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Fuse Alliance: Growing stronger every day

By Reginald Tucker

 

New Orleans—Rising contractor membership numbers, a steady uptick in vendor partners, a respectable surge in buying power and, more importantly, a growing influence on the specification of a variety of commercial flooring products and services. These are some of the accomplishments Fuse Alliance leadership shared with attendees at the group’s recent annual conference here earlier this month.

“This is the biggest group we’ve ever had,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director of Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional commercial flooring contractors, during his opening address to the 300-some-odd members in attendance. “More importantly, this is the most content we’ve ever offered for our annual meeting.”

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, “Never Miss a Beat,” the event was designed to transition seamlessly from last year’s meeting—which focused mostly on the subject of commercial design—to the 2018 conference, which was all about matters dealing with facilities and job-site issues. “In any organization you always want to have momentum,” Gordon said, referring back to the conference theme. “We’re trying to elevate our status in the industry.”

The numbers reflect that objective. Fuse Alliance management reports the group has grown to 99 members representing 150 locations. In terms of scale, members generate approximately $1.7 billion in sales today, which equates to about $1 billion in materials purchasing power, according to Gordon. The organization has also boosted its vendor lineup, adding 15 new suppliers in the last year alone. In addition, this year’s meeting welcomed nine new contractor members.

“Suppliers like to see growth, and we have definitely seen a surge in interest from vendors who said they would like to be more active with the group,” Gordon noted. “Furthermore, member sales are up 9%, while the industry at large is up 3%. That’s significant.”

Fuse Alliance members like Cleveland-based D&R Carpet Services is participating in the economic rebound. Daniel Schrickel, who handles sales for the company, is seeing a commercial renaissance of sorts, with particularly strong activity in the restaurant, hospitality and education sectors. “There’s a lot of rebuilding in our market,” he said.

Farther south, in Charlotte, N.C., commercial flooring contractors like Garmon & Co. are also experiencing growth, Scott Garmon, president, reports. The company—which provides a broad range of servicing ranging from product specification and consulting all the way through installation, certified reclamation and project management—has seen an uptick in activity amongst the key market segments it serves, especially corporate, restaurant/retail, financial and senior living facilities.

The economic outlook for some Fuse Alliance members is such that it is creating an environment that encourages reinvestment in the business. Such is the case for Lakeside, Calif.-based Christian Brothers Flooring & Interiors. “We see an opportunity to build a maintenance division that will strengthen our offering to our clients,” said Brian Boek, vice president of sales and marketing. The company has also renewed its commitment to integrate new technologies to streamline aspects of the business.

Common challenges
Despite their respective successes and achievements, Fuse Alliance members are not immune to the challenges and issues facing the commercial flooring sector. During a special roundtable-style breakout session on opening day, attendees were asked to split up into smaller splinter groups for the purpose of identifying common concerns and coming up with potential solutions. Among the most common problems/issues identified:

Robert Varden

Dearth of installers. Finding qualified labor continues to be an issue for the industry at large for residential dealers and commercial flooring contractors alike. The problem, industry observers say, boils down to a lack of new installers coming into the industry to replace an aging workforce. “For commercial installers, the average age is over 50—and there are thousands of them,” Gordon said. “It’s a problem that’s going to increase before it decreases.

For its part, Fuse Alliance is working closely with The Certified Floor Covering Installers Association (now a division of the WFCA) on ways to recruit, train and retain floor layers. The group is also teaming up with what some consider a rival organization (the larger, more formidable Starnet Flooring Cooperative) in the development of a joint task force to address this perennial issue as well as other challenges facing the contractor commercial industry.

In the interim, CFI vice president, Robert Varden, offered attendees some suggestions on what the industry can do to address the installation issue while providing an update on what his association is working on to tackle the problem. As for the former, Varden sees recruitment opportunities in various initiative such as hosting job fairs at high schools around the country in addition to meeting with school counselors. Utilizing social media tools to reach students who are considering future employment options and developing incentive programs at the local and state levels are also legitimate approaches.

“Many kids are not aware of the job opportunities afforded by the flooring industry or how much money they can make as an installer,” he told the group. “We, as an industry, have to expose young people to these opportunities.”

Varden shared a sobering statistic that puts the issue in perspective. CFI’s research shows as much as 70% of installers in the field today have been working for more than 15 years, which means many are inching ever closer to retirement. At the same time, he said only 4% have been installing flooring for less than five years—which speaks to limited skill levels.

“In 40 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like the pickle we’re in now,” Varden told attendees. “But I’ve also never seen more opportunities.”

For its part, Varden said CFI is working diligently to develop programs that not only provide installation training opportunities for newcomers but also intermediate and advanced educational sessions for experienced installers. These programs include training and certification programs covering both basic and advanced classes across a variety of soft and hard surface products. The majority of classes are held at CFI’s training facility in Forney, Texas, but the group is also looking into the feasibility of establishing training branches and networks in other locations across the country. Furthermore, the group has expanded its reach globally, conducting training in eight different countries and partnering with like-minded associations in Brazil, Canada and South Africa, to name a few.

Project delays. Flooring contractors, naturally, are typically one of the last trades to arrive on the job site. While project delays are common and often unavoidable due to various issues (last-minute design alterations, delays caused by previous trades not completing their work on time, etc.), it can cause problems for commercial flooring contractors who sometimes show up on a job site to complete a task but can’t proceed due to issues such as those mentioned above. For many contractors, downtime is wasted time—and lost revenue opportunities.

Some flooring contractors are counteracting this issue by building stipulations into their contracts with the general contractors that offer certain protections. “We request that the GCs we work with give us appropriate notice when there’s an issue,” Christian Brothers’ Boek said. “We tell them there’s going to be a cost associated with sending our crews out to the site if they can’t work. We understand there are issues with scheduling, but we can’t have our guys standing around. We don’t want to ruin the relationship with the GCs, but at the same time we can’t have them drive our margins down and cause you to lose money on a consistent basis. There’s a way to do it nicely and still be firm.”

Direct selling by the mills. This is an issue that one attendee referred to as the “elephant in the room” when his group was asked to identify the biggest challenges commercial flooring installation companies face today. “Everybody is talking about the lack of installers and product claims—which are affecting all of us, but for more me the proliferation of direct selling by the mills is the biggest issue,” the member said. “They’re using the same estimating services as flooring contractors. Some mills are essentially functioning as GCs, giving end users and architects and designers all the tools that commercial flooring contractors typically provide. Until we stand up, collectively, and say ‘no more,’ it’s going to get worse. We are all being relegated to a position of relative unimportance relative to the big picture.”

Part of the problem, according to Mike Hutton, senior vice president, Fuse Alliance, is manufacturers are feeling more pressure from clients to expand their offerings beyond product to include installation services—which puts them in direct conflict with many of the flooring contractors who purchase their products. Essentially, they are going after the same customers.

“I’ve spoken to the mill executives; they feel if they don’t respond to these demands from the end users, then the client is just going to go to another mill and they will lose the business,” he explained.

Hutton, who came to Fuse Alliance after working for nearly nine years on the vendor side with Interface Services, agrees it’s a complex issue. In his capacity with the group, Hutton is responsible for growing the national accounts business within the Fuse Network while working with members and vendor partners to grow their business. In seeking a resolution to this issue, he said he’s working hard behind the scenes to get the manufacturers to come to Fuse Alliance members with their projects as opposed to going direct.

“More manufacturers are developing turnkey services, but the people they are hiring are not flooring experts like Fuse members,” Hutton told attendees. “Individual companies don’t have the capability Fuse members have. We still have an advantage and a much better story to tell today from an installation service and logistics perspective.”

Gordon agreed, noting members can count on Fuse management to provide assistance in resolving issues such as these. “It doesn’t do us any good to get sideways with a supplier. We encourage our members to reach out to leadership if they have a problem. We can step in and get it resolved.”

Management issues. Other issues that came up during the roundtable breakout discussions was moisture mitigation—specifically, who’s responsible for ensuring testing concrete subfloor conditions on the job site—as well as the rising cost of providing health insurance to installers.

Forging ahead
Despite these issues, Fuse leadership is forging ahead with its plans to grow the group while continuing to provide value for members. Primary goals and initiatives include building brand awareness for the group while communicating the importance of the network and benefits of partnering with members. The group is also constantly working to provide tools to help members more effectively market their business.

“We feel this is the time of the rise of the flooring contractor,” Gordon told attendees. “With our expertise in installation and logistics, we are playing a much larger part in the overall project. This is the best group of quality installation companies in the business, and your commitment to excellence is unmatched. We want to be the go-to network and the easiest people to deal with and offer the best customer experience—not only to the end customer but up and down the chain, including the supplier and general contractor.”

Members are buying in. “Fuse brings the best of the best commercial flooring contractors and manufacturers together and provides a network to solve common challenges,” Christian Brothers’ Boek said. “Fuse also brings a social element where relationships can be built across the United States where we can share ideas and improve together.”

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Fuse Alliance, Starnet Worldwide join forces to address industry issues

fuse-starnet-logos-horizontalLaguna Niguel, Calif.—Fuse Alliance and Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring are forming a joint task force to focus on critical issues facing the commercial flooring industry. During a meeting last month in Chicago, both groups’ board of directors identified the task force as a collaborative step toward supporting each networks’ members and better serving their manufacturers.

The task force will address long-standing industry concerns such as moisture mitigation—including high-moisture solutions—and labor shortages in estimating and installation. Additionally, the task force will establish guidelines for regulatory practices including the current OSHA Crystalline Silica rules and other labor issues on the service side of the industry. 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, and ultimately craft a better customer experience.

The task force is estimated to launch by year’s end, and will comprise seasoned members from both groups. Collectively, Fuse Alliance and Starnet Worldwide represent more than 250 of the most influential flooring contractors in the United States.

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NeoCon 2017 sees increase in attendance

NeoConChicago—NeoCon yet again proved that it is the world’s premier platform for commercial design as it took over The Mart from June 12-14. Registered attendance rose 7% over the 2016 edition as the show hits new record highs year after year. The Mart’s continued investments into the building did not go unnoticed as new amenities and modernizations helped complement the overall show experience. Upgrades were apparent from the ground up as NeoCon attendees enjoyed The Mart’s brand new 2nd floor lounge, Marshall’s Landing, designed by A+I Architects and operated by DMK Restaurant Group and a new venue for keynotes and seminars on the 19th floor.

NeoCon 2017 welcomed six new permanent showrooms to the building, as well as 75 innovative new companies to the exhibitor roster. Rich programming and a wealth of special events, parties, award ceremonies and inspiring exhibits made for a productive and fun show.

“We went into this year strong—showrooms were at capacity and there were 28% ‘new to NeoCon’ brands in our sold out 7th floor exhibit hall,” said Byron Morton, vice president of leasing, NeoCon Shows. “The buzz continued to build with three full days of sold-out keynotes, at-capacity CEU sessions, innovative product launches and dynamic networking events. We look forward to leveraging this momentum as we get ready for NeoCon’s 50th anniversary in 2018.”

Sit/stand solutions, privacy pods, ergonomic seating, integrated technologies and high-performance textiles were among five of the top trends seen throughout the show. Yet, there was a rich diversity to the offerings, enabling specifiers more choice and flexibility for their projects. The talks and topics headlined by keynotes Arianna Huffington, Jessica Green and John Ronan and the debut of “Icons @ NeoCon” gave further insight into the future of commercial interiors.

NeoCon 2018, the 50th anniversary event, will be held from June 11-13 at the Mart.

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Metroflor's Aspecta Ten wins Product Innovations award

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.25.30 PMNorwalk, Conn.—Metroflor‘s Aspecta Ten LVT collection has been named a winner of Buildings magazine’s 2016 Product Innovations Grand Award. Winners were evaluated and chosen out of 63 submissions by the Buildings editorial staff for innovation and sustainability features they offer to building owners and facility managers.

“Facility managers look for durability, easy installation and simple maintenance,” the judges explained. “Aspecta Ten offers a rigid, extruded PVC core that provides strength and sound insulation. The interlocking feature of these tiles offers simple installation and creates a waterproof floating floor able to cover subfloor imperfections.”

Russ Rogg, president and CEO of Metroflor, said, “The Buildings Product Innovations awards are an important gauge of technical superiority and sustainability in the contract arena. We are proud that the editors have bestowed this accolade on Aspecta Ten with a spotlight on our Isocore technology.”

 

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Fuse Alliance welcomes two new service providers

fuse-allianceLaguna Niguel, Calif.Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional commercial flooring contractors, has added two new service providers to the network: GP Land and Carpet of Brockport, N.Y., and Nevada Contract Carpet of Las Vegas. With the addition of these two members, the Fuse Alliance network now reaches 84 member dealer partners with more than 150 locations throughout the United States and Canada.

“The addition of GP Land and Carpet and Nevada Contract Carpet illustrates our commitment to establishing a strong network of flooring professionals that have the same high-quality level of skill and knowledge throughout the network and in every location,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director at Fuse Alliance. “It is members such as these that continue to set us apart in the building industry.”

GP Land and Carpet, a certified Woman Business Enterprise and authorized dealer on the New York State flooring contract, is a full-service flooring company that specializes in commercial carpet and hard surface flooring. GP Land and Carpet Corporation’s projects include corporate, education, government, institutional, public spaces, airports and healthcare.

Nevada Contract Carpet is a full-service flooring company that works in both the residential and commercial market segments. The company’s commercial projects cover most segments including corporate, hospitality, retail and healthcare.

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Tarkett recognized at NeoCon 2016

A selection from Collections Infinies, winner of NeoCon Gold.
A selection from Collections Infinies, which won NeoCon Gold.

Solon, OhioTarkett has been recognized at this year’s NeoCon with four prestigious Best of NeoCon awards, two Metropolis Likes, one HiP Winner and four HiP Honoree awards for its innovative product introduction.

“This year at NeoCon, we were astounded by the quality of design and product innovation across the industry,” said Jonathan Klinger, chief marketing officer for Tarkett North America. “To be recognized among these industry leaders is truly an honor.”

Tarkett products from both hard and soft surface categories were recognized amongst a record-breaking number of entries in Contract magazine’s prestigious Best of NeoCon Awards. Open Archive by Tandus Centiva received the Contract Best of NeoCon Gold award in the Carpet – Broadloom category for OverStitch and Moquette. Tarkett’s world premiere of digitally printed LVT, Collections Infinies, won Best of NeoCon Gold in the Flooring – Hard Surface category. Two of only ten industry-wide Innovation Awards were received by Tarkett for Open Archive Modular: Cache Tweed and GeoKnit by Tandus Centiva and Mesto Configurations by Johnsonite.

Tarkett’s Collections Infinies was also a standout with Interior Design’s HiP Awards, winning the Workplace Flooring – Hard Surface category. The company received HiP Honoree Awards for iQ One in the Health & Wellness Flooring category; Tandus Centiva’s MetalEdge Trim in the Accessories category; Jhane Barnes’ LightSpeed and Velocity for Education Flooring; and Open Archive Broadloom: OverStitch and Moquette in the Hospitality Flooring category.

Metropolis Likes honored Tarkett for iQ One and Tandus Centiva’s Open Archive collection.

“It’s an exciting time at Tarkett for the introduction of Collections Infinies,” said Chris Stulpin, senior vice president of design for Tarkett North America. “We are offering a flooring solution unlike anything else on the market. To be recognized at such a prestigious industry event speaks volumes of the hard work and collaboration that went into making this collection a reality.”

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Mannington Commercial captures Best of Neocon, HiP awards

Divergent LVT and modular carpet companion collections, winner of NeoCon gold.
Divergent LVT and modular carpet companion collections, winner of NeoCon gold.

Chicago—Mannington Commercial, a leader in flooring for commercial interiors, has won Best of NeoCon Gold and Silver awards and an Honoring Industry People (HiP) award. The company received the Gold award in the Healthcare Flooring category for its Divergent modular carpet and Divergent LVT companion collections. The Infused collection of LVT captured NeoCon silver and the HiP award.

Inspired by nature and designed for a variety of healthcare, retail, hospitality and corporate applications, the Divergent line of carpet complements and completes Divergent LVT launched in April 2016. Divergent LVT is available in 18 x 18 and 18 x 36 formats, while carpet is available in 18 x 36 planks. The cohesiveness of the two Divergent collections is more than visual: Mannington’s Seam+Advantage can chemically weld the LVT and carpet together, creating seamless transitions without transition strips.

Made with renewable materials and pre-consumer content, Divergent LVT is finished with Quantum Guard HP, the highest performing urethane for greater scratch and stain resistance and enhanced slip retardance. Divergent carpet is manufactured Econyl 100% regenerated nylon 6.6 for superior stain resistance and appearance retention. Both lines can be reclaimed and closed-loop recycled through Mannington’s LOOP.

Designed by OneGlobal—a network of principal-led design firms in 18 cities across North America—the Innovative collection is a modern interpretation of LVT consisting of five patterns created to be mixed and remixed so that it matches the vision of any designer. Each pattern is available in 9 x 9 and 2.5 x 36 formats with a 20 mil wear layer for affordability and durability. The collection is manufactured using patented Quantum Guard HP, an aluminum oxide top coat cured by an ultraviolet process that enhances scratch, stain and slip resistance. It is available with Mannington’s advanced underlayment technology, which meets or exceeds all IIC sound requirements. While applicable to any market segment, the Infused collection is especially well suited to retail, hospitality and corporate.

The Best of NeoCon competition is sponsored by Contract magazine, Merchandise Mart Properties, The International Interior Design Association (IIDA), The International Facility Management Association (IFMA), and The McMorrow Reports for Facilities Management.

Interior Design magazine’s HiP awards recognize individuals in the design industry as well as product solutions. Winners are selected by popular vote online.

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Texan Floor Service joins Fuse Alliance

08dd3581-47e9-46b3-9364-e1381446c0a2Laguna Niguel, Calif.Fuse Alliance has welcomed Texan Floor Service as its newest dealer partner. Texan Floor Service, which serves the Houston area, is a full-service commercial flooring company. With the addition of this member the Fuse Alliance network has grown to 84 professional flooring partners in more than 150 locations throughout the United States and Canada.

“Texan Floor Service brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our network, and we are thrilled to have them as part of our organization,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director at Fuse Alliance. “It’s an exciting time for us as we continue to build our network with commercial flooring companies of this caliber and expand our reach throughout the United States.”

Texan Floor Service is an employee-owned flooring company that specializes in a wide range of commercial flooring market segments and provides a range of flooring products as well as installation, maintenance and repair, and reclamation services. The company is one of Houston’s first commercial flooring companies dedicated to a No Carpet to Landfill policy. Since 2009, the company has partnered with Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of carpet from landfills and redirecting to a recycling plant in Grapevine, Texas.

“We are committed to cultivating a strong partnership with the Fuse Alliance leadership team and other business throughout the network, and looking forward to the growth and insight that will come from being connected to a network such as Fuse,” said Jeff Hill, president, Texan Floor Service.

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Mr. David's Flooring wins five Starnet Design Awards

The gold award in Healthcare and People's Choice was awarded to Mr. David's for the Rush University Medical Center. Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
The gold awards in Healthcare and People’s Choice were awarded to Mr. David’s for the Rush University Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Miami—Mr. David’s Flooring, a commercial flooring contractor based in Itasca, Ill., was awarded four gold and one bronze prize at this year’s Starnet Design Awards, which took place during Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership’s annual meeting held April 14 to 16 here.

The gold award-winning projects include: Healthcare and People’s Choice for Rush University Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Chicago; Unique Installation for Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Fla.; and Hospitality for HarborChase of Shorewood in Milwaukee, Wis. The bronze award-winning project was in the Corpoate category for Lockton 34th & 35th floors, also in Chicago.

“Winning four gold awards with the vast amount of talented designers and high quality competition in the industry makes this a truly wonderful feat to have accomplished,” said Leonard Zmijewski, CEO of Mr. David’s Flooring. “Mr. David’s Flooring would like to give the designers and the manufacturers the recognition they deserve as none of this would have been possible without them. Mr. David’s Flooring is proud to have taken part in turning the designers’ visions into reality in 2016 and cannot wait to do the same in 2017.”

The Starnet Design Awards recognize creativity, professionalism, quality and versatility demonstrated by Starnet members, vendor partners and the architecture and design community. Gold, silver and bronze prizes are awarded in seven categories by a panel of nationally recognized and award-winning architecture and design professionals. This year’s winners were selected from more than 100 nominees.

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Metroflor launches LVT CEU

PastedGraphic-3Norwalk, Conn.—Metroflor’s first continuing education unit (CEU) course has become available online from AEC Daily at bit.ly/1RQHMrS. The one-hour program, “Sustainable Attributes of LVT Flooring,” qualifies as a one-hour health/safety/welfare credit in partnership with The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continuing Education and has been approved by USGBC with approval from Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC) expected in the coming weeks. AEC Daily  is a registered provider with The American Institute of Architects Continuing Education Systems (AIA/CES). The CEU is a natural evolution of Metroflor’s presence in the commercial marketplace with its Aspecta contract LVT brand.

“While vinyl is one of the most popular types of plastic because of its durability and cost-effectiveness, the safety and sustainability of vinyl flooring often comes into question,” said Corey Carter, Metroflor’s director of safety and sustainability. “The purpose of this course is to discuss the human and environmental impacts of LVT, sustainable corporate strategies and product transparency.”

At the end of this program, participants will gain a basic understanding of:

Vinyl Production

Environmental and human impacts of LVT flooring

Corporate sustainability strategies

Industry third-party certifications

LVT in the green building industry

“This CEU will reinforce that we at Metroflor are the LVT specialists,” Carter said. “It provides a direct and meaningful way to demonstrate the facts of our products to architects and designers. It’s the first of many courses we plan to create that will make the A&D community feel confident and safe specifying LVT.”

Pending authorization from AIA and IDCEC, Metroflor also plans to offer this course as a face-to-face presentation for credit to staff at architectural and interior design firms in major North American markets. This second phase of the CEU will feature—in addition to the live health and safety presentations—an optional design forum for up to 20 designers hosted by Robert Langstaff, Metroflor’s director of design. The forum is intended to involve the audience creatively by asking them to bring design ideas and color boards for inspiration that can lead to future Metroflor products.