NBC and artificial turf, Starnet and NFA gatherings: Strategic Exchange

By Kemp Harr


Early last month, right in the middle of the evening news ratings sweep, NBC Nightly News ran a sensationalized news story telling millions of Americans that there could be a link between the crumb rubber granules that are used as in-fill in today’s artificial turf fields and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (blood cancer).

The basis for this news story traces back to 2009 when the associate head coach for the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team talked to a nurse at a local hospital who had noticed that several of the girls she was treating for the disease were soccer goalies. 

Granted, this is a serious disease and could be cause for further investigation into the turf if this is more than just a coincidence. But in the five years that have passed since the coach noticed the association, multiple studies have been conducted, and none of them linked the use of styrene butadiene rubber with blood cancer.

In fact, Dr. Davis Lee, a Georgia Tech grad and the scientist for the Synthetic Turf Council, (also a father, I might add) told NBC on camera that 14 different studies have been conducted, and no negative health effects have been determined.

It’s not lost on me that one of the roles of a good journalist is that of an investigative watchdog to ensure that big businesses don’t poison us in pursuit of profits. But to air this story in front of over eight million Americans without more conclusive evidence does seem a bit premature and reminds me a bit of the Don Henley song, “Dirty Laundry.”

Since this story was aired, a few schools that were in the middle of installing a new artificial turf athletic field have opted to replace the recycled tire rubber that was called out as a potential carcinogen with ground-up tennis shoe rubber called Nike Grind. I found it interesting that the upcharge for Nike Grind from standard recycled tire rubber is $20,000 per field.

I spoke to Rick Doyle, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, prior to writing this editorial, and the council has added a section to its website to address all the news related to this story. The council takes the health, safety and welfare of all the users of synthetic turf very seriously. For more information, the website is www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.

The positive hum at the fall Starnet meeting was encouraging, especially in light of the mixed reports I’ve been getting on the supply side that indicate a lackluster demand for commercial flooring products in 2014. Granted, the commercial numbers are better than we are seeing in the single family builder or residential replacement sectors, but they’re still not what we’d anticipated when we started the year. In mingling with the crowd of Starnet members, I discovered that most of the optimism is based on what’s in the pipeline or on the horizon. 

All in all, Starnet members continue to grow, but some of that growth is coming from their own diversification into the maintenance area or into non-traditional flooring work, like epoxy coating and other types of resurfacing applications. In terms of product sales, some pockets of the country (Northeast, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic) are strong, while the balance is emerging from the recession on a steady, but slower pace. 

The age-old struggle against manufacturers that want to service end-users directly continues. The general consensus among the members is that the end-user is often sold the wrong product because many of the suppliers that sell direct have a limited offering and try to force a square peg into a round hole. Starnet members believe that independent commercial flooring contractors offer an objective recommendation to the end user because they have a broader base of products to choose from and because their purpose is servicing the customer’s needs rather than just closing a sale. On those occasions when the end user demands a direct sale, each individual Starnet member assesses their willingness to stay involved in the project. Some take the business in the interest of building a long-term relationship with the end-user and others pass on it.

My take from this group of entrepreneurs is that most end-users recognize the value the Starnet contractor brings to the table, and they are winning more battles than they are losing.

One additional noteworthy take-away from the meeting is that most Starnet members are doing more hard surface work than they were five years ago.
The elite 42-member group of independent floorcovering retailers called the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) met in Hawaii at the end of September, and several of those members are on our top 100 dealer list in this issue. Much like the Starnet members mentioned above, these work-hard-play-hard entrepreneurs are beating the averages and growing their businesses faster than the industry average. Regardless of whether you want to call it critical mass or saturation point, the retailers that are large enough to command a presence in their marketplace are growing faster than the one- or two-store operators. 

Many of the NFA members are also Stainmaster Flooring Centers, and we found it interesting to hear that the Stainmaster brand is selling very well at these stores. In fact, while Invista’s relationship with the NFA has ebbed and flowed through the peaks and valleys of this recession, it appears to be doing much better now, and the two groups are making strategic moves to strengthen it even further. It appears that Invista’s decision to pull Stainmaster out of Home Depot, coupled with the success of PetProtect and reinforced with the “I’m Sorry” advertising campaign, has enabled Invista to heal its relationship with this powerful group of independent flooring retailers. 

We should also mention that the NFA elected a new group of leaders, who will take office in January for two-year terms. Dave Snedeker with Nebraska Furniture Mart was elected president, Jason McSwain with McSwain’s in Cincinnati is vice president. Jim Walters with Macco’s Flooring is treasurer, and Kelly Taylor with Ambassador in St. Louis is secretary.


If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

Copyright 2014 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Nebraska Furniture Mart, Starnet, RD Weis, National Flooring Alliance (NFA)