Laticrete's Surfaces exhibit featured an overflowing bathtub to illustrate the power of its Residential Tile and Stone Installation Solutions products.

Despite the absence of some major industry players -- such as Shaw, Mohawk, Armstrong and Congoleum -- the Surfaces 2004 show in Las Vegas included a broad range of companies spotlighting ceramic products, exotic woods, bamboos and other hard-surface options. Traffic was down from previous editions of the show with 925 companies exhibiting and total attendance exceeding 36,000, according to Surfaces organizer Hanley-Wood.

Although a considerable portion of the floor space at the Sand Expo and Convention Center was dedicated to carpets, area rugs and soft surfaces, it was hard to ignore the vast number of exhibits in which manufacturers showcased and sold their latest offerings in hard-surface flooring. Even Stainmaster -- which, of course, is best known for its carpet offerings -- has gotten into the hard-surfaces arena with its newly introduced Stainmaster resilient floor line.

BR-111, which showcased the new exotic species in the company's wood floor portfolio, was just one of many exotic wood manufacturers at Surfaces 2004.
VPI is another company that this year is branching out to include more robust flooring options. The manufacturer, known mainly for its electro-static discharge flooring for the technology segment, has introduced new flooring options for healthcare environments, as well as premium and commercial vinyl tile and rubber flooring. In addition to these new offerings and a newly unveiled logo, the company says it will release product for the expanding "green" market segment, as well as a full complement of flooring options, by the middle of this year.

One attendee at the show, Manuel Monrreal, West Coast regional sales manager for Artistic Finishes, noted that he has been coming to Surfaces for 13 years, and he definitely saw more hard-surface products emerge during this year's show.

Michael J. Riley, executive vice president, sales and marketing for Sphinx by Oriental Weavers, stands next to the company's award-winning Sedona rug.
"That's a big change," Monrreal said. "There used to be lots of fuzzy stuff -- lots of carpet. Now there's much more exotics, laminates and hardwood flooring."

Gary Haines, owner of Wood Plus Hardwood Flooring of Galax, Va., said that during his walks down the aisles, he noticed more exotics this year than at previous editions of Surfaces. "Basically, if it looks like wood, it's on the floor somewhere," he said.

AJ Paron-Wildes, general manager of Dreammaker Bath & Kitchen, based in Minneapolis, said she's seeing a lot of consumer interest in hardwoods -- particularly distressed floors.

"Customers are looking for something that has an Old World feel, but they don't want it to be too old. Distressed flooring sort of bridges that gap," she explained. "It gives the customers something with some sculpting, some character."

From a designer's standpoint, Paron-Wildes said she's glad that the four previously mentioned manufacturers pulled out of the show this year to instead concentrate on regional events.

"There's so much new stuff out there that it's hard for designers to narrow it down," she noted. "I wouldn't mind seeing the field become more streamlined."

Haines said that, for him, the real purpose for the Surfaces show is "to see everything new in the marketplace in two days."

He added, "It's an efficient use of time. I can find new suppliers, see existing suppliers and see what's new. I can see all the big boys and all the little boys, and develop new relationships."

From left: Charles Martin of Halex Corp., Ohio Valley Flooring's Mike Spivey, Craig Silvers of Halex and Doug Melien, Multiply marketing manager, get together at the Multiply booth.
Surfaces featured a full agenda of new events this year. Attendees could stop by a live Installation Showcase, network during an evening reception while Kool & the Gang played or discuss the future of the industry at Surfaces' first-ever Town Hall, moderated by K. Bruce Koepcke of New Horizons Marketing.

The Town Hall panel was made up of Kermit Baker of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, Alan Braunstein of Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings, Jim Gould of Misco Shawnee, Catalina Research's Stuart Hirschhorn, Tom Jennings of Bud Jennings Carpet One, Dave Meberg of Consolidated Carpet, and The Dixie Group's Dave Polley.

Topics addressed at the Town Hall included in-depth discussions on increasing consumer awareness of products, battling the big boxes, and attracting and retaining quality installers. One topic that was not addressed until only a few minutes before the Town Hall ended was the importance of technology and the emergence of the Internet in the industry. Koepcke mentioned that a forum on technology might be a topic to include in next year's Town Hall if enough interest is generated.

Preceding the Town Hall, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) inducted Herb Wolk CFE, into the WFCA Industry Hall of Fame. Wolk, a driving force behind Cadillac Carpet Distributors of Long Island, N.Y., a founding director of CarpetMax and chairman of the board of the American Floorcovering Association at the time it was absorbed into the WFCA, was outspoken on stage about the importance of styling and fashion in carpet.

"We must continue, continue, continue bringing fashion into our business," Wolk told the assembled crowd upon receiving his hall of fame honor.