Strategic Exchange: The right industry group can give individual members an edge - May 2018

By Kemp Harr

Hopefully by the time this issue ends up in your hands, the weather outside will be where it should be for the spring season. It will be months before we’re able to quantify how these late snow storms have impacted the builder and retail replacement segments of the floorcovering business. I’m guessing the weather has been a measurable deterrent to sales.

Fortunately, I missed this last wave of winter weather because I spent the last half of April on an 11-day journey that started at the NWFA Expo in Tampa, then down to Cancun for the NFA meeting and back to Florida, this time Orlando, for the annual Starnet meeting. I’d like to give you a brief synopsis here, and we’ll work in more coverage later.

As far as the NWFA show is concerned, in this issue on page 97, Beth Miller has written an expo recap. I’d like to add that we’re pleased that the hardwood flooring trade association has convinced its board that it is time to follow the tile flooring trade association’s (TCNA) lead by defining what qualifies as real hardwood flooring and then spend money promoting the benefits to the consumer. For more details, listen to our recent FloorDaily interview with Michael Martin.

It was great to see our friends among the 42 independent retail firms that make up the NFA. This is a small group of entrepreneurs that live inside their business, figuring out creative ways to be the best in their respective markets. In my interview with the group’s president, Dave Snedeker, he points out three core challenges that many of the members face: availability of installation labor, employee recruitment and retention, and diversification of mix to offset the inevitable loss of repeat business as more consumers shift to hard surface flooring and its longer lifecycle.

In Orlando, the member count of the Starnet group of commercial flooring contractors has now risen to 177. They, too, seem very happy with current business conditions and appear to be outpacing the industry in growth. When asked about their secret to success, many answer, “It’s all about the relationships within our market.” These relationships are with some mix of the following groups: general contractors, end-users, A&D specifiers and/or real estate brokers. Listen to my interview with Jeanne Matson for more details on this meeting and the challenges they face.

I’d like to share with you a recent and personal experience Anne and I had replacing our bedroom carpet. First, let me say, I realize that by the nature of our proximity to Dalton, plus the contacts we have within the industry, it would be hard to compare this experience to a routine consumer experience. We bought directly from the manufacturer, and they helped us select an independent installer. And like they used to say on the Dragnet TV show, “The story you are about to hear is true, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

So here is the scenario. Our house was built in 1907 and completely remodeled in 2007 prior to our buying it in 2010. So the carpet we were replacing was 11 years old, the face fiber was polypropylene, and, best we can tell, it was bought through the builder channel as one of their “finer upgrades.” It was a beige, loop construction, with a geometric pattern.

We decided to replace the carpet for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it zippered about a year ago when the vacuum cleaner caught a loop, so there was a dark line in the middle of the room. Secondly, it was installed with a seam running parallel to a large window, so it was visible and was most likely that way from the day it was installed. Thirdly, we’d always heard wool made the best soft flooring, and we wanted to give it a try.

Pulling the trigger in the selection stage was about a two-year process. We tried to narrow the options online in the evening, but we could not tell enough about the hand, texture, density or color by looking at a picture. Plus, when we came home from an industry trade show, the products we’d reviewed for the magazine weren’t online yet, and by the time they got posted, we’d forgotten what we liked. Granted, I’m not a Millennial, but I don’t think the Amazon model will ever replace the role of the retailer when it comes to sampling and narrowing the options. Not only did we need to see large samples, but we also needed some trained advice

Once we locked in on a style, it took four weeks for the product to be manufactured and two weeks to get on the installer’s schedule. On the day of the install, three men showed up in the morning about 45 minutes late with a legitimate excuse for their tardiness. I wasn’t at home, but Anne called and put the lead guy on the phone. He asked me where I wanted the seam. I told him he should check with the guy who came out and measured. Around lunch time, I got another call telling me that they were short one roll of pad, with the installer asking if it would it be all right to come back in two weeks to finish the job. We jumped through hoops and found a roll across town from another source, hurried over to pick it up ourselves and dropped it off at our house. Around four that afternoon, I got a call to come home and do a post-install inspection.

Naturally, the room looked ten times better with new wool carpet, but the transition from the hardwood floor in the hall wasn’t quite right. When I asked the installer why it dipped down, he told me, “That’s the way we have to do it with this type of carpet.” Long story short, I sent a photo of the transition to the manufacturer, and a week later, the installer called and asked when he could come out and fix his installation. When Anne met him at the door, he said, “I knew I’d be coming back on this job.” He fixed it, and we’re happy now with our new wool carpeting.

There is a reason I felt compelled to share this story. Carpet, or any product for that matter, is not a floor until it’s properly installed. The homeowner is not the expert, and they expect the process to be handled professionally. Professionally trained installers are critical to the success of this business. When labor is tight, it’s not okay to send out someone who won’t put in the extra effort to do it right. Satisfaction must be measured at the end of the project to ensure that craftsmen with the right skill sets and attitudes are used, and others are retrained.

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at

Copyright 2018 Floor Focus

Related Topics:National Flooring Alliance (NFA), Starnet, NWFA Expo