When it came time to celebrate its 30th anniversary the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) decided to “Play it Forward” as it recognized and paid respects to its past achievements but put the emphasis on looking ahead.

The reason? As Michael Martin, NWFA’s president and CEO, noted, the category not only continues to gain the kind of strength it saw prior to the recession, officials want to ensure everyone in the selling chain is ready to meet the needs of the changing consumer base, namely the millennials.

He pointed out this is already the largest generation, having just surpassed the baby boomers in numbers, and in the next five years their spending power is expected to double, making them also the largest group of potential customers.

Dave Foster, editorial director for Floor Trends’ sister brand, TalkFloor, was at the show, and Martin said the association “wanted to recognize its 30th anniversary by honoring its founders but also focus on the future because the market is generally better and we need to keep an eye toward our future customers who will be engaging dealers and purchase much differently than what we’re used to seeing.”

Scott Walker of Walker Carpet One in Bellingham, Wash., said “We’ve got to engage the new consumer; show them what they want to see. We are in an industry that at the dealer level is resistant to change and we have a lot of learning to do. We need to redefine what we need in support of operations and make new ways of marketing a priority for us, and the organization.”

While attendance at this year’s show was steady against last year, NWFA said overall growth was 15% as the event had 29 more companies exhibiting compared to last year, and 60 first-time exhibitors. As such, for the third straight year, the Expo was recognized by the magazine Trade Show Executive as one of the 50 fastest growing shows in the U.S.

Martin noted, four years ago NWFA overhauled the Expo, rebuilding the show and the show staff from the ground up. “We are glad to see the upward trend is carrying forward, to see our members and Expo thriving together. Success depends on that. While NWFA serves its members to assist their growth, we could not do that well without the active support of our members all year long, and especially as attendees, exhibitors and sponsors at the Expo. That the show has grown on average 25% each of these past few years is remarkable. We want to keep the positive momentum going.”

To do that, as part of the theme, “cause marketing” was a topic Martin stressed during the general session in which he announced a number of partnerships the association was engaging in, most notably the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF) and the Gateway PGA REACH Foundation. In addition, during the Expo, NWFA attendees contributed to The Little Bit Foundation and participated in two St. Louis community events, which is where the show was held—helping a wounded veteran through the Joshua Chamberlain Society as well as foster children through Angels’ Arms.

In speaking about the GSF partnership, Martin said, “While we will mark NWFA’s 30th anniversary during Expo, we also are looking forward as an association and an industry, in business and in how we contribute to society. This collaboration is a significant step, as an organization with 3,000 member companies, to put forward our knowledge, skills and resources.”

Martin noted while it is always important to give back whenever possible, the idea of cause marketing is very important to millennials who want to do business with companies that are doing good things in the communities they live and work.

To help understand where all this is going, and also as part of NWFA’s efforts to keep education a priority, the association held its first Vision 20/20 seminar, which allowed members to look in their crystal balls and help the organization understand where it needs to go and be between now and the year 2020.

Along with the trade show portion of the Expo, the fact NWFA put a great deal of emphasis on education wasn’t lost on attendees.

Brian Quinn, hardwood business manager, for distributor, Merle B. Smith, Co., Elk Grove Village, Ill., told Foster he “came for the education as well as the trade show. For as long as I’ve been in the industry, you can never know too much—there’s always something to learn. You think you know something and then hear someone talk about it in a different way and you can take that in and incorporate it.”

In terms of learning new things, he noted the “evolution of water based finishes always amazes me. When they first came out, they were not as durable [as traditional finishes]. Now, it’s really impressive how they work.”

Quinn noted as a distributor, he needs to be more than just a product source for his customers. “We’re always seeking to find the latest technologies, finishing, installation—it’s a constantly evolving process.”

Mike Boyd, sales manager for Dalton Carpet One in Athens, Ga., said he came to the Expo “specifically to get educated. I’m going through the wood floor sales professional certification program. Been doing this for a long time but need to stay certified and by me doing it, it shows the importance we place on these types of things to our salespeople and makes it easier to get them to go through these trainings.”

Kjell Nymark of Precision Wood Flooring Services, Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, is a contractor but also an inspector and trainer, and said nowadays staying up-to-date and educated is very important. “The products we’re using nowadays are making lives easier, but business is tougher from competition. I’m happy to compete with educated contractors, but the ones who come in and drive the price down those are the ones I don’t like as they cheapen the industry—it’s not good as a contractor but it is good for being an inspector.”

He added how in his line of work he “sees lot of different problems.” The key reasons for this, Nymark added are misinformation and not enough education on what people are selling. “Floor covering installation is a trade and, as with electricians and plumbers, installers need to be properly trained before they get started and not wait until they are on the job.”

Mike Urban, an NWFA certified inspector, who was conducting a seminar at the Expo called the association a great “training aid for installation, inspections, etc., and it is so accessible that even if you’re not a member you can learn from it so [the organization] helps the industry in general. Continuing education is so important [and] if you abide by NWFA standards they really eliminate most problems.”

At the Expo, NWFA elected its 2015 board and Jeff Fairbanks of Palo Duro Hardwoods in Denver was named chairman. He succeeds John Lessick of Apex Wood Floors in Downers Grove, Ill., who becomes immediate past chairman. The other officers elected include, Chris Zizza, treasurer, of C&R Flooring in Westwood, Mass., and Craig Dupra, secretary, of Installers Warehouse in Rochester, N.Y.

Directors include Kevin Murphy of Trinity Hardwood Distributors in Austin, Texas; John Wooten of CMH Space Flooring Products in Wadesboro, N.C.; Julie Russell of Rudd Co.’s Glitsa division in Seattle, and Scott Sandlin of Shaw Industries. Ex-officio directors are Jon Namba, editorial director of Floor Trends’ sister publication Floor Covering Installer and head of Namba Services in Salt Lake City; Jim Gould, of the Floor Covering Institute in St. Louis; Avi Hadad of Avi’s Hardwood Floors in El Sobrante, Calif.; Steve Brattin of SVB Wood Floor Service in Grandview, Mo.; Lenny Hall of Endurance Floor Co. in West Park, Fla.; Jon Smith of Smith Flooring in Mountain View, Mo., and Dan Natkin of Mannington Mills.

NWFA also presented Rick Holden, COO of Derr Flooring, with the organization’s Industry Leadership Award for his contributions to the wood flooring industry through service and leadership.

Fairbanks said Holden “has given his time, expertise and guidance to NWFA and the wood flooring industry for more than 20 years, 15 of which were on NWFA’s board. He has exhibited integrity, professionalism, humor and humility. His dedication to the industry, and to the NWFA, is well above and beyond what is expected of any one person.”