Showgoers line the aisles at last year’s Surfaces show. Show organizers say this year’s show will feature many of flooring top manufacturers, including Armstrong and Mannington along with a number of presentations aimed at addressing the current market conditions.

There is a clear consensus that 2009 will be a pivotal year for the flooring business, and nowhere will that be more apparent than at the industry’s biggest show, Surfaces. While the economic downturn may mean fewer new products vying for attention, the top manufacturer execs assure that their newest generation of flooring represents major advances in performance, style and sustainability. Also high on the agenda of many showgoers will be a full slate of educational sessions and seminars tailored specifically to the current market conditions.

“There are truly two times when you need to go to a show,” observes D. Christopher Davis, president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association, the official sponsor of the show set for Feb. 2-5 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas. “You need to go when times are good and when times are bad. Surfaces gives you the lay of the land, and there is no better way to assess the state of the industry and get the general mood than by going to the show.”

Show organizers also say they have high expectations for a new pavilion calledSurfaces Elevations.Located in Hall G, the exhibit will bring together various specialty products that can help retailers jump-start their business with items above the floor level. Product categories include decorative concrete, hand-crafted tile, window and wall coverings, and home accents. Several manufacturers plan live demos at Surfaces Elevations throughout the show.

Jon Namba, executive director of Certified Floorcovering Installers notes that Surfaces attendees this year will have a big advantage over those who stay home. “This year, more than most, a great reason to attend Surfaces is to get an edge on the competition,” he says. “Every job counts now.”

Namba will oversee this year’s Installation Showcase program which will run live on the show floor. Included will be several sessions on the latest Green flooring materials as well as the latest techniques. The showcase is sponsored byNational Floor Trends, Floor Covering Installer, along with the WFCA and CFI.

Manufacturers prepping their exhibits for the show say Surfaces remains a crucial venue to debut products and services. Kim Holm, president, residential for Mannington, says the current economic climate has not prompted the company to scale back its long standing commitment to the show. He adds that Las Vegas is still the ideal venue for Surfaces, as it’s “one of the easiest and low-cost places to get to.” He adds, “Especially in the challenging times we’re in, you can accomplish a lot [at Surfaces] in three days for a nominal fee.”

Tim Ryan, sales and marketing manager for Hallmark Hardwoods, sees the show giving him two huge benefits: a high level of exposure and feedback used to plot a course for his company’s future. “It provides us unprecedented opportunity to engage with our customers across the U.S. and discuss opportunities, products trends, and verify the direction in current and potential product choices,” he says. “It’s funny how simple a concept it is to actually listen and determine what the market needs. Yet many stumble because they think they already know what it needs.”

Also eagerly awaiting the show is Ken Peden, COO of Formica Flooring maker Kronotex USA, His company plans to pull the wraps off of two high-gloss laminate looks and eight new laminate tile colors. The ambitious introductions are planned, he says, because visibility in the marketplace has never been more important. “Our company is going to be more aggressive than ever in this tough environment,” says Peden. “For the last three to four months we have been talking and listening to retailers who are telling us what they need.”