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Surfaces 2013: Years of hope turning to confidence

From left: To highlight its new Composer collection, UrbanFloor serenaded visitors with classical music. The Max Windsor illusionist entertained attendees with ‘The Magic of Max.’ Quick•Step used oversized props to showcase the features of its laminate flooring.

Mills, dealers come out of hibernation poised for recovery

By Matthew Spieler

Volume 26/Number 19; February 4/11, 2013

Las Vegas—For the first time in roughly six years, the mood at Surfaces was neither dour nor hopeful. Instead, it could best be described as confident, as in confident the bottom of the trough has been reached and business is not only finally pointing in the right direction, but has started to steadily climb toward brighter times.

And while no one would say the industry is completely out of danger from the free fall it was experiencing at the height of the recession, nearly everyone at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center felt they were on firmer ground for the first time in recent years.

That sentiment was felt across all levels of the selling chain. Exhibitors and attendees expressed a confidence in both the show and business in general that had been lacking since the housing and financial collapses and subsequent recession.

“By all measures this year’s show has been a success,” said Ed Duncan, senior vice president of marketing for Mannington, as the final minutes of Surfaces counted down. “The confidence of dealers was much stronger this year than it had been in previous shows.”

He attributed the change to most dealers having had better, steadier fourth quarters than in the last four or five years. “And, they are off to a better start for the year. Many said business was good relative to how January has historically been.”

Duncan noted Mannington came into 2013 with a greater sense of optimism than previous years. “It has slowly been growing even more” thanks to markets such as Surfaces and the slew of buying group conventions that take place at the start of each year.

Celebrity designer and Quick•Step spokesperson Erinn Valencich with the mill's new icon-filled display.

Sam Ruble, national sales manager for USFloors, agreed with Duncan. “We had a full schedule of appointments—and so far everyone has shown up. Plus, we’ve had a lot of walk-ins as people are showing a great deal of interest in our new products such as COREtec. We’re selling pallets, displays; we definitely picked up new business from this show.”

Piet Dossche, the company’s president, echoed those sentiments. “Overall, it’s been a very optimistic show—one of our best. We are coming off our strongest fourth quarter ever, and it has continued through January. We see tremendous growth opportunities, especially in the high-end market, but better price points overall. It’s not just hopeful thinking. All indicators are pointing to a recovery.”

Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice, could not say anything different. “This has been a great show for us. We actually scanned more leads the first day than we did the entire show last year. I wouldn’t say the traffic is up, but the quality of leads and the people drawn to our booth has increased.”

But Larry Heckman, president of Best Buy, said attendance seemed to definitely be up. “I see the overall attendance as being better than last year and our sales are much better. The people coming into our booth are looking for the more sophisticated, higher-end looks.”

Downstairs reaction

The optimism was not confined to the upstairs level. Exhibitors located on the first floor expressed similar feelings, such as Jay Tinen, tradeshow manager for James Hardie, who said the company was on pace to get three times the number of leads than it got at last year’s market—“and that was a really great show for us. Not one person has refused to get their card scanned. The trend is definitely up; more people have an upbeat attitude and approach to the year.”

Some exhibitors were seeking to fill distribution voids, and they scored here as well. For example, Enos Farnsworth, president of HPS North America, maker of Schönox self-leveling products, said the company “signed two [distributors] in one day. It’s been a very beneficial market.”

David Keegan, COO of Bamboo Hardwoods, agreed. “Last year we switched our business model to traditional distribution and we’ve had a lot of positive meetings with wholesalers at this show. We should have some announcement as a result of finalizing things here.”

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) partnered with Hanley Wood, Surfaces’ owner, to set up the show’s first Wood Flooring Pavilion, which featured 10 association members exhibiting in a large, unified space. Anita Howard, NWFA’s senior director of communications and events, said the concept was an overwhelming success. “We signed up more new members than usual. On the first day we were literally slammed with people lined up to speak to our exhibiting members.”

She added the partnership between NWFA and the show is part of a new effort for the association to create as many affiliations as possible. “We all have to work together as we all want to advance the industry. This is important especially now so we can all help build the industry back up. Surfaces is a great place for this to happen as it’s all about face-to-face meetings. As a result, most of the companies that exhibited with us said they want to come back next year.”

And, at CFS, Philip Key, vice president of sales and marketing, was very encouraged by the attendees. “They’ve been very serious and are looking for new products, programs and relationships. This is true for both dealers and distributors.”

It was all about 3D at the White Oak Carpet Mills booth.

Attendees speak out

Based on the reaction from attendees, it was obvious exhibitors were not just blowing smoke. “Business is getting much better,” said Bill Kerns of Kern’s Carpet One in Milwaukee. “We’re not just seeing more traffic; more consumers are also purchasing better goods. The recovery is coming.”

Keith Richbourg, president of Design Superstore in Waco, Texas, is optimistic about this year based on traffic trends and consumer confidence in his market. “I’m glad to see the attendance and an optimistic mentality from the buyers I’ve been with, and I’m glad to see so many innovative products that are now in the market.”

For Jon Pierce, general manager of Pierce Flooring and Design in Montana, Surfaces has always been an “enjoyable” show to attend for a variety of reasons. “It is a very fraternal industry and always fun to catch up with friends. It is fun to see new products and to see what direction the industry is taking. This year seemed to be all about LVT.”

For some, Surfaces is all about becoming better. Michael Monstwil, co-owner of M&M Floor Covering in New Castle, Pa., was spotted checking out the new self-leveling products at the USG booth. “I’m always trying to improve myself and our company. That is why we come here. We’re searching for new and better products to help us in our day-to-day business.”

For others, like Jeff Hill, president and CEO of Starnet member Texan Floor Service in Houston, Surfaces is about finding ways to be more efficient. “I come to Surfaces looking for different sundries and tools—stuff to make things easier and make my people more productive. It’s the small things that help make jobs easier. That’s why I come to this show—I can always find something to make the company better.”

Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Flooring Home in Westland, Mich., came to Surfaces specifically to review the wool products. “The Just Shorn line was introduced by Carpet One and that has been great for me, so I wanted to expand on this success. I checked out Godfrey Hirst, J. Mish and some of the new Stanton collections. Then I took a sidetrack to Kane, which had an amazing booth because it’s exciting, well lit and attendees are able to see all the new innovations, colors, designs and textures. It was exciting just being in there.”

Education experience

Surfaces is more than just a trade show for new products; it also provides educational opportunities by experts in all fields of flooring and business. And with more than 70 different offerings, many of which were

James Dion educates Surfaces attendees at the GE-sponsored Business Enrichment Center.

once again sponsored by Floor Covering News, this year’s show did not disappoint.

“The education classes were great, especially those focusing on hardwood solutions,” said Craig Avila of Floor Store USA in Seaside, Calif.

Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now, once again teamed up with Sarah Kelly, managing director of MKG Department, to present a seminar on how social media fits into the overall flooring business. “We were thrilled with our Surfaces session. Not only did we get a bigger crowd compared to last year, we found attendees were even more engaged. We had terrific interaction and great questions from the audience.”

Beyond the myriad of seminars, the new GE-sponsored Business Enrichment Center, along with the numerous demonstration stages and other educational offerings presented at Surfaces, were generally at full capacity throughout the entire show. Even near the end of the last day, some of the demo stages had attendees lined up to better understand the newest products and techniques.

One of the ancillary events was the two-day Floor Covering Symposium, sponsored by Textile Consultants and LGM and Associates. It was kicked off by Matthew Spieler, senior executive editor of Floor Covering News, who gave attendees a state of the industry address before turning the program over to high-level industry executives such as Keith Campbell, chairman of Mannington, and Ralph Boe, president of Beaulieu.

As one audience member told Spieler, her boss was attending Surfaces to buy products for their store, while she was in Vegas “to take as many educational classes as possible and learn as much as I can about the industry.”

Surfaces 2014 is scheduled for Jan. 27 to 30 and will once again take place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. For more information, call 866.860.1975.

(FCNews’ Louis Iannaco, Melissa McGuire and Jenna Lippin contributed to this story.)