March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20
By Reginald Tucker
Austin, Texas—“We’ve done a good job growing membership and increasing sales, but we could be doing much better in terms of engaging the A&D community.” That was the gist of Geoff Gordon’s message to contractors in attendance at the annual Fuse Alliance conference held here recently. As executive director of the organization, he believes the group might be losing business by not casting a wider net when seeking new clients.
Gordon understands the inherent challenges in trying to develop better relationships with the A&D sector. “Just getting in to see designers can be difficult. Sometimes there’s a three-month wait. It’s not like the old days. Manufacturers have a lot of reps on the street calling on specifiers, but we are an unbiased group. We can help with budgets, specifications and even transitions. We are the go-to network.”
Truth be told, some Fuse members already count designers among their client base. But by and large, according to Gordon, it’s a sector underserved by the vast majority of members. “There are some members in our group who don’t focus on A&D at all, and we feel it’s a missed opportunity. Our members have access to a variety of product lines, and we should be trying to leverage that.”
As it turns out, Fuse is in the prime position to meet the needs of the design community. According to Mike Hutton, head of Fuse Commercial—which manages the group’s national accounts program—Fuse Alliance members already have an advantage; they just have to learn the nuances of the business and work toward building a better base of specifiers. “You are the consultants,” he told the scores of commercial flooring contractors in attendance. “End users want turnkey suppliers who can provide everything from materials sourcing, installation services, project management and even product reclamation. Most of all, end users want transparency (i.e., line item bidding) and financial security in their vendor partners. Fuse Alliance members offer that single point of accountability, responsiveness, consistency and professionalism.”
It’s no accident that much of the educational programming offered at the Fuse Alliance conference this year was tailored toward showing contractors how they can better develop their A&D contact base. In her presentation to the group, Laurie Baatz, director of market development, Schönox, provided a few concrete examples of how contractors can achieve this objective. “Don’t leave it to the manufacturers to provide designers with an education. Build trust by becoming the design specifier. Don’t just compete on price. Also, develop case studies, which are important to specifiers, and take a strategic approach by following up.”
Fuse Alliance contractors had the rare opportunity to get feedback from designers and specifiers themselves, thanks to a special panel discussion focused on “What designers want.” The four-member panel included: Carol Reitter Elia, ASID, IIDA LEED AP, SAGE, owner of CR Design; Jeffrey Rausch, production executive, Bar Napkin Productions; Karen Hoffman, senior interior designer, GSR-Andrade; and Dean Maddalena, AIA, NCARB, IIDA, ASID, founder and president of StudioSix5. Following is some advice they had to offer attendees:
Build your online presence. “A lot of designers go online right away when researching potential products for their projects,” Rausch said. “Link your account to Pinterest. You’re missing a big part of the audience if you don’t do this. Remember, the best project is the one that leads to another project.”
Offer solutions, not just a low bid. “We’re problem solvers, and we’re looking for solutions for various things,” Reitter Elia said. “Some clients are budget conscious; others are pressed for time. Demonstrate to designers that you are the experts and how you can offer real solutions.”
Be knowledgeable. “In most projects, 90% of the discussion is focused on flooring,” Hoffman said. “How is the flooring going to perform? Be prepared to answer those questions.”
It’s also important for commercial flooring contractors to gain a better understanding of not only how the design process works but also how architects and designers think. It’s also necessary for flooring contractors to better understand all the considerations that go into the design process. Cheryl Stubblefield Durst, CEO and executive director of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), delivered an informative and educational presentation that touched on everything from the impact of technology on the specification process as well as how architects are developing based on demographic changes. “Today’s designers are designing for engagement,” she explained. “Five generations will be working side by side in the year 2020, and 54% of the world’s population today is under age 30.”
Durst also poked holes in the myth that the “open-office” format is the wave of the future. In support of her belief, she pointed to human resource experts who say this format isn’t working. “The biggest complaint is noise interruptions, which is an impediment to worker efficiency.”
With respect to technology, Durst strongly encouraged contractors to embrace technology as a matter of course in their daily routines. She cited statistics showing 3 million social media accounts exist today and that there are 3.5 billion Internet users. Also, in just one hour, 1.8m blogs will be posted and 1.9 billion Google searches will be conducted in the same time frame. “You can’t deny the influence of technology on our lives,” she said.
Speaking of technology, that’s definitely an area where Fuse Alliance management wants to see members increase their proficiency. This is particularly true when it comes to utilizing social media. “It’s a great way for members to learn about what’s going on in the industry, i.e., projects that are breaking ground,” said Catherine Minervini, principal of Green Owl Studio, which helps Fuse members in their promotional and marketing efforts. “It’s also a good way to recruit talent. And you don’t have to utilize all the social media programs available—just pick one.”
Look for more on the 2017 Fuse Alliance conference in upcoming editions of FCNews.