Despite the current economic crisis, Surfaces 2009, which was held Feb. 2-5 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas, offered some positive developments for the flooring installation industry. While many of the exhibitors experienced decreased traffic compared to prior years, they noted that they were able to spend more time with their clients, resulting in a productive experience overall. Attendance was surprisingly strong at the Installation Showcase and at installation seminars and demonstrations, highlighting the importance of installation to the flooring industry.
“For CFI, it was one of our best years of obtaining contacts for training events,” said Jim Walker, CEO of the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI). “It appears that there is more time for training now and the successful dealers and workrooms are hosting more events than usual. They are planning for the huge onslaught of business that will be coming their way soon.”
One of the bright spots of the show was the Installation Showcase, which saw full audiences at every demonstration, an amazing feat considering the substantial drop in overall attendance.
“The experience at Surfaces this year turned out so much better than I expected,” said Suzy Namba of Namba Services, Inc. “I went thinking that the Installation Showcase would be bare. I was dead wrong. I should have remembered when it comes to education in hard times, that people look for an edge in whatever field they are in.”
In addition to the Installation Showcase, many exhibitors also featured installation demonstrations throughout the show at their booths, which were much appreciated by the installers in attendance.
“I always enjoy going to Surfaces to see what’s new and innovative for the flooring installation trade,” said Ed Braile, director of training for the American Floor Covering Institute. “Visiting the manufacturers’ booths and attending the seminars gives me the edge on new information to share with others in my area.”
On the opening morning of the show, Surfaces featured its first-ever general session, a group discussion with six of the leading figures in the flooring industry, which was moderated by CNN television personality Gerri Willis. Participating in the general session were: Ranier Blair, CEO, MAPEI of Americas; Ralph Boe, president and CEO, Beaulieu of America; Tom Davis, president and CEO, Mannington Mills; Randy Merritt, president, Shaw Industries; Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential; Frank Ready, executive VP, Armstrong. The theme of the general session was “Prevailing Through the Current Crisis-an Industry Wakeup Call,” and in keeping with this theme, Willis opened by giving some sobering statistics on the breadth of the current economic recession.
The participants discussed the ways that their respective companies are handling the current economic downturn, such as downsizing and increasing operational efficiencies.
“We can’t change the macro environment; we can only change our reaction,” stated Boe. “We have a ‘rolling right-sizing,’ where all employees take time off, rather than laying off 10 percent of our staff.”
The session was not all doom and gloom, as several participants pointed toward a bright future for the flooring industry.
Ranier Blair offered an optimistic take on the current economic environment, noting that the Chinese character for crisis is the same as for opportunity.
“There is going to be a great deal of opportunity for those who can shift into the commercial sector,” Blair pointed out.
“In every previous downturn, there has been a double-digit recovery,” said Merritt.
“It is going to get better,” said Ready. “This is the time to differentiate yourself from the competition.”
“You have to keep working to be the best you can be in every way,” said Davis. “Know your competition better than you ever have. Choose the right attitude, because your staff will emulate that attitude.”
Several of the panelists highlighted the importance of installation to the future of the flooring industry.
“It is key to install the flooring properly to achieve a beautiful finished product,” stated Blair.
Tom Lape also discussed the importance of proper installation training, and noted that Mohawk University has recently completed its millionth hour of training.
The flooring industry is also finding rejuvenation and increased consumer interest with the latest round of Green products and services. A panel discussing the emergence of Green in the industry, “Green from Wall Street to Main Street,” included environmental experts from Mannington, Shaw and Anderson Hardwood Floors.
Moderated by Phil Johnson, group publisher of FCI, NFT and TILE Magazine, the event explored what Green means to business today. While the panelists agreed that Green has fundamentally changed the nature of business, Mannington’s Dave Kitts was among those optimistic about the future. “We’re in a Green tsunami with no end in sight,” he said.
During the show, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) presented several notable industry awards, including its first-ever Gold Standard Retailer of the Year Award, which was presented to Ike Gulessarian. The WFCA also presented its annual Olansky Awards, named in honor of the late Howard Olansky; the award is presented to associations in three categories. The First Place award for Large Associations went to the Maryland and Nevada FCA; the First Place award for Medium Associations was awarded to the Utah FCI; in the Small Associations category, the First Place award went to the Southern Nevada FCA.