October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10
By Nadia Ramlakhan
Boston—Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership, kicked off the group’s 2015 Fall Membership Meeting by announcing it had attracted 65 more attendees than last year’s 309. The two-day event, held Oct. 23-25 at the Omni Parker House here, brought together Starnet’s membership and vendor partners to tackle a number of industry-wide issues in addition to revealing new initiatives with the goal of growing the group.
With over 170 flooring contractors representing more than 300 locations throughout North America, Starnet appeals to attendees by maintaining a few common themes throughout each show including marketing and sales, technology, labor and design. This year, however, the group turned its focus to moisture mitigation in an expert panel symposium addressing the discrepancies between two commonly used sets of standards, which often cause challenges in the construction process due to unplanned concrete leveling issues and the associated delays, costs and lack of accountability.
Although the moisture mitigation issue is always discussed in one way or another, for the first time Starnet chose to dedicate an entire day to creating a dialogue between the floor covering and concrete industries, during which three concrete experts shared their opinions on how to move forward as a team. “It’s an important topic and our members never get enough of hearing about it,” Matson said. “A lot of the responsibility falls on them even th
ough they aren’t able to control the [moisture levels in] concrete; sometimes they just inherit it. This constant moisture issue really hurts the flooring installer so they have to know what they are getting into in terms of moisture levels.”
Numerous manufacturers have come up with solutions to combat high levels of moisture in concrete and uneven surfaces, from testing equipment and adhesives to epoxies and finishing methods. For example, Ardex introduced its Ardex Concrete Management Systems (ACMS), which proactively addresses concrete construction issues through an innovative specified finishing method for new concrete with an integrated system of moisture control and self-leveling underlayment products. ACMS is installed using a range of technologically advanced pumping platforms and helps create a flat and level floor.
Halex’s VersaShield offers a fast, low-cost solution for high levels of moisture without shot blasting or chemicals. “We can provide a permanent solution and quick turnaround for remodeling projects or environments where people are still working,” said Halex president and CEO Mark Chichak. “It creates a monolithic barrier in which moisture is held below a certain RH level whereas epoxy products trap the moisture and stop the slab from equilibrating. Our product allows the moisture in the slab to naturally release at a slow enough rate so it doesn’t damage the flooring.” Once VersaShield is put on a concrete slab, flooring can be placed immediately. “You put VersaShield down, you put your flooring down and you’re done.”
Bob Huesgen, vice president of Zickel Flooring, with two locations in Missouri, agreed that moisture in concrete is a pressing problem, but noted that Starnet’s networking opportunities at the show have proven valuable to him when it comes to finding a solution. “The worst thing in thing in this industry is moisture, so I really like getting information on how it is being taken care of. I like seeing new products and innovations and then being able to use them.” In fact, Huesgen was introduced to Halex technology at a previous Starnet meeting and now uses it in his market. Starnet also encouraged members to confront another pressing issue affecting the industry today: the lack of a new generation of installers. John Becker, CEO and president of Floors by Beckers in St. Paul, Minn., said the industry is faced with this issue because many small businesses are no longer being kept in the family. “Today we are faced with a much different situation. My son is not going to be mentored by me to go into the floor covering trade the way my dad did with me. So where are we going to get these installers?”
Becker recommends reaching out to local high school students and guidance counselors—whether it’s informally or through a formal citywide program—to find quality up-and-coming installers. According to Becker, teenagers who don’t include four-year colleges in their plans for the future are interested in getting involved in a trade, especially after taking into consideration a 40% college dropout rate. “These kids are not less intelligent, they’re just not designed for college.”
Collaborating, growing as a team
Because Starnet is committed to its members, the organization strives to provide specialized support in each pertinent area. “We’re committee-driven,” Matson said. “Half of our members are active on committees and that makes a huge difference. We work closely with the members, committee chairs and board members and they give us direction. We won’t want to waste their money so we try to make sure what we’re pursuing is a good idea and something they will use.”
With that, a new specifier committee was developed earlier this year to educate specifiers within Starnet. “Ultimately, the goal is for all members to have specifiers on board,” said Sheri Gorman, vice president of marketing and A&D for RD Weis Companies in New York and chairperson of the specifier committee. “We’ve created a job description which lists different attributes and skills a person in this position might have, what the job actually entails, etc. It’s a guide for the person who thinks, ‘I don’t have this role at my company. What do I need? How do I find the right person? What do they need to know? What is it going to cost me?’”
The second step is a new program in which less experienced specifiers gain knowledge and support from senior level specifiers. “We’re working on developing a standard to have senior design people mentoring new specifiers in their roles,” said Leah Ledoux, director of strategic accounts and facilitator of the new committee. “If you were hired by a member and you didn’t have a lot of experience, you could partner with someone who has more experience to support growth and knowledge and help you be successful in that role.”
Ledoux joined Starnet in April to develop a strategic accounts program that will bring more business to members and vendor partners. Thanks to her background in construction, manufacturing and distribution, the initiative has been a success to date. “There wasn’t anyone within Starnet who was taking the leads, sending them to members, talking about products, etc.,” Ledoux said. “The bundling capability that I bring to the table is that if you’re a carpet manufacturer and you need to complement your packaging with ceramic tile and rubber treads and risers, I can help that process and bring it to the membership. We want to look at every opportunity and make sure we bring whatever service we can.”
Also new this year is a training module called member development training, targeted toward estimators, project managers, salespeople and anyone else involved in the everyday business who doesn’t typically attend Starnet meetings. “We took our whole portfolio of live training sessions (except specifier training) and grouped it together in a single event that was held just before Surfaces in Las Vegas,” Matson said.
In addition, the new Starnet Dream Team is designed to reinforce the partnership between members and vendors. “This competition addresses the sales rep from the vendor world and the salespeople from our member companies,” Matson continued. “They will have to provide how much they’ve grown the business, how much of their focus is on new customers, what type of increase the business has had—all so we can quantify it.”
Three winning teams (combinations of member/vendor teams) will attend the 2016 spring meeting as a guest of Starnet and participate in a panel in which they will share what makes their teams successful.
Looking ahead, Starnet plans to reveal a modernized, easy-to-navigate website consistent with the group’s new initiatives in the first quarter of 2016.