The 43 members of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) opened their spring meeting at the Grand Hyatt in Vail, Colorado, with roundtable discussions aimed at making their businesses more proficient and profitable amid ever-changing market conditions: rising inflation, supply chain woes, a lack of qualified workers, pricing challenges, and maintaining margins. 

"At this meeting, we spent more time talking about operations—operations, innovation, IT solutions, equipment efficiency, warehouse efficiency,” said NFA Board President Jason McSwain of Ohio-based McSwain Carpets & Floors. “How do we bring more of that to the group to really help them move their business forward and elevate their business above somebody else in their market?"

“The focus was what steps we can take back from the meeting around making our business more efficient—what’s our competitive advantage?” added Dan Mandel, owner and president, Sterling Carpet & Flooring. 

Tom Lape, special advisor, Mohawk Industries, gave the group a worldview on what to anticipate in the year to come. 

“We’re on a 12-year expansion—that’s unheard of in our lifetime,” said Dave Chambers, director of flooring, Nebraska Furniture Mart. 

“One word that I keep hearing is ‘stagflation’," said Raffi Sarmazian, managing director, Sarmazian Brothers Flooring in Toronto, Canada. “High inflation rates go up, demand goes down or slows, and then unemployment increases. Then things just kind coast along for a while. I hope things don't get that hard, but then our worker shortage—that won't be a thing.”

Rising inflation is putting the dealers on alert, since they know all too well the impact The Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, had on business. It was the longest economic downturn since World War II. 

“We’re not saying the R-word,” said Deb DeGraaf, owner and president of Michigan-based DeGraaf Interiors. “But one of the things that we learned, and I remember going through that, is you can't retract on your staff. You gotta run lean, and I think COVID set the stage for running lean, and we'll be able to carry that into the R-word if that ends up happening. We have to rely on technology and efficiency.”

Today, technology and efficiency for NFA dealers means they are exploring systems that improve inventory management, accounting, pricing, estimating and marketing automation. 

“If we have the recession, it would be a horrible thing, but they're necessary every once in a while just to shake out the chaff—it’s a correction,” said Larry Flick, president, The Floor Store, which has nine locations in the Greater Bay Area. “We survived and it really shook out literally 40% of the competition, and it set us up for a great 12-year run.” 

While commercial business is still slow in channels like workplace, the NFA retailers are relying on the residential housing market to grow their businesses.

"That's really keeping things going and the projections are all strong," Sarmazian said. "There's a shortage of supply. The cost of ownership is going up, so affordability is becoming more of an issue, and that makes it a little challenging, but all our builders are like us: busy. Their outlook for years is all just growth."