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Engineering 'sales' away from solid

Textured products, larger planks, locking systems help drive segment

Sept. 16/23 2013; Volume 27/number 11

By Ken Ryan

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Launched in 2013, Mohawk’s Atherton Collection features a scraped and wire-brushed finish designed to give every plank a distinctive, unique look.

The continued enhancement of the engineered hardwood flooring segment continues to take market share away from solid, which comes as no surprise to executives such as Kevin Thompson of Shaw Industries. Thompson points to influential factors such as improved finish performance; the popularity of wider, longer planks, and the inclusion of locking systems for driving the upward shift.

“The consumer preference toward wider planks is benefiting engineered products because they are typically less expensive and more stable than solid,” said Thompson, Shaw’s manager, hardwood category for engineered floors.

Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing, Boa-Franc, marketer of the Mirage brand, added, “Stability in extreme conditions, versatility in the areas it can be installed, the wider widths that areScreen Shot 2013-09-25 at 12.36.16 PM offered—all of these factors make for a broader use of engineered product.”

Engineered wood floors were originally developed primarily for use on the first floors of homes built on concrete slabs or for basements. But as technology has evolved over the last 20 years, engineered hardwood can be used just about anywhere.

Flooring manufacturing executives agree this evolution has created a solution that offers versatility, ease of installation, structural stability and affordability, which add up to a compelling choice for consumers.

Market share gain

Executives say engineered wood is gaining share over solid because the market is gaining an understanding of the superior performance of engineered products.

Dan Natkin, Mannington’s director of wood and laminate, said that with limited raw materials available and a desire for long-term performance, “we see engineered products taking share from solid.”

Lukasz Piatek, vice president of sales at Elegance Exotic, noted his research shows engineered capturing market share virtually every quarter. “What was traditionally a solids market has now evened out as engineered has grown over the past five to seven years,” he said. “I’m on the younger side, but I’m old school, too, and see both sides—engineered and solid. Both have their place. We were once a solid-oriented company. But I know younger people appreciate the green aspect of engineered; and you can buy engineered and still have the discretionary income left over that you wouldn’t get from solid.”

Driving innovations

The trend toward wider and longer natural rustic looks has been the biggest development on the engineered side, according to Natkin, who paid homage to the early pioneers of America “who did not [remove] knots, mineral streaks, etc. They used whatever Mother Nature provided in the natural wood floor,” he said. “A trend back towards these very natural looks has been occurring for the past few years.”

Harry Bogner, senior vice president of Hardwood, Unilin Flooring, a Mohawk Industries company, explained a majority of today’s consumers are seeking “textured” hardwood flooring products for their homes. “Engineered hardwood products featuring textures such as wire-brushed, chattered, hand-sculpted, recovered, weathered, distressed, and time-worn looks, as well as those including hammer dents, nail holes, and splits, are top sellers,” he said. “For the large number of today’s consumers seeking floors that add warmth and personality to a room, textured engineered hardwood products satisfy this design need.”

Advances in installation techniques have also fostered the growth of engineered, executives noted. “The addition of locking systems in order to facilitate installation has made engineered products more accessible to the common consumer versus solids,” Robitaille said.

Bogner added that locking systems have made the installation of hardwood floors quick, easy, and within the skill level of the average homeowner. “Consequently, this not only lowers the cost of professionally installed floors, but substantially opens up the wood market to DIYers. This installation method is reshaping the market by providing beautiful flooring with outstanding performance at a lower total cost for an installed hardwood floor. The search for greater value by today’s consumer and a willingness to install product themselves should continue to drive sales of engineered click hardwood.”

Raw materials

Some executives said both engineered and solid hardwood flooring are struggling to procure raw materials, albeit with engineered slightly less at risk. “A wet spring and summer in the south combined with an improving economy has raw materials inflating significantly and in limited supply,” Natkin said. “Engineered fares a bit better simply because we are able to use more of the raw materials than a solid wood manufacturer can.”

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Consumers’ preference for wider planks is evidenced in this Shaw Industries offering.

Shaw’s Thompson said engineered  “continues to be a greater value as lumber prices have risen more dramatically than veneer prices and there has been a strain on flooring-grade lumber supply.”

Scott Peterson, director of operations for DuChateau Floors, said using engineered construction “saves an average of 70% of wood used, meaning one solid board could be sawn into three or four top layers or pieces.”

However, Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood products at Armstrong World Industries, noted, “The dramatic shortage of lumber and hyper inflation have both resulted in multiple price increases in which all industry members have participated.”

Driving innovation

Armstrong’s new American Scrape collection, which features a 5-inch wide plank floor with a hand-scraped visual, designed to look like vintage floors from decades past, is a prime example of the promise engineered provides.

The American Scrape collection includes two wood species selected for their rustic looks: domestic hickory and oak. “The product is doing fantastic, with a visual that will stand up against all of our competitors,” Goodwin said.

Elegance came out with its Royal Residence Collection, offering colors that complement today’s decor at what Piatek said is a phenomenal price point. “The line is made out of ash hardwood with single boards up to 6-inches in length and 7½-inch wide, featuring handscraped, wire brushed finishes and a 3mm wear layer. We

brought that in at a price point the market hadn’t seen yet, and it has really taken off.”

Bogner added that Mohawk and Columbia glueless engineered hardwood sales performed better than competitor brands last year, due in large part to its Uniclic Click and Press glueless installation locking system. “For Mohawk and Columbia, as well as for the overall hardwood category,” he said, “the inclusion of locking systems in engineered hardwood flooring products has had the positive effects of lowering installation costs and expanding the market.”