By most accounts, the 2023 Fuse Alliance conference—held earlier this month in Memphis—was a resounding success. Not only did the event draw record attendance, but it also welcomed the greatest number of first-time contractor attendees. For a group that experienced significant growth over the past year—both in terms of contractor members and aggregate sales—this year’s convention, themed “Unleashed,” was the proverbial icing on the cake.
“When I took the stage dressed as Elvis on opening day, I couldn’t believe how much bigger the crowd was this year,” Geoff Gordon, Fuse Alliance executive director, told Floor Covering News. “We had 350 people come to the conference this year—the most we’ve ever had—and 80 more attendees than the event last year in Dallas.”
This year’s attendance is in keeping with the group’s overall membership growth track record in recent years. Fuse Alliance added 23 new members in 2022—the most it has ever added in a year’s time, according to Gordon. In a “normal” year, the group typically adds anywhere between five and 10 new contractor members. A historical view puts the group’s growth trends in clearer perspective. Back in 2015, there were only 70 contractor members; today that number stands at 158.
Gordon attributed the record attendance to a number of factors, including the fact that: a) word is getting out about the best practices Fuse members typically share at convention; b) more independent contractors are feeling a need to be aligned with a growing group, especially in light of pandemic-induced supply chain issues and subsequent price increases; and c) generally speaking, people are getting more comfortable attending live events three years after the onslaught of COVID-19.
That growth, Gordon noted, translates into greater purchasing power as well. He estimated members generate anywhere between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in purchases through the core vendors. “We’re way bigger today,” Gordon stated. “We had a huge year last year in terms of members. And this year we’ve already added eight new members. As I speak with you today I’m working on probably another five to 10.”
Many of the new members who joined Fuse over the past year cite several common themes—growth and networking opportunities chief among them. “Joining Fuse Alliance supports our growth strategy by helping us immediately connect with suppliers to better serve customers at the local market level,” said Matt Cooper, president of Inside Edge Commercial Interior Services, which covers Southern California, central Texas and St Louis—the latter region serviced by its affiliated partner, CI Flooring. “We’re also excited to link with a robust network of successful and experienced commercial flooring contractors and tap into the knowledge base of the organization.”
Joining the Fuse fold are other new members like IFS Flooring, which has served the commercial flooring market in Arizona since 2008; Kelowna House of Floors, which specializes in flooring installations for multi-family developments, commercial developments and commercial renovations within Canada’s Okanagan region and British Columbia; Northstar Specialties, which offers solutions for sound control, resurfacing, moisture emissions, deep fill and other critical services for the North Dakota and Minnesota markets; Professional Flooring & Supply, a Casper, Wyo.-based, full-service flooring contract that has served the Wyoming market since 1975; and R.E. Cuddie Co., serving the San Jose, Calif., market since 1976.
“Fuse had record-breaking growth in 2022, and we are bringing that momentum into 2023 with the addition of these new members,” Gordon said. “They are great additions to our organization of professional and talented commercial flooring contractors, and we are delighted to have these companies join our network.
Changing of the guard
It’s not just the new members that are generating excitement at Fuse. Gordon is also seeing a rise in both younger owners as well as female operators. “When I took over as executive director in 2015, I looked around the room said to myself, ‘These people are all old!’ Now, I look around the room and I see that we’ve become a much more diverse organization. We have a lot of female business owners now, and we have a lot of younger owners or top management. A lot of the younger top management is coming from equity companies that have bought businesses and along with it new people from outside the flooring industry. We’re definitely skewing a lot younger.”
Fuse also saw new additions to its leadership team. Last year the organization hired a new executive vice president, Jerry Kenney, who formerly ran a highly successful flooring contracting business, One Source Commercial Flooring, based in Dallas. This, too, has been instrumental in the ongoing growth and development of Fuse Alliance contractors.
“Jerry spends a lot of time with our members and helps them refine their operations,” Gordon said. “We are fortunate to have Jerry join the Fuse leadership team, particularly at a time when the network is experiencing growth. What we do is very complex. From the inception of the job, to the estimating, to the proposal, to running the job, ordering the material, storing the material and doing all the change orders and all that—it’s a very complex process. And anything we can do to simplify it and refine it means we’re cutting cost out of the system.”
Commercial market outlook
Despite a high inflationary environment and, now, uncertainty regarding aspects of the global banking industry, the outlook for commercial opportunities remains positive for Fuse Alliance members. “We think business is going to be good all the way through 2023 and into ’24,” Gordon told FCNews. “Our economist and speaker said the exact same thing—that the commercial sector is going to be strong.”
Gordon cited activity seen in key commercial end-use sectors, led by healthcare. “Education is still good and so is multi-family,” he noted. “There’s a lot of hiring going on in leisure and hospitality, so we’re keeping an eye on that. The only segment that’s struggling a little right now is corporate. So much depends on whether major companies bring people back into an office environment. There’s always movement. But when they do come back, they’re always going to put floor covering in.”