.E.P. reached another milestone when it acquired a larger company, Roberts Consolidated Industries, which was founded in 1938 as a manufacturer and distributor of carpet installation tools and adhesives. This enabled Q.E.P. to expand from a niche distributor into a global manufacturer to a broader base of customers. “Roberts is well known globally and mostly associated with the professional contractor,” notes Leonard Gould, Lewis’ son and company president. Indeed, Roberts is the oldest and most respected name in the business. Most innovation in carpet tools or adhesives can be traced back to Roberts; in fact, the company is considered the original manufacturer of carpet tools and accessories.
The company further enhanced its business in 2004 when it acquired all the assets of Tuplex Corp. of Naperville, Ill. Tuplex manufactures and distributes the Harmony and Tuplex brands of underlayment for use under all laminate and engineered hardwood floating floors. “Harmony is truly best in class,” Gould says. “Its superiority to other underlayments has been proven.”
And in light of the fact that laminate flooring has become the most widely preferred flooring in the world – and can’t be installed without underlayment – Q.E.P., with the Harmony addition, has found itself revolutionizing the marketplace, adds Gould. “We’re at a point now where this business now ships over one million square feet every week. On a good week we can ship more than two million square feet.”
“The lifeblood of Q.E.P. is innovation,” Gould stresses. “Other companies say their people make the difference but we mean it. We have 50 people at our corporate headquarters and many have been with the company more than 10 years. A lot of our best ideas have come up through the ranks.”
Still, the company understands that the current economic climate necessitates a new strategy. “The tool side of the carpet industry has taken a hit,” Gould explains. “We find that people are taking better care of their tools and these tools hold up pretty well.”
Unable to really innovate on a tool that essentially still does what it’s been doing since the Romans, Q.E.P. found that it could only compete through a different sort of innovation: making it easier for someone to use the tool or improve the quality of the job. “We’re very focused on end users,” Gould notes.
With that in mind, Q.E.P. launched the LASH™ tile leveling system, which handles tile variety and the problem with tile lippage, in which one tile is set higher than the other. “It forces tiles of any thickness to be exactly level,” Gould says, thereby speeding up installation and reducing the risk of slips and falls. “We’re the first ones in the world with this,” he adds.
Another important product is the award-winning Roll-O™ knife, which addresses the need for installers to have knives that can be used in all types of projects.
These products are offered through a roster of brands that fall under the Q.E.P. banner and include Vitrex®, a complete range of tiling tools, safety equipment, and hand tools to home centers and distributors in the U.K.. Another brand, Capitol®, offers adhesives and sundries that have been a mainstay for the professional floor covering installer since the company’s inception in 1986.
Other brands include: PRCI®, a range of tile cutting and plumbing tools distributed in France and within Continental Europe; Black Widow™ brand diamond blades, designed for quick cutting of hard tile including porcelain, ceramic, granite and marble, without wobble or chipping ; Protect-It™ brand, a self-adhering carpet film; the RhinoGrip™ brand line of carpet tapes; Golden Touch™ brand carpet installation tools; Brutus® brand pro tools, for tile, stone and masonry and Suspend-It™ brand, which supplies products for drop-ceiling installation. The biggest brands, however, are Q.E.P. and Roberts.
While the new home side of the business has slowed up, people who are staying put in their homes are “moving up by fixing up,” Gould says. “Eventually the economy will turn around and we feel there will be strong opportunities when the housing market comes back.” Strong opportunity, that is, for tools that perform as well as they say they do. And this is why Q.E.P. has not only been able to stay alive but has thrived all these years.