Strategic Exchange - March 2012

By Kemp Harr

 

With the death of Chris Davis, the WFCA’s president and CEO, the retail sector of the floorcovering industry has lost one of its chief advocates. When it comes to leadership, passion and being able to seek resolution to some of the key issues this industry faces, Chris was at the top of the list. Most recently, he was fighting for fairness in how state and federal governments view subcontractor relationships and was also working to level the playing field on sales tax so that Internet retailers don’t have an unfair advantage over traditional retailers.

Prior to these issues, Chris had focused on training, scholarships, fund raising for the industry’s philanthropic Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF), consumer publications, tradeshows and websites that promote our products both to consumers and to the trade. 

Chris was hired into this industry in 1994 to facilitate the merger of the Western Flooring Association with the American Floorcovering Association (which was initially formed as the Retail Floorcovering Institute) into what is now the World Floor Covering Association. He’s probably best known for negotiating the sale of the annual Surfaces trade show in Las Vegas to Hanley Wood for over $40 million. He was able to negotiate that price because he had helped build it up to be one of top 50 trade shows in the world. Since then, he had helped channel the income from that sale into productive initiatives and scholarships that help the entire industry.

Chris was a true professional who was comfortable in his own skin. He would agree to do interviews without advance warning about the topic of discussion because he was well versed and often passionately opinionated about most of the hurdles that stand in the way of success within the floorcovering industry. There were lessons in leadership to be learned by watching Chris in action. He was a communicator, a planner, a strategist, a networker, an event coordinator and a negotiator, but most importantly he was a decision maker. 

He would frequently say, “Don’t get me started” about topics that he felt passionately about. In a recent discussion we had, Chris said these very words as he and I agreed that this industry would be better served if suppliers were more strategic about the barriers to entry for anyone seeking to become a floorcovering retailer. 

Chris was a seasoned trade association pro before he ever started focusing his passion on our industry. Prior to floorcovering, Chris led the tourism and convention bureaus for Oakland, California; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Long Beach, California. In those roles, he was involved with several major political and sporting events like the 1984 Democratic National Convention, the Super Bowl of 1985 and the World Series. Prior to that, he spent time as a commercial photographer and worked with ABC news.

In the fall of 2010, Chris opted to have stomach surgery in an effort to reduce weight. At Surfaces 2011, he told me he had lost 95 pounds. Just as Chris was able to get his weight back under control, doctors discovered a tumor in his lungs, which ultimately was the cause of his death.

Surfaces makes accommodations
Hanley Wood, which owns and manages the Surfaces expo, has bent over backwards to hold the annual residential flooring show in Las Vegas together during this recession. Several of the key flooring brands that sought to reduce their exhibit expenses have chosen to take a smaller space off the show floor. This year, Mohawk, Armstrong, Johnsonite/Tarkett, Mullican, Formica/Kronotex, Alloc/Berry, QEP/Harris Wood and a handful of others rented space in the convention building but outside of the expo. In 2011, Mannington Mills also made the same decision. While we’re told that the rental cost for these exhibit rooms is comparable to the exhibit hall from a square footage rate, being off the show floor enables these companies to reduce the size of their space and the expenses associated with an elaborate display with all its expensive graphics and set-up fees. Most off-the-floor showrooms are pretty basic from a display standpoint. Of course, manufacturers who choose to exhibit off the floor don’t glean the benefit of having a presence at the show and communicating their brand image to attendees, either.

This year, Mohawk combated these drawbacks with its Can’t Touch This flash mob, highlighting its SmartStrand Silk product, which occurred on the main show floor on the first day of Surfaces 2012. The company also advertised prominently in the show—it had stickers on the floor of all the main passageways—and in the corridors outside it. This created some controversy as many exhibitors who were paying for space on the show floor simply felt that those manufacturers who don’t choose to be on the show floor shouldn’t have a presence there. 

Mannington is one manufacturer that has experimented with exhibiting both on and off the show floor. After returning to the main hall this year, the company said that having a presence there was more than worth the added costs of being on the show floor. Will other manufacturers follow Mannington back to the show floor now that the recession is ending? One thing is certain, you can’t fault Hanley Wood for offering manufacturers alternatives in an effort to make sure that attendees have one major flooring show, with as many major manufacturers as possible.

Challenges facing the IICRC 
Trade associations can be a powerful force in any given industry because their management isn’t saddled with the day-to-day distractions of running a business and, if funded properly, the association’s expenses can be spread out over a large base of members. One of key functions of a trade association is to promote the interests of the collective group and minimize obstacles that can reduce the use of the product or service the association represents. The flooring industry has multiple trade associations, many of which are focused on one specific surface type. Some trade associations are more effective than others and this is usually in direct relationship with the strength of their leadership. As mentioned earlier, Chris Davis’ leadership skills certainly were a major factor in how much the WFCA got accomplished.

One group that, for many years, has positioned itself more as a certification body than a trade association is the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification). Most people know it as the group that represents cleaning and inspection professionals. Its area of focus extends beyond flooring and into upholstery and draperies, but much of its focus is flooring related. The annual trade show that many of its members attend is called Connections.

The IICRC changed its name to The Clean Trust last October, partly because it wanted to become a trade association. This baffles me because I know of several trade associations that have institute in their name and two that immediately come to mind in our own industry are the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute. So I’m not sure what really motivated the name change.

While the IICRC’s activities have always been adjacent to our coverage in Floor Focus Magazine with its focus on cleaning and restoration, it moved closer to our purview when it took on the charge of writing the new carpet installation standards back in July of 2009. When announced, this new standard (S600) was going to be developed under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines and it was designed to replace the CRI 104 and 105 standards. The expenses associated with developing the S600 were split 50/50 with the CRI and the WFCA and the process was supposed to take three years from start to finish.

When I called recently to check on the status of this project, I discovered that Larry Cooper, the consultant who was guiding the process, had been replaced by Mili Washington and the project was running behind schedule. I dug further and discovered that in the last six months, The Clean Trust has cut eight of its board members and a few of them are attempting to start a new trade association called ICRA, which stands for International Cleaning and Restoration Association.

One insider, who agreed to talk to me off the record, told me that The Clean Trust has every intention of finishing the S600 and it plans to foot the bill for costs associated with running behind schedule. Meanwhile, it looks like The Clean Trust/IICRC has its hands full as it sorts through defining its mission and fending off new competition. 

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

Copyright 2012 Floor Focus 



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