October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Ken Ryan
E.C. “Bill” Dearing, who served as president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) since its inception in 1997, and who was instrumental in bringing the Pergo brand to the U.S. market, lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 24. He was 75.
Flooring industry executives hailed Dearing as a terrific ambassador for the laminate flooring category and a person with great zest for life. Indeed, while NALFA’s mission was to be the “voice” of laminate flooring in North America, Dearing was the one who amplified that voice, executives said.
“He was more than just the figurehead of NALFA, he was the glue that held it all together, said Dan Natkin, senior director of hard surface products for Mannington, who considered Dearing a close personal friend and one of the most influential people in the industry. “He brought some standardization to the industry and eliminated the Wild West mentality that existed around claims. He lived and breathed laminate flooring—he was passionate about it. He became synonymous with laminate flooring.”
Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood products, Mohawk Industries, which counts its Pergo, Quick-Step and Columbia brands as NALFA members, agreed. “Bill was a fascinating fellow with a varied career including the military and martial arts training as well as a long history in the floor covering industry, including a significant contribution to the laminate industry.”
Lars von Kantzow, former CEO of Pergo, hired Dearing twice—the first time in 1986 with Swedish Match, a safety match company, and then in 1990 to help launch the Pergo brand in the U.S. “Bill was literally our first sales rep for Pergo,” von Kantzow told FCNews. “He mapped out our distribution strategy and made the first contacts. He brought in retailers Carpet One and Color Tile, and then distributors such as Misco Shawnee, Bayard, William Bird—Bill orchestrated everything. I was based in Sweden initially and Bill was our lighthouse in the U.S. He was absolutely instrumental in putting Pergo on the map.”
Moreover, people just genuinely liked Dearing. “He had a diplomatic posture and skill about him,” von Kantzow added. “He was the ultimate team builder who had a knack for getting people to work together. He got the best out of people.”
Jim Gould, president of the Floor Covering Institute, worked with Dearing during the Pergo days as founder of Distribution Services (DSI), which provided logistics and administrative services to international flooring manufacturers wishing to enter the U.S. market such as Pergo. “Bill’s outgoing personality was perfect to bring distributors and large retailers into the Pergo fold. One of Bill’s personal objectives was to create a professional industry association for the laminate category fashioned after the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF). Almost single handedly, Bill created the NALFA.”
Friends said Dearing, a former Marine, had a love for life that included extensive travel around the world, an interest in Judo and martial arts. He authored books about the warrior way. Farabee recalled, “I remember many entertaining, wine-filled dinners with him and his lovely wife, Roula, at our NALFA meetings. They had fascinating travel and fine dining stories which they loved to share.”
Von Kantzow, who remained close with Dearing even though he left the flooring industry 12 years ago, summed it up: “Bill was a great guy who left us too soon.”
An industry stalwart
Many industry observers agree that through Dearing’s efforts, NALFA was very proactive in advising the consumer media of the differences of laminate flooring, NALFA Standards and the association has gained notable traction and recognition from the press. This was especially critical during the time period of the now-infamous “60 Minutes” expose on Lumber Liquidators and the scandal involving Chinese-made laminate flooring products that contained excessive levels of formaldehyde. Industry advocates say the efforts that Dearing put in both behind the scenes and in the media has aided the image and told the truth about quality laminate flooring products. As Dearing stated at the time, “What we started in development of standards 19 years ago has proven to be of incredible value for the laminate flooring producer and marketer who is concerned not only about style and technology but the whole picture of health and well-being. It worked.”