About 600 attendees and 130 exhibitors came to Orlando recently for the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and North American Building Material Distribution Association’s (NBMDA) annual convention, the two groups’ largest meeting in recent memory. The focus of this show was less on products and more on building relationships and understanding the political and economic climate in which members are operating their businesses.

The change in focus was the result of requests from members who wanted more education and tabletop business meetings, and less of a product-heavy tradeshow experience. David Williams, NAFCD’s immediate past president, acknowledged this new focus during his opening remarks to the crowd. “The trade show floor has worn itself out a little bit, and everyone has been looking for a change,” he said. “Now the show is not so much about the products, but about getting together with your partners.”

For the educational portion of the event, NAFCD and NBMDA brought in speakers to talk about politics (Dana Perino, former White House press secretary for the George W. Bush Administration), sales leadership and business relationships (consultants Jim Pancero and Robert Nadeau), economic forecasts (economist Alan Beaulieu), sales intelligence (Sam Richter, sales and business expert), and merchandising (industry expert Jonathan Trivers).

Pancero cautioned executives not to lose sight of being leaders. “Because of the economy, executives are focused on the next transaction instead of leadership. Too many businesses are maintaining what they have, not growing what they have.”

He added that since a leader is the structural foundation of a business, he or she should focus their energies accordingly. “As a leader, you drive change, you drive the mindset of your company. Your job is help people achieve more than they can achieve on their own.”

Beaulieu made one big recommendation to the assembled crowd: “Spend money on yourself and your business, and do it now. If you hold back and wait, you will miss the opportunity.”

Basing his advice on economic forecasts, Beaulieu said to expect a mild recession in 2014 that is “very manageable and very survivable,” a spike of activity in the years 2015-2018, and then “another significant recession in 2019.”

“There is a big recession about every 10 years. It’s not good, it’s not bad; it just is. Between now and then, get yourself ready for better business. Be profitable. Keep your eye on the ball and not on Washington.”

One step any business can take to become more profitable, according to Beaulieu, is to commission a double-blind study. One list should answer the question: “What do customers want from a firm similar to yours?” The other list should answer: “What do prospects want from a firm similar to yours?”

“Compile the top 10 answers, and I guarantee you won’t even be hitting the top five,” Beaulieu said. “Create marketing programs and advertise around those results. You need to position yourself in the market for offering what people want, not what you thinkthey want.”

According to Rick Turk, general manager of Metro Hardwoods’ distribution division, the show presents a rare opportunity to talk about business problems and solutions in a non-competitive way.

“The information I get here is second to none,” he said. “You can talk to colleagues from all across the country about what’s working and what’s not working, and get a big picture. The educational part of this event is exceptional.”

Andrew Wernick of Industrial Plywood Inc. agreed. “I’m a first-time attendee, and I’m amazed. You can sit down across the table with other distributors and it is very friendly.”

Mark Smith, director of sales and marketing for A&M Supply Corp., also found the educational presentations invaluable. “Hearing all of this business management, political and economic information helps protect our future and our company. Knowing everything that is going on right now helps us see how it can affect both our business and personal lives.”

Exhibitor Jim Cook, Balterio regional sales manager, said he appreciated this show because it brings together so many important business leaders. “All of the big decision-makers are here,” he said.

David Ford, Stauf vp sales & marketing, echoed those sentiments. “You cannot go to another show and find such a concentration of all the decision-makers.”

George Roth, NAFCD president, said the main goal of the show is to help everybody “drive their businesses forward. Members of NAFCD and NBMDA are all dealing with similar problems, even if they’re not exactly the same. It’s an opportunity to build relationships.”

NAFCD and NBMDA will hold their next convention Nov. 12-14 in Chicago. For more information, visit www.nafcd.org.




NOTE: Check out our digital edition for an exclusive podcast interview with members of NAFCD’s Executive Committee. For more information, visit http://www.fcimag.com/digitaleditions.