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Resilient: For Quickstyle, slow and steady wins the race

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7 

By Reginald Tucker

 

The Quickstyle merchandiser showcases the company’s True Grout vinyl flooring technology.

In the sea of LVT sameness, one company is looking to stand out from the pack. That would be none other than Quickstyle Industries, a leading hard surface flooring importer, distributor and manufacturer based in Montreal, Canada. The company’s not-so-secret weapon is a novel product line called True Grout, a vinyl plank and tile collection that boasts integrated grout lines. Comprising a highly UV-resistant, 20-mil polyurethane vinyl wear layer fused to a rigid densified foam core backing (DFC), the product is waterproof and stands up to mildew. What’s more, the product is FloorScore Certified and does not contain VOCs or phthalates.

“What we offer is something that’s truly unique in the market, aesthetically pleasing with a price point that is affordable,” said Mike Alfieri, vice president of sales and co-owner of Quickstyle Industries.

The USPTO awarded Quickstyle Industries the patents for the True Grout technology on DFC and SPC in April and November of 2018. Quickstyle intends to guard its patents fiercely. “While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, we fully intend to protect and defend our patented Grout Line Technology against anyone who would violate its intellectual property rights in the U.S. and around the world,” Alfieri stressed.

Already a smash in Canada, True Grout is looking to make its mark in America. According to Alfieri, Quickstyle Industries’ innovative Grout Line Technology was embraced by the flooring industry when it was introduced to the Canadian market and is now experiencing exponential growth.

“It’s doing very well in the specialty retail segment and the commercial side of our business,” Alfieri noted.

Quickstyle is banking on duplicating the products’ success here in the States. The go-to-market strategy entails a two-fold approach: aggressively courting the specialty retail channel via distributor partners while supporting other manufacturers on a private-label basis. There are also negotiations to develop separate, non-competitive offerings for mass merchants, and the company also has a few technology licensing agreements in place.

“We have some major market penetration in Canada, but we’re looking to expand in the U.S. and build on our distribution,” Alfieri told FCNews. “Our goal is to grow market share and create strong brand recognition, but we want to choose the right partners to get us to the next level.”

U.S. distributors who have added the True Grout product to their lineup like what they’re seeing so far. For Tony Benvenuti, CEO of Wood Pro, a distributor based in Auburn, Mass., Quickstyle True Grout is a keeper. “The product line is really good quality,” he said. “It’s something that separates us from everybody else, and it gives us a leg up on the market.”

With the surge in vinyl sales and all these different products coming to market, Benvenuti said there’s a lot of me-too products out there. “This line really allows us to go to the market and sell specific features that other lines don’t have,” he noted. “Plus, they’re just great people to do business with.”

More importantly, True Grout gives Wood Pro’s customers a product they can make money on. (MSRP is $4.99 per square foot.) “We use it as a step-up product to the entry-level vinyl products out there,” Benvenuti explained. “You can promote the quality of the product in combination of the True Grout feature as a way to step up the customer so you’re not getting in the game of battling based on price.”

Retailers like Joe Bair, vice president of Long Island Paneling, Ceilings and Floors in Lindenhurst, N.Y., get it. “We market Quickstyle True Grout as a mid-level product, and we’re doing very well with it,” he told FCNews. “It’s a look no one has.”

Both Benvenuti and Bair see True Grout going into residential replacement applications as well as new construction projects. “It’s being installed by dealers and home builders alike,” Benvenuti shared. “We’ve had True Grout for about two years now, and we’ve been adding new products as they have come out.”

Stocking up
In anticipation of higher demand for the True Grout offering—and to make it easier for both existing and potential distributor partners to replenish inventories—Quickstyle is expanding its warehousing facilities in Baltimore, Md. The company is also looking to generate momentum by unveiling new offerings at major U.S. trade shows next year—Surfaces 2020 among them. “We’re going to have a big presence at the show,” Alfieri said.

Not one to rest on its laurels, Quickstyle is also looking to continue adding new enhancements to the True Grout offering. Alfieri hinted at the development of a unique and innovate “shield” that would render the grout lines stainproof and consistent in color for the period of the warranty.

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Installation: Grouts, mortars help tile setters do it right

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Choosing the right mortar and grout is critical to any ceramic tile or stone installation. To help installers ensure a job is done right the first time, grout and mortar manufacturers are developing improved products suitable for all applications. Following are several of the latest grouts and mortars to hit the market.

Bostik

Hydroment Vivid is a rapid-curing, premium-grade, cement-based grout for demanding kitchen, bathroom and commercial projects. Hydroment Vivid offers consistent color technology with enhanced stain and superior efflorescence protection. It is fiber-reinforced for increased crack resistance and non-sag properties. The rapid curing trait makes Hydroment Vivid ready for foot traffic in four hours. Additionally, Hydroment Vivid exceeds requirements of ANSI A118.7 and contains Bostik’s patented Blockade Antimicrobial Protection.

Hydroment Vivid offers installers improved characteristics compared to standard cement-based grout without requiring any change in their installation techniques, according to Adam Abell, market manager, tile and stone installation systems. Color Suspension technology allows Hydroment Vivid grout to be rich in color, extremely color consistent, simple to pack and tool joints as well as be easily floated and cleaned. Suitable applications include interior and exterior, residential and commercial and installations on floors and walls in dry to intermittent wet or submerged applications.

Ardex

Ardex WA high-performance, 100% solid epoxy grout and adhesive is available in 35 Ardex colors. This solvent-free, two-component epoxy grout and adhesive is easy to apply— unlike other epoxy grout—and has a very creamy consistency.

“Ardex WA cleans off easily with just water, and there is no rush to get it off the tile as it is recommended to leave the grout on the tile for approximately 45-60 minutes,” said Russ Gaetano, senior marketing manager. “In addition, it can be used as a grout or an adhesive and is ideal for installing glass tile in pools.”

Custom Building Products

ProLite premium large-format tile mortar from Custom Building Products is a contractor favorite due to its outstanding performance and versatility. That’s according to Eric Carr, vice-president, commercial marketing and product management. “Contractors often tell us that ProLite is their crews’ No. 1 choice for tile setting,” he explained. “They really appreciate the versatility, the ease of handling and the fact that it doesn’t sag on walls.”

Designed with non-slump properties to support the weight of heavy stone and large format tile, ProLite can be used up to 3⁄4-inch deep on horizontal applications. The thixotropic mortar offers high-bond strength and will not sag or slip on walls, according to the company, making it ideal for vertical installations. ProLite exceeds the requirements of ANSI A118.15TE, including extended open time for exteriors and hot or windy conditions. For fast-track construction, ProLite is also available in a rapid-setting formula that allows grouting in three hours.

Formulated with CustomLite Technology and smooth aggregate, ProLite is said to be 40% lighter than typical mortars and delivers superior handling for tile installers. A 30-pound bag of lightweight ProLite covers the same area as a 50-pound bag of traditional mortar, the company said, making it easier to transport around a jobsite and less fatiguing to use. ProLite contains post-consumer recycled content, is Greenguard Gold certified and contributes to LEED certification.

Laticrete

Sprectralock Pro Premium Translucent Grout is a patented, high-performance epoxy grout designed to offer customers a unique opaque color that diffuses light for a vibrant finish. The grout is designed for residential and commercial use on interior or exterior ceramic tile, glass tile and stone applications, and is ideal for regrouting swimming pools, fountains and other wet areas.

The grout can also be paired with Spectralock Dazzle, which comes in 12 colors in addition to a glow-in-the-dark option. Other product features include an 80-minute working time at 70 degrees, a high UV and chemical resistance, no sealing required and crack-resistance properties. What’s more, the grout boasts great non-sag performance, improved stain resistance and color uniformity, according to the company.

Schon̈ox

To assist in waterproofing and sealing grouted (as well as other) projects, Schon̈ox has created Schon̈ox HA and iFix. Schon̈ox HA can be used for installations of waterproof sealings under ceramic tiles in residential and commercial wet areas. This ready-mixed, rollable, waterproof sealing product acts as a crack-isolation membrane without waterproofing requirements and can be applied in one coat at required thickness.

iFix is Schon̈ox’s waterproof sealing adhesive, which the company said offers a40% faster installation time over traditional methods. Touting exceptional coverage and bond strength, iFix is suitable for swimming pools, balconies and terraces in interior and exterior applications. What’s more, iFix can be bundled with Schon̈ox AB and ST waterproofing materials to produce a comprehensive shower assembly system ideal for commercial or residential use.

Both Schon̈ox HA and iFix may also help contribute to LEED v4 certification.

Uzin

Uzin XtraColor Grout is a high-performance, polymer- modified cementitious tile and stone grout. Its extensive palette of 35 colors is said to offer advanced quality and superior color consistency, and its premium blend of fine raw materials mixes quickly to the preferred feel and workability desired by tile contractors. The tile and stone grout also cleans up well, making grout haze removal easy.

XtraColor Grout has excellent compressive, tensile and flexural strength, low shrinkage and water absorption values as well as great balance between its two-hour working time and 12-hour-to-foot-traffic time, according to the company. The grout also comes with Uzin’s exclusive Aqua Pearl Effect, which is designed to improve stain resistance, color retention and appearance.

The grout is suitable for all types of tile, glass and natural stone in both residential and commercial installations and in interior, exterior, immersion, water saturation and seasonal freeze/thaw environments. It also meets or exceeds the ANSI 118.6 standard.

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Wood: There’s nothing like the real thing, baby

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

 

Raintree’s hardwood floors are warranted to withstand being totally submerged in water for up to 24 hours.

Wood flooring manufacturers have been agonizingly watching LVT and WPC-type products gradually nip precious market share over the past few years, and they’ve had just about enough of it. In response to the ongoing threat, many are responding by rolling out innovative new products that speak directly
to WPC’s competitive advantage: resistance to water and moisture incursion.

Case in point is Hydropel, the latest offering from Bruce Hardwood Floors (the flag- ship brand under the AHF Products umbrella). Hydropel, a waterproof, 100% hardwood floor, is an engineered product infused with proprietary technology to resist water for up to 36 hours, allowing it to be installed anywhere in the home, according to the company. This includes bathrooms, basements, mud rooms and entryways.

“There are sensitivities around hardwood to moisture, and we have addressed those directly with Hydropel,” said Brian Parker, director of product management. “It is real hardwood from top to bottom, and that’s what consumers truly want in their homes.”

Hydropel is built with a unique core technology, which AHF Products has termed ultra- high-density fiberboard. According to Parker, this construction is denser and more water resistant than typical ply-wood or high-density fiberboard cores. The density of Hydropel enables an extremely fine milling tolerance that seals the edges after installation and protects against everyday spills, wet mop- ping or even pet accidents from absorbing into the wood or leaking between planks into the sub- floor. In addition, a premium performance coating protects the hardwood from scratches, scuffs, stains and even indentations for a lifetime of durability.

AHF Products executed several different tests to prove the performance of Hydropel, including large-scale water testing, sunlight buckle testing and scratch testing. The company repeated these countless times to verify its performance. “You can comfortably live on these floors without worrying about damage from moisture,” Parker stated.

Other major hardwood suppliers are going up against WPC-type products by taking a page out of a different playbook: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Specifically, more and more companies are utilizing technology that marries real wood veneers over rigid coreboards. Prominent brands that fall into this category include Opti-Wood from Wellmade Performance Flooring; COREtec Wood from USFloors; and the newly launched Raintree brand from American OEM. While they all may differ slightly with respect to the specific manufacturing processes employed, the goal is the same—give those consumers who were sold on waterproof wood look-alikes a reason to come back to real hardwood flooring.

“There is no question that wood flooring—along with most flooring categories—has been significantly impacted by the rise of waterproof products in the marketplace,” said Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM. “For this reason, we are introducing our Raintree product line, which is a real wood veneer on a waterproof SPC core. Raintree is an engineered wood hybrid that passes a 24-hour soak test, allowing it to compete with widely popular waterproof flooring that has previously been available in printed visuals.”

Repel Hardwood from Shaw Floors features a protective barrier on top of the plank along with an added protective treatment on the edges of each plank.

How it works: The wood layer utilized in Raintree is reinforced by a rigid and 100% waterproof Ninja H2O Core and is sealed against moisture by the waterproof and scratch-resistant coating, Ninja Pet Guard. The result is a solution for those with busy households but don’t want to sacrifice style or the value of real hardwood. “When I first stood on a large installation of Raintree, it looked every bit a beautiful hardwood floor,” Finkell noted. “But knowing it was also waterproof, I felt the future of wood flooring shift under my feet.”

In that same vein, Shaw Floors earlier this year took the wraps off Floorté Hardwood, which combines the attributes of waterproof SPC flooring with the classic character and feel that only genuine hardwood can provide. “Shaw Floors leads the hardwood category in innovation and is proud to drive uncharted advancements, from waterproof and water-resistant hardwood to advanced finishes that provide ultimate protection,” said John Hammel, director of category management. “These recent introductions and innovations provide our customers with industry-leading performance and give consumers greater peace of mind that their investment will last for many years.”

Not everyone is new to the wood/SPC hybrid game, however. Back in 2017, Wellmade Performance Flooring unveiled Opti-Wood, which features a real wood veneer over a high-density plastic composite core (HDPC). “The initial rollout of this HDPC product had a vinyl wear layer, but over the last year we have put bamboo as a natural wear layer,” said Steve Wagner, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

While several manufacturers have developed products that feature real wood veneers over rigid, non-wood cores. Wellmade said Opti-Wood differs in several critical aspects, beginning with the product’s HDPC core. Because it’s 100% “closed cell” and does not contain any air pockets, the HDPC core will not absorb moisture, according to Wagner. “When coupled with Wellmade’s proprietary surface treatment and adhesive application process, Opti-Wood is among the industry’s most moisture-resistant natural wood product available.”

Selling wood’s story
While some hardwood proponents are looking to recoup lost market share via technology, others are taking a different tack—making a case for selecting genuine hardwood over competing products by telling wood’s unique story.

According to Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), the flood of wood look-alike products—led by WPC—has created a lot of confusion about what is and what is not a real wood floor. To that end, the association recently revised its standards and definitions to encompass a wider range of engineered wood flooring products, which includes real wood veneers over non-wood cores. The goal is to minimize opportunities for RSAs to talk consumers out of buying a real wood floor.

Of course, there are some enthusiasts who believe only a product containing real wood from top to bottom can be defined as real wood. “We think it’s awesome that companies have been innovating with wood products, and we hope that we never stop trying to find the next great opportunity in wood flooring,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, USA, Mercier Wood Flooring. “But I would caution everyone in their thinking—isn’t wood supposed to be a sustainable, environmentally friendly floor that has the least adverse health effects with a true green footprint? We are finding the real buyer is considering better goods, and they understand the added value to their homes.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping wood relevant in an age of rapidly advancing technologies. “It’s all part of the natural evolution of the category,” American OEM’s Finkell said. “It reminds of a time back in 1985 when there was a debate among the newly created NWFA about multi-ply engineered flooring, and if that constituted real wood. Just like then, we are finding it’s necessary to expand the definition of wood flooring based on the technology utilized today.”

That’s why ongoing education is so critical. “We encourage the entire wood flooring industry to utilize the preference they have with homeowners and to work together so when consumers ask for wood floors, the supply chain is selling real wood instead of a substitute product,” NWFA’s Martin said.

In defense of wood, Martin pointed to the product’s pros: “It’s still the most aspirational flooring product and despite intense competition, wood is still very much alive and well.”

 

 

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FloorForce: The ‘all-in-one’ partner

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Lindsay Baillie

 

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series detailing how flooring dealers are enhancing their digital presence by partnering with FloorForce.)

 

FloorForce has redesigned Carpeting by Mike’s website so that it seamlessly flows with Mohawk’s site.

When Carpeting by Mike began its partnership with FloorForce in 2017, after meeting through Mohawk’s Omnify, the flooring store said it was blown away by how many digital marketing solutions the tech company could provide.

“We found it really intriguing that they could combine our website, our marketing, our phone number, etc.,” explained Typhannie Watson, vice president. “We could combine everything at once through one company vs. having different avenues. Prior to FloorForce, we had different vendors that did everything for us.”

In addition to handling all of its digital processes, FloorForce also helped Carpeting by Mike redesign its website. “They designed our website so it would look very similar and feel very similar to a Mohawk website,” Watson explained. “This way it was a seamless transition for customers to move from a Mohawk website to our site, and they didn’t feel like they were dealing with two different stores.”

Thanks to its partnership with FloorForce, Carpeting by Mike’s website is constantly being updated with the latest promotions and trends. What’s more, any changes to the website are usually made within 24 hours. “They’re very receptive,” Watson noted. “We have somebody who we know knows flooring and can take care of us. They’ll do it right away and have it look the way we want.”

For Carpeting by Mike, FloorForce is a one-stop digital shop. “They’re going to update and take care of our product catalog, take care of our advertising, have us look so close to a Mohawk website, etc.,” Watson explained. “Nobody else could offer that to us because they don’t have that direct partnership with Mohawk. We feel like our technology and social media presence is actually speaking flooring the way Mohawk is speaking flooring so it makes more sense to our consumers.”

Beyond FloorForce’s ability to offer multiple digital services for retailers, the company’s overall customer service capabilities also stand out. “Any changes, updates or questions I have—or if I find an error or wording about my company or something that is wrong—my contact person at FloorForce is incredibly helpful and top of mind,” Watson said. “She’s right there and forwards it to the right department, keeps track of it and then emails me be back within 24 hours that it has been updated and changed—which is huge.”

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Laminate: Latest click systems serve multiple purposes

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

 

Valinge 5G’s seal, utilized here on a Beauflor laminate product, is tight enough to lock out spills for up to 72 hours.

When glueless installation systems were first incorporated into laminate floors back in the early ’90s, the primary aim was to expedite the installation process. The innovation behind the snap-and-lock, tongue-and-groove panels allowed installers to finish a job in a shorter amount of time and not have to deal with handling messy adhesives or with cleanup after the fact. This enabled them to move on to the next job more quickly, thereby increasing their own profitability as well as the dealers who employed them.

With today’s advancements in glueless locking systems for laminates, the goal is to dramatically improve the product’s resistance to moisture incursion. On one hand, this helps put laminate flooring in a better position to compete against the likes of WPC and SPC—products that are inherently resistant to moisture. At the same time, the latest locking system innovations translate into step-up products that allow retailers to charge more money in a category laden with commodity-type offerings.

Take Inhaus, for example. The company has created a new water-resistant locking system that is an additional feature to the angle fold Megaloc locking system that’s standard on all Inhaus products.

As Derek Welbourn, CEO, explained, it is an enhancement designed to improve the water- resistant characteristics of the company’s products. “The joint is designed to prevent water from penetrating the product’s core and the site’s subfloor, which can occur during wet mopping or spills. This is achieved through a tighter fit between planks and a new patent-pending, overlapping architecture of the locking joint.”

Manufacturers across the board are incorporating advancements in their locking systems to weed out water. Mohawk’s RevWood Plus line, for example, entails a complete waterproof system comprising the Uniclic MultiFit locking system, Mohawk’s GenuEdge pressed beveled edge and the company’s HydroSeal perimeter coating to trap liquids on the surface of the floor, thereby preventing damage to the coreboard. The waterproof seal is so reliable, according to Mohawk, that consumers can even regularly wet mop a RevWood Plus floor—something unheard of with traditional laminate floors.

I4F’s portfolio of patents currently comprises more than 2,000 patents and technologies spanning multiple categories, including laminate.

“With RevWoods Plus, we have taken performance to the next level,” said Angela Duke, director of brand marketing at Mohawk. “The combination of HydroSeal, GenuEdge bevel technology and the Uniclic glueless locking system—which keeps water from seeping past the joints—makes the flooring completely waterproof.”

Even those companies that have not updated their locking profile, per se, continue to tweak the technology to achieve the desired results. Mannington, for one, has added some new technologies over the past 24 months to elevate product performance. “Specifically, we introduced our SpillShield moisture protection and added a wax layer on the top of the tongue to further protect from moisture,” Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood, laminate and resilient sheet, explained. “Those two technologies make the product significantly more resistant to everyday spills and mishaps.”

Teaming up
Increasingly, laminate flooring suppliers are working more closely with the companies that hold the patents for various locking mechanisms. The aim is to further enhance an already robust offering of glueless systems. Beauflor, for instance, recently launched a water-resistant laminate collection that features a Valinge 5G locking system. The design boasts a fold-down installation mechanism that makes the overall installation process faster and easier. There is no need for glue or nails because each plank is equipped with a flexible plastic tongue that is pushed into a wedged tongue-groove that snaps the product together. Once the tongue is secured, a clicking sound signifies the products are successfully locked together. The seal is tight enough to lock out spills for up to 72 hours.

Beyond the sheer bells and whistles, these enhancements provide real benefits for retailers and installers. As Tami Stahl, senior marketing manager for Beauflor, explained: “The Valinge 5G locking system is ideal for retailers because it meets the needs of different customers. It is easy enough for a DIY customer who wants to tackle his own home remodel project, and it’s a time/material cost saver for the budget-conscious customer. For professional installers, the Valinge 5G locking system reduces the time required to complete the job and does not require a backbreaking installation process. This allows installers to complete the job faster and move on.”

 

I4F continues to innovate
I4F, a group of companies providing patents and technologies to the flooring industry, continues to roll out new formats to fit a range of products for its licensing partners. This allows clients to choose which patents, or groups of patents, best meet their most current business needs.

Following are some of the latest I4F patented technologies:

3L TripleLock. According to I4F, 3L TripleLock is the easiest and fastest system for flooring installation on the market. With this system, there are no inserts needed like several other fold-down systems. The elimination of the additional insert on the short side allows manufacturers to improve productivity levels and reduce their product costs and carbon footprint. 3L TripleLock is suitable for existing high-speed production. According to John Rietveldt, CEO, I4F, the system has multiple installation benefits: it is up to 30% faster than basic click systems, there’s no squeaking and no special tools are needed for installation.

Click4U. This is an angle-system for the long side combined with 3L TripleLock on the short side. Just like 3L TripleLock, Click4U is suitable for existing high-speed production machinery. The system has multiple installation benefits as well. It is fast and easy to install without special tools.

“We constantly seek out innovations that are cutting-edge so our licensees get the best technologies out there,” Rietveldt, said. “Our portfolio of patents, now comprising over 2,000 patents and technologies spanning multiple categories, continues to grow.”

 

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FCNews exclusive interview: NFA—Clicking on all cylinders as a group

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

 

The NFA executive board, from left: Larry Flick; Darren Hearns; Raffi Sarmazian, treasurer; Deb DeGraaf; Eric Mondragon, secretary; Ian Newton, VP; and Jason McSwain, president.

Nashville, Tenn.—The National Floorcovering Alliance, which boasts 42 of the top flooring retailers in North America, recently convened here for its biannual meeting. While today most of the discussions are held behind closed doors to maintain each member’s competitive edge in their respective marketplaces, the executive board granted FCNews publisher Steven Feldman an exclusive interview to discuss the group, the industry, the challenges and the suppliers on a broad scale. Participating were Jason McSwain, president; Ian Newton, vice president; Raffi Sarmazian, treasurer; Eric Mondragon, secretary; and board members Darren Hearns, Deb DeGraaf and Larry Flick.

This board is celebrating one year together. Thoughts?
Deb DeGraaf: The synergy is very good.
Ian Newton: For me, this is probably the best board we've had in the five years I’ve been on the board. Everybody shows up on time for the meetings. Everybody is involved, engaged, coming up with ideas.
Raffi Sarmazian: We’re listening to the membership, too. We’re actively trying to under- stand the needs of the group, and we’re trying to put action to those instead of just listening.
DeGraaf: We’ve adjusted our format to listen better. I give kudos to Jason [McSwain] for the consistency of conference calls and the agenda we get ahead of time, the punctuality and getting through the items ahead of time in preparation for meetings such as this. We actually had an opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting, outside of our spring and fall meetings, which was extremely valuable from a connectivity standpoint.
Jason McSwain: I think there’s been an energy of transition. Ian has coached a new committee leader. A piece of that Raffi [Sarmazian] brought to us early in the year of making sure there’s broader inclusion within our membership. We became introduced to committee involvement. We’ve had that in marketing, we’ve had that in hardwood and forming the education committee.

 

Anything come out of your meeting of any significance?
Larry Flick: The broadest stroke was the need for training. DeGraaf: Training and education. That’s consistently something all of us need at one level or another.

 

Specifically?
DeGraaf: On training our RSAs. But the more important and pressing one is probably training and recruiting new people to the trade for installation.
McSwain: There are 42 different versions in that room, so it’s really taking the approach of enhancing what everyone is doing in terms of their own level of training. “How do we help?” I think that’s what the members are asking the board. How do you unlock and take those hurdles out, where we can take it to another level with what’s already out there in the industry.
Newton: The last three, four years, that’s been most of the feedback we’ve gotten—the need for help with installation and education. I think this is the first year the board as a group has really addressed those and come up with a comprehensive list of ideas that hopefully we can implement next year.
DeGraaf: One of the things we’re making a statement with is we realize the importance of WFCA and being part of that—and the training they offer. There were some people in the room who literally, when Scott Humphrey finished talking, said, “I didn’t even know you had all these hundred-plus modules for training.” They’re available to members of WFCA, and those members don’t even know about them. As an education committee, we want to make sure they’re in front of our membership.

 

How does NFA help its members remain above their competitors?
Eric Mondragon: We’re the strong players, the driving force in each of our markets. The strength of the group is the fact that everyone has business models that are so different, yet we are still the driving force. We control what we sell, our mar- gins, what we bring into our own stores. We don’t rely on anybody else to do that.
Darren Hearns: Consistent advertising is another big thing. We also have a price advantage, exclusivity, private labeling. Those are all things that help separate us.
DeGraaf: All those things, collectively, are best practices that, as a group, every member knows how to do right. It puts us ahead in our marketplace because we’re implementing what we should be.
Flick: As one of the newer members of the NFA, I can tell you I’m a better retailer today than I was five years ago from the exchanging of information. I’ve learned an incredible amount.

 

What has been the biggest impediment to further growth this year?
Flick: Traffic is down for us.
Mondragon: Political media. It reports nothing but doom and gloom and focuses on everything that’s wrong instead of what’s right. So it drives down consumer confidence. You see it in their buying habits.
Newton: Unemployment is the lowest it has ever been. People have the money. They’re being given reasons not to spend it because of the fear that has been put out there.
DeGraaf: I can’t speak for every region, but we’ve dealt with some atrocious weather in February. We had our governor saying, “Don’t go outside.” Obviously that hurts our store traffic. You can’t recover that. Some of it will be pent up and come, but now we’re in this period where they’re hearing all this doom and gloom. So they’re holding off anyway.
Sarmazian: Erosion of margins due to the changing dynamic of product mix. We’re working harder and making less. We’re learning ways to maintain our margins in the midst of all these changes. That’s really what matters at the end of the day.
DeGraaf: The shift from wood to LVT. Now we have to sell two LVT jobs to equal one wood job.
Flick: We’re installing more units at better margins, but profit dollars are smaller because if you sell something for a buck, I don’t care if you’re making 60% gross margin, you’re still selling something for a buck.

 

Any conversation about the NFA doing something collectively in terms of digital marketing?
DeGraaf: We’ve discussed a lot of digital marketing because that’s the way the marketing trend is leading. Nothing specific or concrete, other than we all are doing it now. We’re all looking to figure out if it’s working. There’s definitely been discussion in the group on the importance of it.

Obviously, moving into an election year, nobody wants to be on TV, because we’re not paying top dollar for our spots to run and the candidates will do that. Radio is very similar with that, so we’re going to have to turn to a lot of digital marketing.

 

You have about 25 vendors in the room who all do something special for you. Give me one that has really stepped up its game for the NFA over the last year.
Sarmazian: We went to Karndean and they listened to us. They came to the table at this meeting, getting all that feedback and adjusting their proposition to the group. They clearly listened to our needs and were thinking in our shoes.
Flick: AHF did the same. They came up with a rack that was proprietary. Several months ago we went to their Kentucky plant. We spent a full day working with them on everything from style to color. We met them again about three weeks ago. They came out with this series of proprietary items if we take their rack on in each area. They developed an entire line that’s going to sell to us directly through Robbins that’s unique, different and looks really good.
DeGraaf: Cali. The fact that Bob Fish made an effort to get in each of our showrooms, or as many as he could, between the last meeting and this one. I don’t know any other vendor that has specifically done that. As it was explained to me, “I can sell you better because I know your store.” That’s a huge time commitment. It showed a lot.
Flick: We put together an import committee some time ago. Cali basically came to us and said, “Why did you guys put together a new committee? Just tell me what you’re looking for and I will meet or beat whatever you guys can do directly.” They did.

 

What was the one thing you saw at this meeting that blew you away?
Flick: The click from Daltile was amazing. I got my first truckload in a week ago. It will be very interesting to see how we do. Also, the non-skid [from Daltile and American Olean] was fascinating. I’m completely blown away by it. 
Hearns: The non-skid as well. Then Daltile. It’s interesting that they’re putting it on a platform to make it loose lay. First time I ever saw anyone attempt that.
Mondragon: The Revo-Tile from Daltile was probably the most unique product, and it’s one that had the wow factor. I am waiting to see what COREtec Stone will do now that it is finally being launched. We’ll see what impact it has on the market.
Newton: DW Select, that new fiber, that was beautiful—looked just like wool. Great feel. I’m really excited and impressed with what they came up with.
DeGraaf: I was impressed with the Dixie Home carpet introductions. I thought the patterns were great. The colors were good. I was excited to see carpet because just every table is [waterproof], but I was very impressed with their offering and what they’re coming out with. The pricing on it was great. And another thing that intrigued me was Emser’s 18-inch tall, thinner mosaic for backsplashes. It’s good for the track builder work we do.
McSwain: AHF Products. We had 12 of our members participate throughout the summer to make it regionally. Unique looks, great styling. We’re a hardwood house; there’s higher margin there. That’s exciting to me. We need someone focused and lasered in on hardwood as a product category. So they’re stepping into that opportunity.
Sarmazian: The Daltile click ceramic tile is really neat. I don’t know how it’s actually going to play out in reality, but the concept seems amazing.
DeGraaf: I think labor, at least for that, is going to determine how well it plays out for us.
Hearns: One other product was Dixie’s vinyl tile with the polished look. If they can figure out the scratch resistance, that thing is a home run.

 

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I4F enters digital printing arena through licensing

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Ken Ryan

 

I4F is licensing technologies in digital printing developed by its partners—Kronospan and Classen.

For a few years now, digital printing has been a hot topic in the global flooring industry as suppliers thirst for usable solutions to create digitally printed products that can make an impact in the marketplace.

Looking to seize an opportunity, I4F has entered the space by licensing cutting-edge technologies in digital printing developed by its partners—Kronospan and Classen. “The debate is now over; digital printing for flooring is here,” John Rietveldt, CEO of I4F, told FCNews. “The time has come to transform the way floorboards are produced through the use of digitally printed flooring surfaces.”

Digital printing is a production method that puts electronically rendered images directly onto different materials such as paper, fabric and other synthetic materials. This type of printing typically uses large-format and high-volume laser or inkjet printers to print out different types of digital files.

Within flooring, digital printing technologies enable direct printing on a range of different core boards as well as on PVC films. The result is nearly limitless possibilities for unique, one-off designs with superior optical quality while avoiding unnecessary inventory for pre-printed materials.

I4F licensees will predominantly be producers of SPC, LVT and expanded polymer core (EPC).

Rietveldt said I4F’s digital printing technologies are designed to propel the flooring industry to new heights and create additional revenue-generating streams. “We offer the industry access to a full range of unique digital printing technologies created by our partners (Kronospan and Classen) that happen to be global flooring’s best innovators.”

I4F said it will provide access to specific digital printing applications for its licensees. “I4F helps manufacturers make the right choices for their own needs in terms of technologies as well as the required machinery and inks,” Rietveldt explained. “These investments will be important for the future since digital printing makes flooring more attractive and the current rational behind design creation is in complete transformation.”

I4F licensees in the digital printing arena will predominantly be producers of SPC, LVT and expanded polymer core (EPC) products. “Our partnerships and the representation of their patents in this area has enabled us to be aware of the latest digital printing trends,” Rietveldt said. “We see enormous opportunities ahead.”

The move into digital printing is part-and-parcel of I4F’s quest to partner with leaders in the industry and invest in innovations. To that end, Rietveldt said the company’s strategic partnerships form a key pillar in delivering cutting-edge technologies and patents expertise to the global flooring industry.

 

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FCNews’ annual Fantasy Football for a Cause

Ten charities included in this year’s fundraiser

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

 

The Floor Covering News Fantasy Football for a Cause league closed this year with 10 teams. All are playing for worthy causes as seen in the box below.

Each team pledged $5,000 for a total of $50,000, which will be divided as follows:

• $15,000 to the winner’s charity
• $7,500 to the runner-up’s cause
• $5,000 to the third-place’s cause
• $3,750 to the fourth-place’s charity
• $1,500 to the fifth-through 10th-place charities

In addition, the top player of every week, starting with the second week, will receive $500 and the runner-up will earn $250. Following are snapshots of each cause represented by the league. FCNews and all teams encourage readers to contribute to any charity that resonates with them.

 

Alliance Flooring
One Thing for Youth
onethingforyouth.org
One Thing for Youth is an Alpharetta, Ga.-based 501(c)3 with a proven track record that exists to spur kids on in their walk with God while building skills for life. One hundred percent of funds are used to help the Atlanta-area and Southeast low-income kids who possess strong athletic ability—but limited exposure—with developing skills and character to help open doors of opportunities, including obtaining a college scholarship.

 

Cali Brands
Surfrider Foundation
surfrider.org
The Surfrider Foundation is an environmental, non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of oceans, waves and beaches through an activist network. The foundation was started in 1984 by a group of surfers from Malibu, Calif., and today has more than 1 million supporters, volunteers and activists fighting over 100 active campaigns around the country. The Surfrider Foundation is present at the local, regional and national levels with campaigns targeting community involvement, coastal regions and federal policy. Some of the foundation’s initiatives include beach cleanings.

 

Consolidated Carpet
Friends of St. Dominic’s
sdfs.org/friends
Friends of St. Dominic’s is the affiliated fundraising organization benefiting Saint Dominic’s Home. The organization and its donors share the vision of keeping children safe from abuse, neglect and homelessness as well as enabling productive lives for children and adults with develop- mental, emotional and physical disabilities. Friends of St. Dominic’s is guided by the faith, determination and generosity of others who believe there is a better tomorrow for every child.

 

Floor Covering News
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
jdrf.org
JDRF is leading the fight against type 1 diabetes (T1D) by funding research, advocating for policies that accelerate access to new therapies and providing a sup- port network for millions of people around the world impacted by T1D. The organization’s research investments deliver on the promise of making life with T1D better. JDRF has championed technology with that goal in mind, from the first engineered insulin 40 years ago to recent advancements like artificial pancreas systems. The foundation is changing the way we live with T1D, as we learn more about the disease every day in an effort to end it once and for all.

 

Mohawk Residential
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga
rmhchattanooga.com
The Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Greater Chattanooga provides families with the care and resources they need when their child is sick. The House offers families the comforts of home, including places to sleep, kitchens and dining rooms, entertainment rooms, laundry rooms, a playground and computer access. Volunteers from the community prepare meals for dinner in the House’s kitchen and a stocked pantry provides foods for breakfasts and lunches. In addition, RMHC of Greater Chattanooga provides at least $50,000 in scholarship funding for college.

 

Novalis
NIMBY Program at Valley Point School
nimbyfoundation.weebly.com
The NIMBY (Saturday Sacks) program began at Valley Point School in 2012 with the assistance of the Community Foundation. The program began by sending weekend food assistance home with students every other weekend. Once the program got going, volunteers increased that to sending food home every single weekend for the entire school year. The NIMBY vision at Valley Point Elementary is to strengthen the community by demonstrating compassion to our neighbors, to end hunger in the lives of our neighborhood children and to promote a positive change.

 

Raskin Industries
Stand with Parkland
standwithparkland.org
Stand with Parkland is a national organization representing American families. The organization is committed to advocating for practical public safety reforms focused on the safety of our children and staff at school, improved mental health support, and responsible firearms ownership. Personal responsibility and a desire for change are paramount to this effort, and it is the people involved at all levels who will make these goals a reality. It is the organization’s belief that violence in our schools affects everyone, and that it is time we all come together to do something about it.

 

Rite Rug
Special Operations Warrior Foundation
specialops.org
Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in 1980 after an attempt to rescue 53 American hostages in Iran, which ended in the loss of eight service- men who left behind 17 children. The Foundation supports the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations personnel through two initiatives: No. 1, ensuring full financial assistance for various educational programs to the surviving children of Special Operations personnel who lose their lives in the line of duty; and No. 2, providing immediate financial grants to severely combat-wounded and hospitalized Special Operations personnel and their families.

 

Salesmaster
American Cancer Society
cancer.org
American Cancer Society (ACS) was founded in 1913 by 10 doctors and five laypeople in New York City. Today ACS is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. The organization has invested more than $4.8 billion in research since 1946. Through research and action, ACS has contributed to a 27% decrease in the U.S. cancer death rate since 1991.

 

Spartan Surfaces
Harford Family House
harfordfamilyhouse.org
Harford Family House helps families and unaccompanied young adults who are experiencing homelessness transition into permanent/stable housing. In addition to shelter for families, the organization provides education in life skills, job readiness and personal growth, individualized case management to help families overcome the root cause of their homelessness, referrals to partner agencies and personal connection to the community. The organization’s services are built around the core values of integrity, respect and accountability. Last year, 83% of the families exiting the program went on to safe and stable permanent housing.

 

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FCNews exclusive: Mohawk unveils domestically produced rigid core line

SolidTech Plus aims to answer specialty retailers’ demands

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Megan Salzano

 

SolidTech Plus launches in two collections in a 7.5 x 48-inch plank format. Pictured is Franklin.

As retail continues to struggle with pricing issues such as increasing tariffs, Mohawk is looking to ease the burden with its first domestically produced rigid core vinyl flooring for the specialty retail channel. The company’s newest addition to the LVT category, SolidTech Plus, is manufactured in the company’s resilient plant in Dalton. As the first domestically produced rigid core vinyl flooring for specialty retail from Mohawk, the product aims to allay certain concerns at the retail level.

“The development of SolidTech Plus was driven by the need for a 100% domestically produced rigid vinyl product that could be trusted to provide on-trend designs and the best performance attributes the consumer needs,” Angela Duke, director of brand marketing, Mohawk, told FCNews. “Retailers are concerned about the current uncertainties of sourcing product. Because SolidTech Plus is completely manufactured in the USA, retailers can have confidence in cost and quality control. Plus, consumers are supporting the local economy.”

In addition to its domestic production, SolidTech Plus adds coveted durability and design features to the collection’s already impressive lineup. “Consumers are looking for a durable product in the design they want,” Duke said. “They want to purchase flooring that is going to last and hold up to their active lifestyles, whether it’s waterproof performance or kids and pets in their household.”

SolidTech Plus, according to Mohawk, is three times more scratch resistant due to the addition of a tough wear layer and enhanced lacquer finish, while the company’s EasyClean technology adds enhanced stain and soil protection to ensure easy cleanup for everyday accidents. It is also 100% waterproof—including the rigid core—so the floor can withstand high moisture areas without compromising the structure of the planks. All of this is backed by Mohawk’s All Pet Protection, which covers all pets, all accidents, all the time. It also offers scratch protection.

SolidTech Plus also offers Mohawk’s UniClic locking systems for a quick, water-tight installation.

In terms of design, SolidTech Plus offers an extremely low pat- tern repetition, embossed textures and painted beveled edges for a more authentic natural hardwood look and feel. Two distinct collections—Franklin and Thatcher—are available. The styles and colors in Franklin are more refined, while the styles and colors in the Thatcher collection have a more rustic feel. There are nine colors within each collection with both featuring 7.5 x 48-inch planks. Duke said both styles offer trending natural colors along with dark browns and grays in order to give the consumer options to match her individual style. The suggested retail price is $3.80-$3.99 per square foot.

Promotional support
SolidTech Plus will be one of Mohawk’s hero campaigns, according to Duke. As such, the company is offering Omnify marketing support for qualifying specialty retail customers. This includes web support, advertising and videos. The company will also offer support for other customers through its website.

When it comes to in-store merchandising, SolidTech Plus products will live on a new display that complements the existing SolidTech merchandiser. The display offers a large, impactful graphic that shows the company’s “Mohawk More Moments” campaign and graphics that call out the product’s features and benefits, as well as the fact that it is Made in the USA. Furthermore, the company’s “Mohawk More Moments” campaign will replace Doug the Pug, and updates on the website will occur in October.

SolidTech Plus is currently shipping to retail stores across the country.

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Vermette lays out vision for future of Armstrong

New president, CEO hits the ground running

September 16/23, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 7

By Steven Feldman

 

Michel Vermette

With the appointment of Michel Vermette as president and CEO of Armstrong Flooring, the legacy brand has chosen someone not only with a wealth of flooring experience, but a person largely credited with turning around and growing similar-sized companies like Dal-Tile and the Mohawk Group.

Jim Melville, chair of the nominating and governance committee of the Armstrong Flooring board, summed it up in a press release: “Michel brings both tremendous domestic and international industry experience and strong business, operational, financial and strategic expertise to Armstrong Flooring. He...has modeled superb business and leadership principles throughout his career while establishing a track record of improving business performance by implementing product development, manufacturing and operational excellence.”

Vermette joins Armstrong after a successful career spanning more than two decades at Mohawk Industries, where he served in multifaceted positions across the company’s finance, investor relations, sales and marketing and business development operations. During his tenure, he helped transform the flooring business into an innovative and leading flooring manufacturer, redesigned the customer experience process and led large-scale acquisitions and successful integrations.

Vermette, speaking exclusively to FCNews, was attracted to Armstrong for a number of reasons. “First and foremost is the fact this is one of the iconic brands in the industry,” he said. “The second piece is the category—Armstrong is exclusively focused on the fastest-growing category in the industry. And being in the CEO role allows me to create something a little unique. The last piece is this is a company that has residential and commercial, domestic and international—all the aspects that fit my career.”

Vermette, through his roles at Mohawk, competed against Armstrong for a number of years, particularly as president of the Mohawk Group. So he has had familiarity with the company, albeit from the outside. “Armstrong has always been very good in healthcare and education. The brand was always a comfortable choice for facility managers in those settings. It’s a known commodity, like IBM. The brand is a hard incumbent to dislodge in those settings, and I look forward to building on that.”

And with that, he had the perception that Armstrong had the potential to do more. And now it will. “There are many things in process we can take advantage of,” Vermette said. “The company has always had a history of innovation, and that’s something on which we can capitalize. The most important thing I will need to work on with the team is to determine what we focus on and what we don’t. It’s important to complete projects and achieve results.”

Getting up to speed
Vermette will be spending the first few weeks meeting with and understanding the team. He will be seeking fresh ideas and establishing a culture. At the same time, he is learning the needs of the business. “It’s really about getting up to speed. Where are we with the product development cycle, let’s establish a marketing plan for 2020. The priority for the next 90 days is to develop the plan for the next chapter of Armstrong.”

Marketing will be a primary focus, something on which Armstrong pulled back under former CEO Don Maier. “It’s important for us to communicate our message and strategy,” he said. “The brand is critical to Armstrong so it’s important we manage that and voice that.”

While Armstrong may be a legacy brand to older generations, extending that awareness to Gens X, Y and Z is critical. “We must make sure the brand remains strong for years to come to the next generation of consumers,” he said.

While marketing is critical, Vermette said he believes every- thing must begin with products and innovation. “It starts by satisfying customers. That means having great products and innovation that are relevant to their needs. It’s about being a little more innovative and taking some risk. Armstrong got to its position of pre-eminence by taking some risk and leading. We will have to be creative. We will have to do things a little differently than we have in the past.”

Vermette understands this as well as anyone. He is credited with stepping into similar situations at Dal-Tile and the Mohawk Group— which were not realizing their full potential—and turning them around to significant profitability. How does this rebuilding process compare?

“They are all very similar in size,” he explained. “It starts with people and every- one working in the same direction. Every one of those challenges had key things you can work with. Armstrong has a great brand and a great balance sheet along with a unified team that wants to work together. You take those pieces and add a few others to make sure you can reach full potential. There are lots of places where Armstrong does not participate or has a small presence. We will make sure we have the right components to win in those areas. We’ll get there.”

Currently, Armstrong boasts a 60/40 mix slanted toward commercial, and it basically owns the VCT market. Will that change? “It just depends where the opportunities are,” Vermette noted. “My focus is on growth. The bottom line is the ultimate judge, but you have to grow top line long term to have a sustainable bottom line. We have some legacy platforms [like VCT] that do well, and we need to leverage those and protect our market share. With LVT, we need to make sure we are critical of what we’re doing and get more out of that area.”

Vermette is hitting the ground running. “The team has been hungry for leadership. I’m ready to get moving and take the brand and company forward. I’ve been really pleased with the feedback from the marketplace— retailers, distributors, commercial dealers, buying groups. We’re in a good place to start.”