March 30/April 6, 2015; Volume 28/Number 20
By Ken Ryan
Charleston, S.C.—Some executives call the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) vendor-retailer meeting the best business day of the year, that rare opportunity when A-list retailers converse with leading executives from top manufacturers to discuss products and business.
Dave Snedeker, president of the NFA and division merchandise manager for flooring at Nebraska Furniture Mart, said vendors (there were 26 at the spring conference here) are more prepared than ever in their 18-minute presentations. “Given the quality of retail members we have, any time you have a chance to talk to them all day is extremely valuable. Think how much it would cost to fly all over the U.S. to see these people individually.”
The benefit isn’t just for vendors; NFA dealers said the quality of these meetings cannot be replicated. “It is by far the most efficient day I have all year in terms of being able to meet with presidents of companies,” said A.J. Boyajian, owner of A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring with multiple locations in the Boston area.
Deb DeGraaf, co-owner of DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., added, “Why do you think I take so many notes while I am here? I learn more in one day at this show than I could in an entire year, from the networking to the meetings with manufacturers.”
Among the presidents and CEOs of top manufacturers in attendance were Randy Merritt of Shaw Industries, Ed Duncan of Mannington, Piet Dossche of USFloors, Paul Comiskey of The Dixie Group and Mark Clayton of Phenix, as well as numerous executive VP-level personnel.
“To see the caliber of vendors in one room, on one day—it’s a pretty special day,” said Darren Braunstein, vice
president at Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings in Edison, N.J.
Mannington’s Duncan, who has been attending NFA meetings for years, said there is no better venue to get one-on-one time with dealers. “This is a perfect meeting place to learn what is new and get the perspectives of top dealers in the marketplace.”
The NFA event is not necessarily a buying show, although many deals take place. For some vendors it is about expanding relationships or product lines, as well as learning what is working and what needs to be tweaked. “We get a pulse of the market here,” said Doug Jackson, vice president of sales and marketing at Tuftex, Shaw’s high-end carpet brand. “NFA represents the sweet spot of the market for us. Upper-end retailers, that’s our wheelhouse. This has been a great show for us in terms of building and enhancing relationships.”
Susan Curtis, vice president, marketing and product development at Phenix, said the mill does business with about 90% of NFA dealers. The company seemed to impress several members with its new solution-dyed offerings. “We play to areas that maybe others don’t, especially with things like aesthetics,” Curtis said. Phenix was also one of the first mills to carry Stainmaster PetProtect, long before it took hold of the market. “Having a head start in that game has really helped us.”
The group will be adding “vendor liaison” positions to work with major manufacturers that compete in multiple categories. Snedeker told FCNews that the NFA is looking for between four and six liaisons to represent companies such as Mohawk, Shaw, Armstrong, Mannington and perhaps two others. Rather than go through multiple NFA committee chairs, a liaison would be a single point of contact to facilitate communication with NFA retailers. “Let’s say [NFA member] Sam Roberts is the Armstrong liaison,” Snedeker explained. “When Armstrong has a national promotion they could run it through him rather than through each specific committee. This will make it more efficient. It is something I have wanted to do.”
Snedeker added that the NFA continues to make strides in getting more members involved in committees and day-to-day activities, which is the No. 1 goal of the group. “You find the people who want to get involved and who always want to be more active in the group. The job is to find those guys and give them more than they are doing now. A lot of people want to do more. We have a lot of people with bright ideas; it is about having them speak up and share their ideas because you learn something new all the time.”
In fact, some of the younger generation NFA members are stepping into key roles. At the spring meeting, Zac Akin, owner of Akin Bros Flooring, Oklahoma City, joined the NFA board. Meanwhile, Steve Hendricks, carpet buyer for R.C. Willey Home Furnishings, Salt Lake City, is assuming the role of carpet committee chair as Jeff Macco, owner of Macco’s Floor Covering Center, Green Bay, Wis., comes out of the position.
Akin said he is ready to take on more responsibilty. “They’ve been asking for new people to join, and I’ve been trying to get on the board for the last three years but never got appointed; I was hungry to get on. When Dave told me I was appointed, I was thrilled. There are so many good, enlightening flooring people in [the group]; I just want to be a bug on the wall and learn from these guys. Of course, I also hope to bring some good ideas and energy to the meetings.”
NFA’s membership of 42 dealers remains the same, Snedeker said. “We’re not looking for another dealer in the $10 to $20 million range because that isn’t going to change the group much. It is not about size, it is about fit. I would happily add another member or two based off the right fit and right proximity.”
The Southeast U.S., particularly the coastal Southeast, and possibly Canada are two areas that could fit the proximity need.
Snedeker, who took over as NFA president during the fall meeting in Maui, Hawaii, said the most satisfying thing about being part of the association is being able to give back. “This group has given so much to so many members. Now it is my turn, my chance. We’re not really a buying group; we are a big fraternity—a network of friends—where people care about each other and are willing to help each other out.”