VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Good times or bad, having someone at your side is always better than going it alone. That was the primary message of Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Cooperative at its Fall Membership Meeting here, which also marked the first time the buying group held one of its biannual events north of the border.
Picking up where the organization left off from its spring meeting (FCNews, May 3/10), the three-day event was all about strengthening the relationship between supplier and contractor under the theme, “The Power of Partnership.”
Jeanne Matson, Starnet’s president and CEO, said the goal for the meeting is “strengthening the partnerships which are so critical to our mutual success. It’s the foundation on which we have been working since 2007.”
Noting that Starnet has always “put a heavy emphasis on finding ways to better support our vendor partners,” Harold Chapman, president and CEO of Bonitz Flooring Group, and chairman emeritus of the organization, added despite the tough economic climate, members “were discussing better ways to support our vendor partners and everyone was in tune to the idea—you could see it in the passion that came through. Everyone is behind anything that supports our vendor partners and each other.”
While the fall meeting is usually set aside for educational sessions and networking events focused on helping members improve their individual businesses, this year’s meeting had a little extra: a number of initiatives designed to bring the group and its core suppliers closer. The ideas were more food for thought, as the majority of the items discussed were either just starting to come to fruition or will be coming up in greater detail next year.
Broken into overriding topics—specifying training and its bottom line impact, vendor partner training, floor care, and social media—each targets an area in which both sides can help each other gain and keep more business.
Deb Esbenshade, Starnet’s vice president of member services, said the specifying initiative was something the group began in June during NeoCon when it sponsored a training session on the subject for the A&D community. It was such a “huge success,” representatives from some of Startnet’s core vendors gave the presentations; from understanding a project, such as specifying government work, to trends and regulations in sustainability, along with market insight by segment and geographical area.
It also featured a designer Q&A panel to find out what value they get from reps and how Starnet members can provide extra value. While a similar event is being planned around NeoCon 2011, Maryanne Hewitt, director of business development for Dixie Contract, was on hand to help give the group perspective on both by talking about how she approaches her local market area of Jacksonville, Fla.
She ran through a litany of advantages a floor covering dealer/contractor can offer that no one else can, from being a one-stop shop that offers designers lots of choices to being a trusted source for various parts of a project, such as installation and transition material recommendations, staying on budget, strengths and weak- nesses of new products, possible challenges that may come up on a job, and so forth.
Hewitt gave an example of how Starnet members can make themselves more valuable to a designer: “Designers get so involved in the looks of a project. We try to get them to understand the performance needs for particular projects once their work is done and they are gone.”
Matson said Hewitt “did a powerful job of bringing the subject matter to life,” noting it was a topic that was very well received by the members.”
Chapman agreed this was an “excellent presentation,” and added, “Most Starnet members do an excellent job of servicing their customers and this training and initiative is another step in that direction.”
One of the biggest issues that has always plagued the manufacturer/contractor relationship is an understanding of exactly what each one does to ensure a successful job. This is especially true at the local level where reps and field personnel often do not know what goes on behind the scenes as well as how much time and money is spent altogether to run a professional company that is a market leader, like most Starnet members are.
To that end, Starnet created a 20-minute video members can use to explain to their reps how much money and resources they use on average for every job. In addition, because salespeople within a member organization are not always aware of everything their company is doing to be the best, members are required to visit Starnet University’s online training and view the piece themselves.
Narrated by Randy Rubenstein of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet and chairman emeritus of Starnet, the video first describes what an average Starnet member’s business looks like before delving into the different costs and percentages of revenue it takes for the member to do its job.
Fred Williamson, Starnet’s vice president of operations, said the whole point of the video is “to show profit is not a dirty word. Rather it allows everyone to do future jobs properly for all involved, and that there is little margin for error if the contractor wants to make a profit.” Matson said this received “the strongest response from the members because they weren’t aware of the initiative and they are excited to share more information with their vendor partners.”
Customers for life
Brian Warren, president and CEO of FloorCare for Life, told members for the last 12 years he has been trying “to break through the walls” between floor care and the end user and with Starnet he feels it can be done.
“During these tough times,” he told the membership, “floor care has remained pretty robust as people and businesses want to keep their floors longer.”
The problem, Warren added, is there are 55,000 floor care companies throughout the U.S., “and each has its own idea on what to do. That’s why the mills have stepped up on guidelines and even tied their warranties to proper maintenance.
“That is where Starnet comes in,” he explained. By providing a national program in which each member is trained and certified, the group could put itself in a unique position, calling it 360 Floor Care Solutions. “It’s the perfect storm: members specify the floor covering, install it, map out a maintenance plan, take care of it, and offer enhanced warranties by working with vendors. Then at the end of its useful life, we reclaim it and start again.”
For this to truly happen, Warren noted, it will require “everyone moving in the same direction so we can establish benchmarks to follow. Then everyone here will win—members create customers for life, suppliers have the knowledge their products are being maintained correctly and end users have the assurance of their purchase lasting like new for as long as possible.
While Gerry Swift, executive vice president of Potomac Floor Covering, left the meeting feeling “pumped up” he “particularly took note of the Starnet 360 Floor Care program. My company has been a part of the Starnet floor care program for years, but we have yet to successfully tie together the ‘circle’—specifying, installation, warranties, maintenance and reclamation. We do each of these things well but will now focus on closing the loop. I believe this will result in keeping customers for life, which is what any successful flooring contractor wants.”
21st century marketing
The final initiative centered around social media and why each member needs to get involved with the latest marketing strategy.
Katerina Caterisano, president of Network Design & Communications, and a contributor to FCNews’ “Guide to using Social Media in business,” along with Starnet’s Esbensahde, gave the membership a look at the basics of the social media world in terms of how it works, the hot spots such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more, and why it is important to have a presence in this new world of interaction.
Social media is not the end all, Caterisano noted. It is something “that needs to be a part of your PR and marketing mix.”
Matson said social media is “the new ‘way of the world,’ and we want to keep the Starnet members on the cutting edge of that action.”
Swift called the presentation “an eye opener. While advertising in magazines and maintaining a good website will continue for us, many of my fellow contractors are already tweeting and blogging, so social media will become part of our marketing, PR and communications.”
Chapman added, “it is not a matter if you want to be a part of this growing media; it is a necessity. In today’s world you have to be connected and since 50% of our population are people under 30 we must be able to reach them and one way is through social media.”