If there was any doubt as to whether the industry is starting to bounce back from the deep pit it fell in due to the Great Recession, one only needed to attend this year’s Surfaces, as both exhibitor and attendees expressed the kind of optimism and hope that had been absent for the last six-plus years.

From soft surface to hard surface, manufacturers of all products and of all sizes were expressing a renewed optimism in business in general and with how the market itself was.

Carl Bouckaert, owner of Beaulieu America, said the company’s expansive booth was “busy from the very beginning. We’ve had a good crowd throughout the first two days, more so than in previous years. Everyone is upbeat about business as most people are coming off their best year in a while and, like us, they feel it will continue through this year.”

John Geier, Beaulieu’s hard surface product manager, said while the company is known as a carpet manufacturer, “Attendees have been really interested in our LVT program,” noting response has been “better than anticipated. People see we put together a comprehensive program but one that also makes it simple for both the retail salesperson and consumer to select the right product.”

Betsy Amoroso, director of corporate communications for Mannington Mills, noted, “We were slammed the entire time. It was consistently busier than last year. And the overall mood was not of people anticipating the recovery, rather it was people experiencing it so they were more upbeat. And, as a result, there was more interest in our higher end products than in recent years.”

Peter Feldman, president of Prestige Mills, said the traffic on the first day of Surfaces was “intense. People are upbeat and in a buying mood, and it has continued straight through day two. The is easily the best show we’ve had in four or five years.”

Gary Johnson, senior marketing manager for Invista, maker of Stainmaster and Antron fibers, noted what a number of companies were saying: “We saw more people on day one of the show than we saw the first two days last year. You could hardly walk around the booth.” While most of the visitors have been dealers, he noted, “It’s been a fantastic cross-section of people as we’re seeing dealers we’ve never seen before. And everyone is very excited about our new PetProtect Carpet System.”

Ed Williams, president of Lexmark Carpet Mills’ residential business, said based on what was happening at Surfaces as well as business in general, “all around it is shaping up to be a good year. Residential is finally starting to feel good again and, as a result, there is much more optimism among the attendees.”

Jeff Hudson, vice president of sales and marketing for Royalty/Camelot Carpet Mills, noted the company was very bullish on the changes that have been made since Andrea Greenleaf took over as president and CEO last year, saying the company was debuting its new rebranding strategy which consists of new styles and market opportunities.

“Dealers have been patiently waiting,” he said, “and we thanked them with a special holiday incentive and everyone jumped on it. In fact our presales have been nothing short of phenomenal.” During day one at Surfaces, he said the company was “totally filled up with appointments and that doesn’t count the numerous walk-ins we’re getting as well.”

Etienne Chabot, Preverco’s vice president of marketing, pointed out, “Business in the U.S. has been amazing” for the Canadian wood manufactuer. “In fact we just added two more reps.”

Don Evans, vice president of sales for EarthWerks, said “business has been really good. Our new loose lay LVT products are being received really well by the people coming in our booth. In fact, we’ve been non-stop busy.”

He noted, with 2013 being the best year many businesses had in recent memory, the company came to Surfaces prepared for the extra attendance. “We brought in all our national people and have appointments scheduled with every one of our distributors every hour continuously throughout the show.” And what added to his excitement was the fact a number of the retailers stopping in to the company’s exhibit space were new customers. “LVT is the hottest flooring item right now and dealers are starting to see we live and breathe LVT so they are interested to see what we have.”

Veronica Ventimiglia, marketing manager for Johnson Hardwood, which also was debuting an LVT collection, said not only was attendance better than last year, “we’re picking up a lot of private label orders, and the interest in our new LVT program is very strong.”

Tiffany Davis, marketing brand and product manager for Home Legend, said it “certainly feels like there are a lot more people here this year. And, they are also more optimistic than they have been in recent years.” She noted the response to the company streamlining some of its collections along with the new displays developed for them “have been very good.”

At Armstrong, which was once again exhibiting in one of the many ballrooms at Surfaces, executives were very happy with the reception. In fact, the optimism in business could clearly be seen in the showroom as the company was introducing as array of products in every category in which it does business.

As an example, Yon Hinkle, product manager, pointed to the company’s Alterna brand which was launched in 2009, noting not only has its growth been “phenomenal,” at Surfaces “people can’t seem to get enough of it.”

One of the more interesting spaces at the show was Tarkett’s where Gary Finseth, director of residential marketing, said the company was showcasing the five pillars in which a consumer can “come at a flooring purchase.” These were identified through “in depth consumer research, and we’re showing attendees not only the different angles but how Tarkett can help in each area.” And the response? “The attendees get it, and seem very appreciative of how simple we are breaking it down and making it for them to sell the consumer the correct product for her needs.”

At Quick•Step’s booth, where the company was not only showcasing new laminate products but its first foray into the wood segment, Richard Quinlan, senior director of wood products for parent company Unilin, said Surfaces was echoing what the company has been seeing on the streets. “Last year was the best since 2006/07 and we, as well as the people coming here, are expecting great things for 2014. There is a lot of energy and excitement that business has finally turned the corner.”

Alex Shaoulpour, president of Horizon Floors, called this year’s Surfaces “the most successful and exciting one for us.” He noted for the wood manufacturer, “This is the one time of the year we get to meet with all our customers and set the pace for the year in terms of how we can grow business together. And, for the first time in a number of years, the attendees are really excited about the year ahead.”

Jonathan Cohen, COO of Stanton Carpet, said Surfaces was not only “very busy, the audience this year was very qualified. We come to this show to take orders; we make a huge investment in the show to make it worthwhile for the people who attend, and this year people are more comfortable making buying decisions than recent years. Many of them had a good 2013 and they are expecting this year to be just as good if not better so they came to buy.”

Even companies who were not selling anything but there to just show their support for their licensees, such as Välinge, were busy. Laetitia Kimblad, key account manager, said attendees were really interested in learning about the company’s LVT locking technology. “They already know us as being a leader in locking systems for laminate and with LVT being the big thing right now they wanted to know more about how our systems work with these products.”

That interest to learn was evident throughout Surfaces, and not just on the show floor. Pami Bhullar, Invista’s director of aligned retail development, who was one of the many presenters for the show’s educational conference, reported a “tremendous” amount of interest by the attendees.

In fact, he was one of many presenters Floor Trends spoke with who said their sessions were either filled or overflowing. “Business is getting better and people are realizing they need to keep up with the latest trends and business knowledge.”


Retailer Reaction

It wasn’t just the exhibitors that were excited about the way this year’s Surfaces went, as attendees from all parts of the country expressed similar sentiments.

Arnold Graff of Montauk Rug and Carpet in Long Island, N.Y., said, “I found the traffic heavier than in the past. Before many booths had to bring celebrates to attract attendees but this year they were busy without any. The attendees were there to look and buy.” As for himself, he noted, “I live in a flood zone, so I was looking for products that floods could not destroy. Some of the LVTs hopefully will work.”

He found “EarthWerks’ perimeter glue floating floor with a flexible plank is different from the non flexible free lay planks. I also found out Dalton Carpet Mart had a residential carpet tile. They did not show it at the booth but they did have samples. Carpet tiles that in installed with a hook-and-loop system. A consumer can have a floating carpet floor without destroying the subfloor. Also Stanton has a carpet tile using a similar system using a polyester soft yarn. A consumer can make her own size rug connecting the tiles with the hook-and-loop system.”

David Snedeker, division merchandise manager for Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha, Neb., found Surfaces to be “much more upbeat than last year. Everyone seemed to be feeling better about the industry. There was a lot of new product to look at which is always good. I never come looking for any one thing. I try to come with a shopping list and an open mind. I love seeing new products and different vendors. You never know when you may just find a diamond in the rough.” And did he? “While not giving away all my secrets but, yes, we found a couple of new items to carry which were not on our radar going into the market.”

Riley Gazzaway of Atlanta Flooring Design Centers, said “The show was again well organized and the early promotions for preregistration of seminars, events and housing very helpful. The exhibitors were substantial in their product fields and the congruent groupings made shopping easier.”

Despite being an industry veteran, he still found the educational portion of the show beneficial. We always come in on Sunday and attend a full day of classes then also attend some on Tuesday and Wednesday if they are significantly relevant. I attended six seminars this Surfaces—it is amazing how little I know.”

Phil Koufidakis, president of Baker Bros. in Arizona, felt “The show seemed to be more robust than in past years. Not only did it feel like attendance was up, but even more so engagement was up. People were actively engaged in the spaces, so it wasn’t a matter of walkway traffic.”

For him, “I always come to see what our vendor partners are developing, and what new opportunities might be available.” And did he find any? “Some specialty items, for sure. Zo-n flooring from Congoleum was cool; USFloors had some new interesting items in new categories; Mannington had some beautiful new items and good display/selling concepts, and the Amrstrong additions to the Luxe line, especially with its installation system.”

Gary Cissell, director of operations, Bob’s Carpet & Flooring Mart in Tampa, “found the event well organized, easy to navigate and full of positive energy. I was able to accomplish some great networking and make some very valuable connections.” When it came to product, “I was specifically looking for new and differentiated styles in laminate, wood, ceramic and LVT. I found random width LVT, and was able to connect with a financial offering which saved us substantial dollars. Additionally, I found a unique three tile laminate, click offering. The wood varieties and new introductions were outstanding from at least six individual suppliers.”

And, Jon Pierce, general manager of Pierce Flooring & Design in Montana, was one of many dealers who began working the show before it opened. “We had a very valuable dinner Sunday evening with a key vendor prior to market opening which allowed that vendor to prepare and have meaningful and lucrative answers for our company when we met during the market.”

As for the show itself, Pierce said, “The upbeat mood was very noticeable this year. Most if not all vendors and participants seemed very positive about 2014. As for something new and unique I think I was most impressed with the marketing approach Mannington has taken with the LVT/LVP category. It introduced a line of what I would have referred to as resilient in past years available in a good, better, best offering and is marketing it under the heading of LVS—Luxury Vinyl Sheet flooring. Brilliant idea. Tagging onto a winning concept and helping to re-launch sheet in a new and different way. A company in the lower level I noticed last year and again this is Urbanfloor. I really like how it markets its product line. It romances it and pulls you in with a tone of environment and living. Nice job. The soft carpet surge continues and is being well marketed by all major carpet manufactures both in nylon and polyester fibers. All in all I was very satisfied with Surfaces this year.”