April 10/17, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 22
By Reginald Tucker
Phoenix—There was certainly no shortage of dazzling wood floors, accessories and installation tools on display here earlier this month at the annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) convention. But make no mistake: The focus of this event—which is geared specifically to hardwood flooring contractors, distributors and specialty retailers—is on education, training and certification.
To that end, during the opening general session, Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, provided attendees with an update on the association’s newly launched NWFA University. The online training program, which officially kicked off in July 2016, 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). The initiative expands NWFA’s hands-on training programs with online learning courses that can be completed when and where users want it. The initial platform offered about 50 individual courses, but more are being added daily.
In the first few months following the launch last summer, more than 2,800 courses had been completed. Fast forward to today, that number has ballooned to more than 11,000 courses completed with upwards of 5,000 badges earned.
“We are very proud of our online university,” Martin said, adding the badges students earn help installers present their credentials to industry members and consumers alike. “It’s been singled out among the association community as an example to aspire to.”
The success of the online training program mirrored the high level of participation in the educational sessions offered at the conference itself. Dozens of classes entailing more than 25 hours of educational programming were offered over the course of the three-day event. What made this year different than previous conferences was the format of the presentations. As opposed to the typical Power Point-laden sessions, the breakouts took on a more collaborative, interactive feel. “Our education sessions were packed, and we had to pull in overflow seating to accommodate the audiences,” said Anita Howard, COO. “I personally attended several sessions to observe how attendees responded to the new format. To see everyone openly interacting and collaborating was impressive.”
Howard said the association took a chance by altering an already popular format, but it paid off in spades. “It was a huge risk, but one we felt strongly about based on what we’ve learned from our research into adult learning for our online university,” she explained. “The positive response was overwhelming. Attendees stepped out of their comfort zones and embraced the new format wholeheartedly. And by actively participating in their learning, we’re confident they had a more impactful learning experience that they will be able to apply to their own businesses in ways traditional learning does not.”
The educational sessions—which ranged from installation-specific topics to marketing and management themes—was not the only draw. NWFA also pointed to the popularity of the exhibition area, which not only featured scores of flooring manufacturers and accessory suppliers but also entailed two full-scale demonstration areas where attendees could learn about new products and how to install them.
“The trade show is certainly a highlight every year; it’s the one place where the industry can gather to see all the latest products and services that will help improve efficiencies and profits,” Howard said. “There are new product rollouts, technologies, tools, etc., all designed to help our attendees have more successful businesses. Plus, it gives attendees an opportunity to see and try products from different suppliers all under one roof.”
For example, Howard said, if a contractor is planning to invest multiple thousands of dollars in new sanding equipment, he or she can see all the options available at expo. “Fellow attendees will have no shortage of opinions about which machines are best. They can even try them out on test panels to see which is the best solution for their business. That’s not an easy task elsewhere.”
Despite the strong showing of vendors and all the various activities on the show floor, many exhibitors told FCNews they felt traffic was down. “It seems a little lighter than last year,” said Pierre Lefort, Lauzon, on the first day of the show. Others, however, had a different experience, citing quality over quantity. “We’ve had more people stop by the booth than I expected,” said Ann Wicander, president, WE Cork. Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing, Mullican, also reported quality traffic at his booth.
Show management said attendance was about 2,500 on the last day of the show—a figure that was on par with last year. Nonetheless, organizers acknowledged the slower traffic. “Anytime our show travels west, our attendance drops off a bit, but our numbers going into our final day were on pace with previous years,” Howard said. (Next year’s conference is slated to take place in Tampa, Fla.)
On the plus side, Howard said the expo has grown double-digits every year since rebuilding the show in 2012. It’s a trend the association believes will continue moving forward. “NWFA’s Expo continues to be the go-to event for wood flooring professionals. It brings together thousands of individuals from all over the world who share a passion for wood while providing a one-stop resource focused on education and training that is not available anywhere else. It’s also the one event that brings together the entire supply chain to share best practices and successes. It’s something I’ve not experienced anywhere else in the flooring industry.”
Look for more coverage of the NWFA conference and exhibition in upcoming issues of FCNews.