Across the Starnet membership, the job descriptions for a specification and business development role vary, but fundamentally their mission is to increase the influence of the professional flooring contractor on selecting and recommending products. The members who earn that influence often gain lifetime clients.
Starnet professionals in these roles balance the realities of the construction industry with the outcome desired by the end user, their influencers from the design community, and organize the extensive lists of manufacturers needed to properly complete every project. They also enjoy a level of professional collaboration that enriches their careers and the quality of their life’s work. Many Starnet member specification professionals have decades of brand goodwill at stake in a local market, which motivates them to provide the absolute best effort.
Catherine Franzella, business development for Starnet member Sun Interiors Flooring, New Orleans, Louisiana, takes a practical consultative approach to her role:
Photo: Sun Interiors.
I view my role as a consultant to architects and designers. They rely on me to guide them through the maze of product choices and technical specifications. Our company provides product and installation as well as flooring maintenance. We can provide insight to designers that would be difficult for them to gain in their careers. Many of them don’t even get to see their completed projects! Our company has been installing commercial flooring on the Gulf Coast for many decades. We know what works. Through our maintenance services, we know what products are easy to live with and keep fresh looking over time. By providing expert advice grounded in real world insight over thousands of projects, I help designers make informed decisions to protect their professional reputation. It's about being a trusted advisor.
Starnet members continue to add sales professionals and invest in specification and business development roles. They clearly differentiate the specification and business development roles from other job descriptions in their organizations such as account managers, project managers, and estimators, which have greater populations of associates. Those more traditional roles are mainly focused on the execution of projects in the various stages of the construction process. Specification and business development associates are most valuable before projects have been approved, fully scoped, and funded.
These roles require ongoing training and professional development. Through monthly committee work and annual training events, Starnet members refresh their professional skills. They also share best practices, or cautionary tales, between members focused on specification and business development.
Umberto Aponte, project executive for Starnet member Architectural Flooring Resource, New York, New York, believes in the power of collaboration with the architectural community. He states:
Photo: Umberto Aponte.
In my role, I prioritize building strong relationships with architects and designers. Understanding their vision and needs is crucial to specifying the right products. By collaborating closely with them, we ensure that the result meets or exceeds their expectations. Our market includes some of the most demanding and innovative clients in the world. On a regular basis, we must balance the realities of executing these projects with the limitations manufacturers have put in writing. We are very aware of product capabilities and the manufacturers that allow us to push the envelope of performance to achieve the highest levels of interior design. It's all about aligning our expertise in products and services with the designer’s creative vision.
The modern business environment for a professional flooring contractor is complex. There is intense competition and limited opportunities for differentiation in the traditional bidding process. Starnet members with specification associates can seed their market over time with a varied bundle of soft surface and hard surface products and accessories. These bundled solutions provide great value as well as enhancing the productivity of their field teams. In some cases, the labor, accessories, and subfloor preparation easily carry the bulk of the project budgets. Steering increased use of proven systems to enhance the productivity of the installers has a massive impact.
Julie Judd, interior designer and specifier at Master Craft Floors in Detroit, Michigan, emphasizes the value of productive systems in her role. She notes:
Photo: Master Craft Floors.
We believe we have the best installation teams in our market. They can execute any project of any technical difficulty. Unfortunately, we must compete against companies with less capable field teams on open bids. I work closely with our operations team to put system specifications in place that make them more productive. The installers have products they trust. These systems also generate higher quality results. That comfort level makes the installers faster so we can offer a better value. This perspective allows me to connect with architects and designers on a technical level, and they appreciate the insights I can provide. We leverage years of industry knowledge to benefit our clients.
Other motivations for leaders at Starnet members to staff these roles is related to managing overall margin opportunity and retention of senior professionals in their companies. Specification and business development roles are commonly staffed by senior-level professionals. Those professionals may have once been manufacturer sales representatives or credentialed interior designers, who find the role challenging and fulfilling. Experienced sales professionals and project managers often migrate to a business development position as their book of business expands and they become influential with many end users in a region. This tenure combined with breadth of experience enhances their value in the market and with their Starnet company employer. In addition, they become trusted resources to end users and designers important for the local or regional market.
Erica Roman, design consultant at Howard’s Rug Company in San Diego, California, underscores the importance of experience and stability in these roles. She states:
Photo: Howard's Rug Company.
Our long-term commitment to our clients and deep industry knowledge set us apart. They know I spent many years as a designer at a firm, and I understand the challenges they face. Architects and designers appreciate the consistency we offer as an established multigenerational company in the market. They know they can rely on us project after project, and that builds trust and confidence in our product recommendations.
Interior designers have a broad range of challenges to address on every project. This includes unresolved trends around mobility and remote work, pervasive technology requirements, and renewed focus on sustainability, health, and wellness. The specifier and business development associates can be invaluable in protecting a non-traditional or innovative approach to interior solution specifications. By working with a Starnet specification and business development professional, designers can be much more productive in rapidly assembling comprehensive commercial flooring solutions supported by efficient installation and maintenance services. The long-term client satisfaction delivered by this model is far greater than ordering samples online or working with dozens of narrowly focused specialist product representatives. By working together to exceed end user expectations, the client will happily increase investment in commercial interiors year after year, supporting our healthy industry.