With all the major and secondary markets in the U.S. now covered, along with 80% of the tertiary areas and, most recently adding members in the top four markets of Canada, officials for Fuse Alliance told the membership at the group’s recent convention the time is now to start thinking as a national organization and not just as a group of individual companies serving their local markets.

While there was some debate over just how much business mills do by going direct, Geoff Gordon, Fuse’s senior vice president of business development, said regardless of what the figure is the world of business is changing, especially on the commercial side.

He said the combination of the recession and the way in which people communicate each played a large role in this. In fact, Gordon pointed to four key areas that made this concept viable: The cost of communication is becoming free, the ability for end users to research is getting easier, manufacturers have added end use specialists to meet customer demand and the slow economy forced everyone to eliminate inefficiencies.

He noted whether members realize it or not they are really involved in two types of business—local and national. Local is the business obtained from companies that operate primarily in a member’s market. National is the business from companies with locations across the country.

It was the second area in which Fuse executives focused their attention. As Gordon succinctly pointed out companies that have a national presence—from chain stores to assisted living facilities and so forth—now want the ability to deal with one source when it comes to certain things as opposed to having each of their locations handle the project. This is especially true when they do a mass remodel or new store program, due to their desire to maintain a coordinated look and feel so when someone walks into a CVS drugstore, for example, the consumer has the same experience from Alabama to Wisconsin.

Because of the way communication is moving as well as the rise of more national chains than ever before, he said, “We see this as a long-term trend, and not just in flooring but in all industries. The train has already left the station and we need to deal with this new one source way of looking at things or get left behind.”

In flooring, though, Gordon said the term ‘selling direct’ should really be referred to as ‘buying direct,’ because in the end it is still the local contractor doing the work. The question becomes how much of the work, because when it comes to the professional contractor, such as the ones who are part of Fuse, “We are not just installers. Yes, installation is a major part of what we do, but it’s just a piece of the puzzle as our members have a unique set of skills that can help both the suppliers and the end users.”

Part of that is to give both parties a job that is done correctly the first time out and, in order for that to happen, you need a well-financed, highly trained company that can handle the various problems and logistics that come up with any commercial job.

That is where the individual Fuse member comes into the picture. “Think of all the things you do before, during and after a job,” Gordon said. “You are the ones who have to handle the moisture mitigation, which we all know is still the biggest problem in the construction industry; you have to successfully navigate the scheduling with the other trades; you are the ones they will call if there is a problem—not the manufacturer. But the good news is, you are financially strong and can stand behind a job; just like we hope a manufacturer will stand behind its product if there is a problem with it.”

So, the question becomes, how does a local contractor capture the job in which a national chain is remodeling 500-plus stores across the country and one or two of them happen to be in its market?

That’s where being a member of Fuse comes into play. Ken Daniels, the group’s vice president, said “Our first obligation is to make our members successful.”

Ron Lee, Fuse’s executive director, who noted at the meeting a plan has been put in place for him to retire in a few years and let Gordon assume leadership of the organization, though no exact timetable has been set, added, “Everything is about growing our businesses together—and bringing along our suppliers in order to build bridges together.”

As part of a plan that has been developing over the last three years, Gordon said when it comes to these large, national accounts the goal is to have Fuse act as the central source for everything from purchasing to delivery.

In essence the goal is to act as the stopgap between a national company contacting a mill to buy product for all its stores and then it becomes open bidding season in all the local markets just to install the product. As Lee noted, “There might be 500 locations being installed at the same time but for you it is a local job and you are competing with other contractors in your area for that work.”

With Fuse hitting the critical mass it needs, Gordon said the organization can get the job at the national level and then take it to the local level and “run it through our members wherever they are located.” He noted this is part of what Fuse is about, “Helping our members build their businesses and be profitable. This allows them to get jobs they may never have been able to on their own as many times they don’t even know about them until it’s too late.”

Lee said last year Fuse executives went on a 26-city tour where they met with both members and the regional management teams of mills, along with other interested parties, and “we had some very productive discussions. There is a huge difference between speaking to someone in person than on the phone or trying to communicate via email.” As such, he added, officials plan to continue the tour this year.

With their suppliers in the room with the members during this discussion, it seemed like a near unanimous feeling this was the correct direction in which the group should proceed, as it would benefit both sides.

John Bonney, vice president of commercial sales for Karndean, one of a handful of new suppliers at the convention, said, “One of the biggest things for a manufacturer is to be able to go to sleep at night knowing the floor covering is being put down right and the customer is being taken care of in a professional manner—especially with big, national jobs. And with a group like Fuse, you help bring us peace of mind.”

Mark Brunelle, national sales manager for USF Contract, the commercial division of USFloors and a relatively new vendor to the group, said while one of the areas the company likes about Fuse is how it picks its suppliers, in that there is “no real overlap,” he was “very supportive of the direction and focus on servicing and working with us on national programs. This is a great group of companies; top-notch professionals. So knowing we can channel a national account through them is a winning proposition for everyone involved—most importantly for the company where the floor is ultimately being installed.”

Lee said, “We’re trying to change long-standing behaviors and attitudes. Both our members and the suppliers are catching on this is the best solution for the long-term benefit of everyone.”

Bill Randall, vice president of Fuse member Solidus in Connecticut and New Hampshire, summed it best, by noting, everything reflected a “very optimistic future for the Fuse members. Collectively by working together, by offering flooring services on a national scale will strengthen both Fuse as an organization and our members. Geoff Gordon’s efforts with national accounts will reinforce our positions with our mill partners as we collectively become important in the service aspect of our businesses. Instead of the mills feeling they do not need to support Fuse it becomes a two-way street: They need us for national accounts and we need them for products. By supporting each other in this venue we both should be able to become more meaningful to a corporate end-user ultimately bringing more work for all.”