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Laminate: The benefits of trading up

December 24/31, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 15

By Reginald Tucker

 

There’s no denying the laminate flooring category has ceded market share to competing hard surface categories such as LVT, WPC and engineered wood. At the same time, laminate has faced intense internal pressures within the segment itself due to the influx of inexpensive, entry-level products found mostly in home centers and mass merchants.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean suppliers are throwing in the towel—quite the opposite, in fact. Several major laminate suppliers are looking to give the category a much-needed shot in the arm while offering enhanced products that provide retailers with money-making, trade-up opportunities.

“In the past we sold more products in the 7mm-8mm entry-level area, but that’s now turning into better-end goods in the 12mm range,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surfaces category management, Shaw Floors. “Our goal has always been to design products that provide features/benefits stories that can’t easily be told at home centers while still providing a respectable margin opportunity to help specialty retailers compete.”

In addition to thicker, higher-performing products, Shaw Floors is looking to help energize the category by rolling out wider/longer boards in designs previously unattainable in laminate. “The laminate products we’re selling today are not the same products we sold 15 years ago,” Hash told FCNews. “The difference is the quality of the visuals and the depth of the embossing; we’re doing longer wider boards whereas some others only offer fixed length, square-edge, three-strip, 48-inch products.”

Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, can attest. He cited the many strides the laminate category has made in the areas of water resistance and performance in particular. “These innovations as well as the continued focus on style and design are helping laminate in holding its own in the face of pressure from the expansion of PVC-based products. Laminate has a lower cost of production than PVC, and at the end of the day it is a good old, wood-based product that has inherent value over plastic. Laminate also has over advantages other categories, mainly, design, cost and wear.”

Shaw Floors and Inhaus are not the only ones feeling bullish about laminate flooring’s prospects in seizing back some share at the specialty retailer level. Mohawk Industries is also seeing the tides turn. “We’ve been so strong in the home center segment, but now we’re seeing growth in specialty retail,” said Roger Farabee, president, wood and laminates. “Many of our retailers are realizing they have in laminate an alternative to rigid vinyl that they can make better margins on. It’s visually more realistic than rigid floors and in most cases more affordable.”

To keep in step with the demand, Mohawk is extending its water-resistant technologies across its entire laminate portfolio. The goal is to help the category compete with other hard surfaces at various price levels. “We initially launched our first range of products using our GenuEdge pressed bevel technology, but now we’re augmenting that by using the same technology on products with a milled bevel edge,” Farabee said. “This will broaden the number of SKUs we offer with moisture resistance.”

Shifting mindset
Helping laminate recoup share is going to require much more than technical innovations. Convincing retailers to devote more space and emphasis also entails challenging pre-existing notions.

“Over the past 15 years or so, a lot of retailers vacated the laminate space,” Hash said. “If you walked into a store 15 years ago, you probably saw a dozen different laminate brands. Today, for the most part, there’s only one or two. Within the store dealers have minimized the category. They don’t want to compete with the big boxes head on.”

Shaw Floors is looking to address that situation by promoting products consumers won’t likely find at the big boxes—such as more robust 12mm options. The company is also targeting those end-use sectors that provide the greatest opportunity to move higher-end goods. “Specialty retailers—and the single-family sector—are our main focus areas,” Hash said. “We’re seeing the 12mm products being used in areas beyond the living room and den. People are much more comfortable with moisture-resistant [claims] and are putting the product in areas that were, in the past, a deterrent with laminate.”