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Quality control: Key advantage to local mill production

Volume 26/Number 25; April 29/May 6, 2013

By Matthew Spieler

With production in Barnwell, S.C., Kronotex is able to check for quality control, something extremely important for producing goods under the Formica brand.

Dalton—Mohawk is hitting the road this year and taking its SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona with it. The mill will continue to prove SmartStrand’s performance attributes in the coast-to-coast “License to Spill” carpet showdown tour in partnership with the nationally syndicated lifestyle television show, “The Better Show.”

The tour, which will make at least 12 stops, will showcase the cleanability and performance of SmartStrand at festivals and home show events. Attendees are invited to spill everything from ketchup and Kool-Aid to wine and coffee on SmartStrand carpet to see if it will clean with just water or mild detergent. Mohawk will promote its local Floorscapes and ColorCenter members at each tour stop and encourage consumers to visit their nearest aligned retailers to take advantage of promotional offers.

HGTV celebrity designers Taniya Nayak and Chip Wade will make guest appearances at a number of tour stops. Each event will also feature either J.D. Roberto or Audra Lowe, the two hosts from “The Better Show,” and highlights of each tour stop will be shown nationally to over a million viewers on the TV program.

The campaign is also being actively supported through social media integration, including a variety of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Vine. Mohawk’s social media initiatives are designed to both increase consumer brand awareness and drive aligned retail store traffic. For example, the mill’s Pinterest page is incorporating images of local retailers who are participating in their own License to Spill challenges. These images link back to retailer websites and are shared on Mohawk’s Facebook page, which provides exposure to more than 33,000 fans.

In addition, bloggers throughout the country are also participating in the Li-cense to Spill challenge and sharing the SmartStrand experience with their consumer audiences. These initiatives have been quite successful over the initial events with an average of over 2.5 million social media impressions per stop.

To complement the tour, Mohawk has created a License to Spill kit so Floorscapes and ColorCenter retailers can take advantage of events in their local communities and host their own showdowns. Participating dealers will be given a License to Spill point-of-purchase kit containing everything they need to engage consumers, drive traffic to their stores, and, ultimately, help boost sales.

To obtain a License to Spill event kit, visit mohawktoday.com. For more information on the License to Spill road show, log on to mohawkflooring.com/tour.

“If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”

When it comes to making flooring, manufacturers will tell you this is one of the most important factors to ensure consistent product quality and service. Therefore, many companies either continue to manufacture their products where they sell them (i.e., in the U.S.), or have brought back much, if not all, of their foreign production. The idea is to maintain better control over the entire process and give customers and end users superior products and service.

“Our experience certainly tells me it’s critical for our company to have that control,” said Paul Stringer, vice president sales and marketing at Somerset Hardwood. “Even though we had staff on the ground checking quality when we did import, we still received containers with issues.” And, when it happens more than once, “then your supply is disrupted so both quality and service are greatly affected. It made my day when Somerset made the decision to have all our products labeled ‘Made in America.’”

Availability, quality control and quick supply are three key advantages to selling domestically manufactured tile to the domestic market, noted Lori Kirk-Rolley, Dal-Tile’s senior marketing director. “Consumers seek the best products at the best price. New technological developments also continue to help the domestic tile market. Overall, the industry—especially Dal-Tile—has in-creased its use of sophisticated digital printing technologies thus expanding the spectrum of colors and realistic graphics that can be achieved.”

Piet Dossche, president of USFloors, said, “There is no question, the closer you can keep an eye on the manufacturing process, the better you are. Quality control efforts in China and other countries have become much more sophisticated and professional over the last five years but, nevertheless, there is a lot to be said about having the ability to walk into the plant at any time of the day and check it out for yourself. This was one of the reasons we started manufacturing in Dalton—to have a tighter control on the more delicate constructions and colors.”

Having local production like Mannington does means products can get checked for quality at every stage of the process before reaching customers.

Founder and president of MP Global Products, Al Collison, agreed with Dossche. “With manufacturing close at hand, as it is with all our fiber underlayments, we are able to actively oversee production and maintain consistent product quality. I can walk around my factory, watching production, and know my people are checking quality all through the day. If manufacturing overseas, management wouldn’t necessarily know the quality of what’s sent here until the container is opened upon arrival, and that could be too late.”

For James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman at Engineered Floors, the biggest advantage are the “service benefits that come with making carpet products in the U.S. The lead times from Asia is 14 weeks, with little ability to adjust to changes in demand due to having to line up U.S. cargo ships, etc. Servicing the residential business out of Asia on a long-term basis is difficult.”

Lead time is also an issue with LVT, noted Jack Ganley, president of Mannington Commercial. “The commercial business is largely project-driven, which can make it challenging to service from inventory—so being able to produce and ship goods quickly is a benefit. For example, LVT produced offshore typically has a 13 to 16 week lead time; by manufacturing it in our Georgia plants, we can turn it in five to seven days.”

On the laminate side, Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing for Mohawk’s Unilin division, which makes the Mohawk, Quick•Step and Columbia brands, said, “Because the influx of Chinese imports is the No. 1 issue facing the U.S. laminate market today, it is very important for domestic suppliers to adequately educate their distributors and retailers on the tangible reality that domestically produced laminate is of a higher quality. Plus, the overall price/value attributes are stronger, service levels are better, and Made In The USA is currently a very important consideration to consumers.”

He added import products are much weaker on these points and “often times it is hard to identify the actual manufacturer, so distributors/retailers end up having to pay customer claims out of their own pockets.”

On the wood side, Unilin produces under the Mohawk, Columbia and Century brands and Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood, said the company is “committed to the domestic production of hardwood products. Recent investments in our domestic facilities have allowed us to bring back to the U.S. production of specific textures that were previously imported. We are now producing more hardwood domestically than ever before.”

Local manufacturing is generally cost advantageous, noted Armstrong’s Milton Goodwin, vice president of wood and laminate products. “Optimizing local materials, understanding local taste, having significantly shortened supply chains, and reduced inventory requirements for us and our customers are additional advantages of local production.”

This can be especially true with products such as LVT, added Allen Cubell, Armstrong’s vice president of residential sales and marketing. “The visual for most LVT manufactured in Asia is sourced from less than a handful of vendors. That’s why so much of the product looks the same. Here in the U.S., Armstrong controls 100% of the process—from design to manufacturing—ensuring we can consistently deliver superior-looking products to consumers.”

George Kelley, president and CEO of Kronotex/Formica, noted, “A fully engaged production plant means our employees take ownership to meet and exceed customer expectations. This means consistently delivering on time and on quality.”

Kronotex’ quality manager, Jody Smith, added, “We have complete control over our product and service quality by avoiding outsourcing. It’s not just important for the final product, but equally important for meeting timely and accurate shipment targets for our customers. It’s important for our supply chain and sourcing of high quality raw materials as well as oversight of our continual improvement philosophy.”

Precision milling with quality inspections at every stage of the production process “ensure we exceed expectations and eliminate claims,” explained Wendy Wescoat, HomerWood’s sales and marketing manager. “Close to zero claim rate means more profitable sales and happy customers.”

Randy Merritt, president of Shaw Industries, concluded, “From creative, sustainable innovation, to sourcing and design, manufacturing and logistics, each step is a critical component of delivering high quality product with impeccable service. We believe our process is a reflection of our hard working and passionate associates, and the local communities in which they work and live. Clearly we believe that this entire process is better controlled here in the US than somewhere overseas.”