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Installation: Flooring dealers grapple with tight labor market

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Ken Ryan

 

A strengthening economy coupled with an increasingly tight labor market—with unemployment at 4.1% nationally—has exacerbated the installation crisis for many dealers, observers say. The issue has forced some to turn work away because of a scarcity of crews, while others are having to pay substandard mechanics more just to retain them.

While flooring dealers say business is still up in 2018, they believe the installation challenge is stunting this growth. “Our business is being affected in three ways,” John Taylor, president of Taylor Carpet One, Fort Myers, Fla., told FCNews. “First, the shortage of labor is affecting our growth. Second, because of the shortage, our labor prices are going up because [installers] know there is a shortage. Lastly, the quality of the installers out there has gone down drastically, and the workmanship is not where it should be. This will continue unless we all somehow pull together and figure out a way to recruit and train people for our trade. Not everyone is meant for college and there is a great opportunity installing if it is done the right way.”

Such a tough labor market makes finding skilled workers more difficult in sectors like flooring installation. As such, some dealers are forced to pass on certain jobs, unable to fulfill their customers’ needs. In other cases, wages appear to be rising even for mediocre installers. “Unfortunately, I only see this problem getting worse as our labor force is aging—unless we can get the next generation interested in the trades,” said Josh Elder, owner of Gainesville CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Florida.

For Carlton Billingsley, owner of Floors and More, Benton, Ark., the labor market is challenging his business to be more strategic, particularly on the commercial side as he picks and chooses which partners to work with. However, as the backlog grows, his business suffers. Rather than bemoan his situation, Billingsley has a solution he believes will pay off. “We are creatively working with other skilled/non-skilled laborers to learn flooring skills to grow with our business. We continue to invest in training at manufacturer facilities, our facility and in our regional area, too, to diversify the mechanics’ skill set so they can do different types of flooring. This way we can accelerate our growth together.”

Due to the shortage of qualified installers, Tim Schoolfield, owner of CountrySide Flooring America, O’Fallon, Mo., said he is “less confident” these days in spite of an improving economy. “I am less confident we can get flooring installed in a timely fashion or in the ability of new hires to exceed the expectations of an increasingly demanding customer,” he explained.

That sentiment was shared by other flooring dealers such as Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich. “It is an uneasy feeling to sell high-quality woven products, hardwood, LVT, laminate, etc., not knowing if you’re going to overwhelm your existing installation crews,” she said. “And then once their knees give way—who do you have? Having a back-up plan just isn’t the case today. No offense to millennials, they just aren’t driven to the challenge of such a difficult job. And when talking about the sales floor, office/support staff, [they] seem to get bored quickly and look for a better position.”

What’s regrettable, Buchanan added, is the flooring retail industry should be primed for growth. “There is so much opportunity in our field of retail—not so much with the shopping centers—because Amazon can’t quite get the touchy-feely experience of buying carpet. People have an opportunity to make a lot of money selling and even more so by installing, and also taking pride in the field of installation. It’s a scary thought.”

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CFI expands footprint in Canada

Forney, Texas—The International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) continues to expand its presence in Canada. A new free-standing facility in Toronto, Ontario, will open in April and be overseen by James Lee Senter, president, Canadian Flooring, Cleaning & Restoration (CFCRA), and Sharon Fenton, executive director, CFCRA.

Fenton and Senter will oversee membership and trainings for the entire eastern region of Canada out of the new facility. The grand opening will include an introduction to four new introductory CFI installation courses including: Moisture and Substrate Floor Preparation, Residential-I Installation Training and Certification, Hardwood-I/Laminate-I Installation Training and Certification and Resilient-I Residential Training and Certification.

“The CFCRA is very proud to be a partner with CFI in Canada,” said Senter. “We believe opening a CFI division in eastern Canada will benefit everyone including the flooring manufactures, their retailers, the flooring installers and most of all the consumers.”

In addition to the introductory class line-up, the Canadian outpost will be offering a full slate of CFI classes in all categories of flooring. Coursework will include carpet, ceramic tile, resilient and hardwood/laminate. All classes will be taught by certified CFI instructors who were trained by lead CFI instructors based in the United States.

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New multi-family housing rides rollercoaster in 2017

January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15

By K.J. Quinn

 

Builders and residential contractors experienced a rollercoaster ride serving the multi-family housing market in 2017, observers reported, as this volatile business saw demand fluctuate by quarter and macro issues impede growth.

“When the final data come in, we expect multi-family starts to be down almost 10% over the course of 2017,” said Robert Dietz, senior vice president and chief economist, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “We expect multi-family development to record additional, slight declines [in 2018].” Multi-family housing includes low-rent units and market-rate rental units in addition to condominiums.

Multi-family housing starts and permits (five or more units) declined 12% in October 2017 compared to the same month in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Additional construction data from Dodge Data & Analytics—which includes some units the Census Bureau and HUD consider single family—provide further evidence the market is in decline. “The [numbers are still being crunched for 2017] but we’re on track for multi-family housing starts as they are measured by Dodge to decline 7% to 475,000 units,” Kim Kennedy, manager of forecasting, said at the end of 2017.

Like peeling an onion, additional layers must be uncovered to view construction data in its entirety. The latest Census Bureau and HUD housing data reveals multi-family housing starts consisting of five or more units jumped 37% from September to October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 393,000 units. Authorization of building permits in housing with five units or more rose 13% to 416,000.

New multi-family construction saw fluctuations in market conditions influenced by such factors as Mother Nature, the economy and changing homebuyer demographics. For example, the supply of apartments and condominiums surged in recent years as builders responded to rising demand fueled in part by young Americans who preferred to rent rather than purchase a home in the aftermath of the recession, according to published reports. “Rental housing demand should remain solid, but it is no longer growing as it did in the year immediately after the Great Recession,” NAHB’s Dietz said. “Thus, the multi-family sector is currently seeking a balance between supply and demand.”

The market recovered approximately 96% of the previous, bubble-induced peak of 508,000 housing starts set in 2005, Dodge’s Kennedy observed. “Because multi-family recovered quickly beginning in 2010, it is also peaking earlier than single-family housing for this construction cycle. The 2016 level is very likely the peak for this cycle.”

Macro issues such as escalating building materials and labor costs are contributing to rising home prices while leaving less discretionary money for buyers to spend on flooring upgrades. Finding enough buildable lots to keep up with demand remains a major hurdle for the construction industry. And perhaps the biggest issue of all is a tightness in labor nationwide, which is reportedly contributing to keeping single- and multi-family housing markets from being overbuilt.

“Multi-family is solid, but there is some slowdown in new construction in certain markets,” noted Jay Smith, president, FEI Group, a nationwide network of interior finish contractors and showrooms that includes MultiFamily Solutions by FloorExpo.

One trend expected to continue is the movement toward smaller home designs, which traces its roots to around the time when the housing bubble burst. The average multi-family property is reportedly getting smaller, following years in which builders disproportionately constructed high-end homes. This situation may be short-lived, however, as multi-family developers build more for-sale housing units in the years ahead and older millennials settle down and start raising families.

“There is a trend toward smaller units but this only means more units and not less square footage as overall building sizes aren’t decreasing,” explained Randy Rubenstein, owner, Rubenstein’s Contract Carpet/North American Terrazzo, a Seattle-based flooring contractor. “But one trend we’re noticing is the increase in amenity floors trending with higher-end finishes.”

Demanding but lucrative
The overwhelming majority of residential flooring contractors are large, highly sophisticated and well-financed specialists. While multi-family housing can be a lucrative business given the amount of volume and growth prospects, it requires the necessary resources and financial wherewithal to keep up with daily service demands. “The overhead costs often exceed the margins,” noted Ron Dunn, co-founder and co-CEO of Alliance Flooring, the parent company of brands CarpetsPlus/Color Tile, Carpetland USA Color Tile, Floorco and Clean Touch Pro. “Most flooring dealers that are doing property management work typically specialize in it, and it is their main business model.”

Production building is a highly transactional business that requires builders’ dealers to pay close attention to managing their daily operations and overhead. If they cannot provide timely, cost-effective, turnkey service, builders have more options at their fingertips. “Dealers [serving] these markets will need to bring speed of service, high levels of productivity, modern systems, deep capital position, the appropriate facilities and readiness to satisfy very demanding customers,” FEI Group’s Smith said.

While the segment is highly specialized, there are similarities with the commercial flooring business. “It’s really no different than any other major commercial construction project, with all of the same challenges since the major high-rise multi-family projects are being built by the same large general contractors who are also doing non-residential work,” Rubenstein said.

Finding and maintaining installation crews who can quickly install flooring in large projects is a major challenge given the restricted labor market and higher wages paid to skilled workers. “Dealers need a lot of installation crews and operational assets to service multi-family builders,” said David Holt, Mohawk Industries’ senior vice president of sales. “If they screw up with those builders, they’re going to go out of business.”

Similar to a doctor, dealers are always on call as notifications for next-day installations can be received in less than 24 hours. “This requires manufacturers and flooring dealers to be in sync with product and inventory needs like never before,” said Brad Christensen, vice president, business strategy, builder, Shaw Floors. “Flooring dealers, in an attempt to become more efficient, have inventories as lean as possible and, as a result, they have been very savvy with the management of their SKUs and do their best to avoid duplication.”

Working with flooring suppliers who provide high-quality products and, when necessary, are there to help minimize the impact of installation callbacks is imperative. “That way, the builder can continue to look forward to knowing you are there to take care of any problems,” said Rob Brockman, channel marketing manager for contractor, builder, developer and property manager at Armstrong Flooring. “Building a strategic partnership focused on the builder’s needs is the challenge that is built over time on a foundation of trust.”

Flooring choices evolve
Whether it’s inside a dealer or builder showroom, multi-family homebuyers are given opportunities to upgrade to better quality flooring. The incentive for builders and dealers to encourage upgrade purchases is two-fold: It ensures customers receive a good-looking, high-performing product that meets their expectations and profit margins are considerably higher than base-grade products. “Consumer knowledge and education result in higher sales dollars for the same amount of work,” Alliance Flooring’s Dunn pointed out. “It’s a win-win-win for the builder, the homeowner and the flooring dealer.”

Most flooring upgrades are allocated for kitchens and baths, experts noted, because both areas offer the greatest return on investment and time spent in the home. “Large kitchens and open-concept design are still things that homebuyers seem to want,” Armstrong’s Brockman said. “This creates an opportunity to sell upgrade flooring as there is no real separation of spaces in these open plans.”

While flooring choices vary by region, carpet is the leading surface for multi-family spaces, though hard surfaces and higher-end goods are trending up, suppliers reported. “In multi-family homes, many people have pets,” Mohawk’s Holt noted. “So carpet is being replaced more frequently, usually within four to five years.”

New hard surfaces such as LVT and WPC are reportedly gaining coverage in multi-family environments. “Buyer preferences are leaning toward hard surfaces—mainly LVT—because of their great looks, durability and water resistance,” Brockman added.

Homebuyers still desire natural products such as ceramic tile and hardwood, which studies indicate add value to the home. Upgrades to these higher-priced products are becoming more prevalent given looser loan standards that help customers secure additional financing. “We’ve seen strong growth in town homes and patio homes in which higher quality floor coverings and better finishes are being selected,” Alliance Flooring’s Dunn said.

Looking ahead, the multi-family housing channel represents a lucrative opportunity for dealers who are well positioned to service the many needs of builders and homebuyers. “FloorExpo [believes] the multi-family and builder segments to be the most challenging in flooring,” FEI Group’s Smith said. “If done right, dealers can be very successful.”

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Carpet pushes back against hard surface

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.29.45 PMCarpet’s share of the overall flooring market has dropped from 50.9% of dollars in 2006 to 41.5% in 2016, according to FCNews estimates. While the downward trend has not been dramatic, it has been steady and consistent.

Carpet mill executives don’t need to look at statistics to know what is happening in the marketplace. The big ones (i.e., Mohawk and Shaw) have already transformed into total flooring solutions companies, well positioned to take advantage of any flooring trend. As Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk Industries, explained, “We are not working to stem the tide on anything. Our business is about meeting consumer demand wherever that may be.”

The smaller mills have options, too. Some have entered the hard surface category; others are contemplating such a move. And there are some who have stuck to their soft surface knitting, redoubling their efforts to deliver differentiated product.

So what are carpet mills to do about combating the inexorable gains of hard surface? Some advocate promoting the benefits of carpet. “It’s softer, warmer, more comfortable, quieter and safer than hard surfaces,” said T.M. Nuckols, executive vice president of the residential business for Dixie Home. “We also make beautiful styles and designs that can complement the many looks available in hard surfaces.”

Rodney Mauter, executive vice president, Lexmark Residential, has his own ideas. “We must keep driving the positives of carpet; after all, no one takes a nap on a hardwood floor, no one plays with the baby or puppy on a tile floor.”

Others say it is the carpet industry’s duty to continue to explore innovation and technology. “Whether it’s through style, design or performance, soft floor covering will continue to evolve and develop and ultimately remain a viable flooring option to consumers long into the future,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing, Engineered Floors.

Soft, durable carpet provides a healthy profit margin for flooring dealers, especially when sold with pad. Some observers say the industry needs to drill down on that. “First and foremost, we need to put an end to the continuation of the race to the bottom in terms of PET pricing and overall devaluation of the category,” said Brad Christensen, vice president, soft surface category management, Shaw Floors. “The industry collectively needs to do more to promote the many benefits of soft surfaces, none more tried and true than its value compared to other surfaces. We don’t need to give it away.”

Other mills find focusing on a particular niche is beneficial. Stanton, for example, has grown its business by being selective about its patterns and offerings. “It’s about being thoughtful about the design part of it,” said Jonathan Cohen, CEO. “You can use existing technology that is out there to create something fresh. We can step it up a couple notches and produce something that is really good looking.”

Indeed, executives say there is no substitute for continually innovating to create new and compelling products. “Homeowners are no longer interested in 50 shades of beige,” Mauter said. “They demand every room of the home to denote personal style while providing comfort and performance. Easy care and maintenance is also important; products must clean easily and last.”

Ongoing initiatives
Research indicates that consumers shop by look and feel rather than fiber type. To that end, carpet mills are developing products that look great and can withstand high-traffic areas. That is no easy feat, but driving innovation is the only way to keep carpet relevant, executives say. “Carpet can be on the cutting edge of home décor,” Dixie’s Nuckols said.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.06 PMTo address the hard surface opportunity for soft surfaces, Phenix has introduced a line of products that speaks to specific needs and that provide unique solutions for the consumer. In 2017 it introduced more patterns and textures to address the fact that carpet is often being used within individual rooms—as opposed to the entire home. “It allows the consumer to use carpet as a focal point of the room’s design,” said Mark Clayton, president and CEO of Phenix Flooring. “We also recognize the fact that broadloom carpets are often being used to create one-of-a-kind area rugs that can be used in conjunction with hard surfaces, so this provides additional opportunities to expand pattern and textural designs.”

Other companies are combining hard surface and soft surface in the same display systems to create a coordinated look for the home. Shaw’s TruAccents carpet collection pairs bold styles and patterns with hard surface visuals on a single merchandiser. “We understand that consumers want both hard and soft surface products in their homes, and this gives them a convenient, one-stop destination for ease of shopping and comparison,” Christensen said.

Mohawk is a total flooring company, and within that scope carpet remains a very significant piece of business. “How do we keep carpet part of the conversation?” Arnold asked. “The relentless focus we have on innovation, which is true of all our categories, is really true of carpet. We invest to stay competitive. The success we have with SmartStrand and all the innovations we brought to market has allowed us to keep carpet a profitable category.”

For companies that don’t have the depth and breadth of a Mohawk or Shaw, there are still niches to fill. Foss, for example, has focused on promoting non-woven, needle-punch broadloom and carpet tile products as an appealing and affordable accessory—or outright alternative—to traditional flooring. “Many consumers who prefer hard surfaces are attracted to our products because of their beauty and warmth combined with the attractive look and durability of a low-pile floor,” said Brian Warren, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Not to mention, our products provide the consumer with a higher level of affordability and versatility because they work in virtually any application or market.”

Advice for dealers
While carpet manufacturers continue to explore ways to recoup market share, executives also believe flooring dealers can do their part to help combat the growth of hard surfaces. Strategies range from offering custom rugs made of broadloom to creating vignettes showing stairs with carpet inserts to upselling customers to better goods.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.30.16 PMLexmark’s Mauter, for example, said his company coaches its retailers to think outside the norm by using different patterns with the same colorway to create subtle differences throughout the home without the need to change paint color or furniture. He also suggested making custom rugs out of broadloom to facilitate room size and dimensions and to create additional revenue.

Mohawk, for its part, emphasizes “X-plusing,” which is educating and selling the consumer on why trading up makes sense. As Arnold explains: “A consumer walks in and is planning to spend ‘X’ and instead of being traded down to lower priced goods—which are often lower-quality goods and reinforces the notion that carpet isn’t made well—offering a smaller selection of better quality product rather than a sea of sameness would be a better option. It’s about great marketing and storytelling. If you provide that customer with a compelling reason to trade up to a premium product like SmartStrand Silk you can X plus them 10%, 20%.”

Arnold said the successful retailers understand that less is more and having the right product at the right price point is key. “You have to set up your showroom for trade-up possibilities and allow consumers to feel the difference. Telling compelling stories and presenting extraordinary product is the formula for retailers.”

Clayton advised retailers to remind the consumer of the true benefits of carpet and hard surfaces and be sure they understand the potential challenges of each product. “Some consumers and their lifestyles would actually benefit from the utilitarian benefits of soft surfaces, not to mention the design opportunities.”

Shaw’s Christensen suggests retailers can help drive excitement by touting the many styling benefits and performance features. “Carpet today has a compelling performance story while also offering breathtaking visuals in a wide array of styling options. Retailers can continue listening to the needs and concerns of consumers and establish credibility by suggesting the right flooring solution for every space and every consumer appetite. There is no doubt that carpet will continue to play an important role for consumers. People forget that carpet is the largest category and still has a dominant position in peoples’ homes, and carpet remains a very import product to help drive this.”

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Wood: New engineered platforms provide momentum

June 26: Volume 32, Issue 1
By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.26.44 AMThe U.S. hardwood flooring category continued to hold its own against the intensifying pressure of competing categories—namely LVT/P, WPC and even laminate—all of which continue to make strides in replicating the look, texture and heft of genuine wood. FCNews research shows sales in 2016 reached $2.23 billion, a 5.1% increase over 2015’s upwardly revised sales of $2.12 billion.

Volume growth was pretty much on pace with the increase in sales as square footage shipped at the first point of sale in 2016 reached an estimated 898 million square feet, a 4.8% increase over 2015’s 857 million square feet. (This figure was also adjusted based on new data released since the publication of last year’s Statistical Issue.)

To put things in perspective, hardwood represented 10.5% of total industry sales in 2015 but only 4.7% of total volume. Compared to five years ago, wood represented 9.1% of total flooring dollars at the first point of sale and only 3.8% of total volume.

But looking at hard surfaces specifically, wood’s share swells to 18% in terms of value and 11.4% with respect to volume. Still, that’s a long way off from 2011, when hardwood’s share of the overall hard surface pie was 23.4% of value.

The fact remains, observers say, that hardwood is still a popular choice for homebuyers and existing homeowners. Couple that with an overarching shift from soft goods to hard surface, and you have a scenario that bodes well for the hardwood category.

“Last year was a fairly good year for hardwood,” said Brian Jones, vice president, product management, Armstrong Flooring. “As home values started to increase across the country, we saw the retail and remodel side of the hardwood industry beginning to grow again. While the new home construction sector did not reach the lofty highs that many expected, a modest movement helped to lift sales of hardwood flooring to a respectable level in 2016.”

Other industry observers attribute the category’s performance in 2016 to key market sectors. “Builder/new construction is still very important to the category, but residential replacement/remodel is where we’re seeing the greatest strength,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “As consumers have gotten a little more confident in the values of their homes, wood is really the go-to product from a consumer desirability standpoint.”

Not all suppliers reported having the same experience. At Shaw Floors, for example, the ratio of residential replacement sales to new construction was almost reversed. “Builder/new construction sales accounted for the majority of our flooring sales for 2016, with the other being attributed to residential remodel/replacement,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface category management. But that disparity didn’t leave the company any less bullish about the category’s performance last year. “We estimate the hardwood industry grew between 4% and 6% in 2016.”

The same can’t be said for all end-use sectors across the board. “For example, in commercial, quite honestly, we see wood getting replaced by alternative products such as LVT,” Natkin explained.

Much of the anecdotal reports surrounding the non-residential market are in line with FCNews’ research. Newly compiled statistics show wood sales attributed to the commercial market sector slipped from 9% in 2015 to about 7% of sales last year.

Engineered seizes share
One trend that virtually all suppliers can agree upon, however, is engineered’s continued—albeit incremental—seizure of market share from its solid counterpart. While production selection has largely been a function of geography, historically speaking, the pace of innovation is slowly changing that. For instance, several suppliers have introduced engineered hardwood floors that replicate the overall thickness of ¾-inch solid wood flooring. The end result is the traditional solid wood flooring end user—builders and contractors, in many cases—can now nail down an engineered floor in much the same way they would a solid product and still be able to sand and finish multiple times. The only difference, proponents argue, is the end user has a more dimensionally stable product with engineered.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.27.34 AMThis market shift bears out in the numbers. According to FCNews research, engineered wood floors represented 55% of the market—roughly the reversal of the breakout reported just seven years ago. Some industry experts put engineered’s share even higher. “Sales favored engineered hardwood to solid even more strongly in 2016 according to our research, putting the split at roughly 60/40,” Shaw Floors’ Hash said. The primary drivers for this, he noted, is the breadth of visual options in engineered as well as the growth in concrete slab construction in certain parts of the country.

Either way you slice it, many suppliers are investing more money in the production of engineered products to meet end-user needs. “We have built the largest sawn-faced plant in the United States, in Arkansas, and we’ve added a brand new cold press along with other new technologies,” said David Holt, senior vice president, Mohawk. These investments, he said, will support increased production of multi-ply product in a longer, wider format. “Much of the wood flooring market—with the exception of the Northeast—has moved to this new format. That’s where most of the growth has been—in engineered hardwood.”

The ongoing migration to engineered hardwood is reflected in the investments major manufacturers are making in the segment. Shaw Floors, for instance, completed the expansion of its hardwood flooring manufacturing facility in South Pittsburg, Tenn., specifically to meet the growing demand for its engineered hardwood flooring products. The $40 million investment adds more than 60% capacity to the existing hardwood manufacturing facility.

Mohawk and Shaw are not the only companies heavily investing in engineered production. Last summer Mullican Flooring announced plans to invest $15 million in equipment, buildings and working capital to expand its manufacturing operations via the acquisition of a 126,000-square-foot warehouse in Johnson City, Tenn. This latest expansion, which marks Mullican Flooring’s fourth major growth initiative in Johnson City during the past 16 years, will provide extra capacity as well as raw material and finished product storage space to meet increased manufacturing needs.

In that same vein, Wickham Hardwood has invested more than $7 million in a new, state-of-the-art engineered flooring line. The game plan over the mid to long term, according to Paul Rezuke, vice president, residential sales, USA, is to align its engineered offerings with its solid products.

The continued shift from solid to engineered is increasingly evident, experts say, especially as imports continue to take market share from domestic manufacturers. Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand, cited several reasons why these thicker engineered products continue to increase their share. “With the builder market using wood subfloors, their goal is to make a flush transition with ceramic floors in the kitchen, bathroom, etc. As ceramic tiles trend larger and thicker, it’s a nice option to have the same in hardwood—wider and thicker. There is also the renovation market where flooring ripped out was ¾ inches thick. It makes for an easier renovation as the heights for doors and cabinetry were done based on ¾-inch thickness.”

Right in line with the swing from solid to engineered is the move to prefinished from unfinished (traditional hardwood flooring contractors being the primary exception). FCNews research shows the share of prefinished products grew to nearly 60% last year—up from just 54% the year prior. Looking back five years ago, the ratio of prefinished to unfinished was just the opposite.

The U.S. hardwood flooring market also saw a bit of a shift with respect to domestic production vs. imports. FCNews research showed imports from Canada rose slightly from 9% to 12% in 2016. At the same time, shipments from Brazil dropped from 5.6% in 2015 to just over 3% in 2016. Although China—which ships more engineered than solid product—still accounts for the bulk of imported hardwood flooring, its share also fell slightly year over year.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.27.26 AM“If you look at engineered only, China accounts for more than 50% of the total sales in that category,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “No. 2 behind China would be Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, etc.). South America has definitely declined from my early days in the category. At one time, there was a ton coming in from South America but not as much anymore. It’s more of a reflection of style trends as exotics have definitely cooled off quite a bit, although you can still find them. The visuals have definitely gone very euro-centric—a lot of white oak, domestic species being sold.”

The drop-off in imported exotics species has become more evident in recent years. FCNews research shows the collective share of exotic species from Brazil and other areas fell from about 8% of the market to just about half that number. The root causes, industry observers report, have more to do with the changing tastes of North American consumers than supply/demand or natural resource issues.

“The color trends shifted from reds to browns, and wider widths became much more popular,” said Bill Schollmeyer, CEO of Johnson Hardwood Floors. “Exotics became too expensive vs. domestic species and, for the most part, their colors and widths weren’t in sync with the trends. But I’m sure at some point they’ll come back into style.”

In particular, the trend toward more rustic looks—an aesthetic not usually associated with exotics—is playing a critical role in the shift. “Exotics tend to have a smoother texture and they typically feature higher gloss levels,” said John Himes, president and CEO of Wood Flooring International. “This has made the market for those floors much smaller than it had been, say, 10 or 15 years ago. And with so much migration to texture, scrapes, wire-brushes and larger bevels across the country, more and more people are going to the rustic products.”

Consumption trends
Market shifts also occurred farther down the distribution channel. FCNews research showed floor covering stores increased their share slightly, growing to 36.6%. Sales attributed to the specialty hardwood flooring contractor also grew, rising from just over 24% in 2015 to 28% last year. Meanwhile, activity attributed to home centers fell slightly from 27.6% to just over 23%.

Some industry observers believe those ratios change slightly depending on how dealers are categorized. “If Lumber Liquidators and Floor & Décor are home centers, then that segment would be the largest,” Neil Poland, president of Mullican Flooring, explained. “Wood flooring contractors and specialty retailers would also cross over quite a lot; if you combine those two segments, that one might be your largest group.”

Others believe the market share attributed to home centers might be underrated.

“Home centers—direct online, etc.—probably only account for about 30-35% of the category,” Natkin said, adding that it’s almost the direct inverse of laminate. “I think that’s very much a function of the type of installation that goes on. Because hardwood floors are primarily professionally installed, people tend to go to specialty flooring retailers and hardwood flooring contractors for their hardwood choices.”

Another factor that has positively impacted U.S. hardwood flooring manufacturers is the continued stabilization of raw material costs. In 2013 and into 2014, skyrocketing lumber costs negatively impacted margins for many suppliers—including Canadian companies—and forced several market leaders to raise prices. But manufacturers report the raw material pricing stability they experienced in late 2015 has carried over into 2016.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.27.15 AMOn the whole, pricing seems to be stable, although several domestic suppliers agree that certain species—hickory, walnut and white oak, to name a few—are showing modest inflation. “There is great pricing stability at the moment,” Boa-Franc’s Williams said. “We believe the demand from overseas has softened with North American suppliers, which creates more of a need to supply the local market here in North America, so pricing is holding steady. At the same time, inventories throughout the pipeline are at good, balanced levels—which also contributes to stable prices.”

While hardwood suppliers are keeping a close eye on raw material costs, they are also watching the rising popularity of competing hard surface products, particularly those that are doing a much better job of replicating natural materials such as wood. WPC, LVT and, yes, laminate all fall into this category.

Wood suppliers agree some of their products could be ceding market share to these competitive categories. “For the first time in my career, I can definitively say some of these categories have taken share within certain segments from hardwood,” Natkin told FCNews.

Williams believes some wood products—especially those on the lower end of the price spectrum—have ceded some market share to competing categories, but he thinks that pressure is coming primarily from builder and residential renovation markets, which tend to be more cost conscious. On the whole, though, he has not seen any dramatic market share shift from a numbers point of view to substantiate and support this increase is coming at the expense of wood.

At the end of the day, many wood proponents believe wood will continue to command a significant share of the hard surface pie. “Wood will always be a part of the marketplace,” Mohawk’s Holt said. “I don’t care how much vinyl, laminate or carpet is introduced, Americans have a love affair with wood. Everybody is trying to emulate wood, whether it’s ceramic, laminate or vinyl. Americans have had wood on the floors since the pioneer days, and they are going to continue to have them when I’m long gone.”

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My Take: The flooring industry, by numbers

June 26: Volume 32, Issue 1

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMSo when the dust settled, FCNews’ exclusive research revealed the flooring industry in 2016 was up 5.1% in dollars and nearly 4% in volume. This is the seventh consecutive year in which dollars outpaced volume, meaning the average selling price of most products continues to rise. Attribute that to some price hikes and consumers buying higher-priced goods. Every category showed gains with the exception of carpet, which posted the slightest of losses.

All in all, the industry continues its rebound from the Great Recession. Hey, it may not be as good as the mid-2000s, but then again, neither am I.

Unless you have just awoken from a year-long coma, you know the resilient category, specifically LVT and to be more accurate, WPC/rigid core, is driving the growth. The joke on the street is one company said to the other, “How’s your sheet business?” Response: “Why? Do you want to buy it?”

A few words about our numbers, which we believe to be the most accurate in the industry. We comb government and industry data, and we speak to a lot of people—particularly on the resilient side—because it is the category driving the industry right now. Just about every manufacturer shared with us their proprietary numbers. The lone holdout was Armstrong. Repeated phone calls and emails to various individuals were left unreturned. So in this case we were forced to talk to countless individuals with knowledge of their business. We are confident we got close enough to ensure the most accurate aggregate number.

A couple of things to keep in mind about our numbers:

  1. The ceramic number we report is strictly floor tile. The general rule of thumb is flooring constitutes about 78% of the ceramic floor/wall tile market. So after we did the research and came up with the total floor and wall number, we applied the factor.
  2. Our total industry sales do not include stone flooring, which admittedly is a significant number. Why? Because we don’t feel we can apply the same degree of accuracy to the stone flooring market that we assign to every other category. Most people interviewed for this report feel there is no way to determine whether a particular square foot or linear slab of stone—be it granite, marble, slate, travertine, etc.—that gets sold is going on the floor, wall or countertop. Some stone can even wind up in other applications. So rather than just guess, we’ll leave that to you.
  3. You will notice a lower rubber number from years past. Reason being: We are only taking rubber sheet and tile flooring into consideration this year. We have eliminated the cove base, stair treads, accessories, etc. We estimate the rubber flooring market to be about $180 million. It’s probably in the $550 million range when everything else is counted. We have adjusted numbers from prior years to reflect this change.

There are several industry reports out there, and all have their own methodology. Some rely on government numbers, which are a good start. But sometimes the government misclassifies products, especially as it relates to wood. Others estimate, particularly as it relates to proprietary company information—which is fine if you’re looking to just get into the ballpark but don’t care where you’re sitting. Some industry associations do a good job of having their manufacturer members report confidential sales to a third-party research firm. The RFCI does a good job of this. The problem is it only takes into account member sales. When you don’t include companies like USFloors, Beaulieu, Raskin, Forbo and a host of imports, you are not painting a complete picture.

In any case, rest assured a lot of effort went into compiling the numbers for this issue. We are confident that you’ll find them to be as good as any out there.

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Scoring flooring: Industry stats for 2016

June 26: Volume 32, Issue 1

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.05.12 AMThe flooring industry in 2016 continued its recovery from The Great Recession. While growth rates pale in comparison to the mid-2000s heydays, the industry last year continued to post steady gains across the board with increases of 5.1% in dollars and 3.8% in volume. This comes on the heels of 4.4% growth in dollars and 3.2% in volume in 2015; 3.6% growth in dollars and 1.8% in volume in 2014 and respective 5.5% and 3.8% growth in 2013. In fact, 2016’s figures represent the seventh consecutive year of dollar growth and fifth straight year of volume increases.

FCNews’ exclusive research reveals total 2016 flooring sales of $21.174 billion and 19.13 billion square feet. (These numbers are in wholesale dollars reflecting the first point of sale.) While the industry remains far off the peak it reached in 2006, when sales of $24.175 billion and 26.36 billion square feet (down 12.4% and 27.4%, respectively) were posted, it has gained back much of what was lost. The low point for the industry was 2009, when sales bottomed out at $16.189 billion and 16.625 billion square feet (in 2010). Since that time, the industry is up nearly 31% in dollars and 15% in volume.

Perhaps more significant is total industry sales surpassed the $21 billion mark for the first time since 2007, when sales were $22.337 billion, and volume is at its highest level since 2008’s 19.905 billion square feet.

Also of note is the fact dollars are growing faster than volume. That is a reflection of consumers buying more expensive goods in addition to a series of price hikes, particularly on the carpet and hardwood sides. The average selling price of all flooring in 2016 was $1.11 (same as 2015) and up $0.02 from 2014 and up $0.04 from 2013). Just to compare, the average selling price of all flooring in 2006 was $0.94. One needs only to look at the resilient category for an explanation. Ten years ago the average selling price for all resilient flooring was $0.64. In 2016 it was $1.04. A decade ago, sheet vinyl, vinyl composition tile (VCT) and the low-cost, peel-and-stick tile commanded 75% of dollars. Last year that number plummeted to 33%. The increased usage of the higher-cost LVT and WPC has been an industry game changer.

But it’s not just resilient. The average ceramic tile price has increased from $0.95 to $1.20 a square foot over the last 10 years, and hardwood has seen an average-square-price jump from $2.21 to $2.48 per square foot. Even the maligned soft surface segment—which has seen its share of the market dip from 63.6% in 2006 to 53.6% in 2016—has seen an increase in average pricing from $0.89 to $1.01. For the record, laminate is the only category with pricing in decline, going from $1.30 a square foot in 2006 to $1.09 in 2016.

Why has the growth been slow and steady and not more robust? For one, housing has not led the recovery from the recession and is actually lagging the economy. Also, in past recoveries there has always been a period of strong economic growth before it settles into normal growth mode. That has not happened with this recovery.

(Editor’s note: FCNews does not include stone flooring in its aggregate total, nor does it account for ceramic wall tile. In addition, rubber flooring numbers now reflect solely sheet and tile flooring with no accessories or cove base.)

Much like the past few years, the resilient category continues to be the locomotive powering the industry and luxury vinyl tile/WPC the catalyst for this explosive growth. In 2016, resilient posted the largest percentage gain of any flooring category, rising 19.7% to $3.499 billion from $2.924 billion in 2014. Since 2010, the category has increased a stunning 103% and is now at its highest point in history in terms of dollars.

In the grand scheme of things, resilient now accounts for 16.5% of the total flooring market in dollars and 18.8% in volume after a 6.5% rise in units to 3.537 billion square feet. In 2015, resilient held a 13.3% market share in terms of dollars, which was up from 12.2% in 2014, 11.9% in 2013 and 11.2% in 2012. Interestingly, its market share in volume had stayed around 15% for eight consecutive years until leaping to 17% in 2015. That suggests resilient’s average price point has increased by virtue of the migration from felt to fiberglass sheet, along with the transition from residential/commercial sheet and vinyl composition tile (VCT) to LVT and WPC.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.06.32 AMFCNews research reveals just how much LVT along with its subcategory, WPC/rigid core, is driving growth of the segment. Sales have gone from nearly $750 million in 2012 to $948 million in 2013, $1.142 billion in 2014, $1.651 billion in 2015 and $2.161 in 2016. That represents respective gains of 26.4%, 20.5%, 27.1% and 30.9%. More telling, LVT sales have more than doubled in three years. It also carries with it a premium price tag as it comprises 62.5% of the category’s dollars but only 38.4% of its volume. To illustrate its growth, those numbers were 53.2% and 33.6% in 2015; 47.7% and 26.4% in 2014; 43% and 22.3% in 2013; and 37.4% and 20.6%, respectively, in 2012.

LVT increased significantly in both residential and commercial markets—dollars and square feet—in 2016. Residential LVT saw a 68.3% increase in square footage from 760 million in 2015 to 1.04 billion (including WPC), making up 76.1% of the LVT market. This number was 71% a year ago and 55% two years ago. The big increase can be attributed to the WPC bandwagon, which, to this point, is almost exclusively residential. The commercial market rose from 297.2 million square feet to 326.3 million square feet, a 9.8% increase. While residential brought in more dollars—$1.512 billion—last year, commercial LVT still performed well, posting a 12.5% increase, rising from $576.4 million in 2015 to $648.6 million in ’16.

Proponents of the category say the versatility of LVT—tile or plank—makes it an ideal solution for any number of residential, commercial and project-oriented applications. This multi-tasking ability has allowed LVT to migrate into builder, multi-family and residential-remodeling applications. The large space in which LVT operates, in turn, has afforded manufacturers the means of introducing differentiated product across a wider front, ebbing the march toward commoditization.

Originally, LVT became popular as a water-resistant, hard surface product ideal for mainly kitchens and sometimes spaces such as a laundry room. In the past, LVT would not be considered for bedrooms or other larger living spaces throughout the home. However, this perception has changed in recent years.

As LVT grows, it is taking share from other resilient categories, especially VCT. But it is also nipping from sheet vinyl as well. Sheet vinyl—both residential and commercial—has grown only 2.4% in the last three years, going from $791 million in 2013 to $809.6 in 2016. It actually was down 0.5% from $813.5 million in 2015. Residential has led the way here, but if not for the rebound in new home construction and manufactured housing, sheet vinyl would surely be down. The commercial market has taken the bigger hit, declining 16% in dollars from $254.24 million in 2013 to $213.5 million in 2016. However, the category was only down slightly in 2016, 1.2% to be exact, on the heels of a 1.4% decline in 2015. Sheet remains the volume leader in residential resilient sales with 47% of the market, down from 55.1% in 2015 and 60.2% in 2014, but it comprises only 26.7% in dollars, down from 38.9% in 2015.

Carpet
If you are looking for a bright spot in an otherwise flat year for carpet, there was builder and multi-family, in which the carpet segments fared pretty well in 2016 vs. 2015, according to executives. However, with overall residential carpet dollars down a tick in 2016, executives say that points to a decline in the residential replacement carpet business—further evidence of carpet losing out to hard surface.

FCNews’ research shows that carpet sales fell 1% in 2016 to $8.7813 billion compared with $8.87 billion in 2015. However, total volume—which includes carpet and area rugs—gained 1.2% to 11.22 billion square feet from 11.09 billion square feet in 2015. Residential carpet sales declined an estimated 1.5% in 2016 while units were up 1.3%. The commercial portion of the pie, meanwhile, dropped 0.5% in sales with volume falling about 1.5% year over year.

The carpet story really hasn’t changed much in the last three years, except in 2016 commercial was softer than it had been in the previous two. Flat to a point up or two down is nothing to write home about, but it is a far cry from a decade ago when carpet was in the throes of a deep recession—as were other flooring segments—with double-digit losses in both sales and volume.

Executives say carpet is doing well at the low end, where polyester has been dominant. However, some note that PET is contributing to the shrinking dollars in carpet in what they see as a race to the bottom and, consequently, a devaluation of the category.

The high end ($14 and up) is said to be doing well, with soft luxury goods as well as stain and soil resistance resonating with consumers. Still, it is going to be a challenging road for carpet going forward. One leading executive said builders in the South and Southwest, which is seeing the greatest population growth, are constructing homes and apartments with much less carpet than in the past.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 9.06.51 AMOn the bright side for soft surface is rugs, which for a third year in a row outperformed carpet, with sales rising an estimated 3% over 2015. The area rug business, observers say, is benefiting from hard surfaces; however, many specialty flooring dealers say they are not yet reaping the full benefit of these add-on sales in the same as way furniture stores and other outlets.

Hardwood
A strong residential replacement/remodel market, combined with improvement in certain sectors of the new construction market, contributed to another year of growth for the U.S. hardwood flooring category. FCNews research shows hardwood flooring sales reached $2.23 billion in 2016, a 5.1% increase over 2015’s upwardly revised sales of $2.12 billion. Square footage sold likewise grew to an estimated 898 million square feet, a 4.8% increase over 2015’s 857 million square feet.

Looking at the big picture, hardwood flooring represents 10.5% of total industry sales but only 4.7% of total volume. Compared to five years ago, wood represented 9.1% of total flooring dollars at the first point of sale and only 3.9% of total volume.

Industry observers attribute much of hardwood’s activity in 2016 to the growing popularity and production of engineered floors. While solid wood flooring still remains the go-to product in certain parts of the country, several suppliers have introduced engineered hardwood products that replicate the overall thickness of ¾-inch solid wood flooring. The end result is the traditional solid wood flooring end user—builders and contractors, in many cases—can now nail down an engineered floor in much the same way they would a solid product and still be able to sand and finish multiple times.

Right in line with the swing from engineered to solid is the move to prefinished from unfinished (traditional hardwood flooring contractors being the primary exception). FCNews research shows the share of prefinished products grew to nearly 60% last year—up from just 54% the year prior. Looking back five years ago, the ratio of prefinished to unfinished was just the opposite.

The U.S. hardwood flooring market also saw a bit of a shift with respect to domestic production vs. imports. FCNews research showed imports from Canada rose slightly from 9% to 12% in 2016. At the same time, shipments from Brazil dropped from 5.6% in 2015 to just over 3% in 2016. Although China—which ships more engineered than solid product—still accounts for the bulk of imported hardwood flooring, its share also fell slightly year over year.

Ceramic
The tile segment closely follows the overarching economic trends that impact all major spending. Those drivers include new housing starts, commercial market recovery, consumer confidence, credit availability and interest rate fluctuation. When those indices are positive, ceramic sales and volume follow suit. And so it was again in 2016, the seventh consecutive year of growth for ceramic, with sales rising 5.7% to $2.761 billion and volume increasing 5.9% to 2.31 billion units.

The seven-year winning streak followed a dark three-year period, during which time sales and volume plummeted an almost incomprehensible 20% or more each year, with 2009 representing the low point (24% decline in sales, 22.5% down in volume).

The trend since 2010 has been that single-family homes grow ever larger, and multi-family residences continue to shrink. Since ceramic tile represents a greater percentage of the flooring used in a single-family home than a multi-family property, this has had a positive impact on the category. In 2016, growth occurred in all segments; builder and overall commercial each rose an estimated 7%-10%, while retail—the laggard of the group—was still up an estimated 2%-4%.

Domestic production has been a big story in ceramic tile for the past few years, and 2016 saw several companies expand production or break ground on new plants. In March 2016, almost two years to the date that Dal-Tile’s $180 million, 1.8-million-square-foot facility was announced in Dickson, Tenn., the company’s first production run was completed, with large format 12 x 24 glazed porcelain tiles being produced.

Commercial activity was up in most sectors with growth seen in hospitality, healthcare, education and corporate spaces. Commercial projects and spending continued its upward trajectory as well.

The only discernable drag on ceramic tile is labor. Experts say growth was partially stunted due to continued labor issues in the marketplace. For the ceramic market to reach its full potential, more qualified tile installers are needed. As the flooring industry knows all too well, that is no small task.

For now, however, achieving mid- to high single-digit growth will have to suffice. Compared to the 2007-2009 crater, the industry will gladly take it.

Laminate
In 2015 the U.S. laminate industry began to see a significant drop-off in imports from China. At the same time, many European suppliers—particularly German laminate flooring producers—expanded production capacity to fill the void. Observers say that trend spilled over into 2016 where U.S. laminate flooring sales were estimated at $1.154 billion. Taking the pullback of Chinese product into account, that held growth to just a mere 1.5%—the lowest rate of increase of any hard surface category.

Volume-wise, the category grew at a rate of 2% to 1.054 billion square feet—a reflection of the rise in shipments from Germany plus the increased domestic capacity that came online toward the latter part of the year.

“Europe has shifted from 14% to 19% while China fell from 26% to 21%,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono, which puts the domestic/import split around 60/40, respectively. The company, which has production facilities around the globe—including here at home—says its share of the market grew to 12%.

Just as the mix of laminate sources has changed in recent years, so has the sales activity as defined by distribution channel. FCNews research shows the specialty retail sector accounts for roughly one-third of category sales. What’s more, observers say, many of the laminate flooring products sold at this channel represent thicker, higher-margin items not typically sold at the average home center or mass merchant. This includes 12mm and 14mm products vs. the thinner, entry-level boards available at many home centers and discount merchants. All this spells opportunity for the independent or aligned floor covering dealer.

The bigger story, though, was laminates’ decline in terms of the overall share of hard surface activity. In 2011, for example, laminate flooring represented 16.9% of all hard surface sales and a little over 14% in terms of volume; last year, the category’s percentage of hard surface sales slipped to 11.8% in value and 13.4% with respect to volume. Meanwhile, competing products such as resilient and ceramic tile grew their respective shares of the hard surface market over that time period.

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Marketing mastery: Creating profitable referral relationships

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(First of three parts)

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 10.45.16 AM“How many realtors send you referrals?” I was on the phone with a dealer from Texas, trying to determine where his sales were coming from. He mentioned he worked with some realtors who sent referrals. His answer: “five.”

“How much revenue did these five realtors generate for you last year?”

“About $100,000.”

“That’s an average of $20,000 per realtor,” I said. “Imagine if you had 20 more sending you the same amount of business. That’s $400,000 in additional revenue with no extra marketing costs.”

“Wow, I’d never thought of it that way before.”

Many dealers don’t, which is too bad because acquiring new flooring customers through advertising is getting more expensive and more difficult. There are a variety of factors affecting this, including the sheer number of advertising channels (both online and offline) and the fact that consumers are more skeptical than they were 15 years ago. This is why you should market to your past customers. They already know, like and trust you, they have a shorter buying cycle and it’s far easier and cheaper to get them to buy from you and send you referrals. A monthly newsletter—supplemented with a short email newsletter—is the most effective way I’ve found to market to past customers.

Now let’s assume you’re already doing that. What’s another group to tap that has some of the same characteristics as past customers? Characteristics like built-in trust, lower price resistance, a shorter buying cycle, higher margins, etc.? The answer is referrals from other businesses. Realtors, interior designers, remodeling contractors and carpet cleaning companies are just a few of the businesses that can send you referrals. Let’s look at some ways you can quickly establish relationships with multiple businesses.

Networking groups. BNI and LeTip are two well-known networking groups that exist to exchange referrals and help grow each other’s businesses. Only one business category is allowed for each group, so there will only be one flooring company. Check out your local chapters and join if there is an opening.

Civic groups. Rotary, Lyons, the Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups exist to help the community, not to exchange referrals. Directly trying to get sales or referrals at these meetings is not very effective—a different approach is required.

First, introduce yourself to people who own businesses that are most likely to send you referrals. Second, devote most of the conversation to talking about their business. Third, ask them how you can help them spread the word about their business. Fourth, after the event send them a hand-written notecard with your photo, business name and contact info. Tell them you enjoyed meeting them, and mention something positive about their business. Also, add them to your newsletter mailing list. Finally, phone them a couple of weeks later and invite them out to lunch or coffee. This is the time to talk about establishing a referral relationship.

In part two I’ll cover another strategy for establishing these relationships, and how to make these relationships as profitable as possible.

 

Jim Augustus Armstrong specializes in providing turnkey marketing
strategies for flooring dealers. For a complimentary copy of Jim’s book, “How Floor Dealers Can Beat the Boxes and Escape the Cheap-Price Rat-Race of Doom Forever,” visit beattheboxestoday.com.

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Ten people making a difference

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

Some adjectives used to describe the leaders who made the cut in this year’s list include “visionary, bold, enthusiastic and innovative.” Then there are those who just seem to have a natural proclivity for developing creative ideas that generate results. In another camp you have those talented leaders who inspire others day in and day out, challenging them to continue raising their game to a higher level.

FCNews’ 10 people making a difference features puts the spotlight on those individuals who consistently bring out the best in others.

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WFCA’s new membership structure resonates with industry

WFCA logoDalton—World Floor Covering Association has reported both new memberships and renewals are on the rise following the association’s recent move to a tiered membership structure, according to Freida Staten, vice president marketing and communications.

“The WFCA kicked off 2017 with the greatest number of post-TISE membership sales in our history,” said Staten. “TISE is an important platform for us, as it is where we pick up the lion’s share of our member renewals each year. Interestingly, we had a lot of former members coming back to take another look at WFCA membership. We attribute this to our ongoing efforts to evolve the organization to better meet the needs of constituents in the ever-changing business landscape.”

The WFCA’s tiered membership structure launched this January. The new format allows companies to select a level of membership that is conducive to their individual business needs. Staten explained the three tiers include Sustaining, Leader and Advocate. Sustaining members have access to all entry-level benefits, including signage on WFCA Dealer Locator, WFCA Trade Scholarship reimbursement, the association’s Financial Benchmarking Report, WFCA University, Public Affairs, Savings4Members business services, complimentary access to legal and business primers, a 20% discount on fcB2B programs and additional scholarship reimbursements. Leader-level members get all benefits of Sustaining membership, plus unrestricted trade scholarship reimbursements up to $500 and a 25% discount on fcB2B services. Advocate membership, the highest tier, includes all of the preceding benefits as well as a 30% fcB2B discount, CFI Associate Membership, a 20% discount on all WFCA/CFI training programs, CFI technical services support, access to the CFI installer database and a company listing on cfiinstallers.org.

In addition to a rise in membership, the WFCA has seen significant growth of their magazine, Premier Flooring Retailer, published by Margo Locust, who also publishes Fabulous Floors. The most recent issue of the magazine contained 30 pages more than the previous issue. WFCA attributes this to Locust’s strategic redesign and the magazine’s new, easy-to-read format.

For more information on the WFCA or to enroll as a member contact Ashley Welch or call 706-217-1183.