For this issue ofNFTwe did something a little different. Mindful of the anxiety, confusion and frustration that has been stirred by today’s market conditions, we asked top executives in the flooring industry to share their thoughts in the form of a letter to our readers. We asked what message they’d like to relate to the trade. What, specifically, are they doing differently these days? What advice do they have for retailers and others on the frontlines who are coping with this sputtering economy? When do they anticipate an improvement in market conditions? And what about the sharp increase in concern about environmental issues?

For this issue of NFTwe did something a little different. Mindful of the anxiety, confusion and frustration that has been stirred by today’s market conditions, we asked top executives in the flooring industry to share their thoughts in the form of a letter to our readers. We asked what message they’d like to relate to the trade. What, specifically, are they doing differently these days? What advice do they have for retailers and others on the frontlines who are coping with this sputtering economy? When do they anticipate an improvement in market conditions? And what about the sharp increase in concern about environmental issues?

Recognizing that anxiety over rising fuel prices is a huge issue for consumers today The executives who participated in our CEO Letter Series were free to address any or all of these areas in detail or take another path and look at the big picture. We were very pleased with the response to this initiative. We received letters from the top executives at nine companies prominent in the flooring industry. While each has a unique message oriented toward their specific concerns, the tone and focus of the letters is remarkably consistent-and very encouraging. Perhaps what’s most notable is that the missives we received from these CEOs included no platitudes or blue sky scenarios. This was not an exercise in glad-handing and no one is trying to sugarcoat reality. These top executives know the current market conditions demand action, not rhetoric.

That helps explain why the letters include very specific details about what the leaders in our industry are doing to address today’s challenges. Many took the opportunity to discuss our industry’s powerful environmental story and how well that resonates with today’s consumers. Some outlined their company’s overall strategic vision and point to specific efforts to help sales. There is a constant reminder that the steps taken at the retail level are crucial to the industry’s inevitable rebound. The message: If consumers have become skittish about spending, let’s give them a reason that’s hard to resist.

Vance Bell, CEO of Shaw, drew on his 33 years in the business to reassure readers that the flooring business has a long history of peaks and valleys. The combination of innovative products, powerful sales tools and forward-looking initiatives like Shaw’s Green Edge, he said, will help you “approach the downturns positively and see it as an opportunity to improve.”  

Recognizing that anxiety over rising fuel prices is a huge issue for consumers today, Bengt Rasin of Alloc and Berry Floor discusses “Plank = Tanks,” a new initiative that rewards consumers with a $5 gas card for every carton of select flooring they buy. Dealers weary of paperwork should note that the consumer is responsible for redeeming the offer. This is aimed strictly at drawing traffic to the showroom with no downside for the dealers.

There is another theme made clear by the executives who participated:  They are not stewing about market conditions. There is no sense that they are “waiting for things to get better” (a phrase we hear far too often from retailers). While the businesses these top executives run are mostly global operations with extensive resources, their business philosophy transcends size. 

Take for example the comments of Rainer Blair, president and CEO of MAPEI Americas. While addressing the “rough stretch” brought on by the construction slump, he also notes that management at the installation products maker “firmly believe(s) that the market will expand again.” Want proof? Blair goes on to talk about doubling the size of MAPEI’s operation in Texas, acquiring a facility in Florida and putting the finishing touches on a plant in New Jersey. He adds that 12% of the workforce is charged with developing new products. He says these aggressive moves “reflect our confidence in returning growth.” I would have to agree.

American General Financial Services’ senior director, Lee Kirchner, outlines how consumer financing will be instrumental in our industry’s rebound. Flooring is a big-ticket item for most homeowners, but the benefits are long term. A knowledgeable consumer understands that high-quality flooring is a great investment, and the right type of financing makes it happen.

I urge you to read these letters to get a sense of the strategies being used to move our industry forward. Just as important: They offer a clear reminder that even the people at the very top of our industry are well aware that we are all in this together.