For the past two years, I have been honored to serve as the chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Starnet Commercial Flooring. Besides the responsibilities of this position, I enjoy learning about our many Starnet members and understanding the common challenges we all experience.
The good news is that, since the dark and gloomy days of the 2008 recession, the revenues of the commercial flooring industry are approaching pre-recession levels. With strong 2016 results in the books and the outlook for continued recovery through early 2018, several challenges remain which will impact the industry in the coming years.
So, what are the largest challenges for a commercial flooring contractor today?
The greatest threat facing full service commercial flooring contractors today is direct selling where manufacturers sell materials directly to the end user, circumventing the commercial flooring contractor. Starnet members offer the complete range of services for a successful commercial flooring installation: product selection, estimating, project management, field supervision, floor prep and installation. While the manufacturers are, on occasion, pressured into selling direct, there is no question that the project suffers without expert installation management. We are committed to working with our Preferred Vendor Partners to address this issue.
Shortage of Skilled Workers
Another challenge facing the industry is the ability to attract and retain skilled, qualified workers. We have entered a “perfect storm!” The Baby Boomers are retiring at an increasing pace. In addition, many trained individuals were forced to leave the industry during the recession. Today, we are facing a void in the workforce pool and this situation weakens the ability of commercial flooring contractors to meet the growing project demand. These shortages occur in all aspects of the industry and challenge the industry’s long-term growth potential.
Commercial flooring projects have become increasingly complex. When I joined the industry 35 years ago, our projects were relatively simple: carpet, resilient, adhesive. Now, we need to expertly understand ceramics, wood, moisture issues, etc., and no single project is simple. Our customers demand that we are experienced in product selection, project management, regulatory requirements, risk management and environmental issues before even tackling site conditions. We need to function as a flooring resource to meet their needs.
Next Generation Leaders
As many leaders in the commercial flooring industry near retirement, companies of all sizes are faced with the problem of succession planning and passing the torch to future leaders. At Starnet, we have an active Next Generation program through which we are educating the future generation on the skills and relationships they need for future success.
It is an exciting time to operate a business in commercial flooring. The challenges are real, but I believe we have the right tools to meet and overcome them now and in the future.