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15th Domotex asia/ChinaFloor: Market shows increasing impact on global flooring market

by Jim Gould

(Editor’s note: Industry veteran Jim Gould graciously provided FCNews with the following report on the 15th Domotex asia/China-Floor [DACF] show held the last week of March.)

I left Domotex asia/China-Floor (DACF) last week with two distinct impressions: One having to do with the evolution of the show and its increasing impact on the industry and the other with the innovation and development of products that impact the U.S. market.

I saw many interesting ideas, some I’m not sure have a viable commercial future, and some will no doubt become the next hottest products on the U.S. or other markets. The reality is that products from this show, and its sister show in Hannover, Germany, drive the floor covering industry in ways many don’t realize.

U.S. distribution veteran, Jeff Hamar, president of Galleher Corp., came away with a similar opinion. “I was impressed by the improving ability of the Chinese market to create compelling wood products. It’s clear American manufacturers are followers and design leadership comes from Europe and Asia. The future of the wood industry depends on innovative distributors, dealers and contractors who will push to find the products customers want from sources around the world.”

Hamar’s point underscores the reason why I keep saying that attending flooring shows is vital for success.

We were not the only foreigners in Shanghai last week, as 27% of the attendees came from outside China. Joe Dupree of Custom Wholesale and Jonathan Train of Swift-Train were just two of the many other American distributors attending. Most of them spent a few days at the show combined with a couple of days visiting factories around the country. Buyers from all the big boxes picked their way through the show hoping to discover unique, new products and vendors. Lumber Liquidators exhibited again with intent to explore market potentials in China and find sources of product for the U.S. market.

I thought it interesting that tiny Belgium brought 33 companies exhibiting under one banner, creating a mini-fair of their own within the mammoth Domotex venue. Belgium was not the only country to do this.

Several members of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) exhibited under the organization’s banner and a partnership with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) gave American wood manufactures access to free exhibition space and other support. Michael Martin, NWFA’s president and CEO, said the value of the show was so significant NWFA will likely double its space in 2014.

NWFA board member Mark Elwell added, “The show is a great incubator for American businesses trying to understand the Asian market and with AHEC’s support it becomes an inexpensive test with immediate feedback from the global community.”

Elwell, along with fellow NWFA board member Jeff Fairbanks, joined speakers from Europe and China to report the status of their respective wood markets in the third annual international Wood Flooring Forum where CEOs of Power Dekor, Nature, Elegant Living and Build Direct discussed the impact of Internet sales and other shared issues. They also took initial steps toward a long-term goal to develop international wood grading standards

Innovative Products

This year’s show emphasized innovation. Domotex created a mini venue within its one million square foot area to showcase 179 companies in one spot, highlighting inventive new offerings. In one hour, I was able to see hundreds of unique products ranging from a core board made of peanut shells to 3D print technology, wood floors containing heat elements within the planks, and several items attempting to overcome laminate’s water weakness. Each product was displayed with an informative description, the manufacturer’s name and booth location.

This is just one example of how the show’s organizers stepped up to improve the experience and value of the show.

Lamett offered an impressive addition to the show. North American president Perry Coker exhibited a wall display of attractive whitewashed boards. He asked me to examine the planks to see if I could find anything unusual about them. It turned out half of them were laminate and half were wood, but standing mere inches from the samples I could not tell the difference. Not only was the embossing perfect, the beveled edge of the laminate was adorned with chatter marks further enhancing the realism and making the planks indistinguishable from real wood.

Many companies are addressing laminate’s core-board susceptibility to water damage. I saw a demonstration of an HDF core where one end was treated with a new water-repellant and the other end was left untreated. Placed in boiling water, the untreated end swelled beyond repair while the treated end remained unaffected.

This innovation is from Peter Russel of Vitec who is licensing the new waterproofing technology through Unilin’s Flooring Industries division, which is a part of Mohawk Industries. (See related story on page 5.)

Others addressing the same issue are replacing the core with a waterproof wood plastic composite (WPC) made of hardwood and bamboo sawdust waste combined with plastic resin. I also saw demonstrations of these products with similar results.

It seems many think laminate still has a future if it can overcome its moisture shortcoming.

Carpet rising

Although carpet represents a mere 10% of China’s flooring market, this year it received a great deal of attention. The American Floorcovering Associ-ation (AFA) had a large space for its participating members, including Mannington, DuPont and Card Monroe, all exhibiting under the AFA banner.

Carpet Tech, a Domotex carpet education program, featured speakers who ad-dressed environmental ad-vancements, market channels and new product trends in the category.

China’s continued growth has brought changes not only in its economy but in the flooring industry. While the U.S. struggled to achieve a 1% growth in 2012, China grew its GDP by 7.5%. China is shifting away from being the low cost manufacturer to become the largest consumer of many goods, including flooring. It is now the second largest consuming nation in the world, creating huge market opportunities within its borders. Its flooring industry is maturing and as Hamar observed, it is becoming a leader in advanced products.

I saw evidence of DACF’s maturity and increased focus on the needs of the global market this year more than ever. The mood at this year’s show was the most upbeat I experienced be-tween the Big Three: Domotex Germany, Surfaces and DACF. More than 42,000 attendees saw over 1,100 exhibitors in 12 large halls totaling more than a million square feet of exhibition space. In 15 years, DACF has become the largest floor covering show in Asia and now vies with its sister show in Germany.

Jim Gould has spent his entire life in the flooring industry. He is currently president of Floor Covering Institute, an independent consultancy he founded in 2007 focused on the floor covering industry and related markets. To contact him, call 314.221.0360.