By Steven Feldman What a difference a year makes. Back in March 2020, we were all set to go to Cabo for the National Floorcovering Alliance’s spring conference. What do they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? Six months later, the NFA was able to stage the unfathomable: its fall conference in Savannah. (Whadda you know; no one got sick.) And two weeks ago, the group held its spring meeting at the picturesque Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Ga., where the face shields in Savannah were replaced with smiles.
It probably was the most “normal” I’ve felt in a year. People interacted just like they did pre-pandemic. Now, before I start getting hate mail from people whose favorite dinner companion is CNN and continue to live in fear, let me state some facts: NFA conducted temperature checks every day; every cocktail reception and dinner was held outside; eight-person limits were enforced during the member/vendor round-robin meeting in accordance with state guidelines; no one was serving themselves on the buffet line.
Vaccinations are an amazing phenomenon. They truly allow a sense of comfortability and return to normalcy. About 90% of the people I spoke with confirmed their two shots. Just about anyone else had at least one. It allowed friends to shake hands, hug, talk to each other without shouting from the next ZIP code.
I can hear it now: “The vaccines are not 100% preventative.” Yeah, what vaccines are? Small pox? The people in attendance were not hillbillies from the sticks. These were smart entrepreneurs and businesspeople. You had 40 of the best flooring retailers in the land. (Missing were: two Canadian members; two members who recently had exposure to COVID-19; and another who had a different health issue.) You had some of the leading executives in this industry—Vance Bell, Paul DeCock, Piet Dossche, Julian Saul, Tim Baucom, Michel Vermette, Zack Zehner—people who have spent a lifetime making good decisions.
And again, so much of the event was held outdoors. And before people start commenting on the lack of masks in the pictures, a couple of points: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating guidance for mask-wearing in outdoor spaces. The move is “common sense,” according to Dr. Fauci, as the evidence shows that “outdoor risk is really, really quite low.” For vaccinated people “the risk is minuscule,” he said. “The data backs it up.” You’re seeing many states lift outdoor mask mandates by the day.
So, how about some takeaways from the NFA gathering:
- Business is booming. Just about every member in the room is up anywhere from 20% to 30% in the first quarter—not over COVID-19 2020 but over 2019, which was a solid year in itself.
- Metroflor, Congoleum and Milliken are now Tier 2 suppliers. Republic Floor and Happy Feet were attending their second meetings as Tier 1 vendors.
- The biggest issue is one of supply, not demand. Sourcing is difficult now, whether it’s securing containers or having your product offloaded at the ports. Karndean seems to be doing better than most because of their strong inventory position.
- With retailers finding many rigid SKUs out of stock and eight weeks from delivery, domestic laminate has been making a comeback. Manufacturers like Mohawk and Mannington are more than pleased with that business.
- The second biggest issue is people. As business increases, finding qualified salespeople is difficult. And lower-level jobs like warehouse personnel? The extension of expanded unemployment benefits until September, in some cases, disincentivizing people to return to work.
- Manufacturers like Mannington, Phenix and Daltile are doubling down on the hygienic craze with exclusive licenses with Mircoban.
- Invista’s sale of the Stainmaster brand to Lowe’s was announced the day after NFA concluded. With so many members being SFCs, it probably was a good move to announce after that meeting.
- Chemical supply issues are impacting cushion manufacturers like Carpenter and Leggett & Platt.
- Hurricanes and the deep freeze across the South affected six chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana. The freeze forced plants to close and damaged pipes. The hope is chemicals to be trickling in on a more dependable basis by mid-May.