By Reginald Tucker
The coronavirus pandemic forced many in-person trade shows and conferences to either postpone, reschedule or outright cancel their events this year, but it didn’t stop others from using a little creativity—and a whole lot of technology—to offer industry members an opportunity to convene virtually. Such was the case with the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD), which held its annual virtual conference in conjunction with the National Building Materials Distributors Association (NBMDA).
The NAFCD/NBMDA Virtual Xperience kicked off in earnest on Nov. 10, the same start date of the original in-person event that was scheduled to take place at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. More than 450 distribution professionals registered for the online event, which included a mix of live presentations from familiar faces who have presented at previous NAFCD conferences as well as a virtual showroom featuring more than 40 vendors.
“We are disappointed that we could not meet members in person this year, but we have put together a productive and energizing event for members,” Dunn Rasbury, NAFCD president, told participants at the start of the day one program.
That sentiment was echoed by Tom O’Neill, president of NBMDA, who joined Rasbury in welcoming attendees. “Coming off strong attendance in New Orleans last year, we started 2020 with collaborative planning and marketing between the two associations. As we are all aware, planning came to a halt this summer when it was clear we were not going to be able to safely meet in person. But that didn’t stop our volunteers and staff from working to create a strong virtual program and exhibit hall designed to facilitate new learning and business opportunities. I congratulate all involved in the planning of this event and acknowledge all who are participating online to take advantage of this valuable educational and networking opportunity.”
Kevin Gammonley, NAFCD executive vice president, said the virtual Xperience event achieved a number of objectives, namely: facilitating connections between executives with the flooring distribution community in the fall time frame in the absence of its in-person event; delivering distributor-specific education and content to an audience that is relevant to the current business environment; broadening its reach within member firms in order to engage individuals who do not regularly attend our in-person annual convention; and experiment with a virtual convention to assess members interests, perceptions and expectations relative to receiving education, information and connections to provide research and analysis for future planning.
“Distribution executives are excited about the opportunity to efficiently and cost-effectively expose their teams to distribution-specific education and learning,” Gammonley stated. “Suppliers are happy to support distributor education whether it’s an in-person event or virtual learning. Distribution professionals are growing more and more comfortable accessing virtual content and education, but they are anxious to reconnect in-person with their industry peers and trading partners.”
Following are some highlights from opening day:
NAFCD outlined the list of accomplishments the association made in 2020, starting with the launch of its Emerging Distribution Leaders program. The program was designed specifically for career-oriented professionals who are being groomed as being future leaders within their firms. Nearly 100 distribution professionals from member firms attended the inaugural conference last week.
“The Leaders Program targets a new audience for NAFCD,” Gammonley said. “The future leaders of flooring distribution are hungry to access education and content to help them grow in their current positions and gain insights on how to propel their career paths.”
NAFCD also continued to make strides in its efforts to build upon its industry intelligence and market communications programming via its Hub & Spoke initiative. This value information hub, which sits on the NAFCD website, serves as a central source for updates on products, essential goods as well as services, lending programs, small business PPP loans, the CARES Act and more. “We also cover topics such as HR policies, economic trends, sales and marketing strategies and leadership in times of crisis,” Rasbury explained. “This hub continues to be updated as new information becomes available to our distributor community through our partners at the National Association of Wholesale Distribution and keeps us updated on what’s coming out of Washington.”
Expanding access to essential market research is also another area of focus for NAFCD, and it has become even more valuable during uncertain times. To that end, Rasbury said, the association has strengthened partnerships with learning firms such as the Cleveland Research Company and Virginia Tech. New for 2020, the association launched the NAFCD economic advisor in partnership with ITR Economics, a highly respected firm known for its spot-on forecasts and thorough understanding of the nuances of not only the U.S. economy but also the global market. Working in conjunction with ITR, NAFCD provides members with a quarterly report that offers a macroeconomic outlook, investor updates, industry analysis across eight market sectors, leading indicator snapshots and employment data. “This has provided helpful insights particularly in light of the pandemic,” Rasbury said.
Also this year, NAFCD launched a cross-industry compensation survey that provides members with a detailed analysis of compensation and benefits benchmarks for the distribution sector. The group also formed a new partnership with ProKeep, a software company that specializes in the development of high-tech messaging platforms. “Customers of distribution have a growing interest in expanding communication options within their distributor suppliers beyond the traditional mediums,” Rasbury said. “ProKeep has developed a texting platform designed exclusively for distributors to help their customers.”
Focus on demographics
Another day one highlight of the NAFCD Xperience conference was a keynote presentation from returning speaker Ken Gronbach, president of KGC Direct, which specializes in the study of demographics and how changing trends stand to impact various cultures and economies. In his 60-minute talk, Gronbach covered a wide range of issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic to birth and mortality rates around the globe. But one of his main takeaways was the positive impact Millennials have on the U.S. workforce as well as the need for continued diversification in the workplace.
“Today’s talent pool is the best one you’ve ever, ever had,” he told owners and managers in attendance. “The big challenge is you’re going to have three generations in the labor force—baby boomers, Generation X (36-55) and Generation Y (16-35). Remember, a lot of the baby boomers (ages 56 to 75) have not left the labor force yet. Three generations in the workforce that haven’t left you yet, haven’t left you for a reason—and that is because they’ve been able to keep their jobs. How? Because they know something special, but they are going to be exiting the labor force at the rate of about 4 million a year.”
Gronbach’s advice to owners and managers is to “find out what’s between their ears and get that information and train the younger workers. Don’t let them leave without sharing what they know.”
Gronbach also advised distributors to invest heavily in training, hiring and IT—all of which, he said, creates a stronger, more skilled workforce and robust technological tools and operating systems. This, he stressed, will help companies better compete in a rapidly changing world.
(Look for ongoing coverage of NAFCD’s first virtual Xperience conference on fcnews.net.)