April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23
By Reginald Tucker
Orlando—Starnet may be well regarded as the nation’s largest commercial flooring cooperative, but at its core it’s really about a family of contractors, vendors and design professionals just helping each other to not only survive in a rapidly changing environment, but also thrive in the process.
This is especially evident in today’s market—an environment that poses a mix of challenges and emerging opportunities for members. “The installation and estimating labor shortage is really impacting the industry,” Jeanne Matson, Starnet president and CEO, told FCNews during the group’s spring conference here. “While I believe our members are managing as well as any company can, I know they’re concerned the situation will get worse in the coming years.”
In this regard, Starnet is leveraging its scale, collective member knowledge and industry affiliations to come up with solutions. In fact, the group recently formed a joint task force with Fuse Alliance to focus on critical issues facing the commercial flooring industry. The task force will address long-standing industry concerns—labor shortages in estimating and installation being high on the list. By tapping into each other’s base of knowledge and resources, Starnet and Fuse can tackle a broader range of issues affecting the architecture and design industry with the goal of crafting a better customer experience. Collectively, Fuse Alliance and Starnet Worldwide represent more than 250 of the most influential flooring contractors in the U.S.
“The Starnet board and staff are exploring ways to help the industry, starting with highlighting some outstanding recruiting efforts executed by several of our members,” Matson said. “We also plan to share both recruiting, training and retaining best practices with all members.”
Starnet’s efforts in this regard are not lost on members. “One of the great things about being a member of Starnet is we are able to share ideas and learn from so many knowledgeable individuals in the industry,” said Mike Rajner, vice president of Ohio-based Commercial Flooring of Toledo. “If we experience a new issue, there is a very good chance that another member has already—or is currently facing that same challenge—and can offer advice on how to navigate through that situation.”
Rajner sees the lack of well-trained, productive installers as an issue that has universally affected the flooring industry. “Many young people do not view flooring installation as a viable career, and we are working to change that perception,” he explained. “There is a diversity in how each individual Starnet member supplies labor. We have union and non-union contractors, as well as those who subcontract their installation. By discussing this and other issues with dissimilar members, we are able to view the situation from a different perspective and entertain methods that we might not have thought of otherwise. As a group, we are committed to hiring, educating and maintaining an exceptional workforce.”
Mike Nelson, executive vice president of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based Great Floors, also applauds Starnet’s efforts in tackling the installation issue head on. “Whether it’s the craftsmen in the field or the project manager running the crew, there just aren’t enough of them to keep up with today’s demand,” he told FCNews. “Starnet has spent a lot of time and energy developing and sharing training programs to accelerate and enhance the members’ training efforts.”
But the value of aligning with Starnet doesn’t end there. Nelson said networking with other members helps address a host of other issues. “The main benefits we have experienced are the result of Starnet’s mission to improve the commercial flooring industry. We’ve found great value in the idea sharing, webinars and training available to Starnet members. There are initiatives and best practices we learned as members of Starnet that continue to have a positive impact on our business and the service our customers receive.”
Rajner and Nelson are not alone. Commercial flooring contractors like Cheryl Acierno, owner of Denver-based Acierno & Co., and Skip Mancini, owner of B.T. Mancini Co., San Francisco, also attest to the benefits of membership. “There are so many advantages to membership—networking with my Starnet colleagues, being able to build strong relationships with our Starnet vendor partners at the upper management level and the ability to learn from others, which has helped me grow my business, Acierno said. Mancini concurred, adding, “The main benefits for my company are networking with vendors and flooring dealers, learning of best practices and the sharing of ideas. One of the challenges we face in Northern California is finding people; Starnet’s training programs are very helpful in getting new hires up to speed.”
For David Meberg, president and CEO of New York-based Consolidated Carpet—which took home a Starnet design award in the “corporate” category—the value comes in the form of connecting with his peers and sharing what he calls “war” stories. But it doesn’t stop there. “The value I try to derive now is the development of my young and future leaders. That’s where we see the value as a company.”
Commercial market outlook
Beyond the core benefits that membership within Starnet brings, the group is also encouraged by activity it is seeing at the end-user level. Many Starnet members continue to observe strength in healthcare and higher education, and most believe the hospitality sector is settling down. Corporate, on the other hand, has not been growing as rapidly as it has over the past two years, but it remains a large business for Starnet contractors.
On the whole, Matson said she is confident that 2018 will remain a solid year for the industry. “A year ago, we predicted some softness toward the fourth quarter, but that does not appear to be a risk at this point,” she explained. “As for 2019, we expect next year to remain strong, although our keynote speaker this year [Alan Beaulieu] predicted a slight dip in the second half. However, based on our membership, they are planning projects well into 2019.”