Surfaces: Education


By Jessica Chevalier


If you’re spending all your time at Surfaces on the show floor, you’re missing out on some great educational opportunities, which are constructed with the express goal of helping retailers to grow their business and thrive.

Over the course of the show, Surfaces offers 78 education sessions, about 60% of which target the flooring industry, says Jennifer Hughes, conference manager for Surfaces. This number is about the same as what was offered last year; the figure has held steady in part due to limitations in available space and time slots. This year the Surfaces team made a significant change to scheduling: no sessions will be held off the show floor on Thursday, so that attendees can focus their attention on meeting with vendors and shopping the floor. Since a portion of attendees begin their travels home on Thursday, it stands to reason that attendance would be lighter in education sessions scheduled for Thursday anyhow. 

Many of the Surfaces education sessions earn attendees continuing education credits. The professional organizations that acknowledge the program for credit include The American Institute of Architects, American Institute of Building Design, the International Design Continuing Education Council, and the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification.

After the close of the Surfaces show, Hughes reads each survey completed by Surfaces education program attendees, actually entering the comments into the computer herself to make sure to pay attention to each one, then creates a report of comments. The report is sent to each speaker, as well as to members of the advisory council, a group of 26 stakeholders, 14 of which are representatives of the flooring industry (the other 12 are from StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas and TileExpo).

Oftentimes, ideas for new session topics and speakers are taken directly from attendee comments. Other times, after reading through the report, the advisory council will construct new courses and seek out new presenters as a result of attendee comments. Either way, attendees have a significant role in constructing the next year’s agenda. 

Hughes says that, when it comes to finding new speakers, she’s more concerned about knowledge than polish. “We’re looking for thought leaders in the industry. They don’t have to have professional speaking experience necessarily but knowledge and passion.”

Retailers account for the largest portion of Surfaces attendees, at 38%, according to Hughes. Installers account for 20% of attendance; distributors for 17%; commercial contractors, architects and designers for a combined 6%; and general contractors and manufacturer reps for 4% each. The remaining 11% is other demographics, including builders, care and maintenance professionals, kitchen and bath specialists, non-exhibiting manufacturers and suppliers, and guests.

Needless to say, many of the educational programs target retailers. The show divides its offerings into eight categories (Building, Design & Trends; Business; Care/Maintenance/Restoration; Flooring Installation; Sales/Marketing; Stone Fabrication/Installation; Sustainability; and Tile Installation). Of these, Sales/Marketing is the most popular, especially for topics related to social media like the three new Social Media and Web Boot Camps, all of which are held on Monday—and Hughes reports that registration for these programs is strong. 

Flooring Installation is another popular category. Every year the category includes coverage of several core topics that continue to do well year after year, in particular those related to installation problems and solutions. When covering repeat topics, Surfaces finds new speakers to present a fresh take on the topic or encourages seasoned speakers to update their presentations so that they remain relevant and fresh. This year, Surfaces is adding two new carpet topics, one by CFI’s Robert Varden called Identifying and Installing Today’s Carpet and another that will educate attendees about the new S600 standard on carpet installation. 

Business category sessions are also in high demand, and this year the conference added some sessions specifically for small business owners, for which many have already registered. Sessions on improving cash flow and efficiency are always in demand. This year, on the suggestion of past attendees, Surfaces is adding sessions on business succession and the healthcare law and tax code. 

Industry veteran, technical expert, and Floor Focus columnist, Lew Migliore is presenting two sessions at Surfaces. Migliore has been on the Surfaces education docket for over ten years and his sessions are always packed because the material he’s presenting is both so pertinent and so hard to come by in the industry. Migliore explains, “The industry has lost so many technical people that no one knows who to turn to when they have questions. Fiber producers and manufacturers used to have technical people, but the tech people are the first to go when the industry nosedives because they don’t produce capital. These programs are designed to provide information that you can’t get anywhere else.”

At his two-hour session slated for Monday afternoon, Carpet Fibers: New Technologies and Advancements You Should Know to Keep You Out of Trouble, Migliore will explain the tufting process from start to finish, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different carpet fibers, and cover new advancements in the industry, from the growth of solution-dyed fibers to recycled content to carpet tile. 

On Tuesday, he will present Avoiding Problems with Hard Surface Floor Covering: Getting the Right Product in the Right Place, a 90-minute session, which, Migliore says, will provide a “30,000 foot view of hard surface that gives retailers entrée into what they need to be thinking about when selling, the characteristics of the materials. You have to know the limitations of a flooring material. If you don’t, you’re going to get yourself into trouble.” The presentation will cover substrates, installation and new products. “The more new products that come out, the less people know about them,” says Migliore.

In addition, Migliore’s firm LGM & Associates will collaborate with Larry Cooper’s Textile Consultants Meetings and Events in two symposiums, one for retailers and one for carpet inspectors, which will cover the new S800 standard, which Migliore was instrumental in creating. 

Designer Day, sponsored by Floor Focus, is scheduled for Wednesday at Surfaces 2014, and Victoria Redshaw, lead trend forecaster at Scarlet Opus, will kick off activities with her 8:00 a.m. seminar, Design and Color Trends 2014-2015. The 90-minute session will give attendees deep insight into the issues and events that will drive the emergence of trends, which include products that look less engineered, embracing the beauty of natural imperfections; irregular repeating systems and organic layouts; exaggerated surface texture; current metallics; the revival of blonde woods; hard products with a soft appearance or the flip; disrupted patterns and unexpected pattern placements; and a design dialogue between the past and present. Redshaw will then explain how trends will translate in flooring products. 

Redshaw is also in charge of the Trends Hub, which, she says, will be quite different from last year. “We are making props that all have a connection with events and commemorations in 2014,” she says. The Trends Hub will offer a visual depiction of Redshaw’s color and product direction trends.

In addition, twice on Wednesday, at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Redshaw will lead a two-hour Speed Trending Tour, highlighting products across the show floor and in the Trends Hub that exhibit the trends she has forecasted. And six 15-minute Live in the Hub tours, led by Redshaw, are interspersed in the show schedule.

James Dion, retail specialist, president of Dionco Inc. and Floor Focus contributor, is leading two sessions at Surfaces: Do You Have a Digital Shoplifting Problem?—How to Prevent Showrooming (90 minutes ) and The Psychology of Price and Why It Matters (60 minutes). With both his topics, Dion’s goal is to take the complex science of retailing and hammer out a few bite-sized tools that retailers can take home and implement. 

One issue that has becoming increasingly challenging for retailers over the last few years, due to increased accessibility through smartphone technology, is pricing. Because customers have access to price data before they enter the store, they often focus on the square foot price. In his session on pricing, Dion teaches retailers how to change the conversation from price to cost, which incorporates services like tear up, surface preparation, installation and follow-up, encouraging consumers to consider the full price of the completed job rather than only the price of the product. 

Though some retailers may assume that any significant changes to their retail strategy will be costly, Dion says that major changes don’t always come with a hefty price tag. However, an investment in business, if strategic and well thought out, is worthwhile. What Dion hopes to help retailers avoid is the “putting lipstick on the pig approach,” making a few cosmetic changes and expecting results. Dion emphasizes that customers don’t “silo” their shopping experiences, only comparing like to like, one flooring retailer to another; rather, they are comparing flooring stores to the best retailers around. 

Dion’s digital shoplifting session will teach retailers how to combat the trend of customers using the showroom as a place to “try on” items that they then purchase online. 

Both of Dion’s sessions will take place on Wednesday. 

In 1971, Sam Allman left a doctoral program in microbiology to devote himself to the flooring business. He opened a store in Bountiful, Utah and later created Mohawk University as a consultant with Allman Consulting and Training. Seven Habits of Highly Effective Business Owners (60 minutes) and Finding and Keeping Talented Employees (90 minutes) are the two sessions that Allman is leading at Surfaces 2014; both are scheduled for Tuesday. 

Allman, a Floor Focus columnist, used to call his session The Seven Deadly Sins of Retailing, but, in an effort to put a more positive spin on the title, Allman considered how a retailer could redeem themselves from the their retail sins and determined that the key was habits: replacing bad habits with good. Says Allman, “Most people spend their time doing business instead of building business.” Allman says that he learned the hard way. Of his store in Bountiful, Utah, Allman says, “It ran me, rather than me running it.” He believes that the most important thing for a business owner is that they have a vision of where they want the business to be when they’re done with it, selling it or passing it along to the next generation. 

He tells the story of an older woman, an attendee at a flooring convention, who stayed after his presentation to talk to him about her flooring store. Her husband, who had run the store for 30 years, had passed away two years before. The woman reported that the business wasn’t salable because her husband hadn’t owned a business, he’d owned a job. Allman says that if, as a storeowner, you know your business would fall apart without you, you’re in the same spot as that woman. 

In his session on finding employees, Allman will offers practical tips for how retailers can implement a successful recruiting and hiring strategy, as well as retain quality employees. 

Dave Snedeker, flooring division merchandise manager at Nebraska Furniture Mart, will assemble a panel of retailers to participate in the Best Practices Forum: A Conversation with Successful Flooring Retailers, to be held on Wednesday. 

The session will cover a range of topics on which the panelists will make presentations. Past topics have included creating a more energy efficient showroom, pricing, advertising strategies, social media, and seeing the showroom through the eyes of the consumer. This year, Snedeker expects that social media and inventory, both quite popular in the past, will again make appearances. 

After the presentations, attendees are invited to engage in conversation with the panelists. And this, believes Snedeker, is the most valuable portion of the session, comparing it to when friends sit down together to talk business. The panels run for 90 minutes. 

Paul Friederichsen is owner of BrandBiz Inc. and has been working to help floorcovering clients with their branding for 25 years. For about half that time, he’s been a presenter at Surfaces and he currently serves on the advisory council for the educational component of the show.

This year, Friederichsen is co-presenting with Dr. Brian Gracon, president of Brian Gracon & Associates, Inc. and a sales training expert. The Tuesday presentation, called The Customer Said Yes! Now What Should I Do? Increasing Repeat and Referral Business, adds to what the duo presented last year and provides attendees with practical advice on increasing business using a combination of good sales training and marketing, Friederichsen and Gracon discuss the fact that the existing customer is the most profitable type of customer, since the retailer doesn’t have to woo them and build a relationship from scratch. The session will run for 90 minutes.

Copyright 2013 Floor Focus