16 October 2009

The US, The World & The Floor Covering Industry

Jim GouldI learned an important lesson when I was younger: that the US, as big as it is, exists in a larger world; the more I could learn about the rest of that world, the better I could understand and anticipate US business issues, particularly in the floor covering industry.

During the summer of 1966, I worked in a small town in northern France called Notre Dame de Gravenchon; a picturesque town of less than 5,000 people nestled in the Seine River Valley. The city’s largest employer was SOCOBU, a synthetic rubber manufacturer owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey. It was their factory that I called home for six weeks of my youth. The town was not a tourist attraction, although my memory says it should have been, and to my surprise no one spoke a word of English. Calling on my six years of high school and college French, I communicated using “fr-anglais”, a combination of their native tongue mixed with my butchered classroom teachings.

Most noteworthy about that experience was the realization that these factory workers knew the names of my Senators from Missouri and I did not know any names in their government except President Charles de Gaulle. They told me about the JFK conspiracy theories and why Martin Luther King had been shot. Except for the misconceptions that Roy Rogers roamed the Wild West and Al Capone still lived in Chicago, they knew more about my country than I did. Embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about the rest of the world, I committed myself to expand my focus and this served me well in my business career.
Church of Notre-Dame-de-GravenchonBelieve it or not, the US floor covering industry is just one part of a worldwide business that is constantly being impacted by non-American issues. Oil prices set in the Middle East is just one obvious example, but what about the whole green movement? Ten years ago, Europe was listening to the Greenpeace demonstrators while many Americans considered them extremists. Today, environmentalist concerns are driving major projects from the Carpet America Recovery Effort to renewable flooring made of bamboo and cork. The 2008 passage of the Lacey Act Amendments closed the American door on wood flooring imports made from illegally harvested logs and practically eliminated endangered species like Merbau from the market. This was not a radical surprise for those who had been following developments around the world and the increased awareness of environmental issues including the growing black market in illegal logs.

So what is the best way to keep up with changes coming down the pike that will impact our floor covering business in the USA?

The easiest way I've found to stay informed is through our industry media; print, broadcast and Internet. And, it's equally important for manufacturers, distributors and retailers to get out of their domestic comfort zone and venture into new lands to see what the rest of the world sees every day. That's where DOMOTEX can be a valuable resource.

Domotex is the largest and broadest international floor covering show in our industry. Held in Hannover, Germany each January, the show gives one excellent exposure to innovative products, new trends and innovative display ideas. In addition to Germany, DOMOTEX offers shows in Shanghai, China in March and another in Dubai, UAE in May. I don’t mean to diminish Surfaces, Coverings, Cersaie or Cevisama. Quite the opposite! These are all great shows and each not only provides valuable perspective, but is also far better than staying at home. However, Domotex offers you that world perspective that I mentioned above as being so critical for understanding and anticipating US business issues in flooring.

Note that these are not vacation trips justified by a business show. To benefit from Domotex you need to spend two to three full days walking the acres of buildings and talking to the 1,200 exhibitors about their products. It is exhausting, but also very rewarding and, to me, one of most energizing things you can do for your business.

As Americans, we need exposure to the rest of the world to have a complete picture of what is happening in our industry here in the US. I hope to see you at Domotex in Germany from January 16 – 19, 2010.


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