Colorado Springs— Starnet, the industry’s largest network of full-service, independent commercial flooring contractors, celebrated its 30th anniversary conference in grand fashion here earlier this month amid a record number of attendees. It was just what the commercial flooring industry needed following cancellations/postponements of the event in 2020 and 2021 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re witnessing history here,” Mark Bischoff, Starnet president and CEO, told FCNews on the show floor during the exhibition portion of the conference. The numbers don’t lie. Starnet figures show more than 720 people registered for this year’s convention—the most in its history. On top of that, Starnet reported a record number of spouses and guests at the event, which was held at the sprawling, picturesque Broadmoor Resort and Conference Center.
Starnet vendors and suppliers at the event said they were happy to be back in action. “It’s great to be here in front of this group,” said Paul Murfin, president of Taylor Adhesives, a new supplier vendor to Starnet. “We are an ideal partner for Starnet, and we have a range of commercially rated adhesives and coatings ideally suited for Starnet contractors and their customers.”
Mike Gallman, president of Mohawk Group, concurred. “It’s not only good to be here with our customers, but business is also good,” he told FCNews as visiting contractors packed the booth. “We’re seeing business come back in most of the end-use markets where Mohawk Group is focused.”
Don Styka, director of field services, Tarkett, said he was similarly pleased with the turnout. “The industry was overdue to come together again,” he stated. “We were away from this group for a couple of years due to the pandemic, but it’s great to see our customers here in person again. There are a lot of people here this week, which shows the support for the industry.”
Starnet vendors are not alone in their jubilation. Many of the group’s 180-some-odd contractor members—many of whom had not seen each other since the co-op’s fall conference in 2019—were happy to be rubbing elbows, fist-pumping and shaking hands again. “The ability to network in person is powerful,” said Dave Triepke, CEO of Universal Metro, a Tustin, Calif.-based member. “Virtual meetings are now with us and another now acceptable—and at times, the best—medium of meeting. However, being able to meet in person remains the most incredible way to synergize.”
Grant Petruzzelli, Universal Metro’s president, concurred, adding: “The anticipation for a live event was exhilarating in many ways. Prior to the pandemic, each Starnet event was a rekindling of old friendships and connections, but this year was different. It had been nearly three years and all of our members and vendor partners had experienced so much, both personally and professionally. We engaged one another wholeheartedly, showing understanding for the adversity we faced and enthusiasm for the opportunities before us. It was a special event and one where I connected to fellow Starnet participants at a higher level than ever experienced.”
Ditto for Cheryl Acierno, owner of the Denver-based flooring contracting company that bears her name. “It felt great to be together again after such a long time,” she said. “There was more enthusiasm and participation during this meeting than many others I remember. And the turnout was enormous! Everyone seemed to have a really good time connecting with each other.”
The fact that the event was held in her “backyard” was a huge plus. “The venue was just perfect,” Acierno added.
Other firms, including Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Lippert Flooring and Tile, cited networking opportunities as the primary draw. “The opportunity to meet as a group of peers and partners is always beneficial, but after two years of suspended animation it felt especially good,” said company president, Les Lippert, who’s wrapping up his seven-year tenure on the Starnet board. “There are many truly excellent people in our cooperative and in our vendor partners’ businesses. Missing our association with them stalls the progress made in our relationships and in our growth and development of our businesses. Starnet provided the opportunity to reinvigorate our great relationships; business is best done face to face. The enthusiasm from all parties was more than palpable; it was very strong.”
Finger on commercial’s pulse
Just as so many Starnet contractor members were pleased to be back in the presence of their colleagues and supplier partners, most said they are also encouraged by the emerging opportunities they’re seeing in the commercial market as some segments show signs of recovering. This is especially true of bellwether sectors such as healthcare and education.
“As a healthcare leader for decades, we had to navigate immense challenges with our clients throughout the pandemic,” Universal Metro’s Petruzzelli explained. “As that sector normalizes and outpatient activity picks up again, we expect that deferred maintenance will be prioritized as hospital bed needs expand. Capital projects are bidding and beginning to release again, signaling a strong resurgence in that market.”
(For the full story, see FCNews‘ May 23/30 print edition, available May 30.)