With nearly 25 years of commercial flooring industry experience in both the manufacturing and service provider sides, Mark Bischoff offers a unique perspective. Since May 2019, he has served as president & CEO of Starnet Commercial Flooring and leads the organization with the same continued commitment to its vendor partners and members that it’s shown for over two decades. Starnet has a consistent track record of performance and creates a beneficial link in the commercial flooring industry by connecting manufacturers, end users, and service providers. Mark believes there’s value in that aggregated approach. He states, “Within Starnet, we can move things along more quickly, and there’s strength in those numbers with a unified message and a plan that we work together on throughout the year.”
Starnet’s Membership is a Force in Our Industry.
During his two years at Starnet, Mark has developed relationships with its 180+ members and his passion for them and what they bring to the industry is evident. Their entrepreneurial enthusiasm is impressive and, as Mark explains, “These folks are wired differently. They approach risk in a different way than most people and that’s why they have their own businesses. They will find a way to say yes to their customers.” How these members approach two of the industry’s toughest challenges – scarcity of talent and speed of change – distances them from their competitors.
Mark offers, “If you’re adaptive and can make decisions quickly with the support of technology, you’re in much better shape to add value to your customers.”
To combat labor issues, some Starnet members have turned to Millennials and Gen Z, and it’s working in their favor. Mark explains, “Starnet put together a group of next generational leaders and the program shed light on the challenge of finding next gen talent.” By providing these young professionals a nationwide group to identify with, they figured out how to attract the same level of talent and experience within their age ranges for their respective companies.
The number of members choosing to expand their service offerings continues to grow within Starnet and will continue to be a long-term industry trend. Mark states, “What was once ‘carpet only’ has now become resilient, ceramic, maintenance, concrete polishing, and demolition.” What’s next? Mark believes it’s interior products – ceilings, movable walls, furniture, painting, wall coverings, and interior assessment combined with visualization. “The growth for our member organizations providing multiple services seems to be greater than specialist companies,” but he quickly notes, “Every business is different.” He adds, “We can see the momentum in the full service members – their scale, size, enthusiasm around the business, and the feedback they’re getting from their customers.”
Vendor Partnerships are Also Invaluable.
Not only does Starnet strive to benefit its members, but it also has a commitment to preferred vendors and helping them execute their plan in the marketplace. Mark explains, “Essentially, we’re a connector between entrepreneurial companies and the preferred vendor partners that choose to work with Starnet because they believe they’ll get more value out of that relationship than they would by trying to work with a couple of hundred individual companies.” The organization strikes a balance between fulfilling responsibilities to vendor partners and aiding members, whether they need help in the flooring business or are exploring new territory and new products with their customers.
Staying Ahead of Regulations, Change, and Risk
Safety is part of the culture at Starnet and that includes responding to regulations, and often, staying ahead of them. Mark points out,” Lots of members are on the leading edge and take it very seriously. They lead the group as outliers and their example pulls the rest of the group along.” The awareness usually starts in highly regulatory environments, such as New York City or California, and, because there’s interest around it, it is then shared quickly throughout the group. Manufacturers also help Starnet stay on top of what’s happening in terms of regulations, safety, compliance, and training within industry. Mark states, “We’ve got great vendor partners that keep us up to date.” In addition, Starnet member committees have a high degree of communication and interaction with others throughout the industry and help to keep everyone on the forefront of what’s happening.
Members also have to stay on top of process and execution changes to provide the best service for their customers. “If you’re going to be a trusted partner, it includes risk management, communication, speed, and flexibility,” Mark notes. Customers want their lives made easier. They want high speed decisions at the lowest risk possible with quality, long-term results. They also don’t want to continuously teach people how to serve their business. They simply want to call someone they trust to get things completed.
Mark points out, “Members manage risk, employee safety, training, and sustainability. Those things are expected now. That execution level is the minimum standard.” He continues,”What you do beyond that is your differentiation.”
Striking a balance between speed and risk is tricky for Starnet members. Mark explains, “If you follow the speed limit, you’re generally better off than if you’re speeding because the amount of time you pick up may not be worth it if you don’t get there.” It’s a perfect example for the flooring industry because high speed and low risk simply don’t go together, and, as Mark reveals, “Challenging site conditions will expose the gaps in your process faster than anything else, and because there’s business disruption associated with it, it’s a lingering pain people never forget.”
End users believe in interior design and what it brings to their business. If the job goes sideways, they’re more reluctant next time to spend. “They’ll spend less or they won’t spend at all,” and, as Mark points out, “If you get it once and do a bad job, you’ll either not get it a second time or you’ll get less the next time.” He believes it has a broad sweeping effect. “It’s not just one project and the risk involved in that project. It turns people off from making future investments in interiors because they had a bad experience, and they don’t forget those.”
The Impact of Maintenance
Flooring surfaces take the most abuse in any building, and educating everyone – from GCs to end users – on proper maintenance is a challenge. The impact of speedy construction and rushed occupancy dates forces floors to be put into place before they can be prepped for the end user. On-going maintenance also creates problems when money and time aren’t properly allocated. Mark mentions that many products are over engineered for their use. “They don’t wear out,” he notes. “Without proper maintenance, they look bad for a long period of time and then there’s a push – some peak high profile business event – that requires the floor to look its best.” At that point, the floor’s appearance can typically be restored because the product is engineered well, but it’s not going to continue its expected useful life because it’s been compromised in some way. Mark states, “It’s a challenge, but an opportunity.”
Why is maintenance so critical? Mark explains, “How well office interiors are maintained, what chemicals are introduced into the environment, and how often they’re cleaned contribute to whether or not businesses are viewed as good employers. It’s not always overt. Sometimes it’s subliminal.”
He adds, “The interior space has an impact on the employee experience and the war for talent.”
Who Will Lead In the Future?
Mark states plainly, “Whoever gives the customer the best decision making process and most predictable results over and over again wins.” He continues, “Our job is to simplify it for the decision-makers. Minimize the pain for our customers.” Risk mitigation, specifying product, and warranties are for the industry to contend with. End users simply want spaces to look and feel a certain way. They don’t want to worry about the complications of how it gets done. Mark suggests providing the most surfaces and the most choice with a streamlined decision making process to your customers. He uses another example. “Investments used to be very complicated and mysterious. Now you just press a button – ‘Retire in 2050’ – and everything’s done.” He continues, “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but the reality is it’s a great user experience compared to a financial planner interview from 25 years ago.” He encourages members to curate and deliver a great experience.
He concludes, “Other industries have figured out how to push the easy button for the client without limiting choice and that’s what our industry needs to do.”
About Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership
We’re the world’s largest network of full-service independent flooring contractors, committed to the highest standards of excellence in the industry. Through partnerships with the most skilled commercial flooring professionals and highest quality flooring manufacturers, we help deliver successful project outcomes serving the client’s vision. For quality, reliability and outstanding results on all your flooring projects, trust the Starnet seal. Learn more today!