by Steven Feldman
They say Banff is one of the most beautiful places in North America. Who am I to argue?
There’s nothing like a National Floorcovering Alliance meeting. And the locale is just the beginning. What you have is 35 (now 38) of the sharpest retail minds in one room. Spend three days with this group and you emerge a smarter human being. My mother was right: “Keep your ears open and your mouth closed. You might learn something.” Add to this the litany of top-level executives that attend these meetings and you have the ingredients of a not-to-be missed event.
Actually, the event unofficially began on Delta flight #2525 en route from Minneapolis to Calgary. It hearkened back to market days gone by with most seats filled by the flooring industry brotherhood. It was like a charter. In fact, it probably would have been more economical for all of us to charter a plane. (That airport ain’t cheap to get in and out of!) There was Randy Merritt and Tom Lape, the respective presidents of Shaw Industries and Mohawk Residential. Kim Holm, president of Mannington Residential, had an enviable aisle seat. Longtime industry executive David Polley sat a row behind me. Mark Clayton, formerly of Beaulieu and J&J, now the business manager for Milliken Residential, was right there. And there were also NFA members Gary Cissell and Dave Snedeker of Nebraska Furniture Mart, Jim and Donna Mudd of Sam Kinnairds Flooring Outlet, Bob Hill and Judy Marsh of Floor Covering Associates, and I’m forgetting a whole lot more.
It was kind of ironic that manufacturers and retailers converged en route to Banff. No other group provides networking opportunities as substantial as the NFA. Forget about the dinners preceded by cocktail hours or the day of recreation, all of which bring together members and manufacturers.
Possibly the best time spent in this industry are the 17 minutes each member is required to sit with each Tier 1 vendor in what can best be described as a speed-dating format. Where else can a retailer get one-on-one time with this many top-level executives in one day? And where else can these executives get to meet with this many leading retailers in one day? Not even at Surfaces.
And it’s not just about working out deals. It’s about manufacturers communicating what they are up to. As examples, Milliken was conveying a total change in product direction for its residential division. Wilsonart was trying to place its new Impact Demonstration Device, which shows consumers how its product will perform when exposed to impact vs. another brand. Royalty was talking about opportunities for its Stainmaster products, particularly in light of Invista’s deal with Lowe’s and Home Depot subsequently get- ting out of the Stainmaster business. USFloors was talking about the success of NFA members who stock its products. Mannington was showcasing what it believes to be its most exciting across-the-board introductions in years. Dixie was looking to bring clarity to its three- brand structure—Dixie, Masland and Fabrica. It went on and on.
Good people, good times, good business. That’s an NFA meeting.