What would you like to change about our industry? Installation? Marketing? Low ball pricing? Nothing? Everything? If you ask a dozen flooring folks this question you may get a dozen different answers. As part or a leadership roundtable that appears in this issue we posed the question to a number of industry V.I.P.s. It seems like an appropriate question given the tenor of the times and the softness seen in some corners of the business. Also, considering the stature of the executives who agreed to participate, I believe you will find the responses enlightening. Maybe even inspiring.

One top retail executive hoped the “bad and disreputable retailers” are jettisoned out of the business. A manufacturer said he’d like to see less of a focus on price and more focus on the “true value of a product.” Another major industry figure called for “Less finger pointing among manufacturers, retailers and installers and more focus on seeing to it that the customer gets the right product installed the right way at the right time.” And there was also one highly respected exec who wondered if we could rev up the “excitement factor.” (You’ll have to read the story beginning on page 10 to see who said what.)

The insights offered by our industry leadership panel are complemented by something else we’ve included in this issue of NFT. We were very proud to have been selected as the exclusive partner for research conducted by the World Floor Covering Association. The WFCA called on our sister company, Clear Seas Research, to conduct in-depth interviews with dozens of floor covering retailers. While the full 50-page report is being made available exclusively to WFCA members, the snapshot of the results included on page 18 makes two things abundantly clear: the industry is surging forward, and retailers and their customers have become far more sophisticated about product selection, merchandising and marketing. Those who cling to the past and refuse to update their operation leave themselves vulnerable.

What the study also makes clear is summed up by the comments of a retailer who participated: “The ultimate goal when you leave a customer’s home is for it to be absolutely beautiful and they’re so happy that they’re going to tell all their friends and neighbors.” Thankfully this is an approach that has remained unchanged in our industry for generations.

And there’s something else we learned from the WFCA’s project. As much as flooring specialty stores dislike big box stores trying to muscle their way into flooring, they are not seen as the No.1 competitive threat. Flooring retailers told us it is the rival specialty stores that pose the biggest challenge. This is also a positive sign. It suggests there are still many consumers who refuse to see flooring as a commodity.

Shoppers in the market for flooring want your expertise and they want a level of service that is incomprehensible at a big box store. When specialty stores compete, it is not a race to the bottom (price-wise), it is a challenge to elevate the breadth of selection and quality of service. That is the type of level playing field all specialty stores should relish. (It will also help send packing those “bad and disreputable retailers.”)

So as we head into the second half of 2007, it is clear that continued change is imminent in our industry. There are also strong indications that the business will rebound from the slump we’ve seen in recent months. There will be lots more talk of environment responsibility and the use of technology to corral business and streamline operations. It will become abundantly clear that many of the business practices that have endured for decades are no longer viable.

There is one crucial element that remains unchanged and that is summed up by the comments of another retailer in the study: “I would say value is much more important than price. I say it because I know we’re not the cheapest, and that people still do business with us.”