This year Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership celebrates its 30th anniversary. Founded in 1992, Starnet brings growth-oriented commercial flooring contractors and best-in-class suppliers together with the purpose to outperform the market and stay ahead of the competition. Today, Starnet represents more than 180 market leading flooring contractors doing business in more than 360 locations across the United States and Canada. Each have become more profitable while building market share of aligned manufacturing partners and its service providers. The membership’s collective strength in numbers is represented by five thousand flooring professionals that create a combined annual sales volume of over three billion dollars.
The Starnet members continue to burn bright with entrepreneurial spirit and remain an enthusiastic connection point for the entire industry. “Partnering For Success” is the rally for the members and their extensive network of relationships with manufacturers, service providers, distributors, designers, and end users across North America, and in some cases around the world. The partnership spirit goes far beyond a slogan, as the 12 original company members in the organization continue to be a part of Starnet’s success in the 30th year. Today the Starnet staff enthusiastically shares this rich history with confidence because it is true that Starnet Members, supplier partners and associates can build an entire career of prosperity and growth around Starnet. No matter where you choose to work in the commercial flooring industry, financial and leadership success continues to emanate from this core group of founding members. As the founding member companies forge ahead, the cooperative welcomes new members and manufacturing partners committed to mutual long-term success and growth.
Ironically, as Starnet celebrates 30 years, a foundational brand that brought the first groups of flooring contractors together for marketing presentations, sales training and sharing of best practices has started to exit from the commercial flooring business – Antron. Preceding Starnet in the 1970’s it was not common for commercial flooring contractors from around the country to get together and share. One of the original sparks for getting the commercial flooring contractor groups together was Dupont and their aggressive plans to capture market share against competitors in the BCF—bulk continuous fiber business such as Monsanto, Allied Signal, and BASF. Dupont aligned groups of contractors with their mill partners to create teams of Antron sales agents that would influence the regional architectural and design community and the end users serviced by those sales agents. Some of the agents worked for the mills, and some were professional flooring contractors. They overwhelmed local market areas together as a team. It was a simple and brilliant “Partnering for Success” strategy that the Starnet members execute today to grow the market, not just take market share. Dupont’s approach was emulated by their competitors with some success, but the most seasoned and successful of the Starnet members always point to Bill Beebe, DuPont Textile Fibers Division Marketing, who helped create the best-in-class DuPont Flooring Systems Learning Center.
As the flooring contractors from around the country continued to interact with the fiber brands and the carpet mills, they sought to sustain the friendships and business connections with their peers. Eventually this informal network of friends organized into a more structured group using the name Comspec. The Comspec members continued to meet regularly through the 1980’s and eventually the quality of their meetings continued to advance. During one of their meetings Dr. John Ward, today the co-director at the Kellogg Center for Family Enterprises, predicted that the suppliers of Comspec members would become their competitors.
The group took Dr. Ward’s prediction seriously and hired him to research options to develop a plan for their future. In addition, they recruited former Comspec member Ron Lee of Duffy and Lee in Florida, Phil Wexler, former owner at Bentley Mills, and Bill Beebe, after retiring from Dupont, to lead Comspec members into the future. In this transition period Comspec members continued to meet. They began to search for examples of success from other industries that had already experienced some level of vertical integration and eventually settled on a cooperative model in the lighting industry Affiliated Distributors. The management team formed a newly owned organization called IMG (International Marketing Group) owned by Lee, Wexler, and Beebe to execute the plan. Starting with 12 members and their leadership team, IMG grew to nearly 70 members representing $1 billion in sales by the summer of 1993. That year the group held the first membership meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Ward continued to provide support and consulting for the Comspec organization (some had joined IMG as well) and a group of his MBA students developed a more detailed research case presented to the group early 1994. The research case was titled, “Vertical Alignment as a Strategy for Comspec Members.” The MBA students had predicted a future only one year away in their research case. In 1995 Shaw acquired Starnet member Bell-Mann in the Atlanta market and Dupont acquired Starnet member Monroe Schneider MSA on the west coast. The vertical integration of the industry began. In that year IMG was renamed Starnet because a sports management agency had rights to the name. In addition, Lee, Wexler, and Beebe converted Starnet to a member-owned marketing cooperative organization and continued their work under a management contract. “It was the only way that the organization would be able to continue to grow as they faced the consolidation threat. The members had to own it,” said Ron Lee about their motivation. The beginning of the vertical integration was difficult for the Starnet organization, as many of the members sold to Shaw, Dupont, and Interface over the next few years.
This part of the story also comes full circle as Shaw targeted a Starnet member for their first acquisition, Bell-Mann in 1995. In this Starnet 30th anniversary year that first Shaw acquisition, known today as Spectra Contract Flooring Atlanta, was acquired by Starnet member Diverzify from Shaw Industries Group. Diverzify and Spectra Contract Flooring and ProSpectra Contract Flooring combined to form the largest independent commercial installation business in the world.Over 30 years there are many twists and turns to the Starnet story, but constant themes of daring entrepreneurial risk taking, perseverance, great leaders, and the rally of “Partnering for Success.” There are big changes happening in our industry in 2022 that mark the end of some great marketing success stories. Starnet also feels a renewed commitment from the industry to work together for success, each participant providing value to the other in a vital role to create value for our shared customers and nearly $4 billion in sales of commercial flooring and related services. The Starnet organization will continue to work hard to help our members outperform the market, help our suppliers accelerate their growth and help flooring professionals perform at their best.