Vortex Commercial Flooring
- Written by: Jim Cavan
- Produced by: Victor Martins
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
You’d think you just walked into a hip Chicago loft space. From the geometric carpet laid atop hardwood flooring to the exposed duct work and brick walls, the office of Vortex Commercial Flooring isn’t your typical showroom. Even the shop’s location, in the heart of the Chicago Loop, is meant to buck the flooring industry’s whitewashed, industrial park aesthetic.
But the space isn’t just inviting; it’s interactive, with every inch of its 5,000 square feet created so that construction professionals can show their clients the latest interior finish options, something they couldn’t do in their own offices.
“We invite designers and architects over routinely for presentations,” says Vortex owner and CEO Randy Rich. “People get excited to come in here, and that in turn energizes our company.”
And to think it almost never happened.
If you build it, they will come
Ten years ago, as the Great Recession exerted its toll on builders and everyone else, Rich and his team did the ill-advised: they took a chance. Knowing they needed something to differentiate their business, and after a year of searching for just the right spot, the group purchased space in a century-old building in one of the city’s priciest enclaves.
Surrounded by skyscrapers of steel and glass, Vortex’s brick-and-timber Chicago showroom stands out.
What’s inside, however, is anything but retrograde. Once the space was purchased, the team spent months refurbishing the interior finishes and furnishing the space, refinishing the existing wood floors (they know quality when they see it) and using strategically placed lighting elements to accentuate the loft’s stunning natural glow.
Rich then invited designers and architects—many of whom had been laid off, and lacked formal offices for their contract work—to use the space to showcase Vortex’s many interior finish materials.
He treated it like an industry social hub, scheduling events and marketing them to the company’s network of contacts. The result was a space whose “wow factor” encouraged visitors to engage with the latest in flooring technologies and installation techniques.
“That’s when things really started to take off,” Rich recalls. “So the investment was substantial, but it was exactly what we needed to set ourselves apart.”
On the clock
But it’s not just for show.
Three miles west, just past the United Center’s championship shadows, stands Malcolm X College (MXC), the site of Vortex’s most ambitious project to date.
On the building’s first floor, the company installed everything from complicated walk-off entrance gratings and drainage systems to soft flooring on tiered seating for students to congregate. The school’s corporate offices were outfitted with performance carpet tile, engineered to endure high foot traffic, as were a number of the classrooms students use every day.
For the school’s athletic weight room, Vortex laid down high-impact rubber flooring, while the 900-seat, multipurpose basketball gym was given a professional-grade hardwood floor.
MXC’s School of Health Sciences—one of the college’s tent pole programs—was given ample updates, as well. The company’s use of sheet vinyl, luxury vinyl tile, rubber tile and rubber sheet flooring contributed to school’s goal of creating a more dynamic and streamlined research environment.
Beginning in November of 2015 and involving 500,000 square feet of work, the project was scheduled to take four months. But when Mayor Rahm Emanuel indicated he was looking for a high-profile ribbon cutting to kick off the New Year, Rich and his team went into overdrive. The project was completed in mid-January, nearly two months ahead of schedule.
“It was a lot of pressure, for sure,” laughs Rich, who was a fixture on the jobsite. “We knew if we could move the timeline without compromising quality, we’d have something we could really be proud of.”
A better box
Later that year, Vortex secured a bid to renovate the downtown offices of music-streaming service Pandora.
Although the project was a fraction of the size of the Malcolm X College project (around 30,000 square feet), it involved unique installations. With a combination of high performance carpet tile and luxury vinyl tiles made to look like wood, Vortex was able to accentuate the space’s hyper-modern feel. It even custom-cut material to mimic Pandora’s floor-mounted logo.
“Pandora was a project that fell right in our wheelhouse,” says Rich, who first came to Vortex in 1996. “From start to finish it took about three weeks—right on schedule,” Rich says. “The project teams were a pleasure to work with and seemed really happy with the work we did.”
The project was received so well, in fact, that it later earned a People’s Choice Award from the International Interior Design Association’s Illinois chapter. Since then, Vortex’s docket has only grown, typified by extensive work in the corporate, educational and healthcare sectors—often with a creative twist.
At the College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, the carpeting portrays a piano and a guitar; at the headquarters of web discount hub Groupon, futuristic carpet tile is just the ticket; Getty Images opted for gray carpet to allow its vibrant, oversized photography to pop.
Still, Rich says his company hasn’t lost touch with what got it here.
“We’re not a company that pumps out projects for the sake of inflating our numbers,” Rich says. “We create value by focusing on relationships within the design, real estate and construction community, offering quality and long-term performance in the products we specify. Price doesn’t always tell the whole story.”
A great showroom, however, can spin a pretty good one.
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