New initiatives, increased member involvement prove group’s worth
April 27/May 4, 2015; Volume 29/Number 2
By Jenna Lippin
Tucson, Ariz.—Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership, the 165-member-strong co-op, is continuing to find ways to offer value to its flooring contractor members. On the heels of recent initiatives that include training, reclamation, and cleaning and maintenance, Starnet took the wraps off a strategic accounts program with a goal to service multi-location clients and bring more business to more members as well as the group’s vendor partners.
With that, Starnet hired 30-year flooring industry veteran Leah Ledoux to head the initiative. Ledoux, five days into her position before the spring meeting commenced April 16, has experience in contracting, sales and distribution. “I felt the approach to strategic accounts would be working for the members, cultivating relationships while helping create opportunities for vendor partners with members around the country,” she said.
Ledoux believes her experience brings to Starnet the ability to help “bundle” product for jobs, having all options available for the end user in one place. “I’m able to call on end users directly and bundle all the vendors in one presentation. In some cases that is hard—there might be a rubber or carpet manufacturer only, for example, and the end user may have carpet needs, ceramic needs, vinyl needs, etc. The bundling is an important part of what I’ll be doing.”
Opportunities will continue to grow for Starnet members, Ledoux said, particularly because she will help facilitate relationships and sustained growth. To help connect vendors and national accounts that do not yet have relationships, Ledoux plans on helping “facilitate a conversation. If [the account] already has a vendor partner, I will help choose complementary products. It will be a bit of a fact-finding mission to start.”
Starnet board of directors member David Meberg, president and CEO of New York-based Consolidated Carpet, said that despite the “group of challenges” the strategic accounts sector brings, Ledoux’s “unique background” provides the ability to “bundle specifications and offer comprehensive solutions to our prospective clients that will give Starnet an advantage.”
Randy Weis, president of RD Weis Companies in New York, also noted the value of Ledoux’s expertise. “The addition of Leah as director of strategic accounts shows Starnet’s commitment to the national customer. Part of her goal will be to help expand our national presence. [Starnet] has helped create a network of providers so individual members can go after and secure national accounts. We have a network that is likeminded and [everyone has] the same chemistry, so we can execute across the country a ‘McDonald’s approach’ to floor care.”
To help unify this network of 340 service locations—as about half of Starnet’s members have multiple offices—Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of the group, said her goals for the next year include having more member participation thanks to live seminars, which will include specifier training in Chicago before NeoCon, and hosting an active webinar program that will give members at all levels a chance to participate.
“The challenge is figuring out how to engage the members at all levels so they know the information is out there and available, and they know how to use it,” she explained. “Strategically we are doing the right things, but getting penetration of that information is a challenge. People are busy.”
To help reach more members and provide the optimum amount of valuable information, in 2015 Starnet will create more curricula about best practices in commercial flooring, which will include job costs, selling, installation and more. By delivering education via webinars, Matson sees the courses as more efficient. All webinar content is archived on the Starnet website, in addition to the Starnet University tool that is accessible 24/7.
Another valuable initiative for members is Starnet Floor Care, its cleaning and maintenance program. Matson noted how in addition to the margin and cash flow that comes from maintenance services, it is also an excellent way for flooring contractors to maintain strong relationships with clients. “Flooring contractors become a resource to the end user, [at a job location] every week or every other week, allowing them to become respected, reliable service providers. And when those clients need new flooring, they will go to a member.” She approximated about 40 members take part in the Floor Care program, with about five added ever year.
Cleaning and maintenance is a significant part of RD Weis’ business; Weis said the upcoming opportunity in that arena comes from moisture mitigation, thanks to the popularity of hard surface. “It’s very obvious when you go to the booths of non-floor covering folks, the people that make sundry items, that there is a tremendous amount of new products coming into the moisture mitigation category. It’s not surprising as hard surface becomes more and more of a factor in overall floor covering. Moisture is much more of an issue with hard surface than soft. The industry is responding to that trend nicely, and the offerings are expanding.”
A health-y initiative
Another lucrative area for Starnet contractors is healthcare. The group’s executive team found so much value in the sector they tasked commercial flooring consultant Harry Brownett of Brownett Consulting with creating the Starnet Healthcare Program, in which members participate in online learning units, take a test and become certified with the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).
“The Healthcare Program was designed to help Starnet members learn about the changing market,” Brownett explained. “We want to elevate the best and brightest Starnet affiliates to the highest level regarding the healthcare market, giving them exposure to facilities managers and designers. With the courses [Starnet members] can talk the talk and walk the walk. The whole program was designed to increase the ability of a Starnet member who is certified to win more business because they have the knowledge to work with healthcare professionals.”
Starnet member Mike Marden, owner of CFS Interiors & Flooring in Eagen, Minn., started his career in the healthcare industry before breaking into flooring. His background in facilities management in a hospital setting helped him realize the importance of healthcare knowledge in the commercial flooring business. “I hired one designer right out of college and had her take the Starnet Healthcare Program test; we grew business in healthcare quite a bit,” he said. “The main thing is [certified employees] understand health codes now and have developed confidence. People have fears going into a big hospital and not knowing the language or what’s going on in the environment in general. Healthcare is a great, steady business. Even when the economy was down hospitals were doing business.”
Kathleen Cloud, president and co-owner of M. Frank Higgins in Newington, Conn., is another certified member who sees strong business potential in the healthcare segment. “Most opportunities in healthcare are very strong because of the ever-changing healthcare laws. I think we’re starting to see that whole segment adapt.”
This year’s spring meeting was Cloud’s third; M. Frank Higgins sought to become a Starnet member for some time, but there was no availability in the company’s market until about five years ago. “It has been one of the best business decisions we ever made. There is an investment in time and dollars, but our relationships with vendors have improved, and with dealers similar to us in different markets. We can ask how they deal with issues we may encounter. The networking has been worth its weight in gold.”
Les Lippert, president of Lippert Tile Co. in Menomonee Falls, Wis., and chairman of the Starnet Vendor Partnership Committee, said cultivating vendor and member relationships is paramount for the group. “There is an ongoing process on focusing attention on vendor relationships here and at home. [With] critical initiatives to inform, equip and inspire both vendor partners and member firms to emphasize the local partnership and increase sales potential, change is inevitable. We focus on vendor partners we have rather than those we don’t.”
In the end, Matson said she is looking forward to the rest of 2015. “We are very optimistic about our membership. This meeting has so much positive energy; there is so much camaraderie. The early numbers indicate we’re going to have a good year. I’m excited about members controlling their businesses. I’m excited to see vendor partners get enthusiastic.”