Watching Wood Flooring Emerge as Globalization Takes Over

Jim Gould Headshot

Just a few decades ago, hardwood floors were not part of mainstream flooring. There were limited opportunities for hardwood manufacturers to exhibit and for buyers to view hardwood floors at floor covering shows. Now, the largest hardwood flooring exhibit in the world, a vast 660,000 square feet, is part of DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor, a full-line floor covering show in Shanghai. That exhibition is wooing U.S. suppliers, and the National Wood Flooring Association is facilitating its members to take advantage of this opportunity. My, how things have changed.

Early in my career I worked the round robin industry "markets" held twice a year on back-to-back weekends from Chicago to Dallas, Atlanta, New York and San Francisco. Those markets eventually disappeared and, with no other place to go, the Dalton Market became the best place to shop for carpet, then in its heyday. Manufacturers rented rooms at the Dalton Holiday Inn, where they displayed their latest introductions and hawked specials from the second-floor balconies as buyers parked their cars. It was not a classy affair, and there was no hardwood in sight.

Then a funny thing happened: globalization. I found myself going to Domotex in Germany, Cersai in Italy and Cevisama in Spain, and a whole new world opened to me. No longer was the floor covering industry exemplified by the Dalton Market where carpet was priced by the ounce. Rather, it became an industry of fashion, with European-influenced colors and designs displayed with flair and romance. In the early 1990s, I saw new products in Europe that had not yet reached America, such as fiberglass vinyl and Pergo laminate. I got hooked on attending these shows just for the preview it gave me into products and trends that would impact our industry here.

None of this was lost on WFCA's Chairman Chris Davis. In 1996, he started Surfaces in Las Vegas; it quickly became the U.S. exhibition for the floor covering industry, and it included wood. Now, every year there is a range of exhibitions, meetings and educational opportunities offered by our industry, not the least of which is the NWFA's own Wood Flooring Expo set for April 2-5, 2013, in Dallas.

Still, I am drawn to shows around the world, and the most impactful is DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor. Started in 1999 by Thomas Baert, who recognized Asia as the fastest market-growth opportunity, the show has become the second largest flooring show in the world and by far the largest hardwood show on the globe. Baert started the show as ChinaFloor, and a few years later Germany's Domotex purchased a majority interest and changed the show's name to DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor. Today over 1,100 exhibitors and more than 40,000 attendees flock to Shanghai every March for this unbelievable industry gathering. I have attended every one and would feel lost if I missed just one show.

Why do I think DomotexAsia is so important? Quite simply, because China is quickly becoming the largest floor covering market in the world. China has transitioned quickly from the largest low-cost producer of goods to the number two consumer of luxury goods in the world. This incredibly fast evolution fascinates me. In less than 20 years, China has gone from a barely visible blip on the consumer market index to the second largest economy in the world representing the largest market for many of the world's most upscale products. Its booming middle class is devouring foreign-made products in its quest for Western style and status. From personal experience, I can say that products "made in America" are favored by a large number of Asian consumers. If you wonder why there is so much consumption of luxury products in a country with so much poverty, consider that only a mere fraction of its 1.3 billion population is needed to create a huge demand for products and a major selling opportunity for American exporters.

American flooring manufacturers can use DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor as an inexpensive and efficient way to test Asia's appetite for their products. Recognizing the opportunity that Asia holds for its members, the NWFA partnered with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to gain financial support for qualified NWFA members. Member companies that supply U.S. hardwood flooring and lumber products are eligible to receive free exhibition space at DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor, saving them thousands of dollars.

A trip to DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor is more than just a fabulous cultural experience-the business benefits to an exhibitor or attendee will more than justify the time and money invested. I cannot predict which new products will be shown, but I can promise that there will be more wood product exhibitors showing new concepts, products, colors and designs than at any other show around the world. Will they all sell in North America? No. Many will not, but the things buyers see will start them thinking in new directions that will influence our domestic market.

While in Shanghai, be sure to check out the floor covering retailers. Anderson Hardwood has a showroom in Shanghai only 15 minutes from the exhibition hall. Many showrooms are located in a unique, very high-end, multi-story shopping center dedicated to home products and furnishings. Entire floors of this ultra-modern building are dedicated to floor covering, mainly wood and laminate manufacturers, displaying and selling their products directly to consumers, including installation! Some of these showrooms use the most creative presentation of products I have ever seen.

Our economy is hopefully climbing out of its long hibernation. And you should be proud to have survived, but now is the time for new thinking-for taking advantage of new opportunities. Whether you are selling or buying, I strongly suggest you check out the global market. A good place to start is to participate in shows outside of North America with your partner, the NWFA. Bon voyage!

DomotexAsia Details for NWFA Members

NWFA-member suppliers of U.S.-made hardwood flooring and lumber products are eligible to receive free exhibition space (approximately 10 by 10 feet) at DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor in Shanghai, March 26-28, 2013. Typically exhibit space costs exhibitors $300 per square meter, but by exhibiting with NWFA, the only cost is a $750 common area fee. Other benefits include group hotel room rates, coordinated meetings with potential customers, exposure to international media and more. These NWFA member perks are made possible by a cooperative agreement between the NWFA, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promoting export of American hardwood and hardwood flooring products. For more information on exhibiting with NWFA at DomotexAsia/ChinaFloor, contact Debbie Edgar at NWFA via email at [email protected] or by phone at (636) 519-9663, ext. 104.

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