April 10/17, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 22
By Steven Feldman
Lake Tahoe, Calif.—When the 42 members of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) convene three times each year, the sharing of ideas, listening to relevant speakers and furthering intimate relationships with vendors are the focal points. The spring gathering, held here earlier this month, was no exception.
Digital marketing is on every retailer’s mind these days, and to that end discussions encompassed platforms like Google and Yelp. In fact, Darren Braunstein, Worldwide Wholesale, Edison, N.J., facilitated a speaker from Google who provided members with ideas on how to capitalize on the search engine.
The big takeaway was the advent of mobile devices. “We learned more people who are searching for flooring are actually using their mobile device rather than their desktop,” said Ian Newton, Flooring 101, Ventura County, Calif., with Larry Flick, The Floor Store, Northern California, adding, “And that trend is growing rapidly. With everything going mobile, all of us have to make that move ourselves.”
Ryan Bechtold, Contract Furnishings Mart, Pacific Northwest, found the presentation enlightening. “It not only reconfirmed that people were going online, but how people are going online.”
Aside from digital marketing, a good amount of time was spent on the challenges faced not only by NFA members but all retailers in general. First and foremost is the labor shortage—both on the floor (sales) and in the field (installation). But members are finding creative ways to overcome the challenge.
NFA president Dave Snedeker, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Omaha, said the company has a training program starting at a community college this fall. Jim Walters, Macco’s Flooring Center, Green Bay, Wis., is starting even earlier. “We have had some success reaching out to surrounding communities where there are some smaller high schools. We are trying to reach young people who may not be going off to college and may want to learn the trade.”
Kelly Taylor, Ambassador Flooring, St. Louis, has been using a recruiter to head hunt for leads the last couple of years, while The Floor Store’s Flick actually relies on his own installers. “We have been putting some programs together so we not only retain our own installers, but hopefully they have such a great experience that the word goes out to fellow installers who have not been working for us and we grab them from competitors.”
All in all, NFA members report positivity in the marketplace, particularly since the election last November. “The overall sentiment within the group is that things are pretty good,” Bechtold said. “Usually in politics, the post-election cycle may throw things off, but it seems like people are less concerned [this time].”
Zac Akin, Akin Bros, which operates Floor World and Budget Floor Store in Oklahoma City, noted, “In a state that has gone red for the last eight elections, consumer confidence has increased in my market. Good, bad or indifferent, unrelated [to the Trump presidency] or not, everyone seems to be positive.”
Except maybe in The Floor Store’s neck of the woods. “It’s hurting us because Silicon Valley has gotten so much money from the Democrats for so long that people are very nervous,” Flick said. “I remember at Surfaces everyone was saying business is good, consumer confidence is up, attitudes are great, but it’s just the opposite in San Francisco.”
Vendors step up
The all-day member-vendor “round-robin” meetings, where each member gets approximately 20 minutes with each core vendor, was again a beneficial experience all around. While most suppliers step up their game at each meeting, NFA members cited Armstrong, MSI, USFloors and Tarkett as four companies that came to the table in a big way.
“Armstrong put together a great package on a stocking opportunity they gave us,” Flooring 101’s Newton said. “The merchandising and pricing across all categories was impressive.”
Others cited MSI for “great product at a great price. They get out in front of trends,” Taylor said. “Manny [Llerena] gets people excited and on board.”
Snedeker called his meeting with USFloors “time well spent” as Piet Dossche spent much of the time explaining the differences between WPC and rigid core.
And Tarkett came to the table with a new product that intrigued the group. “This show was one of the best NFA shows we participated in in the three years I’ve been responsible for the NFA,” said Randall Sheehe, director of strategic accounts. “We launched a brand new program under our new technology in luxury vinyl floors called Transcend Sureset. Transcend is a new technology—not a click, not a glue down or loose lay. It has a unique, proprietary backing that we developed and just introduced to the NFA at this convention. It was very well received.”
Tarkett has been making big strides with the NFA. “In the past two years we have had double-digit growth with the NFA,” Sheehe said. “And it all starts with relationships. We work with each individual member as well as the NFA board to bring solutions that meet members’ needs. We collaborate with new products, new technologies and new ways of marketing those products that will help them grow their business.”
In other NFA news…
- Many members are expanding into categories such as walls, countertops and cabinets as they seek new profit centers.
- The group is vetting one potential new member, who may attend the fall meeting in Newport, R.I.
- The board is reviewing a potential change or two to the Specialty Vendor Showcase held the day before Surfaces in Las Vegas.
- A couple of suppliers are standing in line to become core vendors should an opening occur, Snedeker said.