NFA conference 2023: It’s all about delivering value

Home Featured Post NFA conference 2023: It's all about delivering value

NFA conference 2023St. Kitts, West Indies—The first National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) conference 2023 led by recently elected president Ian Newton, Flooring 101, Southern California, proved an overwhelming success with quality speakers, a first-time vendor who is no stranger to the group and some key decisions on critical issues that will benefit the group over the long term.

“Like I said at the beginning, I just want to bring value to the group,” Newton told Floor Covering News. “Whatever we can do, whether it’s speakers, products or opportunity, it’s all about value.” He added that he was especially proud of how the board has come together in such short order given its three new board members and “how supportive and strong the group is as a whole to make tough business decisions.”

Among the highlights of the conference was the return of Piet Dossche (he of COREtec fame) with his new venture, International Flooring Co. (IFC). This time around, however, he is taking a back seat to sons Julian, CEO, and William, executive vice president (see cover story in this issue). Dossche, largely considered the godfather of the $7 billion waterproof flooring category, has started a family business specializing in, you guessed it, WPC. IFC was on hand to offer the NFA an exclusive WPC collection called Reserve, not unlike what he did about 10 years ago with COREtec.

NFA conference 2023

“It’s something that is needed,” Newton said. “It’s a higher-end product and something we can keep our margins on. It’s not down and dirty in the 5mm SPC category where we have to compete with everybody else. It’s also a product that’s not readily available everywhere. Obviously, we knew his history with COREtec design, and these colors are spot on.”

Basically every NFA member has had a track record of success with Dossche in the past. “That’s why we felt it was so important to bring him in right away—because if we had put him in as a specialty vendor, how long would it take him to visit all the members?” Newton asked. “And maybe not all the members would have had a chance to see the line within the year. So, yeah, we thought everybody should see him. Plus, if we had passed it up, he could have gone to another group and it would’ve been a year down the road before we would have gotten another opportunity.”

Not surprisingly, when the member/vendor meetings concluded on the final day of the NFA conference 2023, nearly 30 of the NFA’s 40 members signed on for Reserve in all or a portion of their stores.

NFA conference 2023Another popular speaker was Carole Cross, founder and CEO of Mobile Marketing and president of the recently introduced Samplesapp. Cross has created the NFA website as well as sites for a number of NFA members. Cross is also working with some NFA members on lead generation and communication with the customer throughout the sale.

The NFA likes the fact Cross is a relatively small company and very hands on. “You get that one-on-one connection with her,” Newton explained. “You’re not dealing with two or three different people. It’s her every time. And she brings a lot of knowledge and experience to it, and she knows the ins and outs of the flooring business. She knows the members really well so there’s a connection there.”

Another supplier who addressed the group at the NFA conference 2023 was Doug Jackson, president of Cali, who was tasked with bringing clarity to the PVC/chain of custody situation at the ports that is impacting SPC/WPC supply chain dynamics. “He brought us up to date on that,” Newton said. “There’s a billion dollars supposedly sitting in the ports right now. And it’s obviously going to affect the flooring industry for the next couple quarters.”

According to Jackson, Cali to this point has not been impacted—nor will it. “They have information on all their products as far as where every ingredient comes from,” Newton said. “So none of their products are getting held at port.”

Membership ins and outs

The group brought a potential new member to St. Kitts for the NFA conference 2023 in Jordans Interiors and Flooring, a nearly 100-year-old, fourth-generation business in Western Canada with around 15 locations. “They do retail, furniture, area rugs and some other things, too,” Newton said. “They have a goal of growing their business to $100 million in flooring over the not-too-distant future.”

NFA conference 2023

The NFA is very selective when it comes to new members. It’s about quality—not quantity—and what they may bring to the group to make it stronger. In Jordans’ case, “They can move the needle in Canada for us to help our existing Canadian members,” Newton explained.

Help how? According to Newton, some of the programs the NFA puts together for the group are not always offered in Canada because the volume’s not there. “For example, Bob Fish of Cali told me he was excited about the prospect of Jordans joining the group so they could do a lot more programs for our Canadian members now.”

The NFA does not typically solicit members. Rather, it looks for referrals. “If there’s a market that doesn’t have a member and there’s a viable dealer, we’re always open,” Newton stated. “If someone’s not aligned and they’re interested and they can bring value, we will explore them. It’s like what Phil Koufidakis (Baker Bros.) says, ‘If you’re not giving, you’re stealing.’ So you don’t need someone who is going to come in and just sit and take. It has to be someone who is going to share to help the membership.”

The NFA made one significant change to its bylaws at this meeting related to this topic. In the past, any retailer could be denied membership with just one dissenting vote, unofficially called “the one-and-done rule.” There have been motions in past years to do away with this, but it never generated the needed support. Until now.

Sam Roberts, Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, Houston, had consistently advocated for modifying this rule. As he explained: “Many years ago, when I was in leadership, there were some instances where people blocked people where there was no good reason for them to be blocked. It’s an undemocratic [system] that should never exist within any democratic institution. There have always been a certain number of folks within the group who are primarily interested in protecting their interests and not trusting the group to protect them in the event somebody in direct competition wanted to move into their territory. I tried to explain that there would be a time when somebody arbitrarily would block somebody for no good reason. Somebody could decide there are 40 members and I am never going to allow another member in no matter what because I think the group is already big enough. One person should not be able to arbitrarily decide the size of the NFA.”

Roberts cited another example a number of years ago when somebody blocked a major city in this country because they thought someday they may want to expand there.

So why now? “There was a circumstance that came about where somebody expressed they would block somebody they had no business blocking,” Roberts noted. “It was perfectly obvious to everyone else in the room there was no reason in the world to block this particular candidate. And that’s what did it. Finally, something real and tangible presented itself so they could see clearly that this was possible.”

The result: It takes five “no” votes to block a potential retailer from joining the group.

Should Jordans be voted into the group, the NFA would stand at 41 members.

Future outlook

Generally speaking, members at the NFA conference 2023 said retail as a whole has slowed this year. How could it not after exceptional years in 2021 and 2022? But the ones who do decent builder business and commercial work say those segments are still doing well. “But nobody said they’re jumping out the window,” Ian Newton, NFA president, said. “They just said, obviously, we’ve all been spoiled the last two, three years with the economy in flooring.”

In a slowdown customers go to better stores, they want to buy from experts, they’re looking for value and NFA members can check all the boxes.

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