November 7/14, 2016: Volume 31, Number 11
By Reginald Tucker
Chicago—The overall energy level here in the Windy City was already high earlier this month, thanks in large measure to the gutsy play of the hometown favorite Chicago Cubs who dug out of a 3-1 hole to win the 2016 World Series—the team’s first championship title in more than 100 years. Some of that excitement seemed to have rubbed off on the visitors who were in town for the 7th annual North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA) convention, which broke a few records of its own.
NAFCD figures show 940 people—including nearly 60 first-timers—attended the event. More importantly, that total represented about 90% of NAFCD’s distributor members. Torrey Jaeckle, NAFCD president and vice president and CEO of Jaeckle Distributors in Madison, Wis., said total membership was up 14% this year—a trend he believes is indicative of the value the group brings to both manufacturers and distributors. “More importantly, I think it reflects that outlook on the entire industry. People are only going to invest in an organization like this if they see a positive future for our industry.”
More important than the sheer number of new members is the type of member NAFCD is drawing. “This year we added another Mannington distributor and a new Armstrong distributor, so now every Armstrong distributor is in attendance,” said Geoff Work, NAFCD treasurer and vice president of R.A. Siegel. “When you think about the distributor base, it’s all the large primary distributors in the U.S. and Canada that are here. The more quality distributors you have here, it becomes a must-attend event.”
Show organizers cited a beefed-up conference speaker lineup, high-level executive panel discussions as well as altogether new components such as the Partner Pavilion on the exhibition floor where attendees had the opportunity to participate in complementary one-on-one, 15-minute consultations. In addition, NAFCD and NBMDA also developed a matching program for first-time exhibitors in attendance.
“Enhancements to this year’s event not only improved the attendee experience, education and networking, but it contributed to the overall success of the event,” said Kevin Gammonley, executive vice president, NAFCD and NBMDA.
Jaeckle agreed, citing feedback from distributors and manufacturers alike. “People liked the fact that there were more educational offerings this time. Our opening keynote session [featuring Ken Gronbach, who discussed demographic changes] was more educational this year than entertaining—although it was probably a little bit of both. We wanted to make it more lighthearted and fun this year, but we also wanted to provide attendees with something they could take away from the conference. Everything I’ve heard thus far tells me the event was better this year, and last year’s was pretty good.”
Other telling statistics include the strong showing of NAFCD manufacturer members (74% of the group’s 226 manufacturer and allied members, by the group’s count) along with about a dozen first-time exhibitors. “You have the key decision makers from all the major distributors here—presidents, heads of sales and operations, etc. Many of the relationships that I have personally developed started here at NAFCD, then led to further conversations at Surfaces. That graduated into exploring discussions about new products.”
Vendors in attendance attest to the value the show provides in terms of both networking opportunities and product development direction. “This show allows us to meet with our existing customers, to get feedback on new products and to get exposure to potential new distributors,” said Bill Schollmeyer, CEO of Johnson Hardwood Floors. “It’s a valuable event for us.”
That same sentiment is shared by Philippe Erramuzpe, COO of USFloors. NAFCD/
NBMDA 2016 served as the launch pad for the company’s Fusion brand. “This new product line expands the portfolio of those distributors who are already stocking USFloors or Shaw-branded product,” he said. “It’s a turnkey program for the distributor to diversify his product offering even further.”
Executive roundtable: NAFCD leadership talks industry trends, initiatives
During the recent NAFCD/NBMDA convention in Chicago, FCNews’ managing editor Reginald Tucker corralled the NAFCD executive committee to get their views on this year’s conference as well as general goings-on in the industry and within the organization. Participating in the discussion were: Torrey Jaeckle, NAFCD president; Dunn Rasbury, distributor director; Heidi Cronin, president elect; Geoff Work, treasurer; and David Powell, vice president. Here’s what they had to say:
Looking back at one of the comments that economist Alan Beaulieu made during his presentation this morning about the forecast for 2017 and how it’s shaping up to be a great year for the flooring industry, are you in agreement with that prognosis based on what you’re seeing in your own markets?
Dunn Rasbury: Generally speaking, most of the people I talk to have a pretty positive outlook on the business. While many people did not have a banner year in 2016 they certainly had a decent year. From my perspective, A&M Supply is preparing for substantial growth in 2017. The distributors who are here this week are serious and looking for product; they’re shopping the different booths.
Heidi Cronin: Just look at the show floor on the last day of the exhibition—they’re still here. I haven’t seen this many people still walking the floor compared to years past.
Geoff Work: Hearing [Beaulieu’s] presentation this morning, it’s reassuring knowing the payoff from the investments we’re making in people, warehouses and product are going to be kicking in next year and over the medium term.
Torrey Jaeckle: The point that Alan Beaulieu made about growth projections of 2%-3% is important. We’ve gotten into this mindset that if it’s not double-digit growth that it’s not where it should be.
There are several new components to this year’s conference, the Partner Pavilion being one of them. The educational program was also expanded. What was the driver behind those changes?
Jaeckle: The feedback we received last year was the business meeting aspect was too dry. As an organization you have to have those meetings—and vote on directors, etc., but we wanted to make it more lighthearted and fun so we developed different videos and things like that just to show you can have meetings like this and still have fun.
Cronin: We made it more personal. In order to engage membership and get them more involved, they need to know we are real people. It’s not just people sitting in a room putting in a lot of hours. You get to be a leader and work with the best people in the industry. This board is fantastic; it’s a great group of people and you get an education. It’s very rewarding.
NAFCD’s partnership with the NBMDA is now in its seventh year. How has that alliance added value and where do you see opportunity for further collaboration?
Cronin: For some flooring distributors here, the markets they serve cross over into other building materials. So members of NAFCD, for example, can take advantage of discounted memberships with NBMDA. We’re also partnering to do more with the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and really try to tackle the issues facing the floor covering industry at large. The goal is to come up with solutions to keep this industry viable.
Jaeckle: Together we’re able to deliver a product that’s stronger than either association could produce on their own. There are several benefits. For one, the two associations share resources to cover, for example, the cost of having speakers here. Also, there’s a lot you can learn from other associations by talking to professionals outside your own industry. This gives you additional perspectives on how others might be doing something different than what you’re used to. That diversity provides valuable insight.
NAFCD and NBMDA are also collaborating on the distribution management university offered each fall in conjunction with this convention. This is a specialized, one-day training session specifically designed for managers at distribution centers, including branch, sales, general and operations managers.
Looking at the broader NAFCD initiatives, can you talk about some of the other objectives you’re working on or other plans in development?
Cronin: We created a new category of membership under the banner of “organizational.” This pertains to entities such as the Bravo Group (FCNews, Sept. 5, 2016) whose members could potentially join NAFCD and increase our presence.
Work: NAFCD has begun looking into issues that don’t necessarily affect distributors directly on a daily basis, such as the lack of qualified installers. But we’ve decided that NAFCD is going to take some ownership and do its part in helping to solve that problem. We’re reaching out beyond our purview to be impactful there.
Jaeckle: One of our main initiatives and objectives this year was to attack that problem by partnering with the WFCA and other associations. It’s something that no one has ownership of but still affects the entire industry. At some point we want to be a part of the solution.
Work: Earlier this year we launched the Savings4Members program. It’s a program that NAFCD members can access to see if there’s a better way to allocate their spending—be it fuel, transportation, payroll, office supplies or a variety of other categories.
David Powell: We continue to look at educational offerings. There have been some ideas floated that we might look at next year to bring value to not only distributor members but also to our critical manufacturer partners. This will ensure we have a more well-rounded offering.
The 2017 NAFCD/NBMDA Annual Convention event will take place Nov. 14-16, at The Broadmoor, in Colorado Spring, Colo.