Editor’s note: The following is an interview with John Wu by Teddy Durgin, editor for Information Inc. and appearing in the NAFCD Distribution Digest, October 21 issue. It is reprinted here with permission.
Founded in Hong Kong in 1984, Novalis International Ltd. has emerged as an industry leader in the design and manufacturing of innovative luxury vinyl tile (LVT) flooring. Over the last three decades, the company has grown to become a worldwide organization with sales offices and distribution partners in North America, Europe, the Asia Pacific region, and Africa.
John Wu, the youngest son of the company’s founder, joined the family business as Vice President of Sales and Marketing in 2001, the same year the company opened its North American headquarters in Toronto. He was promoted to president in 2005 and took the reins as Novalis’ CEO and president four years later. Under his leadership, Novalis has grown from being a vinyl tile supplier primarily for do-it-yourself chains to an international flooring company with a global sales network. Wu’s focus on R&D and sustainability has led to the popularity of Click LVT in the marketplace as well as driving the industry to use greener chemistry in LVT.
He sat down with us recently to discuss everything from the success of Click LVT to how the NAFCD has been of value to his company. What follows is our chat:
NAFCD: What do you see as the flooring industry’s one or two biggest challenges and/or opportunities as we move into the fourth quarter of this year and look forward to 2016?
JOHN WU: The biggest challenge remains the slow recovery of the economy. We need more strength in new single-family home construction to drive the overall home improvement market. Hopefully, we can see some sustained positivity in the housing market over the next 12 to 18 months. This period is also the ideal opportunity to benefit from the growth of the LVT product category due to LVT’s unique price-value-style equation. To our distributor friends, if LVT is not representing a significant part of your business today, you are missing a slice of a pie that has been growing in mid-double digits and is expected to continue to grow in low-to-mid double digits over the next three to five years. You need to develop an LVT strategy for your business by choosing the right products and the most reliable partners.
NAFCD: Are you seeing any trends within the flooring distribution channel?
JW: We are starting to see distributors wanting to bring back nationally branded products to their product mix. The private label programs that have been popular are still effective but costly in inventory, sampling, complaints, and marketing. Finding the right partners who can offer more than just products is making a comeback.
NAFCD: What makes your company stand out in the marketplace?
JW: As an international company with manufacturing in China, we have looked in depth at what we believe distributors need in order to function at their highest level. The result of this exercise led us to establish the NovaFloor by Novalis as a product line with North American inventory, marketing support, local technical support, and North American accounting and billing. NovaFloor by Novalis is always looking at the industry and trying to bring new and innovative products for our customers. This is evident in the LVT Click products we introduced five years ago and our change to greener chemistry LVT that we started over two years ago.
NAFCD: Have you implemented any new technologies or other innovations that have proven to be particularly successful?
JW: Our largest growth over the last few years was due to our continuing investment in the Click LVT technology. We were one of the earliest LVT licensees for UniClic and captured a large share of the LVT market with that technology. We continued to look at ways to improve the Click LVT with better strength and easier installation and eventually licensed with Valinge for their 1-Piece Fold Down and 5G Fold Down technology. Our investment in profiling lines, Click LVT technology, and our respect for intellectual properties have made us one of the market leaders in this emerging product category.
NAFCD: What is your assessment of the current state of distributor-manufacturer relations in the flooring industry?
JW: We believe an open dialogue and mutual respect partnered with a shared game plan leads to strong relationships. As Novalis goes to market in many different facets, the only way this can be achieved is with each party — distributors and manufacturers — knowing the other party’s needs and wants. As the flooring industry changes with consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions, it will be even more important for the distributor-manufacturer relationship to follow this path to ensure future success.
NAFCD: Do you see any trends in specific geographical markets that our readers should be made aware of?
JW: Color is always changing or adjusting in the different markets thoughout North America. The groutable LVT popularity is also starting to move more toward the south while the northern states still are the strong areas for groutable products.
NAFCD: Was there some advice given to you when you first got into this business that has stuck with you throughout your career?
JW: Listen to and respect your customers as well as your suppliers. Never stop learning. Never stop improving. Never stop innovating.
NAFCD: What is the favorite part of your job?
JW: I love the product design development process. I spent quite a bit of my time looking at new design trends, and trying to figure out how to bring them to our LVT. I also enjoy traveling internationally, meeting and spending time with customers from different countries and different regions.
NAFCD: What part of your job do you still find challenging or most difficult?
JW: Recruiting the right and talented people who share our vision and join us in our journey. It is the people that makes the company.
NAFCD: How has the NAFCD been of value to you personally and to your company?
JW: We initially met some of our current distributors at the NAFCD convention. The NAFCD offers us an avenue to support our distribution partners and their efforts to grow in this ever changing industry.