Starnet members look to optimize opportunities for growth

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April 25/May 2, 2016; Volume 30, Number 22

By Jenna Lippin

Doral, Fla.—Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership members met here April 14–16 for what is believed to be the largest gathering in the group’s history. The meeting served as a platform for members to discuss emerging opportunities while reviewing significant strides made in the last year.

“We had a good 2015 and solid growth with a number of our vendors,” said Jeanne Matson, Starnet’s president and CEO. “We saw the highest rate of return to our members in years—probably in our history—and that’s what our goal is. We see 2016 continuing to be conservative but strong across the country.”

A year after bringing on commercial flooring veteran Leah Ledoux to head up strategic accounts, Matson cites growth opportunities presented by the initiative. Starnet waited until March 1 to launch the strategic accounts pilot program to give leadership and board members an opportunity to fine tune it and ensure there was sufficient participation from the most appropriate members.

“The members in the pilot program already do multi-location work,” Matson said, adding that some members are now getting business from Starnet feeding into the structure they’ve already established. “We are looking to learn from them, too. We want to succeed with this and move prudently. We’re really looking to bring more members in as we expand.”

According to Ledoux, the seeds for the pilot program were planted with a mandatory survey that went out in November assessing involvement in national strategic accounts. According to the results, roughly 80% of members were interested but only about 30% were currently involved in that side of the business.

“We took it a step further and asked what percentage of their business came from each segment,” she explained. “We found there were about 21 members who were involved in all segments. The Starnet executive team and board decided from there that we would launch a pilot group with 12 to 15 members that did programs in each of the different segments on a national accounts level.”

There is a buy-in for members to get involved with strategic accounts that includes various benefits such as project tracking, CRM and Sitefotos, a tool that provides real-time job reporting through photographs set up like a Pinterest page. This also allows customers or clients to view the progress of all accounts on which they’re currently working. Qualifications to join strategic accounts include preexisting multi-segment business, the capability to have liability insurance of $5 million and an established infrastructure that manages national and strategic accounts.

“Floor care wasn’t a requirement, but it is factorable to the program’s success because that element doesn’t exist in many national accounts today,” Ledoux noted.

Starnet will seek to add more members to strategic accounts over time. The goal is to help create opportunities by expanding into different regions. This may mean leveraging relationships with different members in various areas and using the tools and resources offered by those working on national accounts.

“Geographically there are members throughout the country that are involved,” Ledoux said. “We are very conscious of different territories and we wouldn’t want to overlap members in terms of location.”


Ceramic opportunities

In addition to the strategic accounts program, Starnet is putting emphasis on the lucrative ceramic category. It’s an expanding area for members, with some involved in the ceramic side of the business for years and others just becoming more acquainted with the category.

“We have two ways we can grow,” said Les Lippert, president of Lippert Tile Company, Menomonee Falls, Wis., and a member of Starnet’s board of directors. “Vertically, which means doing more of what we’ve always done, or horizontally by adding services that complement what we already do. This includes tile or other untapped categories, maintenance, etc.”

In discussing the opportunities in tile with other Starnet members, Lippert reviewed the most important factors when considering tile work. The first is qualified labor as tile installation is more technical and time consuming. “Tile is more labor intensive,” he said. “Variances in project costs including labor will have more of an effect on the project than with regular floor covering. Mistakes pose a great risk; installers for tile must be experts, not just experienced. I have not found many flooring installers with real, demonstrative skills in tile or stone.”

Another important aspect of getting involved in the tile business, Lippert said, is continued education. “Ceramic tile and marble work continue to evolve with standards from the TCNA [Tile Council of North America] and manufacturers continuing to adapt, change and introduce new things. Without the TCNA handbook you’re in trouble and misinformed. You also want to verify materials used to conform to ANSI standards.”

Getting and staying current in technical knowledge in tile is most important; the cost of failures is unreasonably high. To that end, Danielle Hunsicker, general manager, commercial sales, Dal-Tile, talked to members about the benefits of ceramic business and how Dal-Tile can help them in this growth arena by offering educational services. Specifically, Dal-Tile’s approach in helping Starnet members’ involvement in the ceramic tile business involves offering tools and resources, including tailored training sessions.

“There’s a growth opportunity with ceramic tile because the category continues to expand year after year,” she told FCNews. “But you have the need for qualified labor. As people are retiring, you have a lot of the next generation coming up and we need more great companies to engage in tile to meet that qualified labor. With Starnet there’s a great opportunity for members to diversify or grow their businesses in new ways.”

For Jessica Hansen, design and sales consultant for Starnet member Workplace Services based in Escondido, Calif., ceramic tile has helped the company build additional business. “We’re starting to dabble in tile; there is so much demand and so much opportunity,” she said. “We may not have won a flooring bid but now with tile we can work our way into a job in a different way. We also have the door opened with general contractors or new architects thanks to tile. It’s another way to get our name out there.”

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