Cork core offers differentiated bells and whistles
March 14/21, 2016; Volume 30, Number 19
By Steven Feldman
Porto, Portugal—In a world that has become flooded with different variations of waterproof flooring products, retailers are finding it difficult to find discernible differences between the new products and names in which manufacturers are branding them. The one commonality: to grab their share of a market pioneered a few years ago by USFloors with its CoreTec franchise.
At the end of the day, the core of the category surrounds, well, the core. And with that, Portuguese cork manufacturer Amorim is the new shooter by virtue of Wicanders HydroCork, a truly differentiated product that debuts at the highest end of the spectrum due to the features and benefits provided by its cork core vs. the more common HDF core.
“This is a much better solution than [what has been branded] WPC,” said Mario Pinho, vice president of sales, Amorim, which markets its products under the Wicanders brand. While HydroCork’s vinyl top layer offers the same realistic looks as other WPCs and the core also creates a waterproof product, that’s where the similarities end, he said. “Our new CorkTech technology is what makes this product the best that money can buy.”
- Sound absorption. HydroCork reduces walking sound up to 53% compared to laminate because of the cork core material, according to independent testing.
- Natural thermal insulation. Cork will insulate hot or cold temperatures from the subfloor.
- Walking comfort. After 45 minutes walking in contact with five different materials, third-party studies state cork has a much higher comfort perception than laminate, linoleum or ceramic.
- Body wellness. Cork is the perfect mix between hard and soft floors, Pinho said, as it reduces tension and fatigue. “It is the perfect balance in rigidity to impulse while walking and in softness to ease the heel impact, relieving strain on feet, joints, legs and back. Cork absorbs heels when walking on top and bounces back so you don’t feel tired when walking on top of it.”
- Impact resistance. Cork is the most shock absorbing flooring. Its elasticity and compressibility allows it to adapt to pressure. If an object is dropped on wood or laminate, a permanent dent or mark is left. Conversely, cork bounces back. “People think of cork as being fragile, yet it is just the opposite,” Pinho said.
“When you put all these elements into the equation, suddenly you have something different,” he said. “It is the combination of these benefits that turns HydroCork into an incomparable flooring solution. Compared to other WPC products, HydroCork is more impact resistant, more silent, more easy on the body and more comfortable to walk on.”
Early returns back this up. While the product launched globally in 2015 and on a small scale late last year in the U.S. through NRF Distributors, HydroCork is already the fastest growing product in history of the company, he said. In the meantime, many more distributors have embraced this product, namely All Tile, Pacific Materials and Cain & Bultman.
Another benefit: With its 6mm thickness, HydroCork’s low telegraphing effect allows it to absorb irregularities of the subfloor, making it an easy solution for renovations. It can also be laid on top of other surfaces and is suitable for subfloor heating systems, Pinho said.
Installation is fast and easy. HydroCork offers a two-step system where the installer simply places the edge of one plank on top of another and presses down. The planks snap into place via a proprietary locking system. Then the edges of the planks can either be tapped with a rubber mallet or rolled with a hand roller to ensure a consistent installation. The planks are also easy to cut. “This lends itself to both professional and DIY installations,” Pinho said.
HydroCork launches with 12 premium wood visuals. Planks measure 5½ x 48 with a 4-sided bevel. The line is backed by a lifetime residential warranty and Greenguard Gold certified.
According to Pinho, HydroCork transforms Amorim from a cork flooring company into a flooring company that uses CorkTech technology as “the key differentiating element to create and enhance our competitive advantage.” As such, Zach Adams has been named director of U.S. operations. Adams comes to Amorim from J+J Industries, where he served as a regional vice president for the past three years.
Conveying the message
The challenge for Adams and Amorim will be spreading the word of cork’s features and benefits beyond its sustainable attributes, which has always been its space. The story must go beyond the fact that cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows in the Mediterranean region of Portugal, the south of Spain, Italy, France, Algeria, Tunisia and the north of Morocco. Every nine years the bark is harvested from the trunk of the tree by hand without ever damaging the tree. The first harvest occurs after 25 years, and then every nine years for approximately 200 years.
“We have the best product in the market,” Pinho said. “Now we have to explain why to the retailers and consumers.” And others. Amorim believes the waterproof technology coupled with its wear resistance makes HydroCork suitable for commercial settings as well. “The idea is for this to compete with any hard surface product in the marketplace.”
Because of this blend of high performance, design and comfort, retailers must position HydroCork as a premium product compared to other WPCs on the market. While most WPCs retail for around $3.99, this product will sell for between $4.49 and $4.99, offering ample opportunity for the dealer to make a good margin. Amorim expects its distributors to place more than 1,000 displays in the U.S. market within a couple of months.
Several tools have been developed to pass this story onto consumers:
- Point of purchase materials. Retailers will receive new CorkTech boards for the Fashion Vignette display explaining the features and benefits of HydroCork. And affixed to the backside of the boards will be samples of laminate, wood and LVT so the consumer can physically experience the benefits of HydroCork. There is also a demonstrate kit (binder) that allows the consumer to compare cork to wood (impact resistance), laminate (sound absorption) and LVT (warmth). Retailers can also be provided with a CorkTech drum for consumers to perform these same tests.
- Merchandising tools. Amorim has developed more up to date and upscale displays. The new HydroCork display, for example, acts as a silent salesperson in explaining why the consumer should pay $0.50 to $1 more for this product.
- Brochures explaining the benefits of CorkTech technology. One includes all the HydroCork designs while another targets architects and designers by showing many of the projects completed worldwide using HydroCork.
- A new website developed specifically to convey CorkTech features and benefits. The website is also built for mobile usage.
- A new app where consumers can find all HydroCork visuals, get technical information or find a local retailer. The app also connects to the website, allowing consumers to request samples.
Rich in tradition
As one of the largest companies in Portugal, the family-owned Amorim has been selling cork products globally for 145 years. Now in its fourth generation of leadership, the company started as producer of wine stoppers, which today still accounts for 60% of the business. It expanded significantly in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Today, there are five business units that collectively operate in more than 100 countries: wine stoppers (4 billion sold annually), raw materials (Amorim doesn’t own the forests from which it sources its cork; this division is responsible for buying the cork and distributing to the other divisions), floor and wall coverings (a $130 million business), composite cork and insulation cork. Sales in 2015 reached nearly $745 million.
Amorim Flooring North America is based in Baltimore with warehouses in both Baltimore and California. The company sells to retailers through a national network of 13 or 14 distributors, most of which are among the top 25 flooring wholesalers.