Contractor's Corner: The Benefits of Joining a Trade Organization
Merriam Webster defines the term “trade association” as an association of tradespeople, businesspeople or manufacturers in a particular trade or industry for the protection and advancement of their common interests. This defines who Fuse Alliance is. We are here to help our members grow and be better companies. As we improve on the services we provide, our manufacturing partners win and the industry wins.
This is my 42nd year in the flooring industry, an industry that I have loved and feel blessed to be a part of. Every now and then someone will ask me if I got my college degree in flooring and I have to explain that there are no degrees for that and mine is in marketing. It takes a long time to learn and understand our industry. This is not something that can be accomplished in four years of schooling.
Since I began my career, the industry has changed dramatically. There were more than 300 carpet manufacturers; today there are less than 20. Another big sea change is the move away from carpet to hard surface flooring, i.e. LVT, rigid core, ceramic tile and more. We estimate that polished concrete has grown to be 15% of the overall business.
Because of the popularity of resilient products, many of the traditional flooring manufacturers have had to move to sourcing instead of manufacturing to supply the demands of the marketplace. At Fuse Alliance we estimate that 55% of our sales are hard surface vs. soft surface.
The third substantial change is how commercial projects have changed. It was not long ago that projects were relatively simple having only two or three finishes such as carpet tile, VCT and ceramic tile. Today’s projects can be significantly more complex with 15-20 finishes requiring the flooring contractor to be an expert in all products including the different floor prep requirements per product and the types of transitions to be used between flooring types.
The fourth big change, which is the most recent, is the consolidation taking place at the flooring contractor level. Flooring contractors are buying or aligning with other flooring contractors, creating very large commercial flooring companies.
As a result of these four changes in the business – 1) manufacturing consolidation 2) changes in product type 3) complexity of commercial projects 4) dealer consolidation – I highly recommend to any independent flooring contractor to look to a trade association for insight.
I am very honored to be the executive director of Fuse Alliance, one of the fastest growing trade associations in our industry. We strive to keep our members up to date on industry changes as well as work with our preferred supplier partners to make sure that our members are taking advantage of everything our suppliers have to offer. On top of that, we work on best practices, vet new technologies such as job costing and estimating systems, and help our members navigate through challenging claims when they arise.
Fuse Alliance is more than a trade association—we are a cooperative. In a co-op, each member owns one share of stock and the members led by a board of directors (comprised of member owners) run the organization. My job as executive director is to execute what the board desires.
As a point of interest, there are 3 million co-ops worldwide and over 65,000 in the U.S. Fuse Alliance is one of those co-ops.
In conversations with independent contractors, I find that they have a thirst for knowledge to know what is going on around them so that they can best prepare their company for the future.
When I left the manufacturing side to run a commercial dealership I went from being a part of a big company that had access to all the latest technologies, sales tools, equipment, etc., to a smaller company that didn’t have the access or connections to all this information. I felt like I was working in a vacuum and didn’t know what was going on around me. That is where Fuse came in. I was able to call other members and ask advice. On top of that, I could attend meetings to learn about changes in the industry and to hear from top industry executives as to changes they were making to keep up with industry changes. I also saw the latest software and other technologies that helped to keep my company on the leading edge of innovation. As a bonus we received rebates every quarter that went right to our bottom line.
One of the biggest challenges facing the commercial contractor today is the plethora of high-moisture solutions that have been introduced. Fuse has taken this challenge head on. We have been working with our key suppliers to make sure that we are partners and not adversaries when a moisture problem crops up on a project. High-moisture solutions are not the answer to every job especially if we are working in an older building where there is no vapor retarder underneath the slab. We have been offering our expertise to our supplier partners to make sure the systems they are offering are the right fix for the project. The worst case scenario is having a project fail because the wrong solution was specified. The collective expertise of our members allows us to provide invaluable input to our suppliers.
Why join a commercial flooring cooperative? You are going to associate with people that do the same thing you do. They have the same challenges, problems and opportunities that you have. I felt like I was surrounded by a ton of expertise. You also are exposed to all the latest technologies, technical information on products, management tools etc. to help make your business the best it can be. There is comfort in being with others that have the same interests.