March 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 21
By Steven Feldman
So I just got back from Whistler, a ski resort town nestled in the foothills of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia. It’s two hours north of Vancouver, a place where tranquility serves as a juxtaposition from the bustling city life. It also served as the backdrop for the National Floorcovering Alliance’s spring meeting.
On the third day of the gathering, inside the Westin hotel in a large ballroom, the NFA held what has become its legendary vendor meeting. Think speed dating on steroids. The 26 core vendors pay good money to get 18 minutes with each of the 42 members—dealers who collectively do more than $1 billion in business. It’s money well spent. Here is where these suppliers seek to get a larger slice of that pie. They attempt to entice members with proprietary product, sharp pricing and anything else that may give both sides an edge on their respective competition.
Deals may not get consummated in those 18 minutes, but the groundwork is laid. I sat in on a few presentations, and here were some takeaways:
1. USFloors is up 23% with the entire group and 34% with the NFA’s proprietary Lifetime Luxury brand, which is being expanded with nice SKUs. Piet Dossche, USFloors CEO, stressed that while everyone is talking about waterproof, COREtec has great looks, which is the No. 1 driver—oh, and by the way it also happens to be waterproof.
2. Shaw Hard Surface was up 26% with the NFA in 2018, better than two times the growth it experienced with the rest of the universe. The key? Variety in waterproof products compared to others.
3. Emser presented a porcelain program that includes polished and matte wall panels into the proprietary Lifetime Luxury brand. The highlight? Normally a retailer will buy polished for 50 cents to a dollar more than matte; this program nearly equalizes the cost.
4. Cali, a relatively new core vendor, is justifying its spot at the table. It closed 92% of the members at the last meeting with its Meritage engineered hardwood line. The product competes with DuChâteau at a more aggressive price point.
5. AHF Products made its NFA debut as the new hardwood company that was pared from Armstrong after the AIP purchase. Longtime Armstronger Steve Staikos, who is no stranger to NFA, told members the game plan is for Bruce to be the umbrella brand, Armstrong products will eventually migrate to Hartco and will be exclusive to the specialty retailer, and Robbins will be the direct-to-the-customer brand. Brings back memories of Triangle Pacific.
So, what were members saying after the meeting? Who impressed them? A few companies bore mention, but the resounding winner was Cali. So many members cited the disrupting company spearheaded by Doug Jackson as the one that came to NFA with opportunity.
To that point, Mark Lewis, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., told me Cali is “hitting it out of the park with some price points at 20-mil.” He cited GeoWood as a great product at a great price. But he believes the “big hitter” will be its entry point into the rigid core category geared toward builders. He believes at that price point it’s going to be a home run with the whole group.
Lauren Coles, Coles Fine Flooring, San Diego, among others, raved about Cali’s Meritage. “The colors are good, and the price is right.”
But Cali’s newest introduction, Cali Longboard, is what turned heads at this meeting. The LVP is 6 feet long and 9 inches wide and was merchandised encased in a surfboard to illustrate the size. Jeff Macco, Macco’s Flooring Center, Green Bay, Wis., said he loved the marketing approach. Ian Newton, Flooring 101, Ventura County, Calif., thought it was unique to have planks that long. Phil Koufidakis, Baker Bros., Phoenix, felt it offered some of the best colors on the market.
Other products that drew rave reviews were Mannington’s Loft, a parquet-look LVT. Newton called it “really unique, outside the box at a decent price point. When you get a unique product like that, it’s not so much about price point.”
Then there was USFloors’ tile collection, Karastan Wood, which will be launched later this year, and The Dixie Group’s new carpet. “Dixie always has the best carpet, price point, style, quality, across the board,” Coles said.
That’s the thing about the NFA—it’s the best of the best—product, people, places.