By Steven Feldman
Cincinnati—Leaders lead, and the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) is a prime example. Thanks to the group’s desire to move this industry forward, the flooring trade will take one step closer toward normalcy when the NFA hosts its fall meeting from Sept. 22 to 25 in Savannah, Ga. This will serve as the industry’s first large-scale, organized gathering since the country went into shutdown mode in mid-March.
According to Jason McSwain, NFA president and president of McSwain Carpets & Floors in Cincinnati, it’s full speed ahead—albeit with the requisite precautions. “We, as a board, are in regular talks with key vendors, and they are very much in sync with what the board saw as our unique value,” he told FCNews. “We’re a group the correct size for social distancing. We’re a nimble group. We have the ability to pivot and make things safe for all involved—our vendor partners, media partners, members, guests we might have, etc. Each member has the opportunity to decide whether this will be a safe environment for him or her. And I think the board has earned the confidence that we’re not doing something that will put any member or vendor at undo risk.”
After being forced to cancel its spring meeting in March, the NFA believes it’s time, in a safe manner, to bring its members together—and the group’s members and core vendors are eager, McSwain said. One of the advantages of this meeting is Savannah is relatively close to Dalton, where many vendors will begin their trek. For many, getting on a plane will not be necessary.
McSwain added that the NFA is in constant dialogue with the venue and will be onsite for a second planning session early July. “That venue is going to have recommendations and requirements,” he explained.
The NFA consists of 43 members, and those who have been contacted are all in. “We’ve confirmed that they want to go forward with it,” McSwain said. And if any member decides not to attend for one reason or another, he or she can designate a stand-in. “That’s how we work best—that you simply have proper representation from your business. We want to make sure the representative is a merchandiser, someone who’s influential in interacting with our core vendors and giving the vendor feedback.”
It’s inevitable there will be some new wrinkles as everyone adjusts to the temporary normal. “For example: The board has three alternative formats to our traditional vendor gathering,” McSwain said. “We will test these formats as it relates to involvement with the vendor, specifically the tactical work that is done at a table. We can have plexiglass that provides the ability to remove a mask for the vendor meetings while you’re interacting. But if that interferes with samples and seeing new products and innovations, there are other options that, in the end, makes for the safest but also the most effective experience.”
No question safety will be paramount. “Masks will be available (possibly required) as will hand sanitizer,” McSwain explained. “Then there’s the formality of handshakes. With every facet of the meeting, the driver will be, ‘What’s the safe, smart way to go about that?’ And that might include expanding our events in size and giving people more space.”
At the end of the day, the NFA is purposing to learn from its fall meeting to serve as a blueprint for its Spring meeting, and to assist its vendors so they can stage their normal events going forward. “That’s what keeps the industry rich and vibrant,” McSwain said.