NWFA: Cause marketing takes center stage at Wood Expo

HomeInside FCNewsNWFA: Cause marketing takes center stage at Wood Expo

May 11/18, 2015; Volume 29/Number 3

By Steven Feldman

St. Louis—When the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) celebrated its 30th anniversary here April 28-May 1, its annual Wood Flooring Expo took on a different feel from years past. Not only were the traditional educational program and trade show held inside the Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams, but community involvement took center stage, primarily because it resonates with tomorrow’s customer.

Paramount to this focus on the future, according to Michael Martin, president and CEO, is understanding and targeting the millennials. “Products are not going to be sold five years from now as they are today. Millennials have crossed over to become the largest generation. While the baby boomers may have the most purchasing power right now, the millennials’ purchasing power will double in the next five years.”

To that end, the NWFA launched Vision 20-20 at this meeting, where membership has a role in charting the organization’s course over the next five years. “We are trying to bring to their attention that the way they go to market is going to change,” Martin said. “As the baby boomers prefer brick and mortar stores, millennials do their research online and prefer to purchase online. And when they don’t purchase online, they will know exactly what they want when they walk in the store.”

And what stores will they visit? Those that parallel their values and respond to them. One of those values is doing business with companies that exhibit a social conscience, seeking to make a difference, Martin said. “Millennials feel good about spending their money with these companies because they have a social responsibility that is larger than past generations. They feel it is responsible to buy a sustainable product, support their communities, etc.”

Keeping this in mind, Martin said a one-way marketing approach will no longer work. It is not just about touting the benefits of one product vs. another. Instead, millennials judge a company by who they are in addition to what they sell.
With that as the backdrop, the NWFA at this meeting launched a number of community service efforts—six different charities in all—that have a cause marketing objective. By partnering with one or more of these causes, members have the opportunity to gain awareness of their own companies within their communities.

Two ongoing efforts will be NWFA’s relationship with the Gary Sinise Foundation and the PGA Reach. The Gary Sinise Foundation raises funds to build custom Smart Homes for America’s severely wounded veterans. Building for America’s Bravest, a partner program with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, was launched to construct these homes all across the nation. Each Smart Home features automated amenities to ease the challenges returning veterans face and help restore their everyday independence.

“We are a particularly good match for this because the veterans for which the foundation provides homes have lost multiple limbs in service and need hard surface flooring,” Martin said. A number of manufacturers have already committed to the cause, and they will work with NWFA member distributors to provide the logistics. NWFA will offer member contacts to the general contractors in the areas where the homes are being built. Among the manufacturers to sign on are American OEM, Mullican, Mannington, Mapei and Sheoga Hardwood.

Another reason NWFA chose to partner with the Gary Sinese Foundation is because other veteran organizations rely on volunteer labor, which can be challenging if the schedule goes awry. “What we like about the Gary Sinese Foundation homes is that there’s a builder, Carrington, which manages each project so all the contractors are paid and there is commitment to getting things done in a timely manner,” Martin said.

NWFA is committed to help build 15 homes over the next 12 months, “so nationally, that gives us projects across the country our members can get involved in to support their local communities,” Martin said. “There will be some public relations opportunities, such as ceremonies with the recipient upon completion of the home.”

The aforementioned PGA Reach is an initiative formed in 2013 to keep kids in school through the game of golf. The program is designed to extend the reach of local organizations so the health, wellness and career prospects of these children are improved. “When young people get in trouble it’s because they have so much idle time,” said former baseball great Ozzie Smith, president of the St. Louis chapter, who spoke at the expo. “We try to inspire young people through the community of golf to improve their lives.”

NWFA is working with PGA Reach as it begins the process of building inner city sports complexes, Martin said. “St. Louis is a pilot program this year, starting with an inner city golf course that will eventually be surrounded with other sports facilities, where we will provide the hardwood flooring for basketball courts. Once this project is complete, PGA will start rolling the concept out into other cities, and we will continue to support that.”

Streamlining education

NWFA’s big initiative reaching the industry for 2015 is to streamline education by blending its certification and degree programs along with integrating a new online university to complement its hands-on training. “We feel this will be especially valuable to the retailer,” Martin said. “This new online university gives all kinds of opportunities for those who want their education online. We feel this will be particularly attractive to the millennials as well as for people who can’t travel. This is another way to get our millennial generation in our own industry engaged.”

On the retail side, topics would include point-of-sale training. From a technical standpoint, NWFA can prepare students who are participating in hands-on training with the prerequisite online education so they have more time to focus on the hands-on sessions while they are on site. In addition, after the hands-on training has been completed, NWFA can test to ensure they have learned what was taught in the sessions. The group can also periodically test through its online university.

In other news…

* Recruiting the next generation of installers is paramount in every segment of the industry. As such, NWFA is currently looking at some opportunities with CFI, the Floor Covering Leadership Council, Shaw Industries and the Chattahoochee Technical College in Northwest Georgia to bring veterans into the flooring industry. The vets would receive an introduction to the overall flooring industry, and NWFA would train those interested in hardwood and create a career path through technical education. NWFA is already working with Chattahoochee on a technical program for students out of high school.

* Martin said NWFA’s biggest accomplishment in 2014 was getting the technical training on the road. “Continuing on that success, this year we will have more than a million man hours of training across America. Last year we had about a 200% increase in people we put through training, and this year we have sold out basically every event we have staged. So we know we are on the right course.”

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