The membership of the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and the North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA) joined for three days of educational sessions and business connection at the 2017 Annual Convention held at Colorado Springs’ Broadmoor Hotel.

Now in its 11th year, the NAFCD+NBMDA Annual Convention drew more than 800 distributor professionals representing the leading flooring and building product distribution companies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as 196 exhibitors.

In addition to the annual convention, the organizations collaborate on quarterly surveys, educational offerings and support of the Distribution Management University (DMU). “Our partnership is as strong as ever, and we have a wolf pack mentality moving into another annual convention together,” said Heidi Cronin, president of NAFCD’s board. “We like to stick together for the good of the pack.”

With 2017 being a year of major milestones for both organizations, NBMDA celebrated 65 years in the industry and NAFCD celebrated 45, proving that the organizations alone, and even more so together, have remained relevant, and at times critical, resources to the industry.

From start to finish, and in some cases, beforehand, convention attendees were immersed in valuable education and learning opportunities. “In addition to the annual convention, NBMDA and NAFCD corroborate on the Distribution Management University, offered each fall in conjunction to this convention,” said Cronin.

DMU is an annual interactive, one day training session specifically designed to expand the industry knowledge, leadership skills and networks of branch, sales, general and operation managers at distribution centers. More than 60 NAFCD+NBMDA convention attendees took advantage of DMU 2017’s educational resources that were offered a day prior to the start of the convention.

Included in the timely topics covered during the NAFCD+NBMDA convention’s general sessions were political, technological, economic and management trends that will impact business through the next two years, and ways to gain a competitive advantage.

“Many [of the speakers] gave a tangible message on either overall market/economic outlook which was generally very positive, or information on how to differentiate our value proposition,” said Rick Walters of Erickson’s Flooring and Supply Company located in Ferndale, Mich.

The economic and political climate and business outlooks were hot topics of interest and concern to many in attendance. “The political climate is still so precarious,” said Anne Funsten, president of Manteca, Calif.,-based B.R. Funsten, Co. “I worry that the current administration’s continued alienation of our allies will have a greater impact on trade.”

There to address tax reform, the political climate and employee costs, was columnist and small business expert Gene Marks.

Whether in support of or against the pending tax reform, Marks shared ways attendees could proactively prepare for the passing of the bill and how it could prove to be beneficial to the small business owner should it be passed. “All this tax reform conversation, it’s all about 2018. I believe it’s going to happen, which means that tax rates will be going down in 2018. So, you want to push as much income as you can, legally, to 2018 where tax rates will be lower.”

Marks also spoke to the importance of creating companies that attract and retain the next generation of employees. According to Marks, with the average age of business owners being 52 years old, it is imperative that they do not lose sight of the value millennials can add.

“The smart managers, executives and CEOs know this: 50 percent of our workforce is made up of the millennial generation—a smart, good group of people” said Marks. “If you want to get a head and grow your business [millennials] continue to be your biggest asset. You’ve got to respond to them.”

Walters found Marks’ suggestions of ways to attract and retain millennial employees beneficial to his business. “Some generational information was presented in a way that, when implemented, may positively affect our employee retention,” said Walters. “Additional department/managerial flexibility will be implemented where it makes sense for our business.”

Jaynie Smith, founder and CEO of SmartAdvantage, gave a presentation titled “Think You Know Your Competitive Advantage? Think again!” that served as a wakeup call and reality check for many in attendance.

“There are many things businesses don’t do, and they are leaving money on the table because of it,” said Smith.

According to Smith, the importance of competitive advantage is often overlooked by businesses. “When I travel all over the country and out of the country and I ask business owners of companies your size and larger how often they review competitive advantage in their company, the two most common answers I get when people are being honest are never and once a year.”

Focusing on competitive advantage is a lost discipline says Smith, and as a result, businesses are overlooking potential opportunities. Smith imparted on attendees that a competitive advantage is important because it provides a value proposition for revenue growth, margin project, company valuation and operation alignment.

Smith’s presentation got Funsten and her team’s wheels turning and looking for ways to strengthen their competitive advantage by offering distinguishing features and differentiators. “We are moving forward with our more targeted ‘why us?’ statement,” said Funsten.

The day was one of nonstop learning, connecting and networking at all points. Through video vignettes played throughout the convention, attendees learned about available NAFCD and NBMDA member offerings, such as savings, discounts and rebate programs. During lunch, attendees broke into various discussion groups, further connecting with each other over a meal and common industry interests and concerns, such as succession planning and technology, as they ate.

Concurrent breakout sessions took place during the convention on topics such as the latest technology, political, economic and sales trends, allowing attendees to choose and attend the sessions that piqued their interests.

“I was in the tech forces breakout,” said Funsten. “He was interesting, but I had imagined it to have a more immediate nature to innovation, not a several years in the future preview. My team did get a lot out of the session on competitive advantage and the messaging surrounding competitive advantage.”

The convention’s exhibit hall and tabletop booths provided a forum for executives and decision makers to discuss business and distribution plans and strategies, and the convention was pleased to welcome 47 first-time exhibitors.

“Combined, we have 47 first-time exhibitors, and we are welcoming this year a total of 196 total booths,” said Ray Prozzillo, president of NBMDA. “This forum is an excellent opportunity to advance distributor/supplier communication and goal setting which has ultimately led to stronger partnerships.”

Excitement and energy could be felt throughout the exhibit hall as attendees moved from booth to booth. “The exhibit hall marketplace was bustling with activity, exhibitors were very pleased overall with the attendance and traffic at their booths,” said Walters.