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NWFA: Wood Flooring Expo continues on growth path

Volume 27/Number 26; April 28/May 5, 2014

By Steven Feldman

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 2.51.34 PMNashville, Tenn.—The National Wood Flooring Association’s (NWFA) Wood Flooring Expo continues to capitalize not only on a growing economy, but also leadership’s mission to add more value to its members. This could not have been better illustrated at the 2014 expo held here April 16-18, where attendance topped the 3,000 mark for the first time in more than five years—30% above last year’s tally.

In addition, the annual trade show held April 17 featured 20 more suppliers than last year with 51 first-time exhibitors.

Michael Martin, president and CEO, NWFA, told FCNews he was especially pleased with the fact that 10% of the attendees were first timers at the show. “This adds value to the exhibitors, who cannot say they are seeing the same people all the time.”

In actuality, the Wood Flooring Expo is on a significant three-year growth trajectory. Attendance rose 30% in 2012, 20% in 2013 and now 30% in 2014. Martin cited several reasons. Of course, the recovery from the extended economic downturn is one, “although that can hurt us, too. Some people didn’t come because their business is too good. So we have gone from ‘We don’t have the money’ to ‘We don’t have the time.’”

Another factor driving the show’s success is the positive response to its overhaul in 2012. “We’ve tweaked the show a bit each year since then, but we’ve found a formula that works for our industry that we’re pretty happy with,” Martin said.

Changes for 2014 included additional trade show hours, as well as expanded education opportunities. “This year, we tried something new in response to attendee surveys,” Martin said. “We added a three-hour Wood Flooring University track on the last day of the show to give our attendees a deep dive into issues affecting their businesses. We had tracks for certification, contractors, and for distributors and manufacturers.” In addition, the NWFA added a mill tour to its program, hosted by Somerset Hardwood Flooring, in conjunction with two continuing education units for architects and designers. “This was the first time we’ve offered this kind of tour to reinforce our education sessions, and we had a waiting list of people wanting to participate.”

Another education change was adding the NWFA Certified Professionals (NWFACP) Symposium to the front end of the show and bringing in speakers with expertise in areas impacting certified professionals. NWFACP covers a variety of topics required for conducting thorough inspections, including inspection tools, photography, concrete, moisture testing, production, adhesives, leveling compounds, report writing, legal ramifications, professionalism and handling complaints. “This helped increase symposium attendance by more than 50% from 2013,” Martin said. “We had about 225 people participating.”

Education and networking have always been hallmarks of the NWFA event. “Members appreciate the peer-to-peer relationships so they can learn from each other,” Martin noted. “And the expo provides new product exposure and the opportunity to view new technologies and learn new ways of doing things.”

Last but not least, Martin said the location had a lot to do with the show’s success. “Nashville is a great city for us. It is attached to six states, meaning it is a drivable city for a good number of our members.”

Initiatives for 2014Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 2.52.07 PM

Martin pointed to a pair of initiatives on which the NWFA will focus in 2014. Not surprisingly, both involve education. For more than 25 years, the NWFA has been training and educating wood flooring professionals from all over the world in the installation, sanding, finishing and sales of wood flooring products. In fact, since 1995, the NWFA has offered 157 schools dealing with wood flooring exclusively, and nearly 4,400 students have attended to advance their hands-on skills and wood flooring knowledge.

“Moving forward, our biggest initiative will be our online platform,” Martin said. “We believe there’s a real opportunity here for many retailers because the likelihood of a salesperson making $15 an hour coming to one of our shows is small. But we can still help educate that salesperson on the right applications for wood, how to upsell the category, etc., [through an online component].”

This continues the evolution of the NWFA’s education initiatives, in which it was once solely national in scope with training workshops held in St. Louis and Las Vegas. But as the economy struggled, people in need of training were less able to afford the expense of travel, so the program was restructured to develop regional events that would minimize travel expenses. To illustrate, this year the NWFA has scheduled more than 40 weeks of training in 20 locations. The format features more than a dozen one-day workshops that allow students to customize training.

“The regional piece is still important, but the training will be integrated where some will be workshops, some will be hands on and some will be online,” Martin explained. “We want to provide a complete experience. We can cut out days of travel by putting some components online. It’s because we are competing against time away from the job site.”

The second educational initiative launched at the Wood Flooring Expo was the expansion of the NWFA’s scholarship program under its new Education & Research Foundation. A Legacy Scholarship program will provide meaningful financial assistance to wood flooring professionals throughout the world. There will be an annual campaign for funding the scholarship and research foundation.

The program started earlier this year with a vision from Tommy Maxwell, owner of Maxwell Hardwood in Monticello, Ark. “About a year ago, a good friend of mine, Bob Haggard [owner of Hassel & Hughes Lumber Co. in Collinwood, Tenn.] passed away,” Maxwell said. “I thought we should start a scholarship program in his name. When I mentioned it to the board and they started kicking the idea around, suddenly Dick Coates [Golden State Flooring] passed away, and we all said it should be bigger than one man. So, with Don Finkell’s guidance, we were able to restructure the scholarship programs to allow people to nominate someone to be recognized with a legacy scholarship by donating $5,000 in that person’s memory.

“Then, I started looking back and found all these people who had passed in the prior two or three years. These are people who not only contributed to the industry, but also fought to keep it alive when it almost died out. When we got through, it was 13 people and $65,000.” Derr Flooring also wanted to honor Chester Derr, which brought the inaugural rollout to 14 people honored.

How it works: The scholarship money will go into an NWFA fund, which will be administered by a scholarship committee. The best part? Not a penny of the principal will be spent—just the earnings. “This is not a depleting scholarship,” Martin said. Maxwell believes the fund could collect between $200,000 and $300,000 within the next year or so.

Other NWFA initiatives for 2014 include:

•Social media: The NWFA is working on “building a presence” on all social media platforms, Martin said. The association now has two dedicated resources to social media. “If Pinterest continues to grow, it’s great for the flooring industry because of the visual aspect. I think the more visual social media is, the more successful it is for our purposes. For example, we can showcase the different species.”

•Relationships: The NWFA is putting effort into building closer relationships with the other flooring- and hardwood-related industries. “We are a small piece of two industries, so we want to make sure we are aligned to create synergies and eliminate duplication,” Martin explained.

•Truth About Trees: This is the program designed to get the NWFA’s message out to school-age children about the benefits of properly harvesting trees as a means to obtain all the necessary items we use in our everyday lives. “Children grow up thinking that cutting down a tree is bad,” Martin said. “We have more trees today in the U.S. than we did 100 years ago. It’s a great, renewable program as long as responsible forestry is practiced.”