Innovations sustain category
By Ken Ryan
Oct. 21/28 2013; Volume 27/number 13
Despite several down years, laminate flooring is far from a dormant, forgotten category. All it needs, according to distributors, is a few good products active on the market.
The idea of popular laminate is not as far-fetched as it seemed not too long ago. “Laminate is not dead at all,” said Buddy Faircloth, president of Cain & Bultman, Jacksonville, Fla. “If you have the right product, people are going to buy it. Ask Armstrong if you want proof of that.”
Faircloth spoke highly of Armstrong’s recent introduction of Architectural Remnants, a 12-mil laminate that features striking wood designs inspired by reclaimed hardwood floors. With its unique whitewash finish, the product is taking off in coastal Florida. “It really sells here. It has generated a lot of excitement,” he said. “There is nothing out there quite like it. It’s an important product that has hit our marketplace at the right time.”
Architectural Remnants was introduced in June 2013 and samples arrived a month later. The product has been Cain & Bultman’s best-selling laminate in years.
Other distributors have also observed an increase in laminate business, particularly with 12-mil products that compete at the mid- to high end. These offerings give independent dealers a differentiated product assortment that some believe “re-engaged” the consumer, or at least offers them an option aside form hardwood and LVT.
In general, distributors have reduced the percentage of their laminate product selection in recent years, usually by no more than 1% to 2%; in some years they made no reduction at all. The adjustments in inventory are due to the success of other categories, principally resilient, but they do not indicate a desire to throw in the towel on laminate.
Many say laminate has the potential to be most successful at the high end, where some impressive looks are being brought to market by the likes of Armstrong and Mannington. “Mannington distributors have had some success in the builder market by trading people from an entry-level standard oak hardwood to a really great laminate visual,” said Jeff Jaeckle, president of Jaeckle Distributors. “Basically, you can have the oak for $2.99, or you can have this beautiful Wisconsin Walnut handscraped laminate visual for the same price or less.” This idea sparks consumers’ interest, which helps the buying process. “Selling highly styled laminate visuals against basic, no-frills, entry-level wood can be successful in generating growth in laminate.”
Jaeckle suggested his laminate business probably could have stayed flat or even gone up just slightly in the past two years, but instead he focused on higher- performing products. “I think laminate is still a relevant category and we are now focused on at least maintaining our share—it has been growing slightly the last few months. I don’t ever see it getting back to the share of business that it once was, but I do think there is a market for mid- to high-end laminate from a distributor’s perspective. Laminate will never have the market share it once did, but it’s still a big enough chunk to pay attention to, and I think it will be that way for the foreseeable future.”
Laminate sales have caught the attention of David Rowe, executive vice president of Denver Hardwood. While the company is not a big player in the laminate arena with less than 10% of its business devoted to the segment, Rowe admits to being surprised by laminate sales. “A lot of it is in enhanced looks in style and design,” he said. “The product looks more like wood, there is better embossed in registering going on and hand scraping as well as longer lengths have helped. Laminate has come a long way.”
For Herregan Distributors, laminate remains an integral part of its business, with the largest growth occurring in the mid- to high-end, according to Craig Folven, vice president of sales and marketing of the Paramount Division. “Laminate still adds tremendous value for the price,” he said, “and innovations in style and performance have helped give the category a resurgence.”