I guess the question now is how many will show up at Surfaces and the other market events this season. From my vantage point the early indicators lean toward overall traffic on the positive side.
The Mohawk aligned dealer convention in Nashville the first few days of December saw what the company called a sellout. Crowds materialized, the seminars were packed and everyone seemed extremely serious about finding new ideas, interesting products and generally better ways to do things. The selection of Nashville as the home for this year’s outing was a good one, too: It’s in the middle of the country and accessible to lots of retailers by car, creating a great opportunity to skip the security lines at the airport.
Over the past few days I have also interviewed a number of people who will be leading seminars at Surfaces, and each told me that the sign-ups for their sessions at this point, with over a month a month to go, are well over 100. The conclusion I’m drawing is that most of the retailers that have weathered the economic storm successfully to this point are among the 12,000 to 13,000 independents left out there that are savvy and doing well in their markets. I suspect they’re gaining share and have done whatever they had to do to still be around.
These savvy retailers are continuing to do what they have done over the past few years: Looking for hot product and hot ideas to keep themselves ahead of the curve. So I suspect the turnout at Surfaces and the regionals this year will be good, as will the showing at the buying group’s conventions.
Does that mean that the aisles at Surfaces and the other market events will be elbow-to-elbow? Not necessarily. During the boom years, when the only prerequisite to making money was a temperature over 50, it wasn’t unusual to find standing-room only at Surfaces. It also wasn’t unusual for retailers to offer trips to Surfaces as a perk for salespeople who reached their quota, and to see retailers weave through the stands with an entourage the size of my high school band (which wasn’t very good and really not very large, either). But those days are over and will be for some time to come.
What that means is you can expect to see a good Surfaces showing – meaning a good percentage of existing retailer turning out for the show – without seeing a crush of people. I suspect that’s what we’ll see at this year in Las Vegas and for many Surfaces to come. I really hate to use the term, the “new normal” but that’s definitely what we’re dealing with, and we’re probably going to see a good deal more of the “new normal” at the show for the foreseeable future.