At last week’s 2021 NWFA Wood Flooring Expo, the wood flooring industry came together to recharge, reconnect, network, and learn. For the first time, the NWFA Expo and the Coverings international tile and stone exhibition co-located to bring Expo and Coverings simultaneously at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, July 7-9.
During the NWFA Expo’s opening session, Craig Dupra, NWFA chairman of the board, spoke of the opportunities to strengthen bonds, expand skillsets, hone craftsmanship, and push the industry forward.
“I have had the opportunity to speak with many of you already, and it has been inspiring to hear how you adapted to the challenges of the past year. I applaud you,” said Dupra, who is also president of Installers Warehouse. “Like the wood flooring we work with, our industry has proven that we can withstand whatever comes our way. I have no doubt that over the course of the next few days, we will craft a clear and exciting vision for the future together, bringing with us some of the valuable lessons learned during the last year.”
Michael Martin, president and CEO of NWFA, shared a state of the industry update with the audience. He noted that challenges remain with the labor shortage and access to raw materials caused by supply shortages. Regarding labor shortages, Martin discussed a partnership with the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) and the NWFA’s Wood Flooring Specialist Apprenticeship, which is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, and education available through the NWFA.
Martin also discussed the increase in usage of the NWFA’s online learning platform, NWFA University (NWFAU).
“Our members really have embraced NWFAU. It currently has more than 10,000 individual users, and more than 85,000 courses have been completed since its 2016 launch, at a rate of about 45 per day,” stated Martin. “Those numbers have increased significantly during the pandemic, to more than 100 courses per day completed.”
Chuck Fowke, 2021 chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, provided the keynote address. He spoke about the ways the home building and wood flooring industries are intertwined, as well as lumber prices and shortages.
The trade show opened on Thursday, with education sessions and technical demonstrations taking place in the exhibition hall. Brian Carson with AHF Products said it was great to see the crowd at Expo.
“This is a people business. RSAs (retail sales associates) interact with consumers, the business owners interact with the RSAs, we work with the distributors, they work with the retailers, and everybody did the best they could with Zoom and all the new technology,” said Carson. “We’ve got the best products we’ve ever had with unbelievable innovations like Dogwood, but the thing that’s most invigorating to me is to see everyone’s smiling faces and shaking hands and figuring out ways to grow the businesses and create value for each other and doing it face to face.”
While those who were new to the event were not sure what to expect, exhibitors were pleased with the quality of the traffic at their booths.
“Despite hurricane warnings and some heavy rain, everyone who stopped by our booth was enthusiastic and very interested in the new Zephyr,” explained Bud Ferguson with Negative Air Systems. “We got a lot of great feedback and thank the NWFA for getting this Expo pulled together.“
“I am so glad I chose the NWFA Wood Flooring Expo for our first exhibition,” said Tamarra Lambert with Top Step Vents. “We had a huge positive response, several meaningful conversations, and set up several follow-up meetings. This was the perfect venue to showcase the flush mount vents to the right market.”
And some are already planning for next year.
“Our expectations were exceeded beyond imagination at this event with the number of new customers and the traction of contractors seeing our product,” said Hollis Henderson with ProDrive HD. “This was a trendsetting event, and I think the people who did not attend this time really missed an opportunity to learn from the in-person instruction and to experience the benefits like we did.”