Posted on

Laminate: Segment feels heat from hard surface counterparts

June 24/July 1, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 1

By Reginald Tucker


Fierce competition from alternative hard surface categories—combined with a diminished number of laminate displays in many independent specialty retail showrooms across the country—kept the category’s growth in check for much of 2018.

FCNews research shows laminate flooring sales dipped to just over $1.103 billion last year, a 1.7% decrease from 2017. It also represents the second consecutive year of sales declines in the category.

Likewise, volume took a hit as square footage sold fell to roughly 1.012 billion square feet, a 2.1% decrease over the prior year on top of a 1.9% decrease in volume sold in 2017.

To put things in greater perspective, laminates’ part of the overall flooring market fell to roughly 4.8%, down from 5.1% of total industry dollars in 2017. With respect to volume, the category represented approximately 5.1% of total square footage sold, down slightly from 5.3% in 2017. Going back 10 years, laminate represented roughly 5.7% of total industry sales and 4.4% of volume.

The falloff is even more pronounced when measuring laminates’ performance against competing hard surface categories. Last year, for example, the category accounted for about 9.5% of total hard surface sales and 11.2% of hard surface volume sold. That’s down slightly from 10.6% of sales and 11.6% of volume in 2017, respectively. But just five years ago, laminates’ share of total hard surfaces was 15% in dollars and 17% of square footage.

It’s no coincidence that the laminate category has lost the most market share over the past five to 10 years; over that same time span, certain segments of the resilient flooring category have increased share. “Without a doubt the biggest issue facing the laminate category is competition from WPC/LVT/SPC,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “These categories have grown tremendously in the past 10 years and have presented some headwinds for laminate.”

Other laminate flooring manufacturing executives—even those who participate in the competing rigid floor covering segment—agree. “Clearly the biggest pressure on laminates is the competition from rigid core vinyl in all its forms,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, manufacturer of the Sono ceramin-based line as well as company-branded laminate flooring. “As the industry statistics clearly show, these resilient products are continuing to claim market share against all categories and, in particular, laminate flooring.”

As more retailers participate in the explosive rigid core sector, they are devoting more of their floor space to these products and less to others, namely laminate. “During laminates’ heyday between 1996 and 2003-04, the average retailer had five-plus laminate displays on the showroom floor,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management, Shaw Floors. “Now you’re lucky to see one laminate display on the showroom floor.”

Mannington’s Natkin agreed. “At independent retail, we have seen some choosing to dedicate less space to the laminate category, instead focusing in on two or three key brands they know and trust.”

Not everyone is in agreement that the laminate category has fallen off to the degree that many suggest, however. “We continue to estimate high market share for laminates in North America than what is published,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. He puts 2018 volume in the 1.2 billion-square-foot range. “The added features have driven more top-end sales, escalating the average sales price of laminate.”

Other executives such as Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Swiss Krono, a private-label supplier, believes volume was even higher than that in 2018. “We believe the market to be approximately 1.3 billion square feet and in excess of $1.2 billion in sales.”

Changing dynamics

Along with the overall shift in hard surface preferences, there has also been some movement internally within the laminate category as it pertains to how and where the product is being sold, distributed and consumed. For instance, laminates’ share of the commercial sector continues to dwindle (combined Main Street business and specified commercial business account for only 1.1% of sales) while residential replacement and builder applications are holding steady. FCNews research showed a slight uptick in new construction applications (12% of sales) with residential replacement activity—the leading end-use sector for laminates—hovering around 87% of sales.

“Residential remodel is still the strongest market for laminate, but we’re seeing growing acceptance among the builder community,” Mannington’s Natkin said.

In that same vein, industry observers reported greater activity at the home center level as big boxes dedicate more space (and SKUs) to flooring. FCNews research shows that Home Depot and Lowe’s collectively generated roughly $13 billion in total flooring sales in fiscal 2018. With respect to laminate in particular, there has been strong activity among entry-level laminate products in the $0.99 to $2.49-per-square-foot range. For 2018, FCNews research showed the major big-box chains—including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menard’s—grew their collective share of laminate flooring sales to 51% of the market, as the specialty retail segment’s share dipped slightly to roughly 28%. The industry also saw other mass merchants—including the likes of warehouse clubs and Lumber Liquidators—increase their respective shares of the market.

The good news for specialty retailers is the kinds of laminate products in which they choose to specialize generally represent higher-margin opportunities. “We’re seeing more activity with the 12mm laminate products at specialty retail vs. the less expensive 8mm products you generally find at the home centers,” Shaw’s Hash explained. “Not only do the thicker products translate into bigger profits for our retail partners, but they also mean better-performing products for the consumer.”

Domestic vs. imports
The high volume of entry-level laminate flooring products moving through the home center channel—combined with fewer brands being represented at the specialty retail level—has impacted the supply chain dynamics in recent years. As stateside suppliers look to remain profitable in a market segment where the basic wholesale price of the product hasn’t budged much, there has been an increasing reliance on private-label manufacturers located in the U.S. Companies like Clarion and Swiss Krono, for example, have invested millions in their stateside operations to meet demand for what they view as a steady home center business. At the same time, they continue to make higher-end goods for some major American suppliers.

Nonetheless, the U.S. market is still attractive for laminate manufacturers based in Europe, China and, to a lesser extent, Canada. While imports have fallen off somewhat over the past two to three years, inbound shipments still represent a respectable portion of laminate flooring products making their way to U.S. shores.

A cursory view of statistics provided by the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) bears this out. Last year, manufacturing members of the EPLF (including Classen, Alsapan, Berry Alloc, Egger, Haro, Faus, Kaindl, Balterio, Swiss Krono and Krono Flooring, among others) achieved worldwide sales of European-produced laminate flooring totaling 4.9 billion square feet, down 4.6% compared to 2017. This indicates that even with a downward trend in some regions, the global laminate market remains at a high level.

North America in particular continues to be a profitable sales region for the European laminate flooring sector, although weaker figures from Canada have mitigated those results. At 476 million square feet, total sales for North America in 2018 are off about 10.4% against the previous year. With around 330 million square feet sold in 2018, the U.S. market exhibited a slight reduction of 2.4%, while Canada recorded just under 146.3 million square feet for 2018, representing a drop of 24.5%.

By comparison, in Western Europe, the “home market” of the EPLF, sales declined further in 2018. Last year total member sales to the region reached 2.42 billion square feet, down 7.3% compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, EPLF sales to Latin America and Asia once again recorded the biggest increases. EPLF sales to Latin America grew 4.7% to approximately 200 million square feet in 2018 with Chile, the largest individual market, rising 5% compared to the previous year. Mexico recorded 42 million square feet, down from 46.3 million square feet in 2017, while Colombia registered 22.6 million square feet, up from 17.2 million square feet the year prior.

In Asia, EPLF producers achieved total sales of around 323 million square feet, up 2.8% over the previous year.

Silver linings
While the laminate flooring segment faces ongoing challenges from external forces and internal dynamics alike, suppliers continue to invest in the category. Mohawk Industries, for one, is looking to continue ushering the category into the next stage of its evolution via both its RevWood and Quick-Step NatureTEK offerings—products that tout enhanced durability as well as resistance to water incursion.

“We have a pretty good base here in the United States for production of RevWood products,” said Jeff Juzaitis, vice president, product management, Mohawk. “We have a breadth of design styles that satisfy almost every design whim. So that’s our focus—keeping the features at the forefront of the market and making sure we have price points across the entire range. We have the best partners out there in the marketplace to convey the story of RevWood to our end consumer who’s going to put it on the floor.”

It’s specifically the “waterproof” segment within the laminate flooring category that Mohawk sees the greatest potential. “In a world where everybody is being bombarded by rigid LVT, it’s really refreshing to have a different product category to talk about,” said Paul Murfin, senior vice president of distribution at Mohawk. “I would argue that this category of flooring is actually the fastest growing category in the industry today, growing faster than SPC or WPC. We are potentially looking at high-double or potentially triple-digit growth for this type of product.”

Quick-Step distributors like Owings Mills, Md.-based Elias Wilf tend to agree. “The laminate category has taken a pretty good hit over the past few years; WPC and rigid core floors certainly haven’t helped that,” said Jeff Striegel, president. “But the relaunch of Quick-Step in the form of NatureTEK just goes to demonstrate that if you keep a product current, fashionable and in line with the attributes that consumers are actually interested in and looking for, it still has a meaningful place on the floor both in the retail space and at the builder level.”

For companies like Shaw Floors, the greatest opportunity lies in step-up products. “Sales of our better-end, moisture-resistant products—which we classify as Repel—are doing very well in the market,” Hash explained. “Where we have had more challenges within the laminate category, quite frankly, is on the entry-level side where there’s more pressure from inexpensive 7mm-8mm products vs. the higher quality 12mm option, which accounts for a much smaller piece of the pie.”

The goal, according to suppliers like Shaw Floors, is to put more “distance” between the types of laminate products primarily sold at home centers and mass merchants vs. the more differentiated, higher-margin goods predominantly peddled by independent specialty retailers. “At Shaw we have launched 72-inch laminate boards, which have come a long way compared to a time when everything was 48-inch, fixed lengths,” Hash stated. “Also, with laminates today, the depth of the embossing is much better and the visuals are much stronger than they were in the past. When you take into account the apparent value of the products along with the visuals and the water-resistance story tacked on—it’s still a great value for the product.”

Swiss Krono’s Bass agreed, citing the vast improvements made in recent years. “With the product evolution into moisture resistance, laminate has solidified its place in the overall floor covering market. Moisture-resistant laminate gives the consumer a desired wood product with a wonderful environmental story and a great product with the best features and benefits of all floor covering choices.”

Posted on

Laminate: Latest looks aim to excite today’s consumers

June 10/17, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 26

By Reginald Tucker


In the battle to regain market share lost to red-hot categories such as LVT, WPC and SPC, laminate flooring suppliers have raised the ante in terms of performance—particularly the product’s water- and dent-resistant attributes. But they are also seeking to generate attention—and, by extension, more real estate on the showroom floor—by kicking things up a notch or two in the aesthetics department.

To that end, laminate manufacturers are leveraging various technologies, innovation and some creativity to get retailers excited about the category again. “Laminate designs over the last couple of years have really evolved from what we’ve seen in years past,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk. “The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you can get in other categories such as ceramic, LVT and rigid core products.”

In Mohawk’s case, that realism is primarily due to the decorative papers used to render the primary image, plus an innovative four-color process employed to bring the visuals to life. These technologies have paid big dividends for Mohawk, whose RevWood line earned the company top honors in the laminate category in the 2019 Award of Excellence competition. “The level of pressing detail and registered embossed combined with our in-house design really takes design to another level, and it’s why we positioned the category as RevWood over laminate,” Ward explained. “The things we can do from a visual perspective—combined with our waterproof story—really has elevated the category over some of those other imitations that have come into the market.”

Examples include the Antique Craft collection, a 9 1⁄2-inch wide x 7-foot-long plank that plays on the growth of wider/longer in the wood category. According to Mohawk, it features ultra-realistic design and texture combined with bevels that mimic the texture of a real wood floor. Then there’s Collosia, a collection that resides within Mohawk’s Quick-Step brand. In keeping with its name, the product boasts 80-inch-long x 10- inch-wide boards available in modern urban looks in a variety of fashion-forward colors. “What we’ve been able to do with these products is bring retailers back to the category,” Ward said.

Mohawk is not alone. Inhaus, which also earned an Award of Excellence for its laminate offerings, believes the category still has a lot to offer retailers and, ultimately, consumers. “Laminate is one of the flooring categories with the lowest cost complemented with leading scratch and wear resistance,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Furthermore, working with clarity of pressed melamine and digital printing there are design abilities that other categories don’t have. Our goal is to match these technical qualities with great designs complemented by the ability to bring these designs to the market with greater speed to offer our customers something that other categories cannot.”

To that end, Inhaus has invested in its own design center, a 40,000-square-foot facility that includes a workshop for raw materials, manned by 22-member team that works continuously on design. “This helps us create new products at a faster rate and respond to trends in the market as quickly as possible,” Welbourn added.

Major suppliers continue to dedicate resources to give themselves an advantage through innovation and differentiation. “Our styling team is able to take real wood and enhance it through advanced scanning and digital manipulation to get the exact look they want,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Also, with the newer technologies in printing, we can also create a broader array of visuals with less repeats.”

As an example, Natkin cited Arcadia and Sawmill Hickory, top-selling offerings from Mannington’s award-winning Restoration collection.

CFL Flooring, another innovator in the laminate sector—among other categories—has also made great strides in developing eye-catching looks. Utilizing its vast experience in hard surface flooring production, as well as its manufacturing scale, the company is able to leverage those attributes to its advantage. “We have a broad range of fashion-forward design visuals available in varying lengths or random widths across many species, including handscraped or embossed-in-register real wood surface structure,” said Barron Frith, CEO of CFL’s U.S. operations. “Our biggest advantage is the number of unique visuals we offer, making it very realistic and hard to see repeats once the floor is installed, which technically is more difficult to achieve.”

For CFL, staying on the forefront of innovation is the name of the game, according to Frith. “We continue on the path we started in 2014, when we were the first to launch water-resistant laminate and solely focus on water-resistant solutions with special sizes—herringbone, blended lengths and widths, etc.—as well as special designs that require a significant amount of pattern variation.”

Seemingly across the board, suppliers are leveraging technology to develop realistic patterns and visuals. “High-resolution printing advancements are opening up the opportunity to produce unique, one-of-a-kind looks,” said John Hammel, director of category management, hardwood and laminate, Shaw Floors. “Consumers can now choose from laminate with grouted tile, realistic wood plank and stone visuals, giving them a durable, low-maintenance product with high style.”

A winning proposition
The latest innovations we’re seeing in laminate are designed to do much more than dazzle consumers. The main objective is to keep the category relevant in the face of increasingly stiff competition. “Laminate still has many advantages over other categories like resilient or wood, such as its scratch resistance and strength,” CFL’s Frith said. “Warranties are very similar with waterproof products as well. Bathrooms, three-season rooms, spills or large-area installation without T-moldings are all warranted, so we believe these types of products still have a bright future ahead.”

Mannington’s Natkin agreed, adding, “Laminate is already the most scratch- and indentation-resistant printed product category on the market today. It is also visually more realistic than LVT; it lacks that plastic look.”

It’s a message that laminate suppliers are hoping will resonate deeply with retail sales associates—those on the front lines with consumers. “The com- bination of leading design, wear performance and cost create a value proposition for laminate that is very powerful,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “Other categories will have problems competing with this.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about providing trade-up opportunities for retailers. As Mohawk’s Ward explains: “With RevWood Plus and our other RevWood products, we are giving consumers and specialty retailers a reason to turn back to the category where they may have traded down consumers in years past—particularly with the millennial and younger customers who might not necessarily require a hardwood or demand it. This has given retailers a reason to trade up from a cheaper laminate that they may have looked at in the past.”

All this, plus laminate’s proven value proposition and high-performance attributes, will go a long way in helping the category recoup market share, suppliers say. “Today’s consumers are looking for affordable laminate flooring, but with higher quality, style and design than the laminate of the past,” Shaw’s Hammel stated. “The trend toward thicker products, combined with improved high-end visuals and realistic embossing, means laminate isn’t simply an entry-level product.”

Posted on

A look back at 2018’s top introductions

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Lindsay Baillie and Ken Ryan


In a marketplace plagued by “me-too” products, it is up to manufacturers to develop standout flooring. Whether it’s carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile or resilient, suppliers have had to step up their game in style, design and performance to excite flooring dealers and customers alike.

In 2018, the industry saw a plethora of new products enter the scene. Following is an overview of those products that stood out to flooring retailers.

Terra Linda by Anderson Tuftex

About the product: Terra Linda is a 100% Stainmaster Luxerell BCF nylon carpet with textured styled. Available in 24 colors the signature product also features A/T’s Softbac Platinum Backing.

Sierra Nevada by Audacity from CFL
About the product:
Audacity’s water-resistant laminate floors are available in five collections—Classic Naturals, Hearthside, Lodge, Monticello and Vintage. In the U.S. and in Canada, Audacity Flooring is sold exclusively through select Armstrong Flooring distributors.

Adventure II by Engineered Floors
About the product:
EF’s Adventure II is a 5.5mm luxury vinyl plank with a 22-mil wear layer and a ceramic bead finish. Available in nine wood-look visuals, the 7 x 48-inch plank can be installed floating and comes with a 10-year commercial warranty and a lifetime residential warranty. What’s more, Adventure II is Floorscore certified for indoor air quality.

Sono by Inhaus
About the product: Sono is a 100% recyclable, PVC-free flooring that is made up of 60% mineral powder and 40% polypropylene. Sono is waterproof, easy to install and highly stable under both humidity and heat. The company continues to invest in its digital printing to ensure quality, on-trend visuals.

RevWood Plus by Mohawk
About the product: 
RevWood Plus is a revolutionary wood floor destined to make consumers rethink the wood category. RevWood Plus planks offer reliable durability that resist stains, scratches and dents. Thanks to its 100% waterproof flooring system, spills, accidents and tracked-in-stain-makers are kept on the surface for quick, easy cleanup.

Sweet Memories collection by Mirage
About the product: 
Mirage’s Sweet Memories collection features the manufacturer’s exclusive staining and brushing processes to create floors with the charm of yesteryear. Variations, knots, cracks and other natural characteristics help to create the collection’s authentic appearance.

Titanium by Karastan

About the product: Karastan’s Titanium rug collection is grounded by a careful combination of both traditional and transitional patterns. The collection is meant to satisfy a craving for contrast with a fashion-forward fusion of matte and sheen finishes.

Acrylx by Raskin

About the product: Acrylx is a solid surface waterproof floor available in three collections: Premier Home, Premier XL and Premier G-Core XL. Acrylx’s high-density core is made of pure materials and minerals that are tightly bonded with polymers to create a solid core that is more impact resistant and denser than other floors.

Great California Oak by Republic Floors

About the product: Great California Oak is an extra-wide, pure SPC floor with beveled edges and realistic grains. The 100% waterproof flooring carries a limited 25-year residential warranty and a limited 10-year commercial warranty. What’s more, it features the company’s new antibacterial EVA underlayment padding.

Bellera by Shaw Floors

About the product: Created with a holistic approach to meet the design and performance needs of consumers, Bellera is a top-to-bottom innovation known for style and durability. With Bellera, Shaw’s new Endurance high-performance fiber is combined with proven technologies such as R2X soil and stain resistance and LifeGuard backing to create a worry-free carpet.

Harbor Plank by Southwind
About the product: 
The Harbor Plank series features planks 6 x 48, with a high-density wood plastic composite core and a Uniclic locking system. Attached to each luxury vinyl plank is the Southwind IXPE underlayment pad, which is impervious to water, hides subfloor imperfections, provides added sound absorption and comfort underfoot.

COREtec Pro Plus by USFloors
About the product: 
The COREtec Pro Plus Series consists of two collections: COREtec Pro Plus (5mm total thickness) and COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced (7mm total thickness). COREtec Pro Plus Enhanced includes all the features of the Pro Plus collection coupled with a four-sided enhanced bevel for added realism.

Radius by Stanton Carpet

About the product: Stanton’s Radius broadloom carpet is available in Stanton Street, the company’s Decorative Commercial line. Radius is a cut-pile nylon and is crafted for residential to heavy commercial application.

TruTEX by Tarkett
About the product: With its unique textile backing, TruTEX luxury sheet flooring resists mold and mildew while adding superior strength against rips, tears and gouges. With 20 realistic, high-definition stone and wood designs, TruTEX is easy to install over existing floor coverings, greatly reducing the time spent preparing subfloors.



Posted on

Laminate: Distributors go high ‘TEK’ with Quick-Step rebrand

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker


Quick-Step sellers will be pleased to learn the Reclaime collection will still be available despite the changeover to NatureTEK.

Mohawk first hit a home run with last year’s breakthrough RevWood collection, an engineered flooring product designed to go toe-to-toe with other waterproof offerings such as WPC and SPC. Now it’s Quick-Step’s turn at bat as the similarly constructed NatureTEK line looks to win favor among stocking distributors.

Built on the same platform as RevWood—which is based on melamine overlay coupled with a high-resolution decorative image supported by an HDF core that has been enhanced with features that significantly boost the product’s resistance to moisture—the Quick-Step NatureTEK line aims to offer consumers all the visual attributes of a wood floor with- out the shortcomings.

Available in three platforms—NatureTEK, NatureTEK Plus and NatureTEK Select—the collections aim to provide retailers with a multi-tiered product offering that allows trade-up opportunities while giving consumers a range of options from which to choose. The NatureTEK Plus and Select offerings, which retail at about $3 and $3.50 per square foot, respectively, are imbued with waterproof attributes.

“We refer to NatureTEK—what essentially used to be our laminate platform—as ‘wood perfected,’” said Paul Murfin, senior vice president of distribution at Mohawk Industries. “It combines cutting-edge technology with the latest in design trends to deliver beautiful floors with unparalleled resistance to scratches and stains.”

Like RevWood, NatureTEK Plus and Select lines owe their waterproof qualities to Mohawk’s complete installation system. It all starts with the Uniclic locking technology, which ensures an extremely tight connection between the planks—the product’s first line of defense against moisture incursion. The analogy Murfin likes to use is when you try to put a size 10 foot into a size 9 shoe. “It’s going to be a very snug fit,” he explained.

The next critical component is Mohawk’s GenuEdge technology, which applies the decorative paper all the way to the edge of the board so there’s no exposed HDF core in the middle of the plank. For additional moisture protection, Mohawk
applies its signature
HydroSeal, which
essentially coats the
outside of the planks
to prevent moisture
from penetrating the product. For good measure, Mohawk recommends installers apply a silicone bead around the perimeter of the installation as an additional layer of protection.

“The whole idea of NatureTEK Plus and Select is to keep moisture on the perimeter of the product and prevent it from penetrating into the floor,” Murfin explained.

Longtime Quick-Step distributors said they like what they’re seeing in the newly reborn NatureTEK line. “The methodology behind the program is sound,” said Aaron Stred, vice president of hardwood, NRF Distributors, a top 20 wholesaler servicing eight states in the New England region. “The TEK programming ties up a lot of proverbial loose ends for Quick-Step. What once seemed fractured is now easily digestible by the retailer.”

While the waterproof attributes of NatureTEK Plus and Select are a big draw, the main allure is the aesthetic appeal. As Stred explains, “Quick-Step has left the more traditional laminate visuals behind in lieu of some very forward-thinking products. The products don’t go out onto limbs that are the ‘color of the moment,’ but rather they hit a medium in color, sheen and texture that has been pretty crowd pleasing within an array of collections.”

Other top 20 distributors such as Owings Mills, Md.-based Elias Wilf are also singing NatureTEK’s praises. Jeff Striegel, president, believes it’s just what the segment needed. “The laminate category has taken a pretty good hit over the past few years; WPC and rigid core floors certainly haven’t helped that. But the relaunch of Quick-Step in the form of NatureTEK just goes to demonstrate that if you keep a product current, fashionable and in line with the attributes that consumers are actually interested in and looking for, it still has a meaningful place on the floor both in the retail space and at the builder level.”

Striegel is particularly impressed with the combined technologies utilized within NatureTEK Plus and Select that render the products waterproof. He not only views it as a game changer but also a playing field leveler. “I think Quick-Step has established a meaningful parity with the WPC category in terms of the waterproof aspect,” he explained. “And when you take a look at the things that are inherent within this laminate product (it’s substantially more stain resistant than WPC, eight times more scratch resistant and has a higher psi, which gives much better dent resistance than any of the WPC products) it provides a real point of differentiation.”

NatureTEK’s eye-catching visuals are equally impressive. “When Mohawk introduced NatureTEK, they did it with phenomenal styling,” Striegel said. “If you were to put that product right next to wood, it looks more like wood than real wood. It is the most authentic replication of hardwood that you’ll find in the industry today.”

Nothing but upside
While it has only been a year since NatureTEK’s official rollout, Mohawk believes the product’s potential is unlimited. In fact, when viewed through the prism of a category unto itself (waterproof laminate), the company believes its growth will outpace that of WPC.

“In a world where everybody is being bombarded by rigid LVT, it’s really refreshing to have a different product category to talk about,” Murfin stated. “I would argue that this category of flooring is actually the fastest growing category in the industry today, growing faster than SPC or WPC. We are potentially looking at high-double or potentially triple-digit growth for this type of product. I’m telling distributors to think big with this product.”

Posted on

Laminate: State of the industry—Fighting back against barrage of LVT, WPC, SPC

March 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 20

By Reginald Tucker


Of all the competing hard surface categories facing pressure from the red-hot LVT sector, none has felt the squeeze more acutely than the laminate flooring segment, industry observers say. However, several of the major suppliers—many of which participate in these alternative categories—are looking to regain some of that lost market share.

For many laminate suppliers, priority No. 1 is recouping some of the showroom space lost to LVT, WPC and SPC over the years. “During laminates’ heyday—we’re talking about the run the category had between 1996 and 2003-04—the average retailer had five-plus laminate displays on the showroom floor,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management, Shaw Floors. “Now you’re lucky to see one laminate display on the show floor.”

Ask anyone who hasn’t been asleep at the wheel for the past five to six years, and they will tell you the popularity of LVT is the primary reason for laminates’ loss of share. “Without a doubt, competition from WPC/LVT/SPC is the biggest challenge facing the laminate flooring category today,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “These categories have grown tremendously in the past 10 years and have presented some headwinds for the category.”

Natkin is not alone. Keith Wiethe, director of sales for Home Legend, which participates in several hard surface categories, concurs. “Over the past couple of years there has been a definite reduction in showroom space for laminate. There is a perceived value that WPC/SPC products are a better option.”

Therein lies the main challenge, suppliers say—convincing retail sales associates that it’s not only worth taking another look at the category but that it can also be beneficial to devote more square footage to the category.

“With recent technological enhancements in the laminate category, this product now has its own water-resistance properties,” Wiethe said, referring to what is arguably the biggest selling point of the WPC/SPC-type products that have challenged laminates so fiercely in recent years.

Reading the writing on the wall, several companies that produce laminate flooring saw the increased competition from the likes of WPC and SPC as an opportunity to invest in the category. Such was the case with Mohawk, which—via the launch of RevWood—sought to not only vastly improve the product’s performance and aesthetic characteristics but also attempt to redefine the category in the process.

Jeff Juzaitis, vice president, product management, Mohawk, cited the combination of advanced Uniclic locking technology, edge sealers and coreboard construction that work in tandem to create what he called a “waterproof matrix” that doesn’t allow moisture to permeate the product.

“With RevWood, consumers have the expectation that they can live on it, spill a glass on the floor or walk in from the outside with wet feet and not have any of the problems associated with laminates in the past,” he told FCNews. “This has made the entire category see a resurgence especially in the specialty retail space.”

Other major suppliers of laminate flooring point to their own innovations in the area of water resistance—advancements that have already reaped benefits. “For the last five years, CFL has been focusing on water-resistant laminate with special features, benefits and designs, and it has been doing well year over year,” said Barron Frith, president, CFL, North America, citing the company’s popular Atroguard line.

A thin line
As more laminate manufacturers look to leverage the category’s improvements in the area of resistance to water incursion and moisture, the chorus of respective product claims has grown ever louder. On one side of the coin you have those who tout their products as “waterproof” vs. others who say their laminate floors are “water resistant.”

But that begs the question: Is this a good thing for the laminate category, which, historically, faced some criticism for overblown claims during the height of the product’s popularity back in the mid- to late 1990s? Supplier views remain mixed on this particular issue.

“We don’t see any worry in calling our products waterproof once they’ve been installed correctly on the floor,” Mohawk’s Juzaitis explained.

CFL’s Frith, in speaking for his own company, attested to the advancements made in this regard. “Water-resistant laminate is far from new for CFL. The ‘bulletproof’ reputation has proven to be a huge positive for us since we launched Atroguard five years ago. It combines the strengths of laminate with the water resistance features of all the vinyl categories recently growing in popularity.”

Mannington’s Natkin, who also serves as the president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), said this kind of marketing is helpful. “The category is already more indentation and scratch resistant than virtually any other flooring type, so the renewed innovation is definitely a positive step,” he said.

Other industry executives, however, strike a more cautious tone. “I can only speak to this issue from Shaw Floors’ perspective, and within our company we have a very robust protocol when it comes to product testing,” Hash explained. “We feel it made the most sense to utilize the ‘water-resistant’ verbiage when promoting our products. What others want to do is their prerogative.”

Then there are those like Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, who views the matter as a double-edged sword. “We enjoy the additional focus brought to the laminate category by these water-resistant—or, in some cases, waterproof—claims. However, we view any statements that oversell a product’s attributes as ultimately harmful to the business. The truth is that laminate—although water resistant and in some cases highly water resistant—is not waterproof. Laminate is based on a fiberboard core and will ultimately fail if soaked with water over time.”

Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Swiss Krono, also warns against the temptation to oversell the product. “Responsible moisture-resistant marketing will help; touting the product as moisture proof may be harmful,” he noted.

Home Legend’s Wiethe embraces a similar philosophy. “Anytime you oversell a product, the experience by the end user may not be favorable,” he told FCNews. “Proper expectations should be set especially in today’s environment where consumers are more intelligent about products due to the information that is easily accessible to them.”

Pressure from within
Threats from competing categories is not the only major challenge facing the laminate sector. Industry observers also point to issues taking place within the product category itself—namely cannibalization by lower-end products. For many suppliers it represents a two-fold battle: competing against entry-level laminates within the category while still challenging the likes of WPC and SPC products—all of which continue to evolve at a rapid pace.

For companies like Shaw Floors, the greatest opportunity lies in step-up products. “Sales of our better-end, moisture-resistant products—which we classify as Repel—are doing very well in the market,” Hash explained. “Where we have had more challenges within the laminate category, quite frankly, is on the entry-level side where there’s more pressure from inexpensive 7mm-8mm products vs. the higher quality 12mm option, which accounts for a much smaller piece of the pie.”

The goal, according to suppliers like Shaw Floors, is to put more “distance” between the types of laminate products primarily sold at home centers vs. the more differentiated, higher-margin goods predominantly sold by the independent specialty retail channel. “At Shaw we have launched 72-inch laminate boards, which have come a long way compared to a time when everything was 48-inch, fixed lengths. Also, with laminates today, the depth of the embossing is much better and the visuals are much stronger than they were in the past. When you take into account the apparent value of the products along with the visuals—along with the water-resistance story tacked on—it’s still a great value for the product.”

CFL’s Frith also sees technological improvements as a way to make greater distinctions—especially in the minds of the consumer—between the various product tiers. “Laminate allows us to offer a broad range of fashion-forward design visuals available in varying lengths or random widths across many species. One of our biggest advantages is the depth of unique visuals we offer—products that are more realistic and show fewer repeats than cheaper products.”

Ditto for Mohawk, which continues to invest heavily in the laminate flooring category. According to the company, this not only gives the consumer better design options, but it also instills in RSAs a greater sense of confidence in promoting the category. “We have a breadth of design styles that satisfy almost every design whim,” Juzaitis said, citing both the level of realism of the product as well as improvements in surface textures.

Posted on

Laminate Surfaces coverage: Suppliers leverage latest technological advances

February 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 18

By Reginald Tucker


Las Vegas—It’s no secret that much of the attention (and real estate) on the show floor during TISE was trained on LVT/WPC/SPC products. But that didn’t stop laminate flooring suppliers from showcasing their latest innovations as a means to regain market share from the red-hot resilient category.

Indeed, some of the industry’s top laminate flooring suppliers are utilizing technology to bolster the category’s already well-known attributes—durability, realism, ease of maintenance and, more recently, resistance to water incursion. The goal, suppliers say, is to remind retailers and consumers that there are legitimate alternatives to WPC.

Mannington, for example, is emphasizing the category’s performance aspects—even if that means de-emphasizing the word laminate. “We’ve taken the ‘L’ word out of laminate,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. “We’re not really calling it laminate because there are some preconceived notions about the category. Instead, we talk about the category from the performance standpoint; it’s really one of the best residential—and even commercial— flooring products you can get in terms of indentation and scratch resistance and now even moisture resistance. It’s a product category that really performs and continues to grow for us.”

This unconventional marketing strategy is evident on all of Mannington’s laminate displays, which tout the company’s best-selling Restoration collection as opposed to traditional category identifiers. Display panels tout the line’s features and benefits, including the product’s waterproof attributes. According to Natkin, this is what consumers ultimately respond to.

“Outside of smartphones, I’ve never seen anything take off as quickly as this waterproof thing in terms of how it’s perceived in the minds of the consumer,” he told FCNews. “She walks into the store and asks, ‘Is it waterproof?’”

Some of Mannington’s dealer partners also conduct durability demonstrations on the show floor as a means to drive home the product’s advantages.

“Some of our RSAs take a ball peen hammer to a laminate floor to demonstrate the indentation resistance of the product,” Natkin stated. “This helps dealers get over that initial hurdle.”

The company is so confident in the performance of the product that it has updated its warranty coverage. “Two years ago we introduced technology called SpillShield, which dramatically improved the moisture resistance of laminate,” Natkin explained. “Now we’re able to apply even more and do some more things to make the product more waterproof. The level of moisture it can resist matches the level of any other type of flooring.”

The category rebranding strategy is not unique to Mannington. In fact, prior to Surfaces 2018, Mohawk made the move to designate a whole new category for products that, from a purely construction standpoint, might be considered laminate. And with that, RevWood was born.

“Last year we introduced RevWood here in a major move to rebrand the category and focus on what Mohawk does best—innovation in style and design,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate. “Sales grew in a category that was flat or declining. All of that revolves around the story we’re telling—a real wood product that features the industry’s only waterproof solution. The reaction we got from customers was phenomenal.”

Mohawk dealers agree. “It combines the best attributes of laminate flooring—scratch resistance—with the waterproof attribute that has made LVT so popular,” said Matt Norman, owner of Norman’s Floorcovering, Newberg, Ore.

Richard Scherzer, owner of About Floors n’ More, Jacksonville, Fla., concurs. “The waterproof is the magic,” he said.

Looks good, too
Suppliers have also made strides in the aesthetic department. TISE served as the platform for manufacturers to not only launch new laminate products but also extend existing collections. Mohawk, for instance, added 14 SKUs to RevWood Plus this year and took the wraps off RevWood Select. (RevWood Select features standard bevel, while RevWood Plus boasts the GenuEdge bevel. Built on a step-up platform, Select provides a 10 year warranty vs. lifetime warranty with RevWood Plus.

The new lines and extensions bring the total RevWood offering to more than 50 SKUs. Antique Craft, a wider/longer option available in a 9 ½-inch-wide x 80-inch-long plank, was a key highlight at the booth this year, while Southberry, which is a similar looking product to Antique Craft but not as wide, made its official debut.

Then there’s Western Ridge, non-oak, wirebrushed pine look; Crest Haven, which boasts a reclaimed saw-cut visual; and Woodcreek oak, which aims to strike a balance between rustic and fashion forward.

“We’ve taken some of our best-selling designs in RevWood Plus and converting them to Select,” Ward said. “All of the latest style and color designs are in there.”

Dealers like what they’re seeing. “The realistic wood looks, the quality of the embossing and the length of the boards are all key selling points,” Scherzer noted.

Mannington also rolled the dice on new introductions. Its top-selling Acadia series gets two new colors (brown with a touch of gray and a true gray tone). Meanwhile, the featured installed floor in the laminate corner of the booth showcased an embossed in register plank in plank design called Station Pine. “We purchased some old reclaimed pine and then we scanned it and began manipulating it to create that plank in plank look,” Natkin said. “It’s going like gangbusters.”

Other major laminate suppliers have also expanded their best-selling lines to keep up with consumer demand. Inhaus, for instance, unveiled trendy, new realistic wood looks such as Danville, Parkwood and Eden. It’s all about giving retail and distributor partners more affordable options that still perform well compared to their resilient counterparts.

“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 some inherent value over plastic,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “We will continue to create an amazing amount of value with our laminate offering and focus on promoting the competitive advantages that laminate has over other categories—mainly, design, cost and wear. It’s an amazing value proposition that people shouldn’t forget about.”

Eye-catching new laminate looks and merchandising vehicles were also on display at the Legendary Floors booth. The company is so optimistic about laminate flooring’s potential in the U.S. market that it revamped its entire laminate program. The company is launching 12 new products—four 8mm products and eight lines in an 8mm format—both with a pad attached. Also, a revamped merchandiser features manageable samples with full room scenes on the back of the panel. The space-saving unit allows dealers to showcase 40 SKUs in a relatively small footprint.

“With all the SPCs and vinyl products out there, people are finding they are not the indestructible products people thought they were,” said Nathan Carter, West Coast sales manager, SEM Group, parent company of Legendary Floors. “We’re finding a lot of the builders want a laminate product with a water warranty on it. This means you can put it in a bathroom or kitchen as long as you put a silicone on the edges. Any topical water is covered for three days.”

Posted on

Who will emerge as the ‘comeback’ kid?

More retailers put their money on carpet vs. laminate

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Ken Ryan

The growth of hard surfaces, in particular LVT and its subsegments WPC and rigid core, has taken market share away from other flooring products, notably carpet and laminate.

While carpet is still the largest flooring segment (FCNews estimates carpet and rugs made up 57.3% of the overall market in 2017), that percentage continues to fall each year. In the residential market, carpet’s use is mostly relegated to bedrooms. What’s more, new home construction, especially in the South, is almost entirely hard surfaces. In the commercial sector, many new and updated hotels are opting for hard surface and rugs in spaces where carpet used to dominate.

So, which category stands to emerge as the leading contender for the comeback kid? Retailers FCNews interviewed overwhelmingly chose carpet.

“Carpet has the greater chance of a comeback,” said Mel Gauthier, owner of Nufloors Fort McMurray, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. “Vinyl plank has replaced a large portion of business in both laminate and carpet, but in the end a lot of people still want the warmth and comfort of carpet. Carpet fiber has come a long way and is now extremely soft, durable and stain resistant/proof.”

Bill Huss of D&M Interiors Flooring America in Appleton, Wis., agreed. “Carpet will definitely make a comeback, especially in our market in the Midwest. People who spend a lot of time inside, like we do in the long winters, will still enjoy the warmth, luxurious feel and noise-reduction properties carpet can supply. If prices from the mills start to stabilize, I think we could see an uptick in the future.”

Billy Mahone III of Atlas Floors Carpet One in San Antonio is already seeing carpet making a comeback in his market. “We might not be selling as much square footage-wise, but things have been evening out with customers typically selecting higher-quality products for the rooms where they install carpet in their home. With new stylish patterns hitting the market every day, and innovations like waterproof backing and durable/soft fibers, the carpet segment should continue to grow.”

Despite the fact that carpet has lost share over the years, Mike Melone, owner of Boss Carpet One Floor & Home in Carroll, Iowa, is also putting his money on carpet. “A significant part of carpet’s decline is due to shifts in consumer design tastes, which could swing back around at some point; laminate, on the other hand, is fighting a losing battle against vinyl products.”

For many retailers, it’s not just the choice between carpet and laminate; LVP has emerged as the wild card. “While laminate with new technology is looking better and becoming more water resistant, LVP is quickly replacing the laminate market share as rigid core is rapidly gaining market share,” said Kevin Rose, owner of Carpetland USA Rockford, Ill. “Meanwhile, carpet has always been a staple as people enjoy its softness.”

But any unforeseen shifts in consumer trends could throw a wrinkle in the mix. “If the LVP category falters with claims or some type of failures, then that could give laminate [the upper hand],” said John Taylor, owner, Taylor Carpet One, Fort Myers, Fla. “Carpet may never be used as it was throughout the house, but it will grow again in time.”

For the past 10 years, laminate sales have been almost nonexistent at Murray Floor & Window Coverings in Billings, Mont. However, Kevin Murray, owner, is beginning to see more interest in laminate with the new technology, water-resistant features and durability. “Luxury vinyl has taken most of laminate’s market share over the years, but consumers are finding it will scratch easier than laminate. Carpet has always been our No. 1 category in sales volume.”

Posted on

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.”

Posted on

Executive forecast: Laminate—Enhancements aim to level the playing field

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Reginald Tucker


As WPC and rigid core products continue to generate interest among consumers—while seizing share from competing hard surface categories—laminate flooring producers are not sitting idly by. Many suppliers are launching innovations of their own in areas such as water resistance, durability and eye-catching aesthetics.


Roger Farabee
president, wood & laminate

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? We see the category growing in that 2% to 3% range.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019? We plan on exceeding the overall category growth.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth? We have been very strong in the home center segments, but now we’re actually seeing more growth at specialty retail.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019. Continued investment in the category. Many retailers are realizing they have an alternative to rigid vinyl that many customers prefer. They’re much more affordable, have better visuals and better waterproof properties.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019. Ongoing pressure from LVT and WPC will continue to impact the laminate category. But we are committed to investing in this product segment.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities? We launched our first range of products using our GenuEdge pressed bevel technology, and we’re augmenting that in Mohawk and Quick-Step with additional platforms using the same technology with a milled bevel edge.


Drew Hash
Vice president, hard surface portfolio management
Shaw Floors

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? We predict units will probably be down again, but dollars may be up slightly.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019? We expect to be up in dollars in the low single-digit range.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth? Definitely in the single-family arena, and that’s across multiple areas of the home. Consumers are becoming more comfortable placing the product in areas previously off limits to laminate.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019. We expect to launch a lot more longer/wider products and do more things, design-wise, that we haven’t seen before.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019. The laminate category has done some things to make sure it can participate in the moisture-resistance story. Retailers are selling better, thicker, more moisture-resistant products.

Where you see the greatest opportunities? Definitely better end goods. Our business is heavily weighted toward specialty retail. To that end, we expect to see more activity in the 12mm product range as opposed to the 7mm to 8mm range.


Dan Natkin
Vice president, hardwood and laminate

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? Flat to low single digit decline.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019? Slightly above market rate.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth? Continued demand in new home construction and some retail demand.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019. Expansion of our award- winning SpillShield technology.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2018. As in all other categories—the economy.

Where you see the greatest opportunities? Continuing to sell the total features and benefits package of laminate vs. selling on a single attribute: waterproof.


Derek Welbourn

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? We see the laminate category growing slightly (2% to 3%) as a total for 2019.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019? We continue to experience strong growth for our business as we claim share of the laminate segment.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth? We expect to see continued growth in our laminate lines along with Sono, our new German innovation in the rigid core waterproof market.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019. We have a new technology for our Sono product line that we will be bringing to market in 2019. We have invested in digital printing technology that we feel is category changing. 

 Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2018. The markets will continue their fast and furious pace of change in 2019 and beyond. We don’t try to be all things to all people; we choose to focus only on the products we can truly be experts in and add value to our customers.

 Where you see the greatest opportunities? The innovation of water resistance and continued focus on style and design complemented by low cost continue to assist laminate in holding its own.

Posted on

Laminate: Category fights back against onslaught of WPC

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.”