The good news certainly was not limited to the delightful weather in South Florida at the recent 2014 Forte Conference.

The decorative plumbing and hardware buying group, which held its annual conference in late February at Trump National Doral outside Miami, reported 2013 was its best year ever. The group reported volume in the Forte channel increased by more than 20%, while same-store sales were up by a comparable percentage.

The 2014 conference attracted more than 150 principals who operate more than 205 showrooms across North America, as well as 61 preferred vendors. Forte welcomed four new preferred vendors. Forte shareholders are headquartered in 37 states and three Canadian provinces.

“Forte does not have more preferred vendors than it did two years ago, but it certainly has better vendors thanks to the diligence and dedication of the many shareholders that constantly provide Forte with ideas and suggestions for new opportunities,” Forte Immediate Past President Jeff Burton (San Francisco-based The Bath & Beyond) wrote in his welcome letter to shareholders.

New Forte President Doug Hermance (Houston-based Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware) echoed Burton’s optimism about the group.

“2013 was a great year for us,” said Hermance in a video interview that can be viewed in the video section of this website. “Our business was up more than 20% in the group. We are really feeling a comeback in the housing business. The consumers are more optimistic and willing to spend money on their homes. I think 2014 also is going to be a very good year. The housing market continues to come back to more of a norm. I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the Houston market and things are red-hot right now. We’re starting to see the builder and spec market come back now after lacking the last four or five years.”

Forte First Vice President Howie Frankel (New York City-based Central Plumbing Specialties/Grande Showrooms) noted this year’s peer-to-peer business network roundtable sessions in Doral were especially helpful.

“We spent the morning in roundtable discussions with other like wholesalers and showrooms across the country, but not in our geographic area,” Frankel said. “Even though we are in the same business, we all go to market slightly differently. We come away with great ideas and thoughts that we can take back to New York with us. It’s very interesting to see the different ideas and the different thought processes and the different ways we all are doing the same thing.”

Forte’s Board of Directors for the 2014-2015 terms include Hermance (president), Frankel (first vice president), Paul Ardente (second vice president; Ardente Supply/Waterspot, Providence, R.I.), Sam Marano (secretary; Bird Decorative Hardware & Bath, Charleston, S.C.) and Larry Klein (treasurer; Willis Klein Showrooms, Louisville, Ky.). 

Directors include Alan Brown (Russell Hardware Co., Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), Brad McDonald (Pacific Plumbing Supply/Abbrio, Seattle, Wash.) and Matt Goren (Hardware Designs, Fairfield, N.J.).

The 2015 Forte Conference will be held Feb. 18-21 at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, Calif.