By Matthew Spieler
AUSTIN, TEXAS—While it is true no two installations are the same, the fact is residential jobs are far more predictable than their commercial counterparts as, generally speaking, a house is a house is a house.
This is certainly not the case on the commercial side as, for one, it is broken into an array of segments including retail, education, corporate, government and so on. And, within each of these the differences are pronounced when it comes to the types of jobs flooring contractors are faced with on a daily basis. A mom-and-pop retail store is different from a national chain and they are both different than grocery stores; likewise, a K-12 facility differs from a university, which is nothing close to a casino or concert hall and so on down the list.
The one thing that is the same regarding virtually every commercial job, though, is there is a process that needs to be followed in order to ensure success for all parties involved.
It was this process—from planning to execution—that Starnet focused its Fall Membership meeting, which saw a record turnout as the buying group also continued its 20th anniversary celebration which it kicked off at its spring meeting in Puerto Rico (FCNews, April 30/May 7).
Jeanne Matson, Starnet’s president, said a record 267 people attended the three-day fall event here, including representatives from three dozen of the group’s vendors. Suppliers were on hand to present their latest products and services in a compacted table-show environment and were also allowed to sit in on the sessions to give them a better understanding of what a member must do to ensure his or her products are installed correctly the first time.
“This is the first time we had a table-top venue for vendors to exhibit,” she said, “but it went really well as both members and suppliers were very positive about it afterwards.”
Armstrong’s Rik Born agreed with Matson’s assessment, noting the table-top concept and how its set up was “very good. The way it was set up in conjunction with the lunch area worked really well as members flowed in and out the whole time.”
Born said Armstrong’s message for the event was green. “It’s all about green, and we’re keeping the sustainability story in front.” He pointed out the company was just launching its VCT recycling program “at this level, so this is a great opportunity to educate Starnet members about it.”
Chris Heyden of CoMc said based on member feedback the company developed the new Eclipse locking tile system, as its colors are geared to commercial establishments, unlike its Avaire line which has more of a residential feel and look. “Eclipse is Avaire for commercial; it has a different locking system and very tight joints. And best of all, you can use our tiles or a competitor’s with our locking system.”
Ty West, vice president of sales, Southwest, for Canadian carpet mill Kraus, called this the perfect setting to interact with Starnet members and help the mill develop relationships with those in the U.S. “This is the most professional group out there and for us it’s the best way to interact and not be a heavy sell. It’s about developing relationships and camaraderie— that’s why this is the best show to come to.”
He added being around the industry’s top contractors is also a great opportunity to get direct feedback on existing products, but more importantly on those still in the developmental stages. West showed Starnet members a number of new concepts Kraus is hoping to bring to market in the coming year.
A perfect example of the kind of feedback he was referring to came from Stacy Dobbs, design and development manager for Starnet member Texan Floor Service in Houston, who explained why certain colors and patterns would work and why others would not. Nonetheless she was impressed enough with what she saw from Kraus to tell West the company would be willing to field-test some products “so long as they meet not only our color and design needs, but performance standards as we have our reputation to protect.”
Cheryl Peale, regional vice president of Bentley Prince Street (BPS), pointed out even though most Starnet members knew the company was sold by Interface to an investment group and Bentley’s top executives, the meeting provided a “great venue” for the mill’s first show as a standalone enterprise. “The excitement around the members and their support has been wonderful. We received a great deal of positive feedback and think this move will help us further grow our business with Starnet.”
With hard surface flooring growing in the commercial sector, Bentley was showing an area rug program in which customers can select any product in the mill’s carpet line and BPS will make it into a rug of just about any shape and size. Architectural books showcasing the program will be out by year’s end, Peale said. “This is a great opportunity for us to grow and a great resource for Starnet members to gain additional business.”
The event also included new vendors, such as Invista’s Antron division, which joined as a service provider as it supplies the fiber that goes into the making of commercial carpets.
Antron’s Sharon Knox-Tucker and Jan Peterschick said officials have been discussing this for three years and felt the timing was right for the supplier to officially lend its support to the group. “These people sell performance-based products, and that is what Antron is all about.”
When it came time for the event’s theme, Matson said it was “all about exploring a commercial project—from planning to execution. Despite the fact revenues are generally good, margins are still being squeezed tight and any mistake in the process can cost a company its profits. By seeing what other companies are doing successfully at various stages of the process, members can maximize their profits.”
There were six general sessions that took attendees through the process of executing a commercial job properly— and successfully. They started with two panel sessions: “Partnering with the Designer: Sharing Best Practices” and “Top Reasons for Profit Erosion and How to AVOID Them.”
When it comes to partnering with a professional designer, Dobbs, who was one of the panelists, said having a close relationship “helps grow both of our businesses.”
Suzanne Willis of San Antonio’s Imagery Design Studio added, “It’s great to have a close relationship with Dobbs, both on a business and personal level.” She noted it makes it easy to work together when there is this type of interaction. “You look forward to getting together and working together.”
Whether it was the designer or the Starnet member, all the panelists noted the importance of forming a close bond with designers as it helps them not only compete better in a competitive marketplace, but when they do work on a project, the process is easier as each side will go to great lengths to help the other succeed.
The second panel session featured Starnet CFOs along with a project manager who discussed key areas member companies see as problems and what their companies do to avoid them. The topics were chosen from a member survey that brought up a number of issues contractors encounter regularly, such as changing orders, managing timetables and so on.
Maston said when the economy turned south, the group formed a CFO group and this session is part of that. She noted the survey showed “a lot of common threads in respect to areas members have difficulty dealing with.”
Panelists went into detail on how they set up systems to help manage the various aspects of a job so that things do not get lost in the shuffle or out of hand to the point where their profits are eaten up.
The panel sessions were followed by seminars given by experts in that particular field, including, “New Contract Clauses You May See and How to Protect Yourself,” “Uncommon Sense: Using your Tablet to Maximize Business Productivity,” “Role of the Project Manager: How One Starnet Member Approaches this Critical Role,”and “Risk Management: Protecting Your Business from Workplace Safety Problems.”
Leonard Zmijewski, president of Starnet member Mr. David’s Flooring International in Chicago, said whether it is from the panel sessions, networking with other members or talking with key suppliers, he “always picks something up from these meetings. Usually, you don’t realize exactly what until you get back to the office, decompress and go through everything, but we always find some tidbits we can use to make ourselves a better company.”