The 42 retailers representing the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) gathered in Newport, R.I., in October to plan for winter market and to strategize for 2018. While this group accounts for more than $1 billion in annual sales, their discussions encompassed many of the same topics that concern flooring retailers of all sizes: finding skilled installers, recruiting and retaining quality sales people, succession planning, growing sales and negotiating pricing with suppliers.

Catching up on friendships and spending time with family is also a focus of the event, and the NFA is kind to include the flooring media as part of that family. Like any retail buying group, the board decides who to let into these meetings, and we at Floor Trends are honored to be invited. Although we can’t report on a lot of what we hear—I mean, no business owner wants their strategic planning revealed to local and national competitors—it is insightful to learn about the inner workings of their business, make contacts and hear about hot-button topics.

The hurricanes affected some members, such as Roberts Carpets and Fine Floors in Houston. After bouncing back from power outages and water, the retailer launched a Hurricane Harvey Relief Sale, which offers customers sale prices, rebates and financing options to help Houston rebuild after the storm.

Some members are capturing market share by diversifying their businesses, such expanding into kitchen and bath products. Coles Fine Flooring in San Diego, which is celebrating 70 years this year, opened a Kitchen and Bath Design Center at its Morena Blvd. location, featuring a full working kitchen, kitchen and bath vignettes and soup-to-nuts design-build assistance.

The group’s vendor partners introduced programs customized for each retailer. As the owners visited each vendor round-robin style, the vendors went over individual sales and asked for feedback on new products and delivery.

The Dixie Group solicited opinions from retailers on a number of new carpet collections, including Pet Protect, a variety of patterns, wool looks and a TrueSoft nylon that was recently specified by a pop star for a top-secret custom project.

Manny Llerena, director of sales and marketing, MSI, shared news that the company is planning a series of capital improvements, including new branch locations in Tampa, Fla., and Portland, Ore.; a new warehouse in Phoenix; and a new headquarters building in Orange, Calif. In addition to a variety of new residential and light commercial porcelain introductions, MSI has launched its first commercial double-load tile collection to help dealers capture mid-size and large commercial projects.

Randall Sheehe, director of strategic accounts, Tarkett, introduced the company’s new ProGen flooring, a waterproof, “next-generation” wood plastic composite (WPC) floor that features a commercial grade wear layer. He said the system was developed through consumer research and six months of testing in the field.

In today’s business world, networking is more important than ever, and conferences like those planned by the NFA are no exception. We eagerly anticipate more opportunities to learn and share flooring stories in 2018.