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Armstrong readies itself for 2012

by Melissa McGuire

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong has come into 2012 loaded with significant introductions in its laminate and hardwood portfolios along with a focus on its 2011 Altera Reserve intros that are just now gaining traction in the marketplace.

With luxury vinyl tile all the rage these days, Armstrong believes Alterna and its step-up Alterna Reserve offer the best visuals on the market. As such, the company is positioning these collections not versus competing LVT but rather the real thing—the stones they emulate, according to Allen Cubell, vice president of residential resilient products.

Milton Goodwin, left, VP of hardwood and laminate, and Chuck Wilson, product manager, believe Performance Plus can address any issue an end user may have about wood.

“We initially positioned Alterna as an alternative to ceramic and tile,” he said. “Now that it has grown by leaps and bounds, it seems we can compete against the mid- to high-end ceramic and stone.” Cubell pointed out Alterna offers customers a number of attributes that are superior to ceramic or stone, including warmth, softness, better stain resistance and easier installation. But the biggest selling point remains the aesthetics, which mimic quartz, travertine and slate.

Alterna Reserve offers more dramatic color variation similar to natural slate. “The best thing we do is control the patterns and variation,” Cubell said. “It’s awful to open a box of stone tile and the variation is so extreme it doesn’t even look like the product the customer chose.” The 32 designs in Alterna Reserve carry an approximate 10% upcharge from Alterna and double the number of visuals in each box.

One last advantage versus natural stone: Alterna and Alterna Reserve are installed much more cost effectively in a fraction of the time. In addition, they can be grouted.

Hardwood

The hardwood story for 2012 can be summed up in three words comprising two collections: Handscraped, Performance Plus.

“Our Handscraped business is off the charts,” said Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. “The collection is produced in our factory in China, solely owned by us, which is unique in and of itself. That ensures customers are receiving a true Armstrong product.”

After launching 32 engineered and 11 solid products, Armstrong now offers more than 200 SKUs in the handscraped category, more than any other manufacturer.

To illustrate Armstrong’s growth in the overall handscraped segment, Goodwin noted while the hardwood market is expected to be up 5% this year, he projects Armstrong’s Handscraped business to be up more than 25%. “I think we finally got the recipe right.”

That recipe begins with design. “Then it goes to the breadth of product offering. And we hit the right price point.” Combine that with arguably the two best wood brands in the industry, Bruce and Armstrong, and you have the formula for success. “The market was waiting for us to get it right.” The latest designs were developed, in part, by Armstrong distributors and customers.

After launching 32 engineered products and 11 solids, Armstrong’s total handscraped SKUs surpass 200, the largest number in the category. Domestic species are dominant and include hickory, birch, walnut and white oak. “But we do have a sliced-face acacia which comes from the Pacific Rim,” said Chuck Wilson, product manager, hardwood. Retail price points range from $2.99 to $4.99, product only, depending on brand and product.

Performance Plus is Armstrong’s newest hardwood collection that is designed to address any negative about wood. It has been enhanced through acrylic infusion, then coated with aluminum oxide for increased performance.

“We kept adding features that addressed scratch, durability, installation, price and visual,” Goodwin said. “The SuperShield nano topcoat protects the visual against scratches, scuffs and wear, and it holds up under any type of traffic at an affordable price. I will go on record as saying this is the world’s most durable hardwood floor.”

The top-performing wood is positioned as an alternative to exotics, which Goodwin believes is off 80%. With a similar or equal Janka rating to any exotic, including tigerwood, Performance Plus is an improvement over Armstrong’s Premier Performance, which will eventually be phased out. “And we even lowered the price,” he said. “We made it better looking and gave end users a lifetime residential warranty and 10-year commercial warranty.”

Performance Plus is comprised of 30 SKUs, but a dealer can pick the 20 he believes will be the strongest sellers in his market. All products are 3⁄8-inch engineered, 5-inch-wide, random-length planks made in Somerset, Ky. Installation options include glue, staple or float via LockNFold, which was not available on Premier Performance.

Performance Plus is rolling out this spring. “We have about 20 major retailers across the U.S. stocking this product,” Goodwin said. “It is very positive seeing them spend money again. Prior to this offering, they were reluctant to sell a $5 engineered product. The value proposition appears to be in all species other than oak.”

Laminate

While many were predicting the laminate category’s demise as recently as last year or at the very least conceding the segment to home centers and price clubs, Armstrong experienced a resurgence in 2011 due to some inroads with some very large, independent retail customers combined with an improving commercial business. As such, Armstrong is rolling out its first new laminate products since 2010.

Samples of the eight new SKUs in both the Classics and Origins collections will be available in June. The products mostly focus on the 12mm, higher-end, category with a few 7mm and lower-end products available. “Among the species we’re introducing are two acacia patterns that ride the coattails of the new hardwood offerings,” said Beth Minnich, product manager of laminate. “We also have a reclaimed, American chestnut look that comes in a light handscraped, 61⁄2-inch-wide plank. The products will be sold in random lengths in one box with two colors and a micro bevel.

In other news…

Merchandising: Last year, Armstrong introduced its first new resilient display in almost 15 years, which coincided with a reinvention of its resilient program, focusing more on fiberglass. However, the 14-foot footprint was challenging for some dealers, and some felt organizing the products by design rather than construction was confusing as CushionStep glass, Duality and StrataMax were all mixed together.

Now a smaller version is slotted to be in stores in late April, which will alleviate the space issue, and the products are organized by construction. Minnich explained the smaller displays can be placed against a wall or in the middle of a showroom to be used as an island. “This flexibility is beneficial for smaller stores.”

E-learning: Armstrong has created e-learning modules for its Luxe, Performance Plus and Alterna products that include four online videos ranging in length from seven to 10 minutes. A quiz is offered at the end of the third video and the fourth includes a survey.

To encourage retailers to take the test, a promotion has been launched that offers prizes to participants who watch all four videos and complete the quiz. For more information on the promotion and e-learning, visit www.armstrongelearning.com.