NWFA Expo 2023 surpasses expectations

Home Featured Post NWFA Expo 2023 surpasses expectations

NWFA Expo 2023
The NWFA Expo 2023 kicked off with strong attendance on opening day.

Milwaukee, Wis.—The 37th annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) convention and expo delivered the goods once again as evidenced by not only a strong turnout, particularly on opening day of the exhibition, but also by active participation in the educational breakout sessions and keynote presentations at the show.

More importantly, this year’s NWFA expo—themed “Make it Happen”—also marked the group’s return to the city of Milwaukee, the site where, ironically, NWFA 2020 was scheduled to be held but was eventually canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic began to upend our lives in America and around the world.

“We’re now back to a place, post-COVID-19, where we can actually start ‘making it happen’ in our own businesses and start to take control again as opposed to responding to a marketplace that is so fragmented with pricing going up and down and employees coming and going,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told Floor Covering News. “It has been a really difficult couple of years, but it feels like we’re out of the woods now and can go back to figuring out what our businesses need to look like now. COVID-19 did shift things quite a bit, but we’re getting back to some level of normalcy.”

While that doesn’t necessarily mean getting back to “business as usual,” it does require developing creative ways to build business. To that end, NWFA commissioned a variety of committees and task forces to create valuable programming and activities attendees have been clamoring for.

“When planning for convention, we always take our cues from attendees,” Martin explained. “The first thing we do after each convention is we survey members and ask what they would like to see the following year as far as sessions, what they need to learn or anything else they might need. Then we can look at the things that went really well to find out whether we need to do some of those things again or if we need to tweak them and maybe do them a little bit differently to achieve our objectives.”

NWFA Expo 2023
All hands on deck at the Mirage Hardwood flooring booth.

Based on this year’s turnout, NWFA appears to be onto something. Preliminary registration numbers show that roughly 93% of people who attended the 2022 convention in Tampa—one of the most successful NWFA shows in the past 10 years—made the trip to Milwaukee. That’s no small feat, according to Martin, considering the cooler climate here, especially in early spring. “Our expectation was that we would be back at 2019, pre-COVID-19 levels, which we are,” Martin explained. “Tampa, which drew about 3,000 attendees, was our largest show in the last decade. I think we’re going to be just shy of that for 2023. But given the fact that so many came out to the Midwest—a colder region versus April in Tampa—tells me we’re back on par with where we normally are.”

While not exactly a vacation destination like Florida, Milwaukee offers its own appeal, according to Martin. “Wisconsin is knowns for many things: dairy farming, badgers and beer. But it also has a rich history in forest products. Nearly half of Wisconsin’s land area is covered by forests, making the state a large contributor to the forest products industry. In fact, lumber and wood products account for 18% of Wisconsin’s exports, boosting the state’s economy and employing over 60,000 people.”

Another consideration was Milwaukee’s proximity to major cities and hubs such as Chicago and Detroit—areas where NWFA (for logistical and costs reasons) typically would not be held. “We would never be able to have a show in Chicago; it doesn’t fit our financial ability,” Martin explained. “But being in Milwaukee this year, we knew we would probably see a lot of people driving in from Michigan or Illinois. That’s different from venues like Tampa, where we saw more people register on the front end because they had to make plans to fly there—or maybe they wanted to build in some vacation time. This year we’re seeing a lot more people just drive in maybe for the day from Chicago or Detroit.”

What the registration numbers also show, according to Martin, is business owners and contractors are having more of their employees tag along for convention—something that was not necessarily the case in prior years.

“Maybe the boss or owner is staying here a couple of days, but everybody else might be coming on the second or third day for a few hours,” Martin explained.

But it’s not just the fact that more people are coming to convention from the same organizations—the attendee base is also trending younger. “What I really love is the fact that we’re seeing a lot more young people coming in,” Martin said. “There’s so much desire to ask questions and learn.”

To illustrate his point, Martin cited Luis Perez, the winner of NWFA’s 2023 Emerging Leader Award. A young entrepreneur and owner of Atlanta-based Hero Flooring, Perez has only been an NWFA member for two years. “His friends told him about NWFA and said: ‘You need to go; it’s going to help you build your business.’ He got involved right away and has been a driving force and building his business. So, it’s really good to see young folks coming in that are doing things like that and then telling their story to other folks in their generation. Specifically, how they gained the ability to earn a good living fairly quickly by working with their hands.”

Exhibitors double down

NWFA Expo 2023
Belknap Haines’ Chad Adrian, center, is flanked by Mercier Wood Flooring’s Wade Bondrowski and Steven Cirino.

It’s not only owners of contracting firms that are bringing more people to convention. Exhibiting companies—which exceeded 220 firms this year—also brought more staffing to NWFA to meet with both existing and potential customers.

NWFA management estimated that exhibitor personnel typically accounts for anywhere between 35% and 40% of the total convention attendees. “We try to do a two for one if we can on the number, but it just really depends on how large the booths are, how many people are coming in for the show, etc.,” Martin said. “It’s also worth noting that some companies have their sales meetings while they’re here. So that means they might bring in more people than they normally would.”

One space that was particularly busy was the AHF Products booth, which was seemingly bustling from start to finish. “It’s been busy show for us so far,” said Brian Parker, vice president of product management, on day one of the event.

Across the hall at the Mirage Hardwood booth, traffic was equally brisk. “This continues to be an important event for us,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing. He cited the company’s target audience of professional hardwood flooring contractors—“the segment that consistently installs hardwood flooring.”

From left: Indusparquet’s Bill Lipinski, Jodie Doyle and Jason Elbert showcase the latest in exotics.

Other well-known brands that brought out their full complement of regional managers and sales reps in droves included Triangulo, Mullican Flooring, Lauzon and Indusparquet, to name a few. Jodie Doyle, who was recently elevated to president of Indusparquet’s U.S. division, said it was one of the best NWFA shows the company has attended in recent years. “It gives us a tremendous opportunity to educate contractors and end users on the benefits, availability and accessibility of exotic hardwood flooring,” he told Floor Covering News.

Then there are Canadian companies like Mercier Hardwood and Wickham, which see NWFA as an opportunity to fine tune their distribution representation in the U.S. and educate the market on what makes them unique. “We’ve just made a multi-million investment in our plants that will give us the capability to automate our grading process,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales, U.S. market.

(Look for more NWFA coverage, as well as new product trends in future editions of FCNews.)

Must Read

Wider, longer hardwood planks maintain momentum

Consumer demand for broader, beefier hardwood planks —those products starting and 6 ½ inches wide in lengths exceeding 5 feet— continues to gain steam...

New single-family home size trending lower

Washington, D.C.—An expected impact of the virus crisis is a need for more residential space, as people use homes for more purposes, including work....

CRI names Russ DeLozier president

Dalton—The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) board of directors has named industry veteran Russ DeLozier as the next president of the CRI, the leading...

The path to success isn’t always a straight line

I’m a big fan of golf. In fact, it’s probably my favorite sport next to basketball. Some people might think it’s boring, but I...

WOFB: Lessons learned juggling work and family obligations

(Part 1 of 2) Getting older is a mixed bag, but one of the blessings is that life teaches you lessons along the way....

Unilin licenses Unicoat technology to Camsan Ordu

Waregem, Belgium—Unilin Technologies, the IP and technology division of Mohawk Industries, has signed a licensing agreement with Camsan Ordu, a prominent manufacturer in the...

As seen in

May 8/15, 2023

Some text some message..