Commercial Contractors Weigh in on Industry Concerns at Starnet
Starnet’s Fall Membership Meeting serves as a time for education, connection, relationship building and this year especially, growth. Recognizing the added value of what the Fall Meeting has to offer, nearly 400 of the partnership’s members convened in San Antonio, Texas, for two full days of best practice sharing and engagement both on and off the program.
“59 percent of the member companies were here, which is a record,” said Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet. “It’s a time where the economy's been good, our members have been busy, there's been a lot of work and I think it was a good year to come and get together and enjoy the networking and the training.”
Matson’s observations are spot-on; a good economy is yielding more work and opportunities in construction, and the commercial market, Starnet’s Member Partners included, is benefitting. “Things have never been better as far as the economy is concerned,” said Chuck Bode, executive vice president of CB Floors, and chairman of the Starnet board of directors. “A rising tide raises all ships. It’s a good time to be in the construction-related industries. Things are good and I think the general consensus is that our members have a record backlog at the minute and they’re all extremely busy.” Bode says that with factors like rising interest rates on the horizon, a slowdown of the economy is inevitable, but for now and through 2019, he foresees the continuation of ideal economic conditions for the independent flooring contractor.
Newly elected to the role of board chairman, a business owner and lawyer by trade, Bode brings to the leadership position and partnership extensive experience in regulatory areas.“Chuck is going to be very competent in managing some of the industry issues that are tough issues, like direct selling, the tariff situation and silica compliance,” said Matson. “Those are the areas that he’ll be very adept in. He’s a leader.”
Like many of Starnet’s Member Partners, business is better than good at Master Craft, and the company is enjoying a record year and growth. “We are doing a lot of stuff besides soft surface and that seems to be the key if you want to keep growing,” said Ulfig. “And we want to keep growing and we want to keep having fun while we’re doing it.”
While business is good, sidebar conversations among Starnet members at the Meeting indicated that the shortage of qualified labor had an undeniable impact on their bustling work schedules over the summer, causing them to have to reposition and adjust projects and schedules based on the skilled labor they had available. The labor shortage has been a hot topic of discussion for quite some time, and in addition to labor shortages, hiring at all levels is another issue Bode plans to lead the board and partnership in addressing during his term.
“We are concerned about hiring at all levels—from estimators and project managers to installers,” Bode shared in a recent interview with Floor Trends. “Finding qualified people these days is much more difficult because of the labor shortages. That’s a very significant problem for our members and certainly in the top three of their concerns.”
Having qualified people in place at every level of the commercial flooring business is imperative, and Pete Larmore of Bonitz Flooring, and vice chairman of the Starnet board of directors, says it starts with effective project managers. “I think project management is probably the hardest job there is in our business. I’ll also tell you that it is the thing that will make you successful or unsuccessful.”
According to Larmore, project management is all about risk and reputation management. But before focusing on managing schedules, resources, budgets and scope, a successful relationship and project begins with trust and character. “You cannot achieve results without building trust with whoever you're working with. I don't care whether this is a salesperson, I don't care if it's a warehouse person or a project manager, it all starts with building trust. If you don't build trust then you have no chance of achieving results.”Larmore says too often, project managers are only focused on simply performing a job rather than building relationships to get the results they want.
A lot of what Larmore shared with members at the meeting during his presentation on effective project management is taught and practiced at Bonitz, he says. “What we are asking is that our people become the best version of themselves every day. The thought process behind that is this: If I can get them to become better people, we become a better company. We believe at Bonitz that we are living life together with the people in our circle of influence, which is our vendors and our customers and the design community.”
Strengthening the partnerships of Starnet Member Partners and Preferred Vendors is a priority for the board, and it hopes to accomplish this by increasing mill trips, encouraging collaboration and creating specifications for Vendor Partners. “We want to see better vendor partnerships and one of the things that we're really focusing on is how to drive down this partnership to the front lines, to the salespeople,” said Larmore. “So we set up some things like the Dream Team that we've been doing and we're going to put some more juice into that and we're working right now aggressively on finding ways to strengthen the partnership.”
Approaching 2019, the board is energized with new leadership and ready to continue the important work of the cooperative. “We’ve got a lot of energy and we are trying to bring value to our Vendor Partners, that’s what we’re driving home,” said Dan Ulfig of Master Craft Floors, and secretary of the Starnet board of directors.