Meet me in Las Vegas. Surfaces '09 may still be a few months away, but now is the time to start planning your trip to the show. With the challenges ahead, the resources available have never been more important. Above, showgoers await the opening of the exhibit hall last year.

Whether your business does a million dollars or 100 million dollars in annual sales volume, you are likely to be affected by the current economy. Similarly, no matter what level of success you have attained in manufacturing, distribution or retailing, you can’t know it all or even 20% of it. It seems the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know. Forty-nine years in the industry and it seems I learn more each year than in the previous one.

Last December, my wife Tara and I attended Shaw’s regional market in Baltimore. Held in a first class hotel with excellent food and an impressive array of merchandise presented by knowledgeable staff, it was an outstanding event. However, as good as it was, it represented just a small portion of the industry. To say, as a retailer, that you can see everything you need to at a regional market is foolhardy considering the array of product, services, support systems and education available at the flooring industry’s national show, Surfaces.

Even under normal circumstances, 90% of us make a living running barely adequate businesses; another 5% are top-notch and the rest don’t make it. There isn’t a distributor or retailer who couldn’t improve their product mix and negotiate better terms, discounts, rebates, advertising funds and financing, purchase better mechanical and software systems, learn better merchandising, institute better operational controls, fill in lost opportunities and improve the hundreds of other elements critical to running a highly profitable business. How else can a retailer or distributor effectively buy without comparing merchandise, equipment and systems? How else can a manufacturer improve without studying the competition? How else can you compare performance and efficacy of certain products and services? And what about more effective marketing, advertising and promotional tools?

It just doesn’t make sense for anyone in this industry to miss our national show. I can tell you that even the few manufacturers who fail to show at Surfaces don’t miss the opportunity to personally attend. Every year I have stresased the importance of Surfaces attendance in my columns, but have tended to skim over one of the most important segment of the show-education.

Carol Wilkins, Surfaces 2009 Conference Manager, recently sent me the line-up of educational events. It weighs in at ten pages containing information on 45 sessions-making up the industry’s most comprehensive educational conference by far. Nothing compares. If you make one trip a year to educate yourself, this has to be the one.

Our industry is fortunate to have what I consider many expert speakers: Sam Allman, Jonathon Trivers and Steve Richardson, to name a few. In addition to their incredible knowledge, they deliver spellbinding presentations. Lew Migliore, Chris Ramey, Dave Gobis and Bart Basi are the leading experts in their respective fields and can deliver the lowdown on every aspect of their expertise. Each of these speakers are must see/not to be missed.

My apologies for not covering all the sessions, but I can only report on what I know. There are other gems in the mine, so select sessions with topics pertinent to your business-stone installation, moisture problems, hardwood selling and installation, the “green” movement, installer relations, changing with the times, color trends, marketing trends and much, much more. If you take one good idea back with you, it could change your life.

Surfaces is also a great opportunity to meet your favorite National Floor Trends columnists including Annette Callari, Ray Thompson, Sam Allman, Dave Stafford and Dave Gobis.

My good friend, Lew Migliore, is the forensic pathologist of the flooring world. He takes a subject as boring to me as watching paint dry and enthralls his audience with his discussion about installation and product failures. He also outlines the preventative measures and other technical aspects of industry products as he proves to you that “The flooring never lies!”

FellowNFTcolumnist Dave Stafford covers a critical area for retailers since the commercial market is going strong. Residential replacement business tailing off? Builder business dead? Learn how to work this profitable and viable sector.

Another sector in the industry that hasn’t cooled off is the luxury market. The former head of the International Design Guild and now with the Luxury Marketing Council, Chris Ramey knows more about promoting luxury business than anyone I know. Learn how to tap this market and become wealthy.

Finance and accounting is another of those subjects that can paralyze the brain. For survival's sake you try to absorb as much as you can before the pain sets in. Not with Dr. Bart. His presentations are not only absorbing, but will make you money in ways you’ve never even thought about.

I’ve known Scottie Perron as a Big Bob’s dealer as well as a Flooring America retailer, but when I first heard his presentation, I realized he could be a professional speaker. He is always on point as well as entertaining on retail strategy. His session on advertising is especially valuable given this sluggish market. He is also the new president of Big Bob’s Flooring Outlets.

Everyone has heard of Sonna Calandrino and now just as many know her sister Lisbeth. She speaks knowledgeably about retail, customers and personal issues in her highly informative sessions.

Last, but not least, is possibly the best-known educator in the industry, Dean of Mohawk University, professional speaker, fellowNFTcolumnist and friend, Sam Allman. He is one of the very few people to have inhabited the industry as long as me and keeps inspiring retailers to be as good as they can be. Sam knows every facet of the flooring industry and I try never to miss one of his sessions.

F. Y. I., my session, “POW! ZAP!” follows my new book Yes, No, Maybe So! and studies the shopping habits of both men and women, how different colors affect the genders and how to use this knowledge to supercharge your sales. Sales secrets do exist. I wholeheartedly invite all my readers to see me on Tuesday, February 3, at noon. Come early and stay late to enjoy the most exciting city on Earth and the world’s greatest floor show.