Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flooring Industry Wake Up Call Sets Stage For Insights

Christine B. WhittemoreDid you attend the Surfaces '09 General Session Industry Wake Up Call? The one that brought together 6 flooring industry leaders in a first of its kind event to have a conversation? Yes, a conversation about the tumultuous times we're in, how floor covering industry leaders have reacted, and where they see things headed. It's the same conversation that sets the stage for Floor Covering Institute insights.

The event, titled "Prevailing Through the Current Crisis - An Industry Wake-Up Call," attracted a record 1000+ attendees representing the flooring industry. I was fortunate to be one of them and I found the event amazing from multiple perspectives.

First, the participants: Ralph Boe, president and CEO of Beaulieu of America; Rainer Blair, then CEO of Mapei of Americas; Tom Davis, president and CEO of Mannington Mills; Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential; Randy Merritt, president of Shaw Industries; Frank Ready, CEO of Armstrong's North American flooring business. They represented a range of flooring related products and both domestic and international perspectives.

Second, the moderator: Gerri Willlis of CNN fame.

Third, the format: an informal panel discussion focused on the flooring industry, with major flooring industry leaders, and open to questions from the audience. Yes, some topics like pricing weren't discussed. That's by law [i.e., the Sherman Anti-Trust Act], but also, in my mind, irrelevant given the broad and intense nature of the change affecting the flooring industry. Much better given the one-of-a-kind nature of the event to focus on the big picture rather than minute details!

The amazing aspects, though, went further. After all, how often do top flooring industry leaders come together onto a stage in a public forum? To openly, with respect for one another, discuss the industry as it faces its greatest challenge and take questions from the audience?

Yet, had it not been for two insightful flooring individuals, Floor Covering Institute's Jim Gould and Affluent Insights' Chris Ramey [also of Floor Covering Institute fame], who sponsored the event, I doubt it would ever have happened. You see, observing that the only time the industry hears floor covering leaders is at company-sponsored conventions, they identified the need to hear the industry leadership in an open and public forum, speaking on a realistic basis and discussing where they thought the world was headed. And, what better time than at THE flooring industry trade conference, Surfaces, to hear them in a relaxed, approachable forum with Gerri Willis moderating. After all, if something happens in the industry, these are the leaders who make it happen.

Chris and Jim wanted proceeds from the event to benefit the Floor Covering Industry Foundation [FCIF- here's a link to a previous post about it]. By the way, did you know that Gerri Willis was impressed with the Foundation? She said that flooring was the only industry outside of Hollywood that had such a fund to support its own members.

At the time, I was still employed by Solutia, then a carpet fiber manufacturer. My brand had just been sold to Mohawk and my division was soon to be sold to a private equity firm. I witnessed the Wake Up call understanding the issues and implications for survival. I appreciated the participants' candor.

I found fascinating that each approached challenges differently, while remaining focused on what mattered, staying positive and not compromising on what's important to customers. Read for yourself FCN's article titled "Industry Leaders Discuss Economy."

Eight months later, our industry continues to weather the storm. We may soon see signs of life, albeit in a radically redefined marketplace.

Given the Wake Up call and who was behind its genesis, I appreciate even more intensely the insights that the Floor Covering Institute shares with the industry here via this blog. More specifically, Stuart Hirschhorn anticipates improvement in the residential replacement marketing in 2010. Chris Ramey urges innovative strategies to survive the New Normal and the radical changes in carpet, housing and the flooring replacement cycle. Jim Gould details global implications for the flooring industry -- from the Lacey Act to China. David Wootton shares what the future looks like given the past 20 years in flooring. And, I'm very conscious that consumers are in control of the marketplace and that they expect more than ever from the companies they purchase from and align themselves with.

What do you think of the Flooring Industry Wake Up Call? And, what are you doing differently as a result?

~ Christine

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