by Steven Feldman
It may be a long way off until Surfaces 2013, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the show. In fact, I recently participated in my second Surfaces/StonExpo Education Advisory Council meeting, where a diverse group of 15 people from all factions of the industry began the process of formulating the conference program. (FCNews has sponsored the flooring component for the past two years.)
While we are only in the planning stages, I can assure you this will be the biggest and best conference yet. The topics are spot on and the presenters sport impeccable credentials. They are either professional speakers or experts in their field, so they practice what they will be preaching.
But the first step is getting retailers out to the show. It’s not as easy as years past. Dealers have more options, some of which they believe can’t be missed, such as the Shaw and Mohawk regionals. For many dealers, there is a limit to the number of days they can spend away from the store. For some, it is a cost issue. And if you’re a member of a retail group, it’s almost mandatory you attend a convention, some of which are staged in close proximity to Surfaces. Some groups actually go out of their way to dissuade their members from attending Surfaces. It is not in their best interests for members to buy outside the core program.
I’m not here to debate any of that, as that focus is solely on the trade show component of Surfaces. There’s a whole lot more to the show, particularly the Education Conference. Between StonExpo and Surfaces, there are about 80 classes covering the industry’s most relevant topics. The subjects range from social media to sales and marketing to finance to installation and everything in between.
The program is so beneficial and comprehensive that retailers have told me they attend Surfaces just for the educational conference. Other industries charge good money for this type of education. You get it for free if you register for Surfaces by the Hanley Wood-imposed deadline.
One statistic alarms me: According to Hanley Wood, about 50% of StonExpo attendees take at least one educational class. For Surfaces attendees, the number drops to below 30%. I’m not sure why. Are there people who are unaware of the scope of the program? I’d be surprised, because Hanley Wood extensively markets the conference through various mediums. Is it because people’s time is limited and want to spend as much of it on the show floor or in manufacturer showrooms? Hard to believe that one given how some classes are held the day before Surfaces and the morning and late afternoon sessions only overlap the show by 30 minutes or an hour. Do the morning sessions conflict with recovery from the night before? Possibly. Or do retailers simply believe they know it all? I pray that’s not the case.
So how exactly does Surfaces ensure the best possible conference? For the better part of two days, we read through what seemed like 500 proposals of submitted topics and discussed the merits of each. As we evaluated each proposal, we made sure every topic was well represented. We chose the best. In many cases, there were multiple submissions on the same topic. In those cases, we evaluated the speaker, looking at his or her performance evaluations in the past. The end result is the most comprehensive, useful program in the industry.
If you can’t attend Surfaces personally, it wouldn’t hurt to send a member or two of your staff. Surfaces is about more than product. It’s about bettering your business and yourself.