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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.”

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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.”

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Laminate: The benefits of trading up

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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
Mohawk 

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
Mannington

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
CEO
Inhaus

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.

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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.”

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Selling: Increasing sales prospects via key product placement

By Nicole Murray

Laminate flooring remains a viable option for flooring retailers who can position the product category as a suitable choice for high traffic areas, for its ease of cleaning and maintenance, for offering a range of colors and designs that mimic stone and hardwood flooring, and for being easy to install and relatively affordable.

FCNews spoke with Mohawk executives and several retailers about proven selling strategies. Following are their recommendations on how to best present laminate to the customer.

Laminate vs. hardwood

There are consumers who walk into a retail showroom interested in purchasing hardwood flooring. But that doesn’t mean they cannot be persuaded to look elsewhere. “When we talk about the difference of laminate and hardwood flooring it is typically someone looking for hardwood who didn’t realize how expensive some of these hardwood products can be,” said Chris Green, owner of Great Southeast Flooring America in Melbourne, Fla. “Meanwhile, their budget is telling them they should be in the laminate category. That’s where we can tell them they can be in laminate and still get the same desired effect.”

A laminate floor with a walnut visual may fetch $3.99 a square foot—compared with $7 or $8 a square foot for a real hardwood walnut. Oftentimes, the customer cannot tell the difference between the laminate and hardwood, a testament to the technology advancements in laminate. It’s also important to point out that laminate flooring is appropriate for nearly every space in the home, including damp areas like bathrooms and basements, where solid hardwood is not recommended.

Mohawk executives subscribe to a different tactic. They advise retailers place their RevWood displays right next to real hardwood products, thereby creating a more level playing field. “We realize retailers may be a little hesitant to do that, but it goes back to simplifying the retailer’s shopping experience,” said Angela Duke, director of brand marketing, Mohawk. “Our research shows dealers should group all their wood products and wood-based products together, then take the consumer through her shopping journey based upon her performance requirements, lifestyle and then the benefits and features she is seeking.”

As Duke explains: “We know consumers, especially those with active families that have pets and kids, are looking for some type of performance product but still want the high-end wood look. Now we’re able to show them RevWood or RevWood Plus. Having them all grouped together is beneficial for the retailer.”

Mike Lekocaj, co-owner of Niko’s Import-Export, based in Macomb, Mich., follows Mohawk’s recommendation. “We have it right next to the wood section. The younger generation seems to like it; they don’t care as much if it is laminate or wood, as long as it looks good.”

Laminate vs. resilient

The popularity of LVT has hurt the laminate category to some degree. And while LVT has proven to be an amazing success story in the market, laminate has its advantages as well, retailers said. For one thing, laminate is greener than vinyl because the materials that go into laminate are primarily made of wood byproducts—96% of a laminate floor is made from wood and wood fibers. These sources are renewable, unlike other flooring products that tend to have high petro-chemical content.

Laminate vs. carpet

Before getting into the difference between the products, dealers may want to ask this question: “When do you plan on selling your home?” This is important because a well-manufactured laminate floor will hold its value longer than carpet. A quality carpet may last 10 years in a high-traffic household while a top laminate floor can last up to 30 years. Laminate is also easier to install than carpet and thus saves on labor costs.

Furthermore, laminate’s stain- and moisture-resistant surface coating makes spills and other messes easy to handle, which is another selling advantage over most carpet. There is also the advantage of superior indoor air quality: laminate flooring, does not trap dirt, dust or allergens, for example.

Laminate vs. ceramic

Similar to hardwood, customers at the high end will often desire ceramic or porcelain tile because of its durability and high-end look. But laminate has some distinct selling advantages over tile, retailers say: comfort underfoot, cleaning (laminate does not require grout, which facilitates cleaning and maintenance), and most importantly, the installation cost of laminate is a big difference. Not only are the laminate flooring sections smaller, designed to interlock and easier to work with, but laminate floors can also be floated. This saves considerable time and installation cost, experts say, making it more seamless for the customer.

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Selling: Tried-and-true tips boost sales

By Nicole Murray

With big-box stores continuing to leverage their size, scale and value-driven product offerings, specialty flooring retailers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and compete on factors other than price per square foot.

Following are proven tips retailers have employed in boosting their laminate sales.

Tip #1: Emphasize laminate’s performance advantages. Thanks to innovations in coreboard technology, the latest batch of laminate floors are touting moisture resistance—specifically against common occurrences such as spills, pet accidents, etc. More importantly, these advanced products translate into step-up products that offer higher margins over entry-level floors.

Jon Dauenhauer, co-owner of Carpet World, Bismarck, N.D., emphasizes the product’s performance by conducting water-resistant demonstrations near his laminate displays. “We have a demo board set-up that proves the product is impermeable to moisture. It is an easy segue into assuring her that she does not have to worry about the dropped ice cube or dog dish spilling.”

Tip #2: Merchandise accordingly. Position step-up products prominently in the showroom while deemphasizing entry-level options. That’s the advice from successful retailers like Jeff Firkus, account manager of Contract Interiors, St. Paul, Minn. “You want the customer to experience the products on your showroom floor but have to seek out the cheaper options tucked away in a book,” he explained. “She may fall in love with a more expensive option that you can prove has the visuals comparable to the real products because it is directly in front of her.”

Tip #3: Keep sales staff informed. The importance of continuously educating and training your staff cannot be overstated. Sales teams must have knowledge of the various laminate products, so they can effectively communicate the attributes and advantages.

“I am always encouraging my staff to learn as much as possible, because there is always going to be a new collection to learn about,” said Tammy Whitley, owner of World of Floors, Grayling, Mich. “I want them speaking with the reps, reading the magazines and attending the seminars.”

Tip #4: Promote your best sellers. Aligning your store with trusted, reputable laminate brands goes a long way in establishing credibility with the consumer, experts say. “I only put quality on my floor so well-known names are my go-to products,” said Matt Fuhr, owner of Carpets Plus Outlet, Kenosha, Wis. “If you can’t trust what you put on your own floor, why should consumers?”

Tip #5: Listen for cues from the customer. Before recommending a product, find out more about how she plans to utilize the space. For example, does she have pets in the home? Or maybe she plans on installing the floor in a high-traffic area.

“Laminate is a cost-effective product that requires low maintenance but can handle a lot of abuse,” Fuhr explained. “This product can be confidently suggested for many situations involving high-risk factors such as pets and kids. With laminates, she will know her family is receiving the best option.”

Tip #6: Look for add-on opportunities. When going out to the job site to take measurements, it’s a good opportunity to scout out adjoining rooms that might need flooring. This is helpful in homes that feature open floor plans as they allow a particular pattern or design to continue seamlessly without the use of transition strips or moldings.

“You want to avoid a consumer even considering the use of transitions by offering them an alternative solution,” Firkus said.

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Merchandising: Simple (but effective) ways to display laminate

By Nicole Murray

The various techniques used to merchandise laminate can have a direct correlation to product sales, observers say. Different showroom design tactics can be utilized to provide an easier shopping experience for customers as well as a more effective sales process for retail sales associates.

“It is an overwhelming process, and it is our job to simplify it,” said Rick Oderio, owner of Conklin Bros, San Jose, Calif. “Consumers can easily be inundated by the various amount of options, so it is important to narrow down their choices with clean, yet aesthetically pleasing displays.”

Listening closely to customer feedback is a huge factor in determining which products to display on the showroom floor. As Oderio explained: “At one time we brought in some inexpensive laminates, but our customer base made it clear that they want Mohawk products and the sales show for itself. The major manufacturers are successful for a reason, so relying on their visually appealing displays have proven to be a success.”

Pair like products together

Retailers suggest merchandising laminate products among similar categories as opposed to being placed next to competing segments like wood, because consumers are usually shopping for a specific visual as opposed to certain product types. “People are quicker to tell me the specific look they want but are commonly clueless of which overall product type best fits their situation,” said Fred Wee, owner of Interiors & Textiles, Palo Alto, Calif. His advice? “Let their lifestyle and desired price point determine product selection, and then use the information you have to make the best suggestions.”

Experts say laminate products should be displayed side by side so customers can visibly see and feel the difference between the various colors, patterns and textures available. “There are so many different options for various design capabilities, so having the products displayed side by side can help with narrowing down their final choice,” Wee explained. “For example, let them decide upon a color, and then browse the various textures and shades of the colors available. It is a visual process of elimination.”

Go big or go home

John Dauenhauer, owner of Carpet World in Bismarck, N.D., recommends dealers employ larger samples to give the consumers the opportunity to visualize how the product will appear in their own homes. “When people shop in our store, we want them to feel like they are experiencing the products as a preview to what it would be like to have it installed in their home,” he explained. “It all comes down to the visuals and what looks best. You need to give the consumers the tools to confidently make a choice.”

Making optimal use of wall space also conveys a professional presentation. Retailers say the tactic is a great space saver for smaller locations looking for a visually appealing alternative. “We have laminate samples all along a big wall in black trimming for a clean and simple look that offers an easy shopping experience for the customer,” Conklin Bros.’ Oderio explained.

Don’t forget about the floor

Beyond utilizing wall spaces and traditional merchandising units, retailers have also achieved positive results by installing product on the showroom floor. Case in point is Dauenhauer’s Carpet World, which installed a variety of brands, colors and styles along the walkway of their showroom floor leading up to the laminate displays.

“There is a huge advantage of actually seeing the product installed and in action along the walkway,” Dauenhauer explained. “The job of visualizing how the floor will look and feel in their own homes is being done for the customers, all while showing them how the product handles the everyday wear and tear unlike the products seen in the displays.”

Place it front and center

If space allows, retailers also recommend placing laminate displays as close to the entrance as possible, so they are in a high-traffic area. Experts say this serves the dual function of displaying the category prominently while demonstrating how the floors can withstand dirt, rain or even snow consumers might track in when entering.

“Laminate is a durable product with water-resistant options; when it is exposed to rain and dirt, the displays are showing customers the high wear and tear it can handle by seeing it in action,” Wee explained. “Customers need to see it to believe it.”

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Laminate: End-use activity shifts amidst sales, volume declines

June 26-July 2, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 1

 

By Reginald Tucker

 

A palpable shift in import shipments, combined with the loss of significant domestic capacity when one major supplier shuttered its U.S. laminate operations, led to a simultaneous dip in both category sales and volume for the first time in many years. FCNewsresearch shows sales of laminate in the U.S. fell to $1.123 billion, a falloff of 2.7% compared to 2016. Volume shipped also decreased in 2017—albeit at a slower rate—as square footage at the first point of distribution hit an estimated 1.034 billion square feet, down 1.9% compared to 2016.

That would put would laminate sales at their lowest level since 2013—when sales reached just over $1.12 billion before rising each year for three consecutive years—and volume at its lowest point since 2011, when shipments totaled 1.02 billion square feet. The contrast is even more stark when comparing last year’s activity to laminate’s performance 10 years ago; at that time, U.S. sales hit $1.169 billion, with volume reaching roughly 970 million square feet.

Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates at Mannington, and president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), concurs that U.S. laminate flooring sales were down about 2%-3% in 2017. But that doesn’t mean the category is down for the count. (In fact, Mannington’s top-selling laminate line was up by double digits last year.) “At the end of the day, it’s still a $1 billion product category,” he said. “We are forecasting 2018 will be a growth year for laminate.”

As of now, though, the laminate category has its hands full trying to fend off pressure from competing hard surface segments. In 2017, laminate represented 5.1% of total flooring sales and 10.6% of hard surface consumption. That’s down markedly from 2012, for example, when laminate flooring represented roughly 17% of all hard surface sales and a little over 15% in terms of volume. Meanwhile, competing products such as resilient and ceramic tile grew their shares of the hard surface market to 37.8% and 13.3%, respectively, in 2017.

While laminate has been facing some stiff competition, particularly from LVT, WPC and hardwood, not everyone believes the category lost as much share as has been reported. “Our research shows laminate was up about 1% to 2% in 2017,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. Meanwhile, Swiss Krono’s 2017 estimates put the laminate market around 1.3 billion square feet and about $1.3 billion in sales—a level that category has not seen since its heydays in the U.S. market some 20 years ago. Others still are split with respect to sales/volume activity within the category. Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product category manager, Shaw Floors, estimates the segment was down in terms of overall square footage shipped in 2017 but up in revenues.

Nonetheless, suppliers are still bullish on the category’s prospects. “Most laminate companies would probably
say their mix of better-end goods has improved throughout 2017, and that trend should continue this year,” Hash told FCNews. “From our perspective, we
still believe—now that we have a model where we can truly take the most innovative products anywhere in
the world and put them through our systems with
our salesforce and service—
that it will be a growing part
of our business.”

Proponents of the category—particularly those companies that continue to invest in new technologies and innovations in support of the segment—attest to laminate’s viability. “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 at a leading price point that won’t let you down on performance. We see continued evolution in terms of design and features that are creating some amazing looks and furthering the value proposition of laminate.”

Other industry executives agree wholeheartedly. “It’s a wood product with the look and feel of solid hardwood but with less maintenance and more durability,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono. “It’s easier to install and offers a much healthier, sustainable environmental impact than many competing products.”

Part of that optimism, observers say, comes from evidence showing a continued shift in consumption by end-use channels. For example, in 2012, the new home construction market accounted for roughly 6.3% of laminate sales. But that has changed as more major home builders embrace the product category. FCNews research shows new residential construction accounted for 10% of sales, while the residential replacement sector maintained its share of nearly 88% of sales—consistent with its stake in 2012. Where the category has seen the biggest drop-off consumption-wise, however, is the commercial market. Estimated at 2.5% of category sales in 2012, laminate represented less than 0.2% of specified commercial in 2017. However, the Main Street market, which hasn’t moved the needle above 2.5% of sales since 2012, still seems to be popular among barber shops, boutiques and stores of that ilk.

“Laminate flooring has always been strongest in residential replacement, and this continued in 2017,” Inhaus’ Welbourn said. “We feel there has been an increase in new construction thanks to better designs.” But it’s the new home construction market where suppliers see the greatest potential. “We see a rapidly growing acceptance of laminate here,” Mannington’s Natkin said. In fact, he believes this sector may have accounted for as much as 15% of laminate sales last year. “Laminates have begun to take the place of entry-level hardwood in this sector.”

Changing channel dynamics
Just as end-use activity has changed in recent years, so has the sales activity as defined by distribution channel. FCNews research shows the specialty retail sector accounts for roughly one-third of category sales. What’s more, observers say, many of the laminate flooring products sold at this channel represent thicker, higher-margin items not typically sold at the average home center or mass merchant. Some observers feel specialty retail’s share was a bit higher than that. “We feel it might be as high as about 35%-36% given the growth in new home construction,” Natkin told FCNews.

Despite this optimism, however, the fact remains home centers and mass merchants still account for the bulk of laminate flooring sales. FCNews research shows Home Depot and Lowe’s increased their share of laminate sales to the tune of a combined 46%, up from 42% in 2017. That’s in keeping the big-box giants’ market share of laminate sales reported in 2012. Meanwhile, warehouse clubs, home décor outlets and the like accounted for roughly 10% of sales, down a few percentage points from 2016.

When it comes to actual profit margins, however, specialty retailers stand to emerge as the biggest beneficiaries. A cursory review of national home center laminate flooring pricing finds much of the products advertised target the $1.99-2.49 range, while many specialty retailers and buying group dealers concentrate on the mid-to-upper end of the price spectrum (those products retailing in the $3.49-$4.99 realm).

Price pressure from competing categories such as WPC, LVT and SPC, along with aggressive advertising promotions driving some of these categories, is also impacting how the traditional laminate customer views the product. “There is no doubt these hot categories have stolen growth from the laminate cate- gory and others,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “However, laminate is in a much better cost position than these plastic- based categories, and it is able to deliver some of the best value in the flooring business. This fact, along with continued innovation in the laminate category, has kept it competitive.”

As consumer preferences shift toward more hard surfaces being incorporated into the home, resilient flooring has seen an uptick in market share. The challenge for laminate flooring manufacturers, executives say, lies in improving upon water-resistant technology. This was evidenced by the various performance demonstrations conducted at Surfaces 2018. Proponents say it is only fitting given the innovations that originally inspired the creation of the laminate sector. Suppliers say enhancing these features certainly has created greater value for laminate flooring. “Additional focus on design continues in laminate with further enhanced textures and high-definition printing contributing to creating the best designs the laminate category has ever been able to offer,” Welbourn added.

Many concede that laminate—much like other flooring products—has lost some market share to WPC/rigid core (roughly $950 million in sales last year). But from the consumer’s perspective, suppliers believe laminate is still a viable product that’s relatively inexpensive and offers several key attributes end users are looking for—realistic-looking patterns and design with proven performance.

Imports vs. exports
The changing import vs. domestic production dynamic is palpable—so much so that many industry observers are seeing almost a complete reversal with respect to the traditional laminate product mix. While FCNews research showed the share of domestic production of laminate rising from 60% to 64% in 2016 (compared to imports’ market share decline from 41% to 36%), some believe that ratio is even more lopsided.

“The ratio appears to be shifting in favor of domestically produced laminate due to the increase in capacity that came online in 2017,” Shaw Floors’ Hash said. “We estimate closer to a 70/30 split between domestic and imported laminate, respectively, as domestic capacity continues to increase.”

Swiss Krono’s Bass has the domestic/import split closer to 60/40, respectively. But even he’s in agreement that German producers increased their share the past year. “I believe Europe’s share shifted from 14% to 19% while China’s share of the overall pie fell by double digits.”

To some industry experts, the dramatic drop in imports from China reflects a paradigm shift. “What we’re seeing is a preference for European and domestic supply,” Welbourn said. “As the domestic suppliers add capacity, the volume of imports will go down and the ratio of import vs. domestic will be reduced.”

Not everyone, however, believes the full impact of all this additional capacity is being felt at present. Some industry experts feel the biggest ripples are yet to come. “It really hasn’t had an impact yet because most of that new capacity has not yet come online,” Mohawk’s Farabee told FCNews. “We’re certainly seeing companies putting more capacity in the U.S., going after all the big- box customers in particular. This will continue as that capacity comes online.”

In some cases, this new capacity simply displaces product that had previously been made in Europe by those same companies that are now producing domestically, observers said. This phenomenon will likely put pressure on the remaining producers both in the U.S. and in Europe to be able to compete not only on price but also in terms of product performance and visuals. “It will be interesting to watch because there’s a lot of new capacity coming online in a category that’s not really growing,” Farabee said “However, we do expect some price pressure.”

The road ahead
In spite of the challenges facing the laminate sector, manufacturers believe laminates have a place in the market. “In some cases, we’ve lost sight of what makes laminate great—phenomenal realism, all bio-based, superior indentation and scratch resistance, and the fact the vast majority is made in the USA,” Natkin said. “Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Natkin is not alone. “We see continued growth for the laminate category at a pace between 2% and 5% in 2018,” Welbourn said. “We estimate as a whole will have a higher rate of growth as the housing sector continues to recover.”

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share, the fact remains it is still a viable option since its official entry into the U.S. marketplace more than 20 years ago. “As manufacturers, it’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits laminate flooring offers,” Mohawk’s Farabee pointed out. “It’s a wood-based product; it’s the most durable hard surface product outside of ceramic; it’s the easiest to install; it’s the most cost-effective product on an installed basis; and it offers the most realistic visuals of any replica product on the market.”

Barron Frith, president, CFL North America, maker of the Atroguard brand of laminate, concurs. “The bulletproof reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard more than four years ago. Today, many large players are getting into the game and pushing these products to their distributors. We believe the combined marketing power of the big players has already started bringing much attention to the category, and we would not be surprised to see a slightly stronger growth for the category in 2018.”

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Active families are no match for RevWood Plus

By Mara Bollettieri

Gabriel Rodriguez, manager of Carpet Liquidators, Everett, Wash., is in a unique position—he is both a retailer who sells Mohawk’s RevWood Plus flooring and a consumer who has used the product almost exclusively throughout his own home.

In many ways, Rodriguez fits the profile for the prototypical customer that Mohawk had in mind when it developed RevWood Plus. The store owner, along with his fiancée, have four pets (two cats and two dogs) and a 5-year-old son. A family of that size not only required a floor that can stand up to the rigors of an active household, but the owners also desired a product that was visually appealing. RevWood Plus’ waterproof attributes, trendy looks and All Pet Protection warranty—along with its ease of maintenance—proved to be the winning combination.

“The boards are made with Mohawk’s HydroSeal, which gives you the peace of mind for spills,” Rodriguez told FCNews. “There are LVT products out there that are waterproof, but LVT is not very strong. RevWood Plus has the best of both worlds.”

RevWood Plus’ highly touted scratch resistance, in particular, was a big draw for Rodriguez. Although his pets are house trained, there are occasional “accidents.” Then there’s junior, who often drips water all over the floors after bath time. But with RevWood Plus, Rodriguez is not at all concerned about water damage. “Not only does it look phenomenal, but it has just been holding up perfectly fine,” he explained. “I know the boards aren’t going to swell up, and I don’t worry that we’re going to have to replace all of the floors, which can cost a lot of money.”

True believer
There’s no shortage of laminate floors on the market that claim to be impervious to water damage. But Rodriguez knew he had a winner with RevWood Plus early on when he was introduced to the product by Mohawk reps who conducted training for his employees.

“They had this little display and they poured gallons of water onto it,” he told FCNews. “None of the water was getting through because the locking mechanism is

so tight; the boards aren’t exposed. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a phenomenal product.’”

Rodriguez’s fiancée is pleased with the floor as well, but more so for its aesthetic appeal. “Since I’m more of the flooring guy, I’m the one who really focuses on the performance,” he said. “She just loves how it looks.

The design is really great, and that’s one of her favorite things.”

The Rodriguez family is so confident in RevWood Plus that the product is installed in almost every room in their new home. “It’s literally installed everywhere,” he said. “Every bathroom, every closet.”