Dalton, Ga.—Spectra Contract Flooring has joined the Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring and Fuse Alliance joint task force. Established in 2017, the task force focuses on critical issues facing the commercial flooring industry and elevating the flooring contractor profession.
The task force is currently focusing on solutions for the two biggest challenges facing flooring contractors today: recruiting and training labor, along with avoiding floor failures with an emphasis on moisture issues. Because labor is a challenge in all construction trades, the task force is working on proactive tactics to keep the flooring labor pool sufficient to meet demand.
“Our goal is to work collectively to dramatically reduce floor failures for the benefit of the entire industry,” said Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership. “This goal, plus addressing other critical industry issues, is better accomplished working together.”
Moisture is a hot-button topic since many new solutions have hit the market from sundry and product manufacturers that sometimes creates confusion for architects, designers and end users. This situation creates an opportunity for flooring contractors to guide these customers toward the best solutions.
“We are excited to join the task force because we are dedicated to helping reverse the shortage of skilled flooring installers and address the issue of moisture’s impact on flooring installation,” said Jim Pels, general manager of Spectra Contract Flooring. “By working together to innovate the way we recruit and then train installers to follow industry standards, the task force has an opportunity to create better outcomes for our customers.”
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.”
Laguna 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.
Laguna Niguel, Calif.—Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional, commercial flooring contractors, welcomes two new commercial flooring contractors—O’Neill Brothers Flooring and FloorMax—to the network. With the addition of these two contractors, the organization reaches 96 members. The company also welcomes InstaFloor as the network’s newest preferred supplier.
Based in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., O’Neill Brothers Flooring provides quality flooring products and services with experience in vinyl tile, sheet vinyl, ceramic tile, laminate and hardwood. With quality craftsmanship and efficient management, O’Neill Brothers Flooring boasts a skilled team of supervisors and crews with over 15 years of experience in the flooring industry.
FloorMax USA, based in Harrisburg, Pa., is a full service commercial flooring contractor providing material procurement, installation, repairs and maintenance services. FloorMax USA services all segments in the commercial flooring industry with a strong focus in retail and hospitality.
Part of InstaGroup, InstaFloor has been supplying high performing flooring products for over 25 years. InstaFloor provides the durable, long lasting flooring products including InstaLay, a high performance acoustic underlay; InstaCradle, versatile, patented acoustic can sports cradles and base packers made from high quality recycled rubber crumb (from worn vehicle tires); and InstaStop, an exciting new generation of door stoppers.
Laguna Niguel, Calif.—Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional commercial flooring contractors, has added Allegiance Floors and Garmon & Co. to its network. With the addition of these two contractors, the organization reaches 94 members. The organization also announced the addition of Shannon Specialty Floors as the network’s newest preferred supplier.
“We are committed to growing our organization with the most skilled and reliable partners in the flooring industry,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director of Fuse Alliance. “Allegiance Floors, Garmon & Co. and Shannon Specialty Floors share the same goals as our organization when it comes to installing high-performing, quality floors. We are thrilled to have these companies join our organization.”
Allegiance Floors, with locations in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, is a full-service flooring contractor serving a range of commercial market segments. It is a member of AIA, IIDA and the Associated General Contractors of America as well as, HUB certified and SBE/WBE certified.
Garmon & Co. is a commercial flooring contractor based in Charlotte, N.C. and offers a selection of services such as product specification, consulting, estimating, competitive pricing, expert installation, certified reclamation and product management. Garmon & Co. is a member of ABC, NFIB, USGBC, EcoCarolinas and the Chamber of Commerce.
Preferred supplier Shannon Specialty Floors, based in Milwaukee, Wis., is a major manufacturer and distributor of flooring products with a strong focus on healthcare, senior care, hospitality, retail and education. The company produces a wide range of commercial resilient flooring and has representation throughout the United States.
Austin, Texas—“We’ve done a good job growing membership and increasing sales, but we could be doing much better in terms of engaging the A&D community.” That was the gist of Geoff Gordon’s message to contractors in attendance at the annual Fuse Alliance conference held here recently. As executive director of the organization, he believes the group might be losing business by not casting a wider net when seeking new clients.
Gordon understands the inherent challenges in trying to develop better relationships with the A&D sector. “Just getting in to see designers can be difficult. Sometimes there’s a three-month wait. It’s not like the old days. Manufacturers have a lot of reps on the street calling on specifiers, but we are an unbiased group. We can help with budgets, specifications and even transitions. We are the go-to network.”
Truth be told, some Fuse members already count designers among their client base. But by and large, according to Gordon, it’s a sector underserved by the vast majority of members. “There are some members in our group who don’t focus on A&D at all, and we feel it’s a missed opportunity. Our members have access to a variety of product lines, and we should be trying to leverage that.”
As it turns out, Fuse is in the prime position to meet the needs of the design community. According to Mike Hutton, head of Fuse Commercial—which manages the group’s national accounts program—Fuse Alliance members already have an advantage; they just have to learn the nuances of the business and work toward building a better base of specifiers. “You are the consultants,” he told the scores of commercial flooring contractors in attendance. “End users want turnkey suppliers who can provide everything from materials sourcing, installation services, project management and even product reclamation. Most of all, end users want transparency (i.e., line item bidding) and financial security in their vendor partners. Fuse Alliance members offer that single point of accountability, responsiveness, consistency and professionalism.”
It’s no accident that much of the educational programming offered at the Fuse Alliance conference this year was tailored toward showing contractors how they can better develop their A&D contact base. In her presentation to the group, Laurie Baatz, director of market development, Schönox, provided a few concrete examples of how contractors can achieve this objective. “Don’t leave it to the manufacturers to provide designers with an education. Build trust by becoming the design specifier. Don’t just compete on price. Also, develop case studies, which are important to specifiers, and take a strategic approach by following up.”
Fuse Alliance contractors had the rare opportunity to get feedback from designers and specifiers themselves, thanks to a special panel discussion focused on “What designers want.” The four-member panel included: Carol Reitter Elia, ASID, IIDA LEED AP, SAGE, owner of CR Design; Jeffrey Rausch, production executive, Bar Napkin Productions; Karen Hoffman, senior interior designer, GSR-Andrade; and Dean Maddalena, AIA, NCARB, IIDA, ASID, founder and president of StudioSix5. Following is some advice they had to offer attendees:
Build your online presence. “A lot of designers go online right away when researching potential products for their projects,” Rausch said. “Link your account to Pinterest. You’re missing a big part of the audience if you don’t do this. Remember, the best project is the one that leads to another project.”
Offer solutions, not just a low bid. “We’re problem solvers, and we’re looking for solutions for various things,” Reitter Elia said. “Some clients are budget conscious; others are pressed for time. Demonstrate to designers that you are the experts and how you can offer real solutions.”
Be knowledgeable. “In most projects, 90% of the discussion is focused on flooring,” Hoffman said. “How is the flooring going to perform? Be prepared to answer those questions.”
It’s also important for commercial flooring contractors to gain a better understanding of not only how the design process works but also how architects and designers think. It’s also necessary for flooring contractors to better understand all the considerations that go into the design process. Cheryl Stubblefield Durst, CEO and executive director of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), delivered an informative and educational presentation that touched on everything from the impact of technology on the specification process as well as how architects are developing based on demographic changes. “Today’s designers are designing for engagement,” she explained. “Five generations will be working side by side in the year 2020, and 54% of the world’s population today is under age 30.”
Durst also poked holes in the myth that the “open-office” format is the wave of the future. In support of her belief, she pointed to human resource experts who say this format isn’t working. “The biggest complaint is noise interruptions, which is an impediment to worker efficiency.”
With respect to technology, Durst strongly encouraged contractors to embrace technology as a matter of course in their daily routines. She cited statistics showing 3 million social media accounts exist today and that there are 3.5 billion Internet users. Also, in just one hour, 1.8m blogs will be posted and 1.9 billion Google searches will be conducted in the same time frame. “You can’t deny the influence of technology on our lives,” she said.
Speaking of technology, that’s definitely an area where Fuse Alliance management wants to see members increase their proficiency. This is particularly true when it comes to utilizing social media. “It’s a great way for members to learn about what’s going on in the industry, i.e., projects that are breaking ground,” said Catherine Minervini, principal of Green Owl Studio, which helps Fuse members in their promotional and marketing efforts. “It’s also a good way to recruit talent. And you don’t have to utilize all the social media programs available—just pick one.”
Look for more on the 2017 Fuse Alliance conference in upcoming editions of FCNews.
Laguna Niguel, Calif.—Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional, commercial flooring contractors, recently recognized the recipients of the network’s Member and Supplier Awards, at the organization’s 2017 annual conference in Austin, Texas. Fuse Alliance also announced the winners of its inaugural Spark Awards, presented to network members only.
Member Awards were presented to seven network businesses. OEC, based in Boise, Idaho, captured Excellence in Communication; Division 9, based in the Seattle area and Christian Brothers, based in the San Diego area both took home Excellence in Reporting and Follow-Up; three network members received Excellence in Loyalty, which included StarFloors of Dallas, Texan Floor Service of Houston and Franklin Flooring in Pennsylvania. ReSource Floors, based in San Diego, was recognized for its contribution to Ecollect—Fuse’s reclamation program. Finally, Resource 4 Floors, based in Ft. Lauderdale, received the Spirit Award.
Supplier Awards were presented to four of the network’s preferred suppliers. Johnsonite received Best Product; Armstrong Flooring received Best Service; Schönox received Best Support; and Ardex Americas captured Supplier of the Year.
The Spark Awards celebrate excellence in project design installed by its network members and is centered on flooring. Based on originality, quality of installation and design innovation, the awards represent outstanding craftsmanship, skill and expertise in the flooring industry.
Winners include: Butler Flooring Services, based in Louisville, Ky., captured three Spark Awards including Best Branded Environment, Best in Show and Most Maximized Budget. Commercial Interior Resources (CIR), based in Orange County, Calif., captured the Greatest Space Challenge. Floorz, based in Denver, captured two Spark Awards including The Most Aggressive Timeline/Schedule and the Best Flooring Solution. Signature Commercial Floor Covering received the Toughest Site Conditions.
Milwaukee, Wis.—Shannon Specialty Floors, a high satisfaction, high performance manufacturer and supplier of flooring in the commercial market-segment, has entered a 22-month agreement with Fuse Commercial Flooring Alliance beginning on March 8.
Fuse Alliance is a member-owned organization of professional, commercial flooring contractors throughout North America. The two companies will commence their partnership at the 2017 Fuse Annual Conference in Austin, Texas on March 7 where Shannon Specialty Floors will be introduced as a new member.
“Our company looks forward to the opportunity to work with Fuse’s group of elite commercial flooring contractors across the country,” said Jeff Collum, Shannon’s president. “The experience, industry and product knowledge and established relationships that will come along with this partnership are unmatched.”
Export, Pa.–Karndean Designflooring, a market leader in luxury vinyl tile (LVT) flooring is partnering with Fuse Alliance to sponsor the 3rd annual “Karndean Beautiful Floors” design contest for Fuse Alliance members to showcase their creativity and skill.
Entries will be judged by a committee of interior designers, alongside Karndean and Fuse representatives. The committee will evaluate the entries based on the creativity, originality and overall impact of the submission. In addition, entries should promote the quality, features and effectiveness of Karndean Designflooring through the use of design strips, inlays and/or special cuts.
Prizes will be awarded to the winners at the annual Fuse Alliance conference. For more information and full contest rules, contact email@example.com.
Karndean Designflooring is exhibiting at the Fuse Alliance conference, March 6-7, at the Hyatt Regency Austin, in booth 18. Karndean will be showcasing its new LooseLay Longboard collection and Korlok, their revolutionary new rigid core locking floor.
Laguna Niguel, Calif.—Fuse Alliance, a member-owned organization of professional, commercial flooring contractors, has entered a partnership with the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA). The NTCA is the largest tile contractor’s association in the world with more than 1,300 members worldwide.
The partnership between both organizations is a natural as Fuse Alliance members continue to grow the ceramic tile category in flooring. The NTCA is the leading industry trade association that is focused on ceramic tile and natural stone and is prepared to support the network’s professional flooring providers. As the demand for this flooring solution increases, the NTCA will provide Fuse Alliance members with technical and business consulting services centered on ceramic tile and natural stone including industry trends, standards and best practices.
“As part of our overall business goals, we are continually focused on providing our members with access to the very best business support through organizations such as the NTCA,” said Geoff Gordon, executive director of Fuse Alliance. “We are thrilled to be a conduit to the NTCA for our members and their businesses so that we can support growth in this specific category.”