Wielsbeke, Belgium—UNILIN and Agfa joined forces to investigate the feasibility of deploying inkjet printing for high-volume, high-speed production printing of decor paper used for laminate flooring and furniture.
At InPrint, they will present the outcome of their cooperation: specialized water-based ink-primer sets for high-speed, roll-to-roll digital printing on decor paper for laminate flooring and furniture. The combination of dedicated, conventionally coated primers from Unilin and perfectly matched Agfa pigmented inkjet inks delivers a wide color gamut with ideal print quality and low ink consumption. Sharply priced, these ink-primer sets will be competing head-to-head with high-volume gravure printing.
“Integration within existing manufacturing facilities is easy as this innovative technology is fully compatible with conventional processing including impregnation, pressing, cutting and milling,” said Jasmine Geerinckx, business development manager, Unilin division technologies.
Visitors to InPrint 2019 will be able to discover a wide range of laminate samples and discuss the benefits of the dedicated ink-primer sets with experts from both companies.
San Antonio—Raw, damp weather greeted many of those who turned out for the kickoff of the 2018 Starnet fall conference here earlier this month, but the unusually dreary conditions didn’t put a damper on the spirits of the convention guests in attendance at the sprawling La Cantera Resort & Spa.
“When we booked this venue three years ago, resort management told us it’s usually 70 degrees and sunny in San Antonio this time of year,” Jeanne Matson, Starnet president and CEO, said as she welcomed members during her opening presentation. “But when we arrived they said it was the worst October they’ve seen in years.”
Nonetheless, it was the group’s highest attendance ever for a fall membership meeting, according to Matson. Close to 400 people representing roughly 60% of Starnet’s 178 membership turned out for the event. “We believe it’s due to venue as well as the agenda,” she said.
The jam-packed conference meeting agenda and events schedule, by design, was predominately geared to foster networking amongst contractor members, vendor partners and Starnet staff; sharing best business/management practices; and, of course, education. There was also a half-day dedicated to instructional product demos focused on subfloor prep and moisture mitigation—a hot-button topic for many commercial flooring contractors.
It was all in keeping with the overriding conference theme, “Partnership for Growth,” which included member to member relations as well as alliances with the group’s preferred suppliers. “The members really like each other and learn from each other. Also, the vendor network is incredibly important to us,” Matson told FCNews. “When our members at the field level can partner with our vendors to create business and generate projects together, specify the materials and provide post-installation care—that’s where the partnership really comes together.”
Starnet vendors tend to agree. “As a charter vendor partner, Armstrong Flooring has benefited from Starnet’s ‘Partnership for Growth Initiative,’” said Shelley Ackerman, national sales manager, commercial groups. “Our partnership with Starnet affords us deeper and more meaningful access to their membership through board of director meeting participation, vendor roundtable meetings and meeting trade show opportunities. The partnership is truly a two-way street of collaboration, idea sharing and defining mutually agreed-upon goals.”
Starnet contractors also attested to this key aspect of membership. “Starnet has fostered relationships with key individuals within a manufacturer at all levels, from the local representative and regional vice presidents and as far up as the national sales manager and president,” said Dave Triepke, CEO of Universal Metro, based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
For other contractor members such as CB Flooring, based in Columbia, Md., the primary benefit of an affiliation with Starnet is the ability to network with—and learn from—dealers across the nation who openly share their best practices. “The camaraderie in our group is amazing,” said Chuck Bode, president. “Starnet is a band of brothers and sisters who have joined together to help improve their businesses and preserve the role of the independent entrepreneur in a fast-changing industry.”
Catherine Franzella of Sun Interiors, based in Harahan, La., leverages her company’s partnership with Starnet as a means to accomplish several key objectives. For her, the fellowship the conference provides valuable opportunities to learn from larger companies and vendor partners. “We definitely strive to reinforce our connections with our vendor partners and other dealers when we head out to train,” she explained. “This gives time to network, communicate and strategize on ways to separate ourselves in the marketplace.”
As a growing player in the floor prep/moisture-mitigation world, Franzella said she received a wealth of important information and hands-on/visual training to take back to her business. On a more personal level, actively participating in the commercial cooperative has enabled her to grow “tremendously in the nearly two years since I attended my first meeting, both in knowledge and in confidence,” she told FCNews. “I’ve met people from all over the country who are in similar positions coming up in the next generation.”
And that’s precisely the point—putting members in the best possible position to succeed, Matson noted. “Our No. 1 focus is supporting our members as they grow,” Matson said. “When you read our mission statement, it’s really about improving their profitability. Obviously, the revenue growth is going to be a big part of that. But the more services they can offer their end users, the more products we can offer them to give them that profitability.”
But make no mistake—it’s not a one-size-fits-all program. “I always say we have 178 members, but we have 178 different business models,” Matson said. “While some of our members do residential work, I would say 85% are committed to commercial flooring as their driver.”
Of course, it can’t hurt when positive market conditions support an environment that’s conducive to new business opportunities. In his presentation to Starnet members during the general session, Mark Bischoff, vice president, vendor relations, provided useful research findings and statistics that bode well for the non-residential market.
“This year, the strongest growth is expected to come from the commercial sector with spending in office, retail and other commercial and lodging all expected to see gains of 4%,” he noted, citing leading construction forecast data. “By 2019, the major commercial sectors will likely see slower growth, while industrial, healthcare and educational facilities are projected to see spending gains of 4% or more.”
Ample growth opportunities are expected to emerge in the healthcare sector in particular, according to Bischoff. Citing a phenomenon he calls the “silver tsunami,” he pointed to an aging segment of the population and the subsequent need for assisted-living facilities. “Follow the data,” he advised attendees. “Baby boomers are impacting the healthcare business. Senior-living facilities are going to be more and more in demand, and our members are well positioned to take advantage of that.”
But that’s not the only end-use segment worth watching. According to Matson, education looks like it’s going to be a big bright spot going forward (K-12) as well as higher education. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past 10 years doing college visits; there are construction cranes all over campuses across the country. There are endowments to fund that construction.”
Matson also expects to see the hospitality sector further strengthen. “We’ve had a good run in that segment, and I think that will continue. There are a lot of hotels out there that require refreshing. The economy is doing well right now, but we know it’s going to soften at some point.”
In the meantime, Starnet contractors are keeping busy. Randy Rubenstein, president and CEO of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpets, based in Seattle, said he’s backlogged through 2020. “The hot sectors for us right now include multi-family high-rise and corporate, and we’re also seeing a lot of casino projects and hospitality work,” he told FCNews. Furthermore, these sectors have had an impact on the specific products being specified. “We’re doing a lot of ceramic, resilient and terrazzo, but not too much in the way of carpet.”
Hospitality and corporate jobs have also been providing contractors like CB Flooring with a lot of work. But the strongest growth potential, according to the company, lies in the healthcare arena. “Many members have a record sold backlog heading into 2019,” Bode said.
Starnet’s Fred Williamson takes a bow
Fred Williamson, executive vice president of Starnet, announced his plans to retire after 13 years on the board of the cooperative and 50 years total in the commercial flooring industry.
Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet, led the tribute to Williamson in her remarks to the general session on opening day: “There’s nothing I can say about Fred Williamson that you all don’t know already. He’s a true gentleman with integrity and intelligence—a tireless worker. He has really committed himself to building the partnership between our members and our preferred vendors, and somehow he has been able to do that with equal energy and honesty for all parties and a true commitment to making this organization better.”
Chuck Bode, chairman of the Starnet board of directors and president of CB Flooring, Columbia, Md., presented Williamson with a retirement gift—along with a few good-natured barbs—on behalf of the group. “Fred has the most unbelievable work ethic I have ever encountered. Smooth as silk professionalism, unparalleled moral compass. All of us will deeply miss his wisdom.”
Williamson, who received a standing ovation during his acceptance speech, thanked the group and attendees profusely. “The past 13 years for me have been an adventure. It certainly has been something I have enjoyed immensely because it meant meeting so many old friends, renewing friendships and, of course, building so many new ones. My thanks go out to all of the past board chairmen/chairpersons who have given me the opportunity to have an additional 13-year career that I was done with. It gave me new life and energy and was a great opportunity for me and my family. Thank you, I love all of you.”
Although this marks Williamson’s last go-round, Matson hinted at the possibility the group might see him again down the road. “This is Fred’s final membership meeting, but I don’t think you will ever find Fred to be a stranger.”
Dalton—The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) will host an educational conference titled Empower 2018 from Sept. 20-21 at La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio, Texas. The program will provide attendees with new and refined strategies, along with peer-to-peer connection opportunities, designed to propel their companies to new levels of success. This conference is part of WFCA's core initiative to ensure members access to the best professional training and a second-to-none professional tool kit.
The speaker lineup is a veritable “who’s who” of current stars on the professional business executive circuit. Empower 2018 will kick off with a keynote presentation delivered by Steve Hillis, chief executive officer of Empower Partners in Canton, Ga. He has been in the flooring industry for more than 30 years and has spent portions of his career fulfilling senior roles at Milliken & Company, Floor Focus, Beaulieu Group and The Mohawk Group. His presentation will focus on management leadership and the impact that best practices can have on employee retention, gains in efficiencies and team empowerment.
Jon Newman, owner of JLN Business Development based in Atlanta, Ga., will lead a discussion entitled “The Way to Wealth.” His focus will be on the positive effects of increasing both close rates and average tickets. Newman will shed light on how many dollars actually leave with those customers—even when you make the sale—and how to optimize in-store sales by identifying and addressing the needs and wants of those customers.
Additional speakers include: Debra Trueman, president of Manitzas Trueman Consulting Services based in San Antonio, Texas, who will be talking with audience members about the rapidly changing landscape of workplace sexual harassment and effective methods for the prevention of abusive behavior in the workplace; and Steve Abernathy, WFCA’s own chief financial officer, who will shed light on how to prepare for succession planning in his presentation “Next Steps in Building Your Business for the Future.”
Additional roundtables, panels and discussions will include: “Why Certification Matters” moderated by Robert Varden, vice president of Certified Floor Covering Installers Association, and Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development, WFCA; and “Managing Your Online Reviews,” presented by Jon Newman, owner of JLN Business Development, and Sam O’Krent, owner of O’Krent Floors. Many other speakers and panel discussions are scheduled as well.
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:
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.
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.”
Las Vegas—The main objective of Floors & More’s 2018 winter convention was to drive business for members—literally. In keeping with the conference theme, “EXCELerate,” the latest initiatives were designed to help members accelerate profits and growth.
Highlights included expanded private-label branding campaigns, a renewed focus on digital marketing strategies and, of course, new vendor programs. The three-day conference was also packed with education and networking opportunities.
“EXCELerate is about being the best and getting more aggressive,” said Vinnie Virga, founder and CEO, Floors & More. “Times are changing and they’re changing quickly. Therefore, our members need to be nimble and move faster. We’re helping them to understand the importance of building their local brands using the tools we bring them. We’re also reinforcing the importance of customer experience.”
According to Virga, the group’s focus in 2017 was on setting the right foundation and reworking its business model. This year the group plans on growing at an accelerated pace. “We’re growing organically, and we’re also growing through acquisition,” Virga said.
A big part of Floors & More’s success hinges on executing multiple facets of a particular design project. To that end, the group has added eight new vendors to provide dealers with the whole flooring package. In addition to taking on companies such as Lonesome Oak, the group has added insurance and benefits vendors.
What’s more, Floors & More is providing its members with multiple services to help the collective grow. “We’re extending our private brand offering,” said Mike Cherico, the group’s vice president. “We actually reiterated the importance of education and private branding [at general session]. We have some killer programs with private branding and we’re going to continue down that road.”
Cherico pointed to the success of private-label branding opportunities available through Stainmaster, adding there is more on the way. “It’s the No. 1 brand name in flooring, and we have it as our brand,” he said. “We also have another collection coming with 10 PetProtect products.”
Embracing digital Beyond private-label branding the group is supporting members on the digital front. “Our digital marketing is already very good, but some of things we’re doing are blowing the minds of our members,” Virga said. “The digital aspect is cutting edge and very effective with unbelievable ROI, and most of it is included in the base membership.”
Kim Weber, office manager and interior design for Greeley, Colo.-based Steamway Floor to Ceiling—a member since 2002—is a big fan of the digital services. “A lot of the benefits to Floors & More are the background things they do such as advertising and the website. I also like all of the new companies they’ve brought in and the social media support they’re doing for us.”
Brad Millner, CEO, Synergy Holdings, Yuma, Ariz., is similarly impressed with the group’s initiatives. “To be successful, dealers must embrace product line extensions to capture more revenue,” he said. “After listening to RFMS, Flooring Financial, Creating Your Space (CYS) and other dealers, we are examining each step of our sales, operations, installation and customer services processes to create a more streamlined, efficient system.”
Moving forward, Floors & More is partnering with CYS and getting insight from digital experts to better serve its members with respect to their lead-generation initiatives.
Chicago—NeoCon is seeking innovative thought leaders for the 50th edition of its prestigious conference program to be held June 11-13 at the Mart. The official call for presentations application is now available online at neoconcfp.com. Applications are due Oct. 30.
NeoCon programming is known for its diverse assortment of dynamic and timely seminars across leading tracks and categories. The 2018 offering will build on this legacy and include a special new programming designation on the “Future of Design.”
Now is the chance to join thousands of industry experts who have shaped the educational conferences of NeoCon. Selected speakers will gain visibility in the industry and contribute to the advancement of their profession at the momentous 50th edition of NeoCon.
Atlanta—FEI Group—the parent company to Home Solutions by FloorExpo, MultiFamily Solutions by FloorExpo, KBx and K&B Alliance—has chosen the JW Marriott San Antonio Resort & Spa as the site for its 19th annual conference, Oct. 18-20.
“Each year, we put a lot of thought into the property choice,” said Jay Smith, FEI Group president. “The resort is an easy drive north of downtown San Antonio, so spending a day touring the city’s historic attractions—The Alamo, The River Walk, Natural Bridge Caverns—is a cinch. The rich, colonial heritage of the area is something to behold, so we encourage members to explore the area before or after the conference.”
As for the agenda, attendees can expect a slate of powerful, hard-hitting breakouts and discussion topics designed specifically with each group in mind, according to the organization. Some sessions will be specifically for flooring or kitchen and bath, while others will be applicable to all groups.
In true FEI Group style, the event will feature a big party at the Knibbe Ranch, a working cattle ranch and one of the few remaining Century Heritage Ranches in the state of Texas.
FEI Group expects attendance to break records again this year.
Oxon Hill, Md.—In the first 100 days of the Mike Barrett administration, the new Haines president and CEO, along with Chris Pratt, chief sales and marketing officer, and Hoy Lanning, special CEO advisor, set out to personally visit customers, mostly retailers but suppliers as well—including one- and two-person dealer operations.
Barrett presided over his first Haines Loyalty Club Summit here May 4-5. The venue, the Gaylord National Resort, sits on the Potomac River, a mere 11 miles from the White House, where another new occupant recently marked his first 100 days in office.
Barrett, who took over as president and CEO of Haines on Jan. 1, said the road trip with the senior leadership team was about staying connected to their constituents. “It is, and will be, a critical part of what we have to do,” he told FCNews.
The Haines executive team, led by Barrett and Chris Pratt, also includes Doug Drew, chief logistics officer, who started in January after previously serving in logistics for Dollar Tree Stores.
Haines may be the largest flooring distributor in the industry but it is not too big to take time out to greet its base. As Lanning put it, “without them, we’re nothing.”
Lanning, a holdover from the CMH acquisition, will serve Haines in an advisory capacity through the end of the year. He said the distributor visited about 100 customers since the beginning of the year. “We were welcomed by the retailers. They really appreciated the commitment Mike has made to being with his customers and listening to their concerns. In our industry there are not that many businesses that would go around to their customers to the extent we have and ask what we can do for them. I think it makes us unique. It is about the customer, after all. They are our livelihood.”
Suppliers and retailers in attendance were impressed with the steps Haines has taken to solidify existing relationships, some of which have lasted for more than a century—as in the case of Armstrong. “I’d say the last six months we have had regular meetings, positive meetings, with the new management to plan the business moving forward,” said Joe Bondi, senior vice president, chief product officer, Armstrong.
Joe Cole, owner of DeHart Tile Co., a Christiansburg, Va., dealer, added, “It was good to be with the new management and hear what they had to say. The partnership they want to build—the bridge they want to build to their dealer base—will help all of us be successful.”
Record turnout Haines’ Loyalty Club Northern Summit drew a record attendance of nearly 600, including 184 retailers. Now in its 11th year, HLC membership has experienced “straight-line” growth, Pratt said, to where 400 retailers are now HLC members. According to Haines, HLC retailers who take full advantage of Haines’ resources—including special pricing, $700 rebate and exclusive product offers—perform several percentage points better than non-HLC members.
While maintaining close ties with customers was a theme at the Summit, perhaps the bigger story was the distributor’s push for improved logistics and service, or what Barrett called “a leveraged differentiated service model. We want to create a model that services customers like no one else can.”
To that end, Haines announced a transportation deal with J.B. Hunt, a $7 billion Fortune 500 transportation company that specializes in supply chain logistics. Haines will outsource its route deliveries to Hunt, which is known for connecting shippers and carriers using data to match freight with capacity to create efficiency and cost savings. “We felt this was a great cultural fit,” Barrett said. “We are not a trucking company; we sell flooring—that’s what we do. Hunt will provide the logistical and transportation excellence to support us. We are a month into this relationship and the accuracy and flexibility that Hunt provides is amazing; they hit the ground running. We are also getting good intelligence back from them. This is one of the smoothest transitions in logistics transportation that I have been a part of in my career.”
Carlsbad, Calif.—Starnet kicked off its 25th anniversary conference in a big way earlier this month, drawing a record number of members and manufacturer reps alike. The event also marked a key turning point in the evolution of the organization.
“We have more than 700 people here—that’s the most we’ve ever had,” said Jeanne Matson, president and CEO. “The mills and vendors are bringing more people than they used to. And our members are bringing more people, which is the byproduct of a good, strong economy.”
Not only are more people coming to Starnet, but the mix of attendee profiles is shifting. “We’re seeing more regional vice presidents here and more local people, which is really good because we’re getting the message down to the street on how critical the relationship is between the Starnet member and our vendor partners,” said Leah Ledoux, director of strategic accounts.
Indeed, Starnet members have evolved over time, right along with the overall industry. Matson, who has been with Starnet for 10 years, said the group has seen a lot of change over the past quarter century. “I think we are more sophisticated as a group, and the members are doing their businesses in a more technology-based way than they did in the past. The challenges with evolving flooring materials and what that means in terms of installation is changing and causing them to be smarter.”
At the same time, the more things change some lingering issues remain. “Labor continues to be an issue—the members can’t seem to find enough good installers,” Matson said. “But that’s one of the areas where Starnet can really provide assistance.”
For instance, Starnet strives to help members connect with one another. This is not only for the purpose of networking but also problem solving. Matson cited an example where one member, Jeff Lasher (The Rouse Co.), was able to help another member who had an issue with wood and humidity.
Starnet is also working to better serve its members by developing strong educational programs. Members got a glimpse of that objective via the sessions offered at the conference. “We really try to gear the education to some of the issues such as resolving family leadership issues, profitability issues and running a business, because a lot of our members started out on the installation side,” Matson said. “These seminars help them focus on the day-to-day business issues.”
Starnet’s work doesn’t end there. The group’s leadership also works closely with vendors to ensure success for suppliers and contractor members alike. (The price of admission in the group is at least $5 million as members are expected to meet a certain purchasing threshold.) “Our vendor partners are important to us,” Matson said. “We work hard to make sure they are getting value from this group, so there’s more of an emphasis on partnerships.”
While the market shift to hard surface hasn’t necessarily changed Starnet’s vendor lineup, it has changed its purchasing strategies. As Matson explained: “The carpet tile sector was up slightly last year, but broadloom was down. Hard surface continues to be strong, especially ceramic. Many members were not in ceramic 10 years ago, and a lot more are doing it now. LVT is strong as well. End users are demanding one-stop shopping.”
Equally important is the focus on programs, especially as it pertains to cleaning and maintenance, and strategic accounts. “We now have 40 companies in cleaning and maintenance,” Ledoux said. That’s up significantly from 10 years ago. “We have a national network so we can do national accounts now. It’s a profitable business for our members.”
Having the ability to do turnkey services and installation and then floor care, Ledoux said, gets Starnet members “in the door. We have 100 points where we can service the customer. A lot of clients don’t want to have subcontractors come in who don’t work for them. With our members we have the ability to do that in terms of both installation and floor care. It’s a strong point with end users.”
Key drivers Starnet leadership cited several key end-use sectors that are driving the business. Healthcare continues to top the list, especially on the assisted-living side. Meanwhile, education has stayed pretty strong. Hospitality, which entails a lot of direct selling, has also grown; corporate has been pretty solid.
“We try to drive specifications through our vendor partners in corporate applications,” Ledoux explained. (Members collectively generate more than $3 billion in sales.) “That’s been a consistent segment for us.”
Many contractor members are reaping the rewards. “We’re in the fortunate position that we’ve had to turn down work,” said Randy Rubenstein, president of the Seattle-based contracting firm that bears his name. “We have more jobs than we can handle. Corporate clients are hiring; Amazon brought in all these workers to the city, and as a result multi-family construction is up. We’ve been getting a lot of that work.”
In keeping with the overall market shift to hard surfaces, Rubenstein’s mix is changing accordingly. “We do a lot of work with terrazzo and LVT,” he said. “In many other commodity categories we find we just compete with our vendors. There’s better margin in terrazzo; it’s just the material and epoxy and we do it on the job site. It has been very profitable for us.”
Mill partners are prospering as well. “Our first quarter was up by single digits, and multifamily is strong,” said Russell Grizzle, president and CEO, Mannington Mills. “The shift from soft surface to hard surface is just unbelievable.”
Norwalk, Conn.—Metroflor’s chief sustainability officer Rochelle Routman will lead the “The Voice of New China Manufacturing” panel during the Sustainatopia conference in San Francisco, May 8-10. She will be joined by two Chinese colleagues for a candid discussion about sustainability in Asia, with a focus on product and social transparency.
The panel will demonstrate how the new generation of manufacturers in Asia is embracing sustainability, transparency and environmental and social responsibility in addition to product innovation, taking inspiration from their American partners and opening their doors to their customers.
“Thousands of American companies manufacture products in China, and many do their best to hide that fact,” Routman said. “But our company is taking a very different, much more transparent approach. Metroflor Corp./Halstead Group’s deep and decades-long partnership with Asian manufacturing partners has created a model of how social responsibility within a model of transparency can be possible for any company doing business in China. We are proud to come together to have this important discussion.”
The panel will present on May 10 from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. For more information, visit sustainatopia.com