May 9/16, 2016; Volume 30, Number 23
By Reginald Tucker
Charlotte, N.C.—Comprehensive educational programming, networking opportunities and new product launches and installation demonstrations were in ample supply at the 2016 National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and exposition held here April 27–29.
Preliminary attendance numbers showed a 40% uptick in hardwood flooring contractor participation. “When we left on Friday [the last day of the show] we were just shy of 3,200, with our ‘drive-in’ traffic exceeding 600,” said Anita Howard, chief operating officer, NWFA. “By comparison, last year we were just shy of 3,000. So we’re trending upwards.”
Not only was volume up year over year, but attendance at the 2016 expo marked a turnaround from the trends seen in years past. “We know we’re a niche market and that we’re not going to grow exponentially but we have maintained double-digit growth every year since 2012,” Howard stated. “Prior to that time our show had been in six years of decline. So, if the numbers hold true, we’re looking at more than 10% growth this year but on average over the last six years since we’ve rebuilt the show since 2012 we’re averaging somewhere between 20% and 25%. Plus, the show floor has sold out in all of those years except one.”
It’s a pattern that’s not lost on exhibitors. “To me this is the best NWFA convention that I’ve ever attended,” said Don Finkell, CEO and founder of American OEM. He attributed the show’s success to what he called the “smooth operation” of the event in general as well as the enhanced elements of the show’s programming. “Michael Martin [NWFA president and CEO] has really done a nice job. The Nashville show was more significant for us because that’s where we launched the company, but overall I think this show is bigger and things seem to work very well. It’s been good for business and it’s a good overall feeling.”
Finkell is not alone in his assessment. Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing at Mullican Flooring, also cited high booth traffic—clearly a direct result of premium positioning near the entrance to the exhibition area. “It’s been quite busy for our people at the booth,” he said at the close of day one of the three-day exhibition. “We were very pleased.”
Emphasis on education
Beyond the increase in foot traffic, another highlight of the event was the launch of NWFA’s new online training initiative, NWFA University. During a breakout session, Brett Miller, vice president of training and education at NWFA, along with Stefanie Owen, education director, provide an overview of the University and how it ties in to the association’s overall training program. According to Miller, there were not enough seats in the room to accommodate everyone who showed up to hear about the new program.
“It was very well received,” Miller said, alluding to the crossover between NWFA’s hands-on based certification programs. “A lot of longtime members in the industry said specifically that it was good to finally see the NWFA finally fixing this program. And that, to me, was validation knowing that we’re going down the right path.”
According to Miller, the new NWFA University program was in development for a year although it was in the planning stages for about five years. When Owen came on board about a year and a half ago, she made it a priority and accelerated its execution. She also reached out to the other floor covering associations to see what kind of partnerships that the NWFA could do with them on this front.
A key component of the online training program is it supplements the field work that installation trainees complete in the field. As Miller explained: “We assumed that the students who attended the hands-on installation schools already knew a lot, and it was left up to the instructors to talk about a lot of the technical aspects behind the scenes of installing a wood floor. To make it a little more formalized, I introduced a lot more classroom time, getting into more of the technical aspects (proper job site preparation and everything that’s a requirement before the proper installation of a wood floor, etc.) This integration with online will hopefully allow us to create continuity with everybody who attends our schools. This way, when they go to the school, everybody is on the same page. It makes for a bigger experience overall. In short, more knowledge will be shared doing it this way.”
How it works: As presently structured, the online training program is based on “pathways,” meaning students can choose between a graduated curriculum based on sales or installation “modules” (students must pass prerequisite courses before moving on to the next phase). “So when you finish a module it will say, ‘Congratulations, you’ve passed the test’ and the next module in the sequence would be ‘X,” Howard explained. “There’s an a la carte option—you can take classes one-sy, two-sy—or you can identify a career path that you want to take lay that out in the same way that you would pursue a college degree. Much like the programs that are in place for freshmen for electrical degree, we’re kind of doing the same thing for the trade.”
The program also dovetails nicely with NWFA’s “tiered” certification program. “For example, once you have become a certified professional installer you can then work towards becoming a certified craftsman and then, ultimately, a certified master craftsman,” Miller stated. “Altogether there are approximately 30 courses that need to be taken before getting that certified installer badge; part of those are hands-on, but a lot of it is online.”
The NWFA University officially launches in July; pricing and other details are currently being finalized.