By Steven Feldman
Volume 26/Number 24; April 15/22, 2013
Dallas—Education has always been a hallmark of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). This year the organization will embark on a number of programs geared not only toward increasing the knowledge and professionalism of current contractors, but also to bring more wood flooring installers into the game.
The first initiative involves the manner in which the NWFA administers its education. Traditionally, the association held centralized training classes at its St. Louis headquarters as well as Las Vegas. But now it is taking its technical education on the road with the goal of building a national market.
“We found the cost [of coming to St. Louis or Las Vegas] was prohibitive when you added hotel and airfare to the cost of the training, coupled with being away from the job for a number of days,” said Michael Martin, the NWFA’s president and CEO. “So we changed the structure from a centralized training hub to a more localized model in order to get wood flooring contractors and installers more engaged in training. This is better from both a cost and time-away-from-job perspective.” About 20 road shows are planned for 2013.
In addition, the structure of NWFA’s education program has changed from an extensive, five-day training package to six one-day workshops. Each contractor can pick and choose the workshops needed. As he advances, he can participate in craftsman-level courses, which will remain centralized in St. Louis.
The other educational initiative for 2013 surrounds a pilot program with Chatahoochee College in Atlanta, a vocational school, with the goal of attracting new installers. The idea, Martin said, is to expand the scope of NWFA’s education by providing the technical component with the college offering standard or mandatory courses such as general business skills and the math needed for intricate installations. “So, we can use the vocational services they already offer and combine it with an NWFA customized program.”
Martin believes this can serve as an incubator for the industry. “It will change the way we bring installers into the industry. We can also take it to other vocational colleges across the country.”
After completion of the 160-hour course, the graduates become NWFA-certified installers. But it doesn’t end there. “One of the most important components of this program is the invitation to retailers and contractors in this area to meet the students,” Martin said. “Ultimately, we are trying to give them the employment opportunity, and in turn give the employer the opportunity to find quality installers. This will provide valuable networking for both sides.”
The education program may prove to be a critical development for this industry. “We believe as the market recovers, finding quality installers may be more difficult,” he said. “That is one of the reasons why we are putting our training in local areas.”
During the convention, NWFA’s leadership revealed its strategic vision going forward. There are three components:
1. Grow the wood flooring market. Martin said the organization’s outreach to the A&D community is key. “The work we do is designed to make sure wood is seen as a sustainable product. But we haven’t done a good job of telling that story.”
2. Review and evaluate all programs and services. “Typically, in any association, you tend to find more and more services are added and nothing goes away,” Martin said. “So you wind up with products and programs that have been there for 20 years that membership may not want to engage in.” NWFA has surveyed its members on all benefits offered by the association. It asked key members in each segment what matters most to them. “What matters to a manufacturer may not matter to a contractor, and may not matter to a distributor. Now we must drill down into each segment and put the pieces together.”
3. Ensure NWFA’s financial success for generations. When the wood flooring market took a huge hit over the last five years, NWFA’s accounts followed suit. “It’s important to build our reserves so if there is another downturn we are prepared,” Martin said. “We have to look at new revenue streams. We cut our expenses as much as we can, so now we have to focus on growth.”
One initiative in the works is establishing a membership dues task force to determine what the dues structure should be. “There are fewer contractors out there,” he explained, “so we have to evaluate ways to maintain and grow revenues from a flat fee structure.”
NWFA Pavilion at Surfaces
Earlier this year NWFA partnered with Surfaces on a pavilion that showcased seven of the organization’s smaller members. It provided them with the ability to capitalize on the traffic that comes to the NWFA booth at a lesser cost than if they were exhibiting on their own. The pavilion also included a central hub for NWFA members to network.
“The idea was to gain more exposure for the category by getting some of our member companies to the show for the first time and provide value through the association,” Martin said.
Given the positive reception, NWFA plans to repeat the pavilion at Surfaces 2014, and expects all 10 spaces for partners to be filled. “People have to see something work before jumping in,” he said. “We will also expand upon the education in the pavilion.”
Expo on the rise
Last year the relaunch of the Wood Flooring Expo was the group’s No. 1 priority. “We needed to rebuild the exhibitor base and show enough change to draw them back with attendee incentives.” NWFA created new, industry-specific tracks for management, marketing and technical education. And to pull in a new audience of architects and designers, it developed continuing education units (CEUs) approved by both the AIA and IDCEC.
NWFA then went out in the industry to show the changes it made and asked manufacturers to support the show one more time. “There’s lots of passion around the NWFA,” Martin said. “The industry rallied around the show.” A 30% increase in exhibitors resulted in the distinction of being voted one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows in 2012 by Trade Show Executive magazine.
The momentum carried over to this year with a 20% increase in exhibitors, the largest expo in five years, Martin said.
“The NWFA Wood Flooring Expo has made some exciting changes in the past several years,” said Shane Calloway, vice president of North American independent distribution sales. “The expo has evolved from a show geared mainly toward contractors to an overall hardwood industry show, appealing to a wider participant base.”