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NWFA conference delivers value for installers, vendors

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

Tampa, Fla.—Scores of hardwood flooring contractors, manufacturers and distributors converged at the Tampa Bay Convention Center here recently for the 33rd annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and expo. As advertised, the event offered something for everyone in attendance—new products galore, networking and educational opportunities, technical tips and even some entertainment.

“It was a great event,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told FCNews. “In terms of numbers, we had about 3,000 people attend the expo—which has been pretty steady when you look at our shows over the past few years. We felt really good about it.”

Martin has good reason. The NWFA conference and expo was named one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows for the past six consecutive years. Beyond the sprawling showcase of hardwood flooring products, installation tools and accessories, a big draw for attendees is the depth of technical, marketing and management sessions offered. In fact, the conference portion of the event boasted 20-plus hours of educational programming.

“We try to devise seminars that address the needs of all the channel segments we serve,” Martin explained, citing the mix of attendees who come to the show. What’s more, conference sessions are structured in such a fashion that encourages audience participation and interaction. “It’s not people talking ‘at you’ all the time. To that end, the sessions are arranged so participants are vocal and active during at least one-third of the sessions to keep them engaged. This allows everyone to learn from each other.”

Indeed, training and education remain a top priority for the association—and this extends beyond the instruction provided during NWFA’s renown installation schools held at its headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo., as well as regional training events across the country. During his opening keynote address to attendees, Martin provided an update on NWFAU—the group’s online training program. Since its inception in the summer of 2016, more than 30,000 courses have been completed by roughly 5,000 users—that translates into about 45 courses taken daily.

“We’re very encouraged by the participation we’re seeing in our online NWFA University,” Martin stated. “At the end of the day, the program benefits retailers, installers and consumers alike.”

Vendors see the value

Many of the exhibitors FCNews spoke to during the product showcase applaud the efforts NWFA management has made over the years to provide value for all members involved. Not only does the NWFA develop programs designed to raise the skill level of the dozens of professional hardwood flooring contractors in attendance, but the association goes above and beyond to deliver a captive audience for manufacturer members and vendor partners

“We’re here to support the industry and the association,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Many of the attendees here service the new home construction and residential replacement markets—both of which are important sectors for us.”

Pierre Thabet, president and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood floors, agrees. “If you’re looking to reach the specialty hardwood flooring contractor, then this is the place to be,” he said. “This is where you meet the installers who really know all about hardwood flooring.”

Mannington and Mirage are not alone. Paul Rezuke, vice president, residential sales, USA, Wickham Flooring, also sees the value in exhibiting at the NWFA expo. “It’s been a really great show for us,” he told FCNews on the second day of the exhibition. “We feel it’s important to have a presence here as we expand our go-to-market strategy in the U.S. We’ve had some pretty good leads.”

Others see attending the expo as an opportunity to not only get in front of professional contractors, but also wood flooring distributors. “We’re here to show our new offerings in our branded Hearthwood line as well as products on the American OEM side that we can offer to distributors on a private-label basis,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Show stoppers

Among the key highlights of the 2018 NWFA show was the Plank Tank contest the association created to encourage members to submit their industry-related business ideas. Modeled after ABC Network’s “Shark Tank,” contestants in NWFA’s Plank Tank pitched their idea during the opening general session.

The competition was hosted by Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, owners of Cousins Maine Lobster, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in a previous season. The businessmen, known for growing their small food truck start-up into a national franchise success, also shared their experiences with attendees during the keynote presentation. The celebrity judges, along with a team of wood flooring professionals, reviewed previously submitted business ideas to determine their merits.

The contest winner, which was announced on the last day of the show along with the NWFA Floor of the Year finalists (see page 8), was Insight Flooring Technologies. The company was recognized for QuoteHero, an app that allows contractors and estimators to measure the square footage of rooms, estimate jobs and close sales on the spot. Insight Flooring Technologies received a $15,000 customized package of NWFA marketing and education products and services.

NWFA’s Martin applauded the concept. “It was good to see NWFA members up there on stage talking about new tools and innovations that will help the industry.”

Look for more coverage of the 2018 NWFA expo in upcoming editions of FCNews.

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Executive Forecast: Wood—Changing demands drive innovations at manufacturer level

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13         

By Reginald Tucker

 

In much the same way that technological advances in wood flooring manufacturing paved the way for surface texturing, finishing options and new engineered offerings in 2016, the latest round of innovations are generating excitement for the coming year. Suppliers see 2017 as an opportunity to step up their respective capabilities as a means to further differentiate themselves while increasing market share.

Todd Gates, VP, residential sales, DuChateau
screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-00-47-amWhat is your projection for category growth next year?
We anticipate 2017’s growth will outpace last year’s industry-wide growth of 6.6%. There are obvious potential variables such as the direction of the economy in the wake of the election.

What segments and/or products will fuel this growth?
Trends in this fashion industry still point towards the longer, wider format planks that are often referred to as the “European” looks. These formats suggest the engineered wood products will enjoy a larger portion of the overall hardwood growth.

What is the predicted growth of your company in 2017?
From a fashion perspective, we are ideally positioned going into 2017. As we increase our product offering and expand into additional markets, we are confident we will outpace the industry growth.

What is the “X factor” that will impact business next year?
For better or for worse, the security and the economic impact of the recent election.

Where do you see opportunities for next year? Challenges?
Investment in the people and the culture that drives and defines our business, our family and our employees. The most successful companies globally are those who don’t look past their own people.

What are some of your biggest initiatives for 2017?
Additional product offerings, retooling of our presence in the retail showrooms, expansion into new territories and a dedicated commercial sales team.

 

Neil Poland, president, Mullican Flooring
screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-00-53-amWhat is your projection for category growth next year?
I expect to see between 4%-5% growth in hardwood flooring in 2017.

What segments and/or products will fuel this growth?
The housing market will continue to strengthen, although single-family starts and completions remain more than 20% lower than the historical average. Engineered flooring will lead the growth as housing should grow more rapidly in Sun Belt markets.

What is the predicted growth of your company in 2017?
We anticipate Mullican Flooring will see growth between 8%-10% next year.

What is the “X factor” that will impact business next year?
Single-family housing construction continues to be the question mark. We are hoping to see this segment increase. I would love to see starts accelerate to one million single-family homes in 2017.

Where do you see opportunities for next year? Challenges?
We believe that the Made-in-America movement will continue to gain momentum. Progressive retailers should develop stronger programs within their stores to promote our products made in the U.S.

What are some of your biggest initiatives for 2017?
We will continue to fine tune our product lines, adding new products on the front edge of wood flooring design trends.

 

Paul Rezuke, VP, residential sale, USA, Wickham Flooring
screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-00-58-amWhat is your projection for category growth next year?
We are confident that if interest rates remain constant, and the economy continues to be positive, the expected growth will be in the 6%-10% range.

What segments and/or products will fuel this growth?
We have seen a steady shift from solids to engineered and we stand ready to be positioned to service our customers.

What is the predicted growth of your company in 2017?
We have targeted 10% growth for 2017. It will be a transitional year for Wickham Flooring, especially as we move to introduce our engineered platforms to keep up with customer demand.

What is the “X factor” that will impact business next year?
We’re in the process of fine tuning our engineered production. The “X factor” for Wickham will be our ability to have the line fully functional in 2017.

Where do you see opportunities for next year? Challenges?
Our opportunities will derive from our increased expansion into the U.S. market, along with the successful implementation of new products. Our challenges will be hiring the right people to represent our brand and lines.

What are some of your biggest initiatives for 2017?
We have invested over $7M in a new state-of-the-art engineered flooring line. Our plan over the next 12-24 months will be to align our engineered lines with our solid lines.

 

Brad Williams, VP, sales and marketing, Mirage
screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-01-05-amWhat is your projection for category growth next year?
Our expectation is that the hardwood category will grow at 4%-6% rate in 2017.

What segments and/or products will fuel this growth?
Unique, value-added products in engineered platforms will continue to fuel this growth. There will continue to be a shift into wider width products. However, the look will be one of the main drivers.

What is the predicted growth of your company in 2017?
Our predicted growth is to grow at the same rate of the overall industry or 4%-6%.

What is the “X factor” that will impact business next year?
The issue is whether consumers will have the confidence in the current economic and political climate to invest in residential replacement or buying a new home. If so, they might opt for cheaper products in other categories.

Where do you see opportunities for next year? Challenges?
The opportunities for us are within our current network. We want to continue to stay focused on our customers and giving them the best service possible. We don’t want to give them reasons to go elsewhere.

What are some of your biggest initiatives for 2017?
Wider width and longer length offerings will continue to be a strong initiative for us. Color, texture and finish will also be at the forefront of our innovations.