May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25
By Ken Ryan
Scottsdale, Ariz.—The recent Starnet meeting proved to be a fitting exclamation point on the tenure of Jeanne Matson, whose 13-year reign as president and CEO was marked by steady increase in both members and vendor partners as well as record-setting performance among the co-op partners.
The spring meeting, held here at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess earlier this month, was yet one more reminder of the fitness of this commercial flooring contractor group, which welcomed 700 members on the heels of a record 2018.
“I’ve had some emotional moments this week because I care so much about these members, the organization and the vendors,” Matson told FCNews. But there are no regrets; she said she is “at peace” with her decision to move on. “I am leaving it in good hands with Mark (Bischoff, her successor). We’ve had a record year—purchases, revenue, [dividend] return to members—in fact, a 78% return to members in 2018 was the highest ever. In addition, all segments grew. We had a $2 million increase in revenue overall. I would not be happy leaving it in bad shape.”
With five new additions in 2019, Starnet now has 183 members, a net addition of 20 since Matson took over in 2007. Her contributions to the co-op was not lost on members. “Jeanne deserves all the credit for leading our group over the last 13 years and helping mold the organization into what it is today,” said Chuck Bode, president of CB Flooring and chairman of the Starnet board. “She is going out on top—the financial strength of our group is at an all-time high. Her business leadership skill set on so many fronts is unparalleled. She will be sorely missed.”
Members also praised her efforts in controlling costs as well as her desire to turn Starnet into a more vendor-centric organization. “She makes everyone in the organization feel important, she’s a team builder,” said Rob Hailey, owner, San Diego-based Howard’s Rug Company. “Jeanne has also cut some off our overhead costs and found different ways to save members money.”
Matson came to Starnet in 2007 with no flooring experience. However, she understood how to manage P&L during her years at Clairol and Procter & Gamble, and she knows how to lead a team of people who work in a multi-function environment. During her tenure, she doubled her administrative staff, which allowed the cooperative to expand committees. At the same time, she converted many of the operational processes to a digital format.
Starnet also grew its membership ranks under Matson’s reign. But it wasn’t willy-nilly. Members are selectively and carefully vetted to ensure they are a good fit. “They have to have a substantial business already to be considered for the group,” Hailey explained. “We are all entrepreneurs here. We’re all cowboys. Of all these members, I guarantee you not one of these people runs their business like I do; some are bigger, some are smaller, but I don’t think there is one of us who is not successful.”Vendor trade show
Schönox, the lone new vendor to the Starnet family, made its presence felt during the meeting, which began with it hosting a large welcome reception at poolside of this palatial resort. Both Thomas Trissl, principal, and Doug Young, executive vice president, had worked with Starnet during their days with Centiva, and sought that opportunity again.
“We had relationships with many of the Starnet contractors from our Centiva days,” Young noted. “However, they didn’t want to buy from [Schönox] when we were out of the network, which shows the loyalty of this group. Now that we are in the network, our goal is to make an impact with our unique solutions.”
The vendor trade show was abuzz with activity, which began early in the morning with scheduled booth appointments prior to the general trade show. Al Boulogne, Mannington’s vice president of commercial resilient business, said Starnet members typically come out in force. “This is always a great event. For us, it has been nonstop since 7:30 a.m. This is an elite group. Starnet members treat us great and hopefully we reciprocate.”
The conference meeting agenda and events schedule was aimed at fostering networking between contractor members and vendor partners. Meetings focused on sharing best practices as well as education and training. “Undoubtedly, the greatest thing about these gatherings is the networking and information sharing of best practices that goes on amongst the members during our sessions,” Bode said. “This has been an exceptional meeting.”
Howard Rug’s Hailey said being with Starnet is akin to having a free advisory council for your business. He recalled that during one meeting, a fellow member noticed a glitch in the software he was running. The fix ended up saving Hailey $20,000, and it cost him nothing.
Thomas Hicken Sr., owner of Tri-State Carpet in Wilmington, Del., who sits on the vendor partner committee, echoed that sentiment. “The [camaraderie] we deal with here allows you to take home valuable information for your business, and it’s shared freely.” While Starnet members continue to report strong revenue for their business, there remains the labor shortage issue. One member who has fared reasonably well in this area—and who was willing to share his story—was Paul White, CEO of the Paul White Company in Portland, Maine. He told members there are no easy answers. “If you are waiting for the mills or Starnet to fix your problems you will be waiting for a long time. You have to come up with your own creative solutions.”
White views installation recruiting as a full-time, all-encompassing approach. “Don’t look for installers when you need them—look for them all the time,” he advised. His company, a non-union shop, canvasses local high schools, trade schools, military centers and job fairs for prospects. It also uses social media extensively to spread the word.
Today 55% of his company is made up of millennials; Gen Xers are right behind. Recruiting is only one part of it, he noted. To retain these young people for what hopefully will be a long career (they have 150 employees), White’s company pays more than similar sized enterprises, and he offers a bevy of perks, including a 401(k), gym membership, financial planning, even smoking cessation programs for those looking to quit.
This is all part of White’s wellness initiative. They also provide personal loans to employees who need the money for car repairs, dental work, even a down payment on a home. (Disclosure: loans are not issued on an employee’s first day.) “We want to develop that trust so that we can depend on them for the future.”
Changing of the guard at Starnet
Darien, Conn.—Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring has named Mark Bischoff, formerly vice president of vendor relations, as the successor to Jeanne Matson, who announced her resignation from the group earlier this month. However, Matson will stay on as an advisor through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition.
In his most recent role as vice president of vendor relations, Bischoff managed all activities related to Starnet’s Preferred Vendor network, including vendor acquisition, contract negotiation, business development and training. For the better part of 2018, he worked closely with Fred Williamson, Starnet’s former executive vice president, who announced his own retirement after 50 years in the industry.
“Throughout Mark’s career, he has consistently demonstrated strong strategic leadership, excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to drive both revenue and profits,” Matson stated. “He values the importance of strong partnerships within the commercial flooring industry. Mark’s experience, strategic insights and outstanding business skills will be a significant asset to Starnet Commercial Flooring.”
Bischoff brings 22 years of experience in commercial flooring. After joining Johnsonite as a business manager in 1996, he assumed positions of increasing importance within the organization, impacting both sales and marketing. Following the Tarkett acquisition of Johnsonite in 2009, he was named executive director of strategic partnerships, working closely with Starnet to develop a strong business-building relationship. In 2012, Bischoff ascended to the position of vice president of sales at Tarkett NA, overseeing the company’s entire resilient business, both commercial and residential. He also served as senior vice president of healthcare and senior living for Mohawk Industries.