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Rigid core, WPC products force distributors to play name game

January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15

By Lindsay Baillie

 

The success of the resilient category in 2017 is widely attributed to LVT and its sister products WPC and rigid core. While LVT continues to make a hefty splash in the ever-expanding ocean of resilient products, WPC and rigid core are starting to take center stage, capturing the interest of manufacturers, distributors and retailers alike.

As the WPC and rigid core categories continue to grow, manufacturers are developing new names and abbreviations to describe their products. Prior to the Multilayer Flooring Association’s (MFA) finalization of names for these categories—WPC and SPC—distributors have had to navigate through the alphabet soup bowl of terms such as WPC, rigid core, HPC, HDC, etc., to their customers.

“With the MFA board recently defining two categories to describe these rigid products, we can better help our customers wade through the sea of these products,” said Pat Theis, vice president sales and marketing of Eagan, Minn.-based Herregan Distributors. “Our products fall into these two categories and have an associated performance story with each one. We explain to our customers why they fall into either category and what that means to the consumer. We view HDC and HPC as more marketing than anything else because they could be WPC, SPC or LVT for that matter.”

For many distributors educating themselves and their customers is key to staying on top of the two categories. “The confusion in the ‘waterproof’ category is really self-inflicted,” said Jodie Doyle, vice president, product management, Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Gilford-Johnson Flooring. “We have an obligation to our retail customers to explain our products and what unique advantages they bring to the market and the dealer’s showroom floor. One is not necessarily better than another. It’s a matter of determining the consumer’s specific needs and matching that with a product we offer, whether it’s WPC, SPC, HDC, etc.”

It is also important for distributors to focus on buzzwords such as “rigid,” which are being used by dealers. “You can assign other names, but in order to register with the dealer base it is imperative they recognize our offerings are rigid core products,” noted Rob Purkins, senior vice president, Midwest sales, Gilford-Johnson Flooring.

These WPC and rigid core products—regardless of what they’re being called—are continuing to bring great success to distributors. In fact, many are noticing the categories are taking share from different types of flooring. “WPC and rigid have not only [chipped away at] our laminate business, but it’s eating away at our base-grade hardwood,” said Scott Carson, director of products and marketing for Houston-based T&L Distributing.

Herregan is also seeing WPC and rigid core take share from other segments, namely its hardwood and tile business. “Not only is WPC/rigid becoming a much larger part of our business as a category, but it is also making floating [flooring] a much larger segment of our business vs. glue down,” Theis said.

Demand for these products continues to increase and is expected to progress through 2018, according to many distributors. With this in mind, it is important for wholesalers to partner with the right suppliers—those that are on the cutting edge of technology and design.

“The key for product managers on the distribution level is to find the looks and features that will differentiate our products from the rest,” Doyle explained. “At the end of the day—assuming you have several products that perform well—the products that will take the most share are the ones with unique colors, patterns and designs. You need to have the commodity products, but we will make the biggest difference for our retailers with our ability to give them something new and different, which leads to greater profit opportunities for them.”

At the retail level, distributors suggest dealers take time to choose the best brands. “As the technology evolves it will be very important for retailers to align themselves with reputable brands that can deliver the fashion, performance and service they need to be successful,” Theis stated.

For others, the key is to remain relevant in the sea of “me-too” products. Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of Romeoville, Ill.-based FlorStar Sales, sees continued growth for WPC and rigid. However, he does see it eventually peaking. “As more and more entrants arrive in the market, it is all but inevitable that the bulk of the volume will be commoditized. Service and the ethics behind—and reliability of—one’s supply chain will remain as differentiators, but the ever-growing saturation ultimately will result in a shakeout.”