The international influence, already considerable at previous shows, will mostly come from the growing number of Asian manufacturers entering the fray. Many on hand this year will be clustered in The Chinese Pavilion, which debuted at Surfaces ‘05 and was well received by retailers eager to expand the breath of their selections particularly in such categories as bamboo. Still, discussions around the show floor are also likely to focus on how the Asian influence is creating pricing pressure at a time when domestic suppliers are grappling with severe cost increases.
At the same time, the show will see the debut of a major new undertaking designed to help flooring specialty stores become more sophisticated-and aggressive-about capturing business in their own backyard. The World Floor Covering Association is set to launch a new company that will provide an array of web-based services for members. The goal is to use web- based marketing to help participating stores zero in on business from consumers in their immediate area.
The initiative, dubbed "Creating Your Space," enables consumers to use a website to sort through flooring options-and a "lifestyle quiz"-to determine their individual needs. A customized "workbook" based on their preferences in all flooring categories will be forwarded to an appropriate dealer within their zip code or nearby area who can proceed accordingly.
"From our perspective, the globe is shrinking," commented D. Christopher Davis, CEO of WFCA, which sponsors the annual meeting. "Many of the companies from China that came to observe last year will be in Las Vegas with product this year. In the long run it will be beneficial, but in the short run it's hard to say. The challenge for new players in the market is to become a consistent suppler. The more product options a retailer has the more he is able to distinguish himself in the market"
He added the web-based "Creating Your Space" effort is aimed at tapping into the universe of consumers who are looking to the web to educate themselves on flooring. The idea, he said, is to educate and excite the consumer on-line, then let a brick and mortar retailer close the sale by bridging the gap between concept and reality. Using proprietary software and web-based training, the new enterprise is expected to be a major breakthrough for members, said Davis.
"The perception is there are millions of people who are using the web to gather information about flooring," he explained. "We have created a place for consumers based on advice that is unbranded and unbiased that will help people make a choice that is right for them. This will accelerate the buying process." The interactive nature of the site will enable users to design their own room schemes and gain exposure to all types of flooring. WFCA members involved in the program will be divided into three levels: "Elite," "Premium" and "Regular," based on the retailer's level of participation.
Davis added that the show floor of Surfaces is an ideal setting for the launch because retailers visiting the WFCA exhibit will experience the technology firsthand. "They can see it, touch it and play with it," he said.
He noted that Surfaces this year is a particularly important meeting because it comes at a time when the market is growing on the strength of baby boomers re-doing their homes or perhaps buying a second home. "There is so much opportunity in flooring right now that it is a question of gaining the tools needed to capture the business. Surfaces is the ideal environment to do that."