September 17/24, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 7
By Reginald Tucker
The proliferation of WPC and rigid-core products on the marketplace has had a two-fold effect in the industry: It has generated tremendous excitement for retail sales associates and consumers alike, but it has also resulted in market-share losses of competing categories—namely laminate, observers say.
But that doesn’t mean laminate suppliers are not fighting back. Many are responding to the competitive pressures wrought by WPC by developing performance-enhancing innovations that take direct aim at the main attributes offered by WPC products, specifically resistance to water incursion. At the same time, laminate suppliers are promoting the category’s value proposition relative to WPC-type products.
“The laminate flooring industry is in a good place,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “It continues to enhance its core value proposition—which is a great looking floor that won’t let you down on performance.”
Unfortunately, according to Welbourn, sometimes laminate is overlooked when consumers talk about the hottest trends in the industry today. On the plus side, the improvements manufacturers have made in the way of moisture resistance and durability are still drawing consumer interest while helping them address performance and design challenges.
“Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture,” Welbourn stated. “But now through innovation, this feature has been enhanced.”
Advanced technological innovation is at the heart of recent laminate product launches, such as Mohawk’s RevWood Plus. According to Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, the company created RevWood Plus to deliver the look and feel of authentic hardwood but provide the toughness and durability associated with laminate flooring. “With RevWood Plus, we have taken performance to the next level,” Ward said. “The combination of Hydroseal, GenuEdge bevel technology and the Uniclic glueless system makes a complete waterproof system. The end result is a product that’s much easier for the consumer to maintain.”
Other industry executives tout laminates’ storied durability as a feature that allows the category to compete head to head with WPC. “We have been big believers in water-resistant laminate since we launched our Atroguard line in 2013,” said Barron Frith, president, CFL North America. “Water-resistant laminate is far from new for CFL. The ‘bulletproof’ reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard.”
As Frith sees it, more consumers looking for a floating flooring product are presented with the choice between vinyl products (LVT, WPC or other multi-layer products) and water-resistant laminate. When consumers started shifting toward more waterproof vinyl categories, he said, they did so without really realizing they were accepting a product that fell short in terms of scratch resistance—a plus in the laminate column. “No special coatings currently in the market on vinyl comes near the performance of a laminate in terms of scratch resistance,” he noted.
Amidst the onslaught of WPC-type products, some industry observers believe some laminate flooring suppliers have overcompensated by inflating product claims. “Without a doubt, the single biggest challenge is the ‘waterproof craze’ in our industry, particularly at independent retailers,” said Dan Natkin, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) and vice president of wood and laminates, Mannington. “Most laminate is moisture resistant, and multiple manufacturers are developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”
If looks could kill
While much-improved performance attributes are the primary means many laminate, suppliers are employing to recoup market share seized by WPC and rigid-core offerings, it’s not the only weapon in their arsenal. Manufacturers are also raising the stakes with respect to visuals and texture enhancements.
In Mannington’s case, Natkin cites the company’s award-winning Restoration collection, which grew by double digits in 2018. Among the top-selling visuals in the collection: Arcadia, Hillside Hickory and Fairhaven—all light rustic visuals that mimic real wood.
Wood visuals are also the rage at the Mohawk camp. Among its top-selling laminate looks, according to Ward, are Antique Craft, a 9 ½-inch wide x 7-foot-long plank that plays on the growth of wider/longer in the wood category. Another big mover is the Elderwood collection, a 7 ½-inch-wide product that replicates sawn-face oak.
“The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you can get in other categories, such as ceramic and LVT and rigid core products,” Ward explained. “Over the last couple of years, laminate designs have really evolved from what we’ve seen in years past.”
At Shaw Floors, two of its most popular laminate collections are Pinnacle Port and Designer Mix. The former boasts light scraping to provide a natural texture and combines the beauty of wood visuals with the REPEL water and scuff-resistant technology. Designer Mix features the on-trend visual appeal of differing plank widths. Products come in three variations of plank widths in a single box, allowing consumers to design the overall look of their spaces.
Clark Hodgkins, director of hardwood and laminate categories, Shaw, called out the Alloy line in particular. “It’s a stunning gray-tone wood look that works in any space. Its on-trend design and three-color visual variation, combined with the features of our Designer Mix product line, make it a stand out.”
CFL’s Frith points to the strides his company has made in the visuals department. “From a design standpoint, Atroguard puts a tremendous amount of effort in developing stunning, in-house design visuals using the specifics of laminate to really bring out something special. That includes experimenting with varying lengths or random widths within one box or developing designs from different wood species used within one product. Our biggest advantage is the number of unique visuals we offer within a given pattern, making it very realistic and hard to see repeats once the floor is installed. With vinyl or WPC products, this is technically more difficult to achieve.”