2009 was a challenging business climate for our industry. Where do you see business going in 2010?
I’m not overly optimistic 2010 is going to be much better than 2009. Consumer spending constitutes about two-thirds of the Gross National Product, and right now high unemployment has spooked the consumer into saving, not spending. Even though interest rates are low, credit is tight. The flooring category has historically run parallel with housing and most predictions point to 2011 as being the time when housing will start to uptick again.
The commercial sector has yet to fully experience what many are predicting to be a significant downturn. With shrinking payrolls and companies shedding employees, productivity may be up, but the need for more space is not. While that all sounds like gloom and doom, consumers and their confidence can turn on a dime. Increased savings means more money available to do something with, and staying put in your home gives a great reason to spruce it up and increase its value with new flooring.
Just like all politics are local, so are economies. The hardest hit have been California, Nevada, Arizona and southern Florida where there was a run up in housing and then a collapse. That community with a new factory where housing prices have been steady is likely to have a minimal slowdown, but nothing like that in the aforementioned states. And there is nothing like a flood, tornado, hurricane or other natural disaster to stimulate sales.
One reason the green movement has caught on so well in the commercial sector is in most instances it’s either mandated, or at least specified, or both. Consumers are paying close attention to these trends and now she is at least inquiring about green choices. While price is never the prime consideration in the selection of residential flooring, it is amazing how quickly green options can be dismissed from consideration when it turns out they will cost incrementally more to acquire.
The WFCA has developed a Green Primer for our members to help guide them through the various systems and make them an authority for their customers. Some of the green claims made by manufacturers are ludicrous, and green-washing is very prevalent. We want to have our dealers knowledgeable about this subject so they can assist their customers in making intelligent, informed selections they will be happy with. People get their information from the Internet, so it is essential that the salespeople on the floor be fully informed and ready to provide essential information about flooring options.
This is not a trend, but a lifestyle change that will continue to increase in importance.
What message would you like to give the industry for 2010?
In adversity there is always opportunity. Now is the time to question everything you do and how you do it from the perspective of “how will this impact my customer?” There is an old saying that there are two types of people, one that has 20 years of experience and the other that has one year of experience 20 times. You want to be the former, not the latter.
It is time for creative thinking, becoming partners with your suppliers and labor pool to work together to amaze and dazzle your end customer, the consumer. The adversarial relationships between manufacturers and distributors, distributors and retailers, and retailers and installers do not work now, if they ever did. All she wants is a beautiful floor, and a great experience for herself throughout the entire process. It’s all of our collective responsibility to see to it that’s what she gets, so she can brag about it to all her friends and neighbors. Especially now. Organizations like WFCA can help provide tools, but any tool is only good if you are willing to pick it up and use it.