Despite economy, Surfaces exhibitors, attendees report quality over quantity stands true
March 10, 2009
Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, Surfaces 2009, held recently at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas, will be remembered as an important show for attendees and exhibitors alike.
On the opening morning of the show, Surfaces 2009 featured its first-ever general session, themed “Prevailing Through the Current Crisis-an Industry Wakeup Call.” The group discussion, moderated by CNN television personality Gerri Willis, included six flooring industry leaders, including: Rainer Blair, ceo, MAPEI of Americas; Ralph Boe, president and ceo, Beaulieu of America; Tom Davis, president and ceo, Mannington Mills; Randy Merritt, president, Shaw Industries; Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential; and Frank Ready, executive vp, Armstrong.
The panelists discussed the importance of working together to come up with a solution for jump-starting the industry.
They also discussed how their respective companies are handling the current economic downturn, in the area of downsizing and increasing operational efficiencies.
“We can’t change the macro environment; we can only change our reaction,” stated Boe. “We have a ‘rolling right-sizing,’ where all employees take time off, rather than laying off 10 percent of our staff.”
“We’re looking at all sectors that are not related to the customer,” said Davis. “To try to avoid layoffs, we had to cut 401K matching.”
The session was not all doom-and-gloom, as several participants pointed toward a bright future for the flooring industry.
Rainer Blair offered an optimistic take on the current economic environment, noting that the Chinese character for crisis is the same as for opportunity. “There is going to be a great deal of opportunity for those who can shift into the commercial sector,” Blair pointed out.
“In every previous downturn, there has been a double-digit recovery,” said Merritt.
“It is going to get better,” said Ready. “This is the time to differentiate yourself from the competition.”
“You have to keep working to be the best you can be in every way,” said Davis. He stressed, “Know your competition better than you ever have. Choose the right attitude, because your staff will emulate that attitude.”
While attendance was lower than last year, show goers said there was an upside, with more face time for attendees and exhibitors to conduct business.
“I think the (consumer) media is reporting too much doom-and-gloom, so the general population is expecting doom-and-gloom; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Neal Gray, sales vp for Lamosa USA. “The industry is still open for business. People are still buying tile and other flooring materials. By solely watching the news and reading the paper each day, you would be led to believe that everyone is laid off and no one is spending money.”
Echoing Gray’s sentiment was Wilhelm Stevens of Original Mission Tile, who commented positively on the show’s lower turnout. “I would rather have a show like this where every person that visits becomes a new customer, rather than have 100 visitors to my booth and only two of the 100 are potential clients.”
Wanda Ellis, executive director of the American Floorcovering Alliance, agreed. “We have had more potential members at this show than any other,” she said.
During the show, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) presented several notable industry awards, including its first-ever Gold Standard Retailer of the Year Award, to Ike Gulessarian. The award recognizes a WFCA member business that consistently exemplifies creating outstanding retail experiences for its customers. Gulesarian owns and operates eight Carpeteria-branded stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received a $5,000 prize, a trophy and custom-designed Gold Standard Retailer of the Year award seals to display in his stores; he will also be featured in the WFCA’s trade advertising campaign and on its Web site.
The WFCA also presented its annual Howard Olansky WFCA Affiliate of the Year Awards. Named in honor of the late Howard Olansky, the award is presented in three categories. The first place award for large affiliate associations went to the Maryland and Northern Virginia FCA; the first place for medium size affiliates was awarded to the Utah FCA; and first place in the small affiliate category went to the Southern Nevada FCA.
Throughout the show, the WFCA held giveaways of 50 $1,000 cash prizes, as part of its 50-year anniversary celebration.
Blair said the industry would probably continue to see tough times in the near term. “Our industry is much too fragmented right now. As a result, we will continue to see a consolidation of companies,” he said, adding that within the next six to 18 months, the industry is expected to see more closures and acquisitions.
However, the industry is also finding rejuvenation and increased consumer interest with the latest round of green products and services. A panel discussing the emergence of green in the industry, “Green from Wall Street to Main Street,” included environmental experts from Mannington, Shaw and Anderson Hardwood Floors.
Moderated by Phil Johnson, group publisher of National Floor Trends, Floor Covering Installer and TILE Magazine, the event explored what green means to business today. While the panelists agree that green has fundamentally changed business, Mannington’s Dave Kitts was among those optimistic about the future. “We’re in a green tsunami with no end in sight,” he said.