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Flooring start-up gets a boost from SUNY Oswego

Students from SUNY Oswego will be crucial to the growth of Designer Hardwood Flooring CNY, the first business to partner with that college through its START-UP NY economic development program.  

“The wood industry is very much behind the times, both technologically and managerially,” says Joe Marmon, vice president of Designer Hardwood Flooring. “I want to bring in fresh minds that have been educated recently, with new ideas.” SUNY Oswego is ready to deliver what the company needs.

Designer Hardwood Flooring uses a patented process to configure hardwood planks into 7.5-square foot panels backed by vinyl-impregnated paper. Installed, the panels look just like regular plank flooring, Marmon says. “But they’re much more user-friendly for the do-it-yourselfer, and they’re more cost effective.”

The company is marketing its product, under the brand name “Surelock,” to home improvement retail chains, including big box stores. Plans call for Designer Hardwood Flooring to start full production early in 2016. 

Marmon and his wife, company president Sherry Marmon, founded Designer Hardwood Flooring in 2014. The startup operates in the same 65,000-square foot building, on East Seneca Street in Oswego, as the Marmon’s other, existing enterprise, Hardwood Transformations. That business applies environmentally friendly pre-finishes to wood flooring made by various manufacturers—soon to include Designer Hardwood Flooring. 

As a participant in START-UP NY, Designer Hardwood Flooring promises to bring 19 new jobs to Oswego and provide internships and co-op positions to students from the college. In exchange, the company gains tax advantages, and it benefits from the expertise available on campus.  

The Marmons got their first exposure to SUNY Oswego’s talent pool a few years ago, when they met with students from several academic disciplines, seeking their perspectives on the pre-finishing business. “I asked what they would do with the business if they had a blank canvas,” says Joe Marmon. “We got some great ideas that I’ve used in successful marketing proposals.”

For example, some students researched the potential for selling pre-finishing services not only to flooring manufacturers, but also to architects. As part of that work, they collected details on construction and renovation projects in New York City. Thanks to those leads, Hardwood Transformation has secured work on some high profile projects, Marmon says. “The information was unbelievable in terms of opportunity.”

Now, the Marmons are interviewing students for professional internships. One available position is for a graphic designer to develop a web site and marketing materials. “We’re also looking for a quality engineer to do statistical process controls for both companies, collecting data, measuring quality, creating reports and monitoring our progress as we run production,” Marmon says. In a third position, an accounting student will handle basic functions such as accounts payable and receivable, using QuickBooks software.

As an advanced manufacturer, Designer Hardwood Flooring is a great match for SUNY Oswego, says Pamela Caraccioli, deputy to the president for external partnerships and economic development at the college. “We offer degrees in engineering, computer science and technology, and we have a standalone School of Business that can meet the needs of a new company looking for interns as well as prospective employees.” Oswego’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts can provide help with communication initiatives. “We also have a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on campus that has worked directly with this company in developing its business plan,” she says.  

Oswego’s SBDC reviewed the business plan for Designer Hardwood Flooring and recommended improvements, Marmon says. “They did the pro forma financials with me and walked me through every nuance needed to support the business plan. They were a great help.”

While bringing their skills and insights to Designer Hardwood Flooring, students who intern with the company will gain a chance to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in class to a real-world operation. “Part of our campus mission is to provide experiential learning opportunities for students,” says Caraccioli. “We’re meeting that mission through the efforts we’re making with START-UP NY.”

Some of the internships could evolve into full time jobs, Marmon says. “This gives us a probationary period, so the students can see what small business manufacturing is like, and see if they have an interest in it.”

According to Marmon, the partnership with SUNY Oswego could help to solve one of the toughest challenges confronting a manufacturing startup such as Designer Hardwood Flooring. “I can find equipment anywhere, but finding good talent and visionary people is extremely difficult,” he says. “Oswego has a lot of that.” 

Tags Tags: START-UP NY , SUNY Oswego

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