There was a time when Starnet’s fall meetings were intimate affairs—not any more as the most recent event drew 300 people for three-days of education and networking opportunities.

Dave Triepke of Universal Metro in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., pointed out what a number of executives of member companies said about the fall meetings. “I used to send staff members to the fall meetings and attend the spring myself. The fall meetings have become such a valuable time of networking, learning, improving and planning that I now look forward to attending everyone.”

As the commercial business continues to bounce back across the country and many members once again see the light, the co-op focused this meeting on the theme Rev Up Your Business with Starnet. The commercial buying group offered members numerous ways to improve and grow their business with new opportunities; simple, yet effective tips that can add to their bottom line, along with a chance to network and see key vendors during a tabletop tradeshow setting.

Jeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet, said the fall meetings are starting to come close in size and scope to the spring meeting as more members are seeing the value of the education being offered. Plus, “two years ago we added the tabletop exhibits to the fall meeting as we usually only had the main tradeshow at our spring meetings and they have become so popular with both the membership and our vendors that now it is expected. In fact, we now need to find hotels that will allow us to accommodate all our vendors as they all want to participate. And the members really enjoy it as it gives them a more intimate time to network with their key suppliers.”

She said the proof was definitely seen at this meeting as members hit the tabletops earlier than expected and some were still around talking shop as suppliers were packing up. “It was very active and busy the entire time. Our members really worked the room. And the vendors love it—we get great feedback from them.”

Carlton Billingsley of Floors and More in Arkansas, said, “I always enjoy getting to see our vendors and new products they have developed. One of our new vendor partners, Masland Contract, has some exciting opportunities with commercial area rugs and logo rugs. To see its product offering and capabilities allows us to create a niche in our market that will allow us to have another product offering that will be a great extension to our day-in and day-out business.”

While the tabletop exhibits have become an important component of Starnet’s fall meetings, the event is still mostly geared toward providing education and exposing members to things that can add to their bottom line.

Matson noted, the educational sessions and topics discussed during general meetings are all designed in response to member and vendor input.

One session, Ceramic Tile & Stone: Driving Incremental Volume was sponsored by the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and was designed for members either not currently involved in tile or for those seeking to expand their knowledge in this area.

Matson said Starnet has been working with NTCA for about five years to set up a program between the two organizations. This presentation was the start of what she called a “no decision” program to get Starnet members to join NTCA and get the benefits it provides.

To her point, by the end of the meeting more than three times as many Starnet companies were part of NTCA than at the start. “We’re always trying to get our members into tile as it’s a profitable business and also allows them to be more of a one-stop shop  for their clients. Some members will contract it out and this was a way to get them to bring it in house. By joining NTCA, members have access to specialized training and as part of the program we developed they are given a voucher for products so their initial membership fee pays for itself.”

A hot topic among the commercial community is moisture mitigation. In fact, it remains the No. 1 cost-related issue in the industry and for contractors this could mean life or death as some problems can easily run into six figures or more.

For many years Starnet has been very proactive in this area and the fall meeting was no exception as concrete industry expert Peter Craig led a session discussing both findings and training opportunities provided by the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI). Craig said at a meeting in Chicago Starnet had 25 people certified in ICRI and in January when the buying group holds its first Mega Training event in conjunction with Surfaces in Las Vegas another certification will be held.

He said the fall meeting’s theme was a perfect fit for his session as one of the best ways to rev up business “is to avoid a costly problem and moisture is the most costly and frequent problem in the industry.” Whether directly or indirectly, Craig said moisture problems are estimated to account for between $300 million to $1 billion a year.

Why? “There are a great many issues to bonding a floor covering to a cement floor.” These can be inherent such as a problem with the slab itself or from not using the correct adhesive or not using the adhesive correctly, i.e., using too little, too much or not spreading it properly.

Paul White, president of Paul G. White Tile Co. in Maine, pointed to the session he attended on time management with Doug Puzey from Franklin Covey. “I saw a lot of habits I need to change to be more productive.”

There were also sessions held by members as they presented ideas, techniques and strategies that could help members grow their business or simply add to the bottom line by altering the way they do things.

White added, “I also attended a session on partnering opportunities for our customers with locations in distant markets and will definitely consider trying it. And, Bob Murdoch and Ron Calaway (from Starnet’s technology committee) also provided us great tips for computer security—a fantastic resource for our group.”

Two other popular sessions cited by members—Warehouse Management and Starnet NetWorking—featured Starnet members leading the discussion on ways for other members to increase their profits and business.

When it came to the sessions, Billingsley noted how “sometimes we forgot how small changes can add up to big difference makers not only in profits, but company image/moral. Both of these seminars didn’t require you to spend huge dollars, but instead by making small changes we can better control our business and the direction of our goals/vision for our company.”

Triepke added the breakout sessions “had a great atmosphere of teamwork and best practices resulting in a few great ideas I can use to improve our business immediately—worth the investment of the entire trip.”

Randy Rubenstein of Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet in Washington, and one of the co-presenters for the Starnet NetWorking session, which had a packed room of people felt both the “warehousing breakout led by Michael Zmijewski of Mr. David’s was very helpful on their implementation of a new barcoding/scanning system, as well as the session on tile led by NTCA was very valuable, as the potential value of that organization to our members was highlighted.”

On his session, which focused on members sharing leads with each other when a customer of theirs needs a project done in a location they do not service, Rubenstein was pleased with both the turnout and response. “This really came about because of Rob Hailey’s leadership and simply trying to extend what he had been doing at Howard’s Rugs on an informal basis to a wider range of the Starnet membership who might be interested. We were surprised at the response we received from the membership and out of which some robust conversation materialized. It’s really a natural result of the networking and friendships we’ve all developed over the years at these meetings, and figuring out a way to turn those into shared business opportunities.”

Whether it is little ideas or dealing with national accounts, something Starnet corporate is now taking a more active role in to make sure member companies and suppliers are connected, Matson said the group is truly acting as a co-op in which “members are communicating and sharing with each other to help make everyone stronger and more successful. They realize by making the group stronger as a whole it makes them stronger individually.”