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Wood: Product quality hinges on sourcing, manufacturing capabilities, attention to detail

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13         

By Reginald Tucker

 

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-27-41-amIn the world of football, you’ll find the top teams consistently execute in all three facets of the game—offense, defense and special teams. Things are not all that different when it comes to the hardwood flooring industry, where a continual emphasis on the fundamentals—sourcing, manufacturing capabilities and quality controls, to name a few—usually produces optimal results.

This is particularly critical when it comes to natural materials such as hardwood, where the determining factor as it relates to product quality often begins at the source—the forest. This tenet generally holds true for suppliers across the board, regardless of the region where the logs are harvested.

“The majority of our manufacturing is in the United States, but we also have a large presence in Europe,” said Gary Lanser, president of Mohawk’s wood and laminate business. “Obviously there are many advantages to our customers and ourselves in purchasing and supplying domestically produced products. Clearly there’s the speed of supply and excellent service.”

Mohawk believes the Made in the USA label means more today than it ever has with all the press on the various environmental issues out there. To that end, the company has people in place to ensure all facets of its hardwood flooring production—including everything from finishes to adhesives—are in compliance. “You’re not going to have that kind of control outside of the U.S.,” said David Holt, senior vice president. “When you’re dependent upon someone else to control your manufacturing assets, you’re always going to have too much of the ‘bad’ thing and not enough of the ‘good’ thing. That does not equal good service; it amounts to upset customers out in the field. Manufacturing in the U.S. allows us to meet our customers’ needs at the drop of a hat.”

Other major hardwood flooring suppliers share that philosophy, emphasizing the importance of properly sourcing raw materials and complying with environmental regulations. At Shaw Floors, for instance, the aim is to go beyond standards required by law to pursue independent, third-party assessments such as Cradle to Cradle, Greenguard, FloorScore and others. Shaw says it carefully considers the impact of its products on the environment and on society throughout their lifecycle. More importantly, it examines the ingredient materials, the impact of its supply chain, the use of natural resources and the ability to recover and recycle its products.

Shaw manufactures many of its own products and sources from strategic partners in the U.S. and internationally to offer a broad portfolio of products to meet diverse customer preferences. In doing so, the company sets high standards for itself and its suppliers. Shaw takes numerous steps to verify that its products, regardless of where or by whom they are manufactured, meet customers’ high expectations. These steps include: performing manufacturing site inspections to ensure suppliers meet the same high-quality standards the company practices internally; setting raw material specifications that restrict the use of certain chemical substances of concern; and ensuring all products meet the indoor air emissions requirements of California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method V1.1 (2010).

Manufacturers that specialize in supplying hardwood flooring for distributors, i.e., private-label programs, also stress the importance of responsible sourcing. Case in point is American OEM, which relies strictly on stateside forests to build its programs. One of the major benefits, according to Allie Finkell, vice president, is the proximity to the customer and the speed of response time. For instance, American OEM can cut samples within its own manufacturing facility, which cuts a great deal of time out of the process.

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-27-47-am“Having an in-house sample department allows us to make sure the samples are representative of the product,” Finkell said. “The people we have making the samples are only making our samples, so they are familiar with our product. Secondly, it gives us one more look at the finished product. So if the sample department takes a board out of our finished goods inventory, they have a quality control board to compare it to. They are comparing to the standard. If you were doing that remotely, they are not going to know what the product is supposed to look like.”

Another benefit of controlling the supply is being able to develop specific programs for distributors based on their location. While some of American OEM’s non-competing distributors can buy from a collection of similar products, the overall mix might be slightly different—not all of them buy the exact same SKUs. This allows wholesalers to buy smaller quantities at a time, Finkell explained.

However, those companies that do import raw materials as well as finished product believe their products hold up just as well as American-made goods. Nature Flooring, for example, imports many of its hardwood flooring products from Peru. According to Luxia Hong, director of operations, there have not been any issues.

“We own the forests where we harvest the wood, and the trees we cut are only the really old trees,” she explained. “In addition, we follow a strict forest management strategy approved by the Peruvian government. We have the chain of custody and FSC certification. We assure that every process has the proper supply chain certification approved by the FSC.”

That’s a similar approach taken by California-based Alston, which sources its products from China. “What makes us different is that we are a family owned and operated business, with our own manufacturing facilities and mills in China, and our own stocking distribution warehousing facilities here in the United States,” said Alan Chou, president. “This insures that all critical steps—from preparation of the raw materials, to manufacturing, hand selecting, sorting, packaging, shipping and the final distribution of our products—are completely controlled by us. This is why we can ensure the products that people buy are of the best quality available, and the pricing will still be very competitive.”

The key to ensuring quality when sourcing product from overseas, suppliers say, lies in hands-on management. Case in point is Canada-based Divine Flooring. As Sean Stewart, managing partner, explains: “Like many companies we source from China. But what makes our approach different is we actually have our own employees in China. We inspect everything before it ships. Granted, that doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but many of our competitors are not inspecting anything.”

 

Proprietary processes

Beyond sourcing origins, suppliers are also looking to distinguish themselves from the pack by virtue of their approach to finishing. Such is the case with DuChateau, which opts for natural, low-luster oil finishes in lieu of aluminum oxide, polyurethane-based coatings. “We’re very focused on design and aesthetics on the European hard wax oil visual, and that’s all we do at DuChateau,” said Mitch Tagle, president and CEO. “Other companies have jumped on the bandwagon, but what usually happens is the quality isn’t there because we are on the higher end in terms of price point.”

Other companies like HF Design, which specializes in the European Oak look as well, also takes a unique approach to finishing and treating its products. For instance, the company applies a special thermal treatment process to many of its products for added dimensional stability. “By treating our French oak differently than our competition, we have created a product category that is exclusive within the independent retail channel and is, therefore, very profitable and very desirable,” said Alex Shaoulpour, president. “For our retailers it’s a breath of fresh air because they don’t get beat up on margins from big box competition.”