By Steven Feldman
After six long months, the world returned to normal—if only for three short days. No, it wasn’t a dream. It was the National Floorcovering Alliance’s long-awaited fall meeting, the industry’s first in-person event since March. And it went off safely and without a hitch.
There were many in this industry who expressed skepticism that the NFA could pull this off in the midst of pandemic. Well, they did. Credit goes to the executive board, led by president Jason McSwain, who was unanimously elected to a second term; Lisa Browning, the group’s executive director; and Kathy Janssen, the event planner. Of course, requisite safety precautions were taken: temperature checks every morning; dinners being held outdoors; tables of six instead of eight to allow for proper spacing; face shields or masks worn by all at the member/vendor meeting and larger meeting spaces.
Both members and vendors had the option of attending in person or virtually. When the dust cleared, 33 of the 43 members made the trip to Savannah, and 19 core vendors showed up. It was obvious that the majority wanted this to happen—and happen it did. Friends reunited for the first time since Surfaces, networking—the core value of NFA membership—was the order of the day, and members got to see what was in store for 2021 from their core suppliers, not to mention their proprietary deals.
How important was this for NFA members? Some had already scheduled a COVID-19 test within hours of returning home to avoid quarantine restrictions. Others felt any potential quarantine was worth it.
Everyone knew the entire industry would be watching to see if an event could be staged during COVID-19. The answer is yes. Of course, an NFA event is smaller in scope than, say, a Carpet One show, but NFA proved it can be done. Even Dana Teague, vice president of Informa, which runs Surfaces, made the trip from Dallas for 24 hours to observe.
Everyone has their own feelings on how we should live our lives until COVID-19 disappears. Some people still hardly leave their homes. That’s their choice. But speaking to NFA members and vendors, the sentiment it that it is now time to narrow the gap between lockdown and normalcy with the proper precautions. Sam Roberts of Roberts Fine Floors and Carpets, Houston, may have said it best when he told me: “I know some people in the industry had their doubts about this, but the NFA comprises a bunch of leaders who really don’t care what other people think. We do what we feel is best for our businesses.”
Others simply said, “It’s time.”
On a personal note, I hadn’t felt this good in half a year. I watched friends hug. I watched people dance. I watched people shake hands (some preferred fist and elbow bumps). I watched people smile. I watched and listened to people talking about how good business is right now and how they will be up for the year. I watched live music. I watched the world come back, if only for three days. And so did about 150 other people.
Everyone has their own views on this pandemic. And it’s not for me or anyone else to judge. But the NFA fall meeting needed to happen, not only to give us hope for a return to normalcy sometime soon, but to serve as an example of how shows can go on before a vaccine is approved. I appeal to all industry leaders to think long and hard before you cancel or postpone in-person shows when the calendar flips to 2021. The industry needs you to be leaders, too. Virtual events only get you so far.