By Steven Feldman Dallas—Flooring retailers descended on the Southwest Flooring Market here Jan. 6-7 as they continue to push forward amid a less severe virus mutation. COVID-19 may still be with us, but in this part of the country dealers are putting business first, according to Lori Kisner, managing partner, Market Maker Events, organizers of the show. In fact, pre-registration was trending 25% up from last year until the Omicron surge in the past month.
Despite a slew of cancellations in the past week, due primarily to potential attendees and their teams contracting COVID-19 and not fear of COVID-19 itself, according to Kisner, attendance was expected to be up 15% over last year. “Considering the fact we don’t have BPI here along with their 600 buyers, we’re actually doing quite well,” she said.
That sentiment was confirmed by a number of exhibitors. Jamann Stepp, vice president of hard surface, The Dixie Group, said the Dixie space was busy from start to finish on the first day of the show. That statement was echoed by Rotem Eylor, CEO, Republic, and Jason Strong, president, Fuzion Flooring.
“This has been the best Southwest Flooring Market for us in the last four years,” Strong said. “For this region—Texas, Oklahoma—people are less apprehensive about COVID-19, so they definitely showed up. And the quality of the buyers has been really good. They’re ready to buy products.”
Fuzion is a brand for medium to medium-high-end dealers, according to Strong. “We try to make our products a little bit different than the market. Whether it’s the way we fill knots in our European oak or what we do even with a base-grade SPC to make sure that dealers don’t have callbacks.” To that end, Fuzion had success with laminate, SPC and also sold some of its merchandising units. “And then we had some overstocks that we were selling,” Strong said. “People are buying inventory again, which is nice.”
As a relatively new company, Strong attributed Fuzion’s success to a number of factors. “Obviously, the, the market is good. Projections suggest this year will be strong for our business again. The demand is going to be there for sure. And for us, a lot has to do with where we are in our life cycle. People are starting to hear about us more, and they’re starting to see we’ve gotten into a pattern of success.”
Kisner said at no point did Market Maker Events ever consider canceling the Southwest Flooring Market despite the Omicron fears fueled by the media. “We never entertained the thought,” she said. “But we also kept a close eye on the level of hospitalizations that were happening because of this. We are looking on a macro level at countries like South Africa, where it started. And if you look at their rate, it’s dropping as fast as it rose. So we’re praying the peak happens before our next show [in Atlanta, Jan. 26-27]. If it doesn’t, we’re still in states that don’t lock down: Texas, Georgia, Mississippi. They tend to be very prone to keeping things open and letting people get on with their lives. And we need to get on with our lives.”
Kisner said shows in less restrictive states have an edge right now in terms of generating attendance. “Our shows are in regions that put business first,” she said. “If we were in a state that had very strict rules, we probably wouldn’t get the attendance because people are not going to want to show their vaccination card,” she said. “Some of the people don’t even want to get vaccinated. They’re just not going to want the hassle.”
As a show producer, Kisner said she was “shocked” with the recent announcement that CCA Global was canceling its winter convention. “I would never say anything negative about another show producer, but I haven’t talked to one person who wasn’t surprised by that. They obviously have their reasons for why they did that.”
On a positive note, the CCA Global cancelation has resulted in their members signing up to see new product at other shows, be it a Shaw or Mohawk regional, Surfaces or the Southwest and Southeast Flooring Markets. On the downside, it creates confusion. “We were getting calls, ‘Have you canceled? CCA canceled. Are you still having a show?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re actually in the building setting up. We’re moving forward.’ Look, we as event producers, have a leadership role in moving our business forward. And we approach this the same way I think the world is starting to approach this; both Democrats and Republicans are coming together now and saying we have to move on. And we still have to protect our vulnerable. But we don’t need to shut down the world for that group. We have tools now. This is not March 2020.”
Kisner noted it is likely people are going to get sick, adding they’re going to events like football games where many are not masking up. “People have made the decision to move,” she said. “Our industry, the flooring industry, has been so strong. These retailers, because of supply chain issues, are needing to find alternatives. They’re trying to find people who can give them the products their customers are looking for. And it’s not always brand specific. I talked to a retailer yesterday who said he found four new sources here who are going to promise him exclusivity. These are new sources that are going to change his sales because he won’t be competing on price with the guy down the street. So he was very, very excited to be here and very excited to see new vendors that he hadn’t seen anywhere.”
At the end of the day, according to Kisner, with most vaccinated people having mild symptoms if they contract COVID-19, it makes little sense to cancel an event. “As a show producer, we want to give people the option,” she explained. “You can choose not to come, as many probably have done. Or you can choose to come. They know what the risks are when they walk in the door. And we let them make that decision on what’s the priority. But we’re open for business if they want to come here.”
With that said, safety was still emphasized at the Southwest Flooring Market. “We still have to be careful,” Kisner stressed. “We have asked people to mask up if they’re vulnerable. We have asked people to wash their hands constantly. We have sanitizers everywhere. We’ve spread out our booths. And we’re in a stadium that usually fits 90,000 people and we’re a couple thousand. So we have the ability to help mitigate the risks. Look, I think we’ve all learned to live with COVID-19. That’s the big difference from last year. We’re not running scared. We have science behind us. We’re all having to learn to live with it. And it’s going to be here for a while.”