By Ken Ryan
When the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) convenes in Savannah, Ga., next week, it will mark the first time in more than six months that a major, in-person industry trade event was held since the coronavirus pandemic invaded the U.S.
The decision to hold the fall meeting was done with an abundance of caution, according to NFA management. Before the meeting was given the green light, numerous discussions among the board, NFA members and core vendors took place covering safety and health precautions, alternative methods of media in lieu of a live event, as well as the nimbleness of the NFA to adapt its meeting model.
“Many NFA members were outspoken in their request to come together this fall, albeit in a cautionary manner,” Jason McSwain, president of the NFA and owner of McSwain Carpets & Floors, Cincinnati, told FCNews. “On-site meetings with the venue (the Westin Savannah) also precipitated the decision—as was learning hands on how they will accommodate all the various aspects of our meetings in precautionary ways.”
McSwain said he strongly believes healthy relationships require an investment to foster growth. “I see firsthand every NFA member and core vendor view NFA spring and fall meetings as an investment in these relationships for greater business success,” he explained. “The NFA members have utilized Zoom meetings well since April in connective ways between members, between market leaders’ messages such as WFCA and NFA committee collaboration. However, there is a limit to the success a Zoom gathering produces. The board has heard this clearly from vendor partners that have participated in virtual shows of buying groups this fall. Engagement requires discipline; the broader the group, the broader the range of discipline and professionalism. The NFA is sized correctly with retailers steeped in professionalism/discipline.”
Members buy in
To say NFA members are looking forward to Savannah would be an understatement. Echoing a familiar refrain heard among members, Phil Koufidakis, president of Phoenix-based Baker Bros., said, “Phone calls and Zoom calls can only go so far. I am excited to reconnect with my NFA brethren and our vendor partners live and in person. My hope and expectation are to see some great new products and ideas that we can use over the next month as there should be pent-up demand that should be available to us all.”
Penny Carnino, COO of Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Hardwood, Tulsa, Okla., agreed that face-to-face meetings trump virtual every time. “Our time together personally allows us to ask questions and find out how all of us have done during this time. It’s the best thing about our group; we are friends and we share ideas on how we’ve handled these difficult times—none like we have ever encountered before.”
Dan Mandel, co-owner of Sterling Carpet & Flooring, Anaheim, Calif., said he’s no fan of virtual formats as he doesn’t find them productive or meaningful—he usually “zones out” after a few minutes. “We are old school; we prefer face to face meetings and handshakes—fist bumps now,” he said. “Face-to-face meetings are more efficient for us and being able to see product in person is much more effective and helps us make better decisions. I am just looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces even if it’s behind masks. Business in our market is really strong and I always come away from those meetings with new ideas and a renewed energy. Also, I am hoping the vendors have some creative ideas for marketing and promotion.”
Mandel noted, as did others, that he has been very impressed with the measures the board, as well as Lisa Browning (NFA executive director), has taken in ensuring the meeting is held as safely and efficiently as possible.
Ian Newton, general manager of Flooring 101 in Oxnard, Calif., said the NFA board spent the last two months in constant contact with each other and on conference calls going over every detail of the fall meeting. “It was paramount that we wanted our members and vendors to feel completely safe and comfortable with the safeguards put in place at the same time creating a productive meeting,” he said. “Given the unique size of our group and the way we conduct our meeting—plus the complete trust we have in each other—we felt we needed to make it happen.”
Cam Haughey, co-owner of ICC Floors in Indianapolis, said attending an NFA event in person is an essential aspect of his success. “For anyone who has attended an NFA event, it is apparent there is no substitute for the camaraderie that occurs outside of the planned meetings. Life-long friendships develop and flourish during these times.”
As for his own safety, he said, “I feel as safe attending as if I was Zooming in from my own basement. I have five kids living in the house still, so take that for what it’s worth.”
Vendors show support
Some of NFA’s core vendors said they are eager to rejoin their retail partners this week, acknowledging that they have not had a chance to address the entire group since Surfaces in January.
“This has been a very difficult time for many of our partners at NFA, and it is important to be able to spend some time not only talking business but also the personal side,” said Brent Flaharty, senior vice president, chief customer experience officer at Armstrong Flooring. “The flooring industry is a relationship business and while we have been highly effective during this remote working environment, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction.”
As is the case with other vendors, Jay Kopelson, vice president of corporate accounts, Mannington Mills, said it’s all about personal connections, and he can’t wait to see all the members who will be attending. “I’ve really missed the personal contact, which is such an important part of our relationships with our customers,” he said. “Of course, safety is most important. But when we are able to meet face to face, it deepens the relationship. The discussions are more productive in general. There’s just something missing when you’re on the phone or on Zoom.”