Optimism and Opportunities Abound at 2022 NWFA Expo

Last week, the 2022 NWFA Wood Flooring Expo took place in Tampa, Florida. With a theme of “Navigate Your Future,” the event’s sessions centered around providing attendees with information to help them succeed in the ongoing uncertainty of today’s business environment.

The opening session featured Michael Martin, CEO and president of NWFA, who gave an update about the wood flooring industry. While covering the good news and opportunities for the industry, Martin also acknowledged the impact of ongoing supply chain issues and labor shortages. He noted that the NWFA designed this year’s Expo to help attendees navigate those issues by providing input from experts throughout the event.

Elliot Eisenberg, Ph.D. and chief economist for GraphsandLaughs LLC, was one of those experts. He took a deep dive into all the factors impacting the economy during his keynote address. Additionally, Dr. Brian Beakler of Beakler Consulting Services hosted an education session, “Industry Issues in a Post-Covid World,” to discuss the impacts of war, COVID-19, inflation, supply chain issues, worker shortages, and more.

The overall feeling from both exhibitors and attendees on the trade show floor was optimistic. At the same time, there was discussion about the challenges facing the industry as well as the ways NWFA and its members are seeking solutions and taking advantage of consumers’ goodwill toward real wood.

“I think it’s going to get stronger,” says Dan Natkin, CEO and managing director for Boen Hardwood Flooring Inc. “When you think about consumers who are worried about their home and worried about health in their home, there’s nothing more natural than wood. You think about all of this plastic that’s been going into homes for the last decade, they’re coming up on their first replacements, they’re going to be taking these plastic floors and be putting them into landfills. They’re not going to degrade for 100,000 years. I think we’re going to continue to see that resurgence and desire for wood flooring.”

Brian Carson, CEO and president of AHF Products, says the company’s business is up again this year, and that the pricing gap between wood and alternative flooring products is becoming more narrow.

“With all of the inflation that has hit the other products, wood is a better value versus the other products relative to where it was a couple of years ago,” notes Carson. “If buying a Mercedes is $50,000 more than buying a Chevrolet, a certain population is going to buy the Mercedes. If it’s $10,000 more than a Chevrolet, you’re going to get a lot more people buying a Mercedes because it’s a Mercedes, and it’s more approachable. When you think about what you get in a real wood product, it’s actually a bargain compared to the other products.”

While some importers, distributors, and flooring manufacturers have quickly been trying to determine their next move regarding the impacts the Russia and Ukraine conflict has had on the engineered wood flooring industry, others are not necessarily feeling the supply pinch.

“All of our solid wood is domestically made here in the U.S. There are, of course, the lumber issues, but on the engineered wood, I think we are uniquely situated as we don’t have exposure with our brands to the Russian birch in the U.S. or Cambodia,” says Jennifer Zimmerman, chief commercial officer of AHF Products. “In Cambodia, we make all of our own plywood, and we get the components of it from Cambodia, Thailand, and South America. Here in the U.S. we also make our own plywood. There’s going to be tightening in the market because everyone is going to want to go away from the Russian birch, so we do see that there could be some tightening in the market, but we feel like we have a good solution for our customers and we’re in a good position.”

Natkin says Boen Hardwood Flooring doesn’t quite have the challenges with Baltic birch plywood because all of their products are a three-layer lumber core.

“Demand is continuing to outpace supply, particularly on European white oak, and it’s causing a lot of constraints. When you look at the war in Ukraine and what’s happening with Russian timber, that takes about another 50 or 60 million square feet of white oak right out of the market, and it’s causing inflation,” explains Natkin. “What I think is going to happen is we’ll begin to see a little bit of a leveling out particularly because so much of that plywood goes into cabinets and so on, that it may tamper demand or extend demand.”

During Expo, NWFA hosted its first Women’s Industry Network breakfast. The group of about 100 attendees were welcomed by Barbara Titus, Women’s Industry Network committee chair and Julie Russell, NWFA Board Chair, who shared their experiences with working in wood flooring. Kayleen McCabe, a television host, advocate for skilled trades, and licensed contractor spoke about ways to encourage more women to enter the trades. After hearing about the career paths of McCabe, Russell, and Titus, other women shared their journeys with the group.

“I believe we need to celebrate and support one another – all of the women in the industry – and encourage further involvement of future generations as well. We need to do that by empowering women, by teaching them to have a voice, and by helping them to show up and promote themselves,” explains Titus. “We have the camaraderie and the fellowship of one another that allows us to have more courage, more voice, and more intellect in the room.”

In terms of addressing the labor shortage, the NWFA Emerging Leaders Council hosted a student event to highlight career paths in the wood flooring industry. Around 40 local students had the opportunity to walk the trade show floor and attend a career panel discussion.

“We worked with local schools to bring in students and really showcase all of the various careers that we have within the industry, whether it’s installation, sand and finish, marketing product, or even development from the scientific side of things,” says Renee Tester of QEP/Harris Flooring Group and chair of the NWFA Emerging Leaders Council. “They had some phenomenal questions and were very engaged with the show floor. It has been great to really educate about those opportunities within the industry, so we can start to get some new energy and new blood into those various roles.”

A video recapping the 2022 NWFA Expo may be watched here. If you missed it, videos of the education sessions will soon be available in the NWFA University. Be sure to save the date for next year’s Expo, which will take place May 2-4, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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