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Wood: Technology helps drive category to recovery

David Shaoulpour of Horizon with Laurel, one of the new lines constructed with FSC-certified wood.

By Matthew Spieler

Volume 26/Number 20; February 18/25, 2013

(Second of two parts)

Las Vegas—As illustrated in Part I of this feature (FCNews, Feb. 4/11), wood manufacturers are using technology to help the category recover from the housing collapse. This technology is allowing new ways of presenting classic species by merchandising exotic looks without the matching price tag. Following is more of what attendees witnessed last month on the Surfaces show floor.

Horizon

While its booth was made from reclaimed materials from old railroads and hotels in Idaho and Utah, respectively, David Shaoulpour, executive vice president, said the company came to Surfaces with a number of new offerings that continue the look. “We wanted to do something different for the booth but our product focus is on all the new lines. The reclaimed look using FSC-certified European oak is strong for us.” Among the featured products were Laurel, Baroque and Portofino, each offering 6-foot boards, and Marcel, with boards measuring 7-feet long x 10-inches wide.

Shaoulpour noted Horizon’s vertically integrated production systems “allow us to manage the entire process from raw material to finished packaged cartons,” which is why the company is able to make products that are both long and wide without compromising integrity. He noted the product that created the most buzz was Alaconte, Horizon’s first line produced in the U.S., available in both solid and engineered.

IndusParquet

The Brazilian company is focusing on more mid-priced offerings this year, according to Jason Strong, vice president of sales and marketing. However, he said the manufacturer did not sacrifice the type of styling and innovation for which it has gained its reputation.

Strong pointed to a new species, Pau Ferro, as a prime example. Besides being 1½ times harder than oak, “We have been able to achieve a floor that captures both the beauty of nature and your imagination.” According to Strong, the Brazilian species is often referred to as a leopardtree due to its distinctive and unique grain pattern. “Animal print has seen a resurgence in popularity over the past few years and this species reflects that look.” Adding to its uniqueness is the packaging of the 6¼-inch-wide planks, which come in random lengths ranging from approximately 1 to 8 feet.

IndusParquet also showcased its Sculptured Wall Treatments line. Available in 11-inch preassembled tiles with an option of 1¾-, 25⁄8- and 2¾-inch square patterns, the 100% recycled, hand-carved wood tiles “add an element of drama and dimension to any space,” Strong said. Made from species including Brazilian oak, Brazilian pecan, ebony angelim and tauari, he noted the product can be easily installed in a wide range of settings—mirroring installation process of traditional ceramic and glass tile.

Johnson

This company has been concentrating on performance—durable finishes in particular—without compromising the look of the wood species.

Verionica Ventimiglia, marketing manager, noted finishing was a key focus for Johnson this year, pointing to the ForeverTuff series, utilizing a 17-step aluminum oxide finish combined with the mill’s RC 17 Finish Technology. “Having a harder species is not necessarily better. It’s the resistance that counts. ForeverTuff won’t chip when you cut it and you can run a nickel across it and it won’t scratch.” It is available in 10 species—five exotics and five domestics.

English Pub was another line making waves for Johnson. “It not only has a great vintage look, it features random length planks going up to 7-feet, which not only makes a room look longer, but you do not need as many planks,” Ventimiglia said.

Max Windsor

Peter Spirer, director of sales and marketing, said the new Magique Monumental Planks line embodies “the magic of Max Windsor, from both aesthetics and durability.” He explained the European white oak planks are packaged in random widths of 3½, 6 and 9½ inches, and “bolstered by a majestic length of 7 feet. This combination helps enlarge the expanse of a room by stretching and widening it.”

In terms of performance, Spirer noted Ma-gique’s 7-ply engineered construction prevents it from buckling, crowning or cupping, and its dimensional stability prevents expansion and shrinking “even with swings in temperature and humidity.” The line also features DuraMax, which “has the look and touch of hand rubbed oil yet requires no special maintenance with at least 20 times the abrasion resistance.”

Mercier

According to Michel Collin, director of marketing, the Canadian mill came to Surfaces with seven new series totaling nearly three dozen products in its Nature collection. However, the company’s Design+ Program garnered the most attention. Available in five species—red oak, white oak, maple, yellow birch and white ash—the line was designed to “keep things simple,” he explained. “The consumer picks the species, color, construction—including gloss, width and texture—and gets a one-of-a-kind floor that reflects the consumer’s personality. There are more than 2,000 possible combinations from which to choose, allowing customers to create custom floors without the custom price tag.”

Whether it’s the Design +, its Nature or Exotic collections, Collin said, “We’re trying to have as much range of product as possible to cover all types of tastes for the different areas of the U.S. and Canada.” All products feature Mercier’s Generations finish, he added. Made from 100% soybean oil, Collin said the latest edition of Generations is 25% more durable than previous versions. Though tougher, the finish still has the “clearest look in the in-dustry, making the wood look more like furniture than flooring.”

Mullican

Steve Marley, right, demonstrates Johnson’s finishing technology on ForeverTuff to George Johnson of G3 Carpet Service in Virginia.

Having recently relocated its engineered manufacturing back to the company’s Johnson City, Tenn., headquarters, Mullican introduced the Made in the U.S.A. Lincolnshire line. Of-fered in three species—hickory, maple and oak—and nine SKUs, Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing, said the collection is hand-sculpted and coated with the mill’s Alpha A’lumina Real World finish.

Nature

Acacia, available in both handscraped and smooth, is part of Nature’s World of Exotic Woods, which places the exotic species on top of a durable HDF core. “It gives the exotic look she de-sires but at a much more value-oriented price,” said Wayne Hultgren, national sales manager.

For more traditional looks, Nature offers a complete selection in hickory and birch, with both coming in 7-inch widths and available in handscraped and smooth finishes. Also available is French Oak, which comes in five colors and two widths.

Olde Wood

The Best of Surfaces winner in the Small Booth category showed attendees why it is a leader in reclaimed wood. “All our products have stories to tell because they are true reclaimed wood at over 100 years old, with some dating back as much as 400 years,” explained Thomas Sancic, owner and founder.

All of Olde Wood’s products are sourced from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, he said. “The woods from the northern Appalachian range are some of the finest available,” he noted, “mainly due to the winters,” which makes them denser and stronger.

And even though its products are reclaimed from centuries-old sour-ces and provide special looks and properties, they are not priced like other reclaimed suppliers. “Our products are affordable,” Sancic said, “starting in the high $6 range. We don’t need to be millionaires; we’d rather bring these unique floors to market for as many people as possible to enjoy.”

At Surfaces, the company rolled out the Character-Grade Hardwood line for the “hardwood purist,” he said. The line is defined by its retained natural appearance, highlighted by medium knots, random mineral streaks, growth marks, color ranges and “amazing patterns. And, it is made from a mix of heart- and sapwood, meaning the line offers the same level of durability, strength and stability as other fine wood floors.”

Preverco

The company came to market with seven new products to display but Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing, said this year is about facilitating the shopping experience. “We’ve eliminated the technical jargon from our literature, and instead are speaking a language consumers better understand.”

Instead of having grades of wood, the company now classifies products as Expression, Distinction and Inspiration. In old jargon this would be good/better/ best, respectively. Further-more, products are now sorted along four design themes consumers can understand—classic, contemporary, country and eclectic. Preverco even changed how its products are displayed. “We are now stocking by color—from light to dark—not collection,” Chabot explained. “Now the display looks uniform and not like a pizza pie.”

Provenza

With each collection taking over a year to develop, Ron Sardri, vice president of sales and marketing, said the end result “reveals our commitment to the design and development of unique wood flooring.” Utilizing a patented technology to “naturally enhance the quality of the wood,” Provenza creates “timeless hardwood masterpieces that are truly ‘art for your floor.’”

An example is the company’s Premier collections, which this year features five new lines—Epic, Heirloom, Museum, New York Loft and Pompeii. In the Museum line, Sadri said the company uses metal powder in the grain to emphasize the product’s visual.

Mercier’s Michel Collin showed retailers the many reasons they should carry the company’s wood products.

Then there are the products that take over a 100 years to create, such as those in Provenza’s Patina Treasure collection. “We use real reclaimed wood,” he explained. “Wood that comes from buildings that may have outlived their usefulness but is ready to serve for another 100 years. These floors have an ageless look like no other.”

For those who want to use wood in more demanding situations, such as commercial settings, and for those who want more color in their wood, there is the Infusion collection. It utilizes an exclusive impregnation process that infuses acrylic with organic color pigments into various wood species. This creates a “color that is brilliant,” Sadri said, “and intensifies the natural grain pattern in the wood for a dramatic effect.”

Trillium

Whether it’s an engineered, solid, strand woven, traditional or exotic product, the Canadian mill offers something for everyone, noted Jeffrey Feller, U.S. sales manager.

William Friend, vice president and co-owner, pointed to the new Picasso Artwood collection as an example of the company’s capabilities. Picasso is made with proprietary technology, he explained, that creates unique grain designs and color tones “unlike any traditional or exotic species. No two boards are alike, giving each floor its own unique character.” And, as with Trillium’s other floors, Picasso is finished with the mill’s nine-coat DurAlOx Everlast system. Formulated by a Swiss-German supply partner and certified by the ECO-Institute of Germany, DurAlOx is a UV-cured polyurethane and aluminum oxide system that provides exceptional scratch resistance and long-term durability. “It is specially formulated to provide a spectacular low-glare shine to allow the natural beauty, color and grain of the wood to shine through.”

UrbanFloor

Two new wood collections showcased at Surfaces give retailers a broader range of options. The Composer collection is named after some of the world’s greatest composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Hand-blasted and featuring random butterfly plugs, the line is based on the popular reclaimed look. Boards are 11½ inches wide and roughly 7 feet in length. The hand-blasted surface treatment features a mix of filled and unfilled knots, natural splits, checks and mineral streaks. “They have the feel of being much older than they are—and more expensive, which they are not,” said Terry Ackerman, director of marketing.

The new Presidential Signature collection also represents a new direction for Urban, he explained. “We’ve always been an engineered wood company, but with this collection we now have ¾-inch solids.” Available in three species—oak, maple and hickory—the 5-inch-wide planks come in handscraped and smooth surface textures and feature a urethane with aluminum oxide finish.

WE Cork

Cork flooring has been around for generations but still carries the stigma of looking like a bulletin board or wine stopper—until now, noted Ann Wicander, president. “With high resolution, direct digital printing, we can now create stone and wood visuals that will allow us to take cork into the mainstream without sacrificing any of cork’s environmentally friendly properties.”

Kicking off this new direction in cork flooring is the Serenity Collection. It is available in 12-inch-wide, 48-inch-long planks and 18 x 24 tile visuals, but “we can do any type of design—wood, marble, slate, you name it,” she explained. Serenity’s cork surface is actually on an HDF and a cork underlayment, allowing the floor to utilize the Unilin locking system. In addition, WE Cork uses a patented hot coating process on the surface to give it a durable AC5 rating and make it fade resistant.

“It is flexible and incredibly durable,” Wicander said, “and can be used in residential and commercial settings.” Part of Serenity’s durability comes from how the cork is compacted down to be 20% more dense than traditional floors. “Seren-ity hits on all the selling points including looks, performance and affordability.”

Wellmade

The Old Growth Series takes bamboo flooring to a new level with the use of Wellmade’s Clear-Tec HD Bamboo Imaging technology, noted Steve Wag-ner, director of sales and marketing. Clear-Tec prints directly onto a three-ply horizontal bamboo core that sounds and performs like hardwood but outperforms other species.

“From heart pine and wormy chestnut to American walnut and old growth cherry, we are now able to print reclaimed, old growth character grades directly on bamboo,” he explained. “Some of these are woods you can only get reclaimed, and then it can be extremely expensive.” Add in 5-inch-wide, and micro-beveled edges and you get a product that has “an authentic visual but with the performance of bamboo. That’s because we are directly printing on the bamboo, not a paper veneer.” Adding to the product’s performance attributes is Wellmade’s HardMax, a 17-coat aluminum oxide finish that gives the line a commercial rating.

(Editor’s note: One of the busier booths at Surfaces was US Floors, which came to market with a number of new, innovative cork and bamboo products. FCNews provided in-depth coverage of these in its Jan. 7/14 issue.)