On the eve before Surfaces, the U.S. flooring industry’s biggest event, the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) hosts a specialty vendor showcase. The showcase gives NFA members the opportunity to discover and connect with a variety of suppliers who aren’t yet part of the group’s core list of suppliers.

“This forum is so much better than the big show,” said Kelly Taylor, president of Ambassador Floor Company in Chesterfield, Mo. “We are still in the people business, and it allows us to interact one on one. They get to know us and we get to know them. They get to meet with the owners and primary decision makers of 42 of the largest retailers in the country. It’s a great private forum.”

This year’s showcase featured 49 vendors, including 20 first-time exhibitors. “Our membership comes in and spends the afternoon talking to them, and it’s traditionally smaller dealers who want to be bigger players,” said Dave Snedeker, NFA president and division merchandise manager-flooring, Nebraska Furniture Mart. “This meeting introduces new and unique products—something that’s different than what they’re used to.”

Cali Bamboo, a San Diego-based flooring and decking company, joined the event to share information about the company’s unique omnichannel platform and to discuss how it is fostering stronger relationships with retail partners in 2018, according to Doug Jackson, Cali Bamboo president.

Casey Johnson and his son CJ Johnson, founders of luxury vinyl supplier Happy Feet International, showcased some of their 85 SKUs. The company has 150,000 sq. ft. of warehousing facilities and more than seven million sq. ft. of luxury vinyl ready to ship in order to meet demand.

In addition to the showcase, NFA traditionally has a half-day meeting where members discuss what keeps them up at night. “The consistent theme is installation—it’s top of mind for anyone in retail, and you also hear about retention of employees,” Snedeker said. “It’s really hard to find sales people and warehouse people who stay in the flooring business.”

Two new members were also welcomed to the board: Deb DeGraaf of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based DeGraff Interiors and Darren Hearns of Florida-based Great Lakes Carpet and Tile, replacing Zack Akin of Akin Brothers Flooring in Oklahoma City and Ryan Bechtold of Contract Furnishings Mart, Portland, whose terms have ended.

Outlooks for 2018 are cautiously optimistic. “2017 ended on a weird note—it was good and we budgeted for ’18 to be good. We’ll take it,” Taylor said.

“Look at the stock market—it’s crazy good, so business should be good, but it’s just okay,” Snedeker said. “Somehow, some way, there’s no way for them to convert things being good into a purchase. We are competing for dollars with things like cars and houses right now and it’s not really translating to purchases in our market.”

NFA members will convene again at the organization’s spring meeting in Cancun, Mexico, where they will share best practices.