Starnet members met in Austin, Texas, for their fall meeting to meet new vendors, investigate new technologies and explore market opportunities to scale their businesses.
"Members are exhausted—they're dealing with things that aren't future-looking," said Mark Bischoff, president and CEO of Starnet. "It's a lot of transactional stuff: figuring out freight, figuring out inflation, figuring out how to write price-increase letters to customers on fixed contracts. That's all exhausting. If it gets rocky in the economy, we have to start flexing our business development muscles and make sure we're creating demand—and not necessarily just fulfilling demand that was generated prior to the challenges of '20 and '21."
That said, the organization's outlook for 2023 is optimistic in healthcare, universities, K-12 education—where state budgets for schools are in good shape—lodging and retail.
"There's a high demand for travel and entertainment," Bischoff said. "Those facilities basically were neglected the last few years, so some of our members are seeing a bright spot there. And shockingly—shockingly—the data says retail is going be good."
At the fall meeting, where the attendee count reached 318, the key message was diversification.
"Just like a 401k, you diversify yourself," Bischoff said. "You have to be skilled across categories and look at your marketplace for where the opportunities are. There are plenty of opportunities for our members going forward."
Starnet has pinpointed tile and outdoor products as two avenues for diversification.
"You've seen it on the residential side for the last 10 years, this movement toward outdoor living," Bischoff said. "During these changing times in commercial office, there's a lot more outdoor space that's being invested in and allocated as a perk or an attraction for employees to get them to come back to the office."
Other opportunities for diversification incorporate new product and services. The fall meeting introduced some new vendor partners: flooring manufacturer AHF Products, which includes Parterre and recently acquired Armstrong Flooring assets; and technology companies Floorcloud, a platform that enables contractors to monitor, communicate and store jobsite conditions in real time; and Takeoff LLC, an estimating service.
"There are a lot of new technologies that are available, and members are familiar with them, but they're not adopting them in a scaled way," Bischoff said. "It was a reminder that they need to start looking at basic processes with more scrutiny and see if there are improvements there."
Examples include cutting tools that go beyond the razor knife and a straight edge and advancements in adhesive technologies.
"In today's landscape, where you have wide open spaces and big acreage that needs to get covered with less and less carpet, you need more technologically advanced tools for day-to-day installation to cut a piece of tile or sheet goods," Bischoff said.
Rob Starr, Starnet's director of marketing and member services, also demonstrated ways for commercial installers to utilize Roomvo visualization technologies to help get consensus on floor covering purchases at the end-user level and to help speed decision making.
"Rather than relying 100% on the architectural design community to drive all of that demand and grease that decision making path, we have to play our part at the contracting level using new digital visualization tools to capture the imagination of folks and capture the budget inside these corporations," Bischoff said.
At the meeting, Starnet also introduced the first meeting of Amazing Women of Starnet, a new group aimed at networking, mentorship and sharing ideas.
"The energy in the room is good; they're just getting started," Bischoff said. "We have so many great leaders that are women in the membership, and in addition, they wanted to get the manufacturing vendor partners involved. We think it could grow into something significant as part of our Starnet culture."