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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Reginald Tucker  

 

All the excitement swirling around the LVT, WPC and rigid core craze is giving competing hard surface categories a run for their money. But laminate suppliers are not sitting idly by; many are fighting back against some of these trendy products by leveraging laminate flooring’s well-known aesthetic attributes.

“Laminate and other categories have been under pressure from LVT, WPC, SPC and probably another 10 versions of multi-layered plastic products,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “However, what we see is laminate holding its own and continuing to grow. The key reason is value. And when you start to add high-definition digital printing, textured surfaces and even embossed-in-register textures in different depths and gloss, the result is a highly compelling and exciting visual that other categories of flooring have trouble competing with laminate. What’s more, you can provide all of this at a competitive cost. The value is very exciting.”

Other industry observers agree laminate looks have been elevated to new heights.  “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 Industries. “The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you see in other categories such as ceramic, LVT and rigid core products.”

In Mohawk’s case, Ward attributes the advances in laminate visuals to the design papers used—plus the four-color process the company utilizes in achieving realistic looks. “The level of pressing detail and registered embossing combined with our in-house design really takes it to another level,” he explained. “It’s why we position the category as RevWood over laminate because the things we do from a visual perspective combined with our waterproof story. It has really elevated the category over some of those other imitations you see on the market.”

Mohawk’s top-selling laminate lines include: Antique Craft, a 9½-inch-wide x

7-foot-long plank that plays on the growth of the wider/longer trend in hardwood. Another big mover is the Elderwood collection, a 7½-inch-wide product that replicates a sawn-face oak look. Colossia, a big seller in Mohawk’s Quick-Step line, also plays to the longer/wider craze, offering what Ward calls a “nice urban look” in a variety of fashion-forward colors.

“With Antique Craft we offer a very realistic design and texture combined with beveling for that ultra-wide plank look,” Ward said. “This is a look that would be much more expensive in a true hardwood product. It has really resonated with customers.”

Other major suppliers are also stepping up their game in the aesthetic department. CFL Flooring, for instance, cites growing interest in its signature Atroguard laminate line as a result of the investments the company has made in technology. “From a design standpoint, Atroguard puts a tremendous amount of effort in developing in-house stunning design visuals, using the specifics of laminate to really bring out something special,” said Barron Frith, president, Atroguard North America. “That includes playing around with varying lengths or random widths within one box or developing designs from different wood species used within a particular product.”

The structure of the surface is also key to developing realistic, eye-catching visuals, Frith noted. Laminate, he said, has the advantage of being able to make much deeper textures than resilient categories, including handscraped or embossed-in-register real wood surface structure. “Our biggest advantage is the number of unique visuals we offer within a given floor, making it very realistic and hard to see repeats once the floor is installed as opposed to vinyl or WPC floors for which this is technically more difficult to achieve.”

Improved visual characteristics are also driving sales of Shaw Floors-branded laminate. Among its most popular laminate collections are Pinnacle Port and Designer Mix. Pinnacle Port, which features light scraping to convey a natural texture, combines the beauty of wood visuals with the company’s Repel water-resist technology. Another standout product is Alloy, a sophisticated, gray-tone wood look. “Its on-trend design and three-color visual variation, combined with the features of our Designer Mix product line, make it a standout in laminate,” said Drew Hash, vice president of hard surface portfolio management. “Retailers love that both collections give consumers eye-catching visuals and lasting durability.”

Designer Mix, which boasts 12mm planks and embossed-in-register visuals, is part of Shaw Floors’ Mixed Width collection. The line, according to Hash, offers consumers three variations of plank widths in a single box, thereby allowing them to design the overall look of their spaces for a personalized touch.

Just like the real thing

It should come as no surprise that many of the top-selling laminate lines are replications of real wood floors. Case in point is Mannington’s award-winning Restoration collection, which generated double-digit sales increases last year, according to Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. Among the most popular visuals in the line, he noted, are Arcadia, Hillside Hickory and Fairhaven. “All are light rustic visuals with phenomenal realism.”

Looking north across the U.S. border, Satin Flooring is seeing impressive sales of lines such as terra—hands down its best-selling pattern across all regions, according to Dennis Mohn, U.S. director of sales. He also cited popular tones such as warm gray, mystic gray and driftwood.

To render these realistic wood tones, Satin Flooring employs high-tech embossing techniques. “We offer on-trend colors, including tried-and-true hues like terra, with sought-after finishes,” Mohn explained. “Authentic embossed features contrasting depths and the pores follow the grain of the decor, meaning they flawlessly mimic the character of natural wood.”

Laminates’ improved visuals, as it turns out, do more than dazzle consumers. They also pave the way for retailers to trade up consumers to better-performing, higher-margin items. “What we’ve been able to do with these new products is bring retailers back to the laminate category where it might not have necessarily been there in years past,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “Our RevWood products are really giving retailers a reason to move the customer up from a cheaper laminate they may have looked at in the past.”

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Laminate: Do moisture-resistant claims hold water?

Observers debate merits of overplaying the ‘waterproof’ card

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

The excitement surrounding laminate flooring of late is a testament to the strides the segment has made both in terms of visuals and performance. Much attention has been focused on the latter, particularly enhancements and coreboard treatments designed to increase the product’s ability to withstand moisture penetration and/or water damage.

But that begs the question, “Do moisture-resistant coreboard claims hold water?” (Pardon the pun.) Viewpoints among some industry observers are mixed.

“We are very skeptical,” said Ben Case, manager of the Carpet Collection, Lockport, N.Y. “However, we have done no independent testing to prove it.”

When it comes to touting flooring with waterproof properties, Case said he is more confident in WPC and SPC. (He also prefers the visuals currently available in those categories vs. what’s shown in laminate.) However, he said, “We will continue to offer moisture-resistant laminate options to see where trends may take us in the coming years.”

Other dealers embrace the emphasis on laminates’ so-called new and improved water-resistant attributes. Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer, R.C. Willey, based in Salt Lake City, believes laminate manufacturers have taken the category’s performance to the proverbial next level—specifically with respect to resistance to moisture. “Companies like Mohawk and Quick-Step have really stepped it up.”

To suppliers’ credit, investments are being made in product development as it pertains to moisture resistance. “Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington. He cited the company’s SpillShield technology, which is featured on the company’s signature Restoration collection.

At the same time, Natkin cautions against overselling the technology’s attributes; the innovation, he notes, aims to address everyday spills—not catastrophic events such as floods. “What we talk about are the real-life things that happen in the home. Historically speaking, if you have a traumatic flooring event in your house, the flooring is going to get replaced no matter what.”

Other suppliers are also investing in technologies to repel water. CFL, which introduced its AtroGuard water-resistant laminate line several years ago, believes the technology has come a long way. “It’s not 100% waterproof, but it has advantages the resilient category doesn’t have,” said Thomas Baert, president. “It’s also good for bathrooms, kitchens, etc., meaning homeowners can wet-mop it. It has been proven on the market now for more than three years, and it is one of our best sellers.”

Mannington and CFL are not the only manufacturers backing claims that support the category’s improved resistance to moisture and water damage. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced.”

At the same time, Welbourn advises retailers to exercise caution. “Laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof claims.

Managing expectations
Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually indestructible. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Shaw is not going to make claims on a product that could ultimately disappoint the consumer,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management. “We choose to be more conservative in our approach.”

Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries, also warns against the dangers of misleading consumers about moisture resistance. It’s critical, he noted, to remind dealers that not all products are created equal. “Based on some of the testing we’ve done, some of the products do not live up to the claims they make. The question becomes, does it create significant consumer dissatisfaction and potential blowback for the category? That remains to be seen.”

As Farabee sees it, many laminate manufacturers and marketers are focusing their efforts on how to minimize visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. Some, he notes, have been introducing coreboards that are less susceptible to swelling. The problem is, he explained, the majority aren’t concentrating on improving water resistance at the joints—those areas where water can seep in and wreak havoc on the panels or, worse, make its way under the planks where it can cause other issues like subfloor damage or mold growth.

For its part, Mohawk said it has developed products that are far more moisture resistant than laminate floors made many years ago. “We have personally developed technologies that enable us to make some moisture-resistant claims far beyond what everybody else could,” Farabee stated. “We’ve had these products out in the market for more than two years now, and it has given us a position where we can go head to head with one of the No. 1 attributes that LVT and rigid core floors have been talking about for the last several years.

Not to be outdone, companies like Uniboard have upped the ante in the area of moisture resistance. As one of the biggest producers of panels in North America, the company also controls the fiber species and the resin recipe of the boards—all of which helps prevent swelling and adds dimensional stability. By focusing on its core competencies in HDF coreboard manufacturing, Uniboard is looking to leverage its strengths in water-resistant board development.

“We are an integrated company, so we manufacture the core to our specifications,” said Don Raymond, vice president, sales and marketing. “Other boards swell and pull apart; our boards have stronger integrity. We’ve designed the core to meet the highest specification in the marketplace in terms of swelling, moisture resistance and performance. Other companies have to buy the technology on the open market.”

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Laminate: State of the industry—Segment thrives despite impact of WPC, LVT

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Reginald Tucker

 

For all the talk about laminate’s demise in the face of intensifying pressure from competing hard surface categories, the now-mature product segment is proving it has staying power. Ongoing innovations in the form of dramatically improved resistance to moisture, ultra-realistic replications of natural materials like wood and stone, and upgrades in surface texture and product performance are keeping the segment in the spotlight.

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share to red-hot products such as WPC, SPC and LVT, 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,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. “We’re asking consumers to take another look at the product category and great visuals and performance it offers. They can now have a premium wood look without any compromise. At Mohawk we are still very bullish about the product.”

Farabee is not alone in his assessment of the product’s capabilities. Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington, attests to both the category’s long history and reputation for durability, as well as the newfound focus on waterproof attributes. “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. Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Other proponents are bullish on the category’s current position in the marketplace. “I think 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.”

Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono, also sees the laminate flooring category moving toward better visuals, deeper textures and innovative products. This provides an opportunity, he said, to continue educating the consumer—via retail exposure and industry associations such as NALFA—about the benefits of laminate. “It’s a wood-based product with the look and feel of solid hardwood, but with less maintenance and more durability,” he noted. “It’s easier to install and offers a much healthier, sustainable environmental impact than many competing products.”

Despite all these benefits and attributes, the category is not without its challenges. Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually bulletproof. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Shaw is not going to make claims on a product that could ultimately disappoint the consumer,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management. “We choose to be more conservative in our approach.”

For executives like Barron Frith, president, CFL North America, the attributes must square with a particular manufacturer’s marketing claims. “We have been big believers in water-resistant laminate since we launched our Atroguard line in 2013. No doubt the water-resistant feature is the future of the laminate category and will leave less space for regular laminates. Many big players are entering this market, at the same time leading everyone to push further marketing claims about being ‘waterproof’ as opposed to ‘water resistant,’ causing confusion about the performance of the product.”

Mohawk’s Farabee also warns against the dangers of misleading consumers about moisture resistance. It’s critical, he noted, to remind dealers that not all products are created equal. “Based on some of the testing we’ve done, some of the products do not live up to the claims they make. The question becomes, does it create significant consumer dissatisfaction and potential blowback for the category? That remains to be seen.”

What Farabee can say for sure is many companies are focusing on how to minimize any visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. “Most of them have been introducing lower-swell coreboards, which will help that problem overtime, but the one we worry about—which is also an issue with floating vinyl—is the majority aren’t doing anything with their joint systems. And while they may have minimized damage through topical moisture on the edges of the plank, you still have moisture penetrating the joints and creating issues under the floor.”

For its part, Mohawk said it has developed products that are far more moisture resistant than laminate floors made many years ago. So much so that “we have personally developed technologies that enable us to make some moisture-resistant claims far beyond what everybody else could. We’ve had these products out in the market for more than two years now, and it has given us a position in the market where we can go head to head with one of the No. 1 attributes that LVT and rigid core have been talking about for the last several years.”

While some companies remain cautious about specious product claims, other major suppliers welcome all the hoopla surrounding waterproof/water-resistant marketing. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced. However, laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof statement.”

Mannington’s Natkin also sees benefits in touting the category’s water-resistant attributes. “Realistically, laminate is already one of the highest performing product categories given its resistance to indentation and scratching, as well as the ease of installation. Water resistance is the icing on the cake.”

CFL is also embracing the renewed focus on the product’s performance attributes. “Water-resistant laminate is far from new for CFL,” Frith stated. “The bulletproof reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard more than four years ago. When consumers started shifting toward more waterproof vinyl categories, they did so without really realizing they were accepting a product that was inferior in terms of scratch resistance. No special coatings on vinyl flooring currently on the market come near the performance of a laminate in terms of scratch resistance.”

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Surfaces Laminate Coverage: Suppliers look to cash in on waterproof craze

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Reginald Tucker

 

Water, water everywhere. Some of the laminate booth spaces at Surfaces this year looked more like aquariums than traditional room vignettes with all the fish tanks and waterfalls touting the products’ enhanced water-resistant or waterproof capabilities. It’s a trend that manufacturers are looking to leverage. Case in point is Mohawk, which has revamped the way it is marketing its family of laminate brands, including Quick-Step (see feature story on page 14). The focus on waterproof/resistance capabilities, some suppliers say, reflects the product’s evolution in recent years.

“We’re relaunching our laminate lines under RevWoods—short for revolutionary wood flooring—with All Pet Protection, meaning our technology keeps the water on top of the surface without seeping through,” said Angela Duke, senior brand manager, hard surface. “I’ve walked the show and seen a lot of push for water resistance. The difference with our product is we’re calling it waterproof. And what makes ours waterproof is three technologies: beveled edge plus the Uniclic locking system and a HydroSseal on top. There are three technologies working together. It’s the same technology featured on Quick-Step NatureTEK laminate.”

Mannington is also playing up the category’s water-resistant attributes via its SpillShield technology. Featured on its signature Restoration collection, the innovation aims to address everyday spills, wear and tear—not catastrophic events such as floods. “What we talk about are the real-life things that happen in the home,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate. “The industry has made a complete, blown-out-of-proportion claim. The industry has gone to a single-attribute selling: fill this hall with water right now and no flooring will be damaged. If you have a traumatic flooring event in your house, the flooring is going to get replaced no matter what. In most states that’s the law.”

SpillShield, which was recently recognized as being one of the 30 most innovative products that can be used in the kitchen and bathroom, comes with a 72-hour guarantee that standing water won’t damage the floor. “We designed our products to withstand the everyday accidents—water from the ice maker, dog water bowl, spilled milk, etc.,” Natkin said. “We’ve developed technology to resist all that and we’ve put a warranty behind it. In one year we’ve had one claim—and that’s millions and millions of square feet.”

For Mannington, it’s not just about repelling water. “We focus on all the performance attributes, not just moisture protection—indentation resistance,” Natkin said.

Other suppliers are also investing in technologies to bolster the category’s resistance to moisture and water damage. CFL, which introduced its AtroGuard water-resistant laminate line several years ago, believes the technology has come a long way. “It’s not 100% waterproof, but it has advantages the resilient category doesn’t have,” said Thomas Baert, president. “It’s also good for bathrooms, kitchens, etc., meaning homeowners can wet-mop it. It has been proven on the market now for more than three years, and is one of our best sellers.”

Design enhancements
Laminate suppliers are not only making strides in terms of performance. They are also improving visuals, especially with respect to replicating natural materials such as wood.

Inhaus took the wraps off its Classic Estate collection, which features traditional, open-grained flooring patterns derived from real wood recovered from historic barns located in rural Pennsylvania. According to Derek Welbourn, CEO, “Inhaus designers sought out and salvaged these unique timbers and created a collection with distinctive character and subtle beauty that only time and history can create.” Other noteworthy additions to the line include Eden, a classic European oak wide plank look; Fruitvale, which features knots and worm holes; and Parkwood, a dark stain plank with bamboo-like graining.

Mannington launched three new products to its Restoration collection: palace plank and palace chevron, which play on popular shapes like herringbone seen in hardwood. “What’s cool about these patterns is you can do a chevron in one area of the house, come in with a plank in another area for a customized effect,” Natkin explained.

RevWoods launched in three new styles reflecting the popular wider/longer trend. “We’re duplicating some of the same looks we’re showing on the hardwood side,” Duke explained. “The trend toward wider and longer is still strong, as new homes feature open spaces.”

Although Quick-Step features the same underlying construction, the designs and patterns will differ from the Mohawk brand. “With Quick-Step being in the Mohawk family, we wanted to simplify the process,” Duke explained. “In the past we’ve gone with two different brands and different technologies and people were confused by that. Now we’re going to market and saying we have the same technology, just different brands. And that ties in the Quick-Step brand with the Mohawk brand. However, the brands will be differentiated by design. Mohawk will be targeted toward the higher end consumer.”

Swiss Krono also display its expertise in the category, drawing on the company’s manufacturing capabilities and strengths in all facets of laminate production. “We’re making investments in designs, textures and moisture-resistant products,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president. “We are also adding higher value product manufacturing capacity to reflect the shift in consumer demand.”

Not to be outdone, Uniboard displayed its expertise in the laminate flooring category with 16 new styles and designs. This is much to the delight of distributor partners like Stephane Leveille, president, Tapis Beaver, “We sold about $1 million or more worth of product. The quality are the visuals are very good.”

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Mohawk’s paradigm shift

Change in laminate brand marketing strategy reflects product’s evolution

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Reginald Tucker

 

After conducting extensive consumer research, Mohawk has decided to dramatically alter the way it markets its laminate flooring product offerings at retail. In a nutshell, laminate products previously positioned under the “laminate” banner will now be labeled RevWood—although the core construction of the product has not changed. Ditto for the company’s Quick-Step division, which will now market its laminate lines under the NatureTEK banner in a separate marketing initiative.

FCNews looks at the specifics of the respective changes and enhancements:

Same but different
With LVT, WPC and rigid core flooring continuing to nip at laminates’ heels, Mohawk is exploring ways to keep some of the focus on laminate. How? By not referring to the category—which is still based on traditional HDF core plus melamine-infused designer paper construction. The move, according to the company, is designed to make consumers rethink the hardwood category.

“RevWood is for people who desire the beauty of wood floors without compromising performance,” said Gary Lanser, president, Mohawk hardwood and laminate. “The vintage allure and incredible hardwood realism of RevWood Plus looks and stays gorgeous no matter what your family throws at it.”

All in the messaging
Mohawk laminate marketing and promotional collateral, including merchandisers and displays, will now carry the header: “RevWood Plus: Wood Without Compromise.” According to Mohawk, this is designed to correlate to the way some consumers view laminate flooring today.

“In a study we conducted, consumers ranked RevWood and TrueTEK [the new Quick-Step laminate brand] right up there with real wood,” Lanser stated. “In the consumer’s mind, solid wood flooring is still the gold standard, but now you have all these other hybrid products crossing lines. The fact is, whether it’s our real wood products vs. NatureTEK, once it goes down, the customer has no idea which one is real wood vs. a laminate. It’s hard to differentiate just by sight.”

Takes a licking…
According to Lanser, RevWood planks offer impressive, reliable durability that resists stains, scratches and dents and is 100% waterproof. That means spills, accidents and tracked-in stain-makers are kept on the surface for quick, easy cleanup thanks to Uniclic MultiFit technology. RevWood Plus also features All Pet Protection & Warranty covering all pets, all accidents, all the time.

“As a leader in the flooring industry, retailers can trust Mohawk to take our products to the next level in the coming years,” said Karen Mendelsohn, senior vice president of marketing.

 

What’s in a name?
In much the same way that Mohawk-branded laminate flooring is taking on a new identity, the company’s Quick-Step-branded laminate product

s are undergoing a big change. Henceforth, Quick-Step laminate offerings will now fall under the NatureTEK banner. (This is in keeping with the division’s decision to promote its previous Q-Wood offerings as TrueTEK products, and its luxury vinyl products—launched in 2016—as EnduraTEK (formerly Quick-Step LVF).

Billed as the new face of performance in flooring, Quick-Step TEK is built for people with active lifestyles. “From resilient to laminate to engineered hardwood, we have TEK covered,” Lanser said. “Our TEK products are a leap forward in providing customers simplicity in their hard surface purchase journeys along with bringing them what they want.”

Form plus function
Mohawk executives are confident in the ability of its new laminate offerings to not only stand the test of time but also dazzle consumers via realistic visuals.

Quick-Step’s NatureTEK Plus line, which features a waterproof laminate wood construction, combines Mohawk’s patented Uniclic Locking System, GenuEdge beveled technology and innovative HydroSeal coating. So NatureTEK Plus withstands everyday spills and wet mopping while also resisting fading, scratches and stains.

“In 10 years we expect these floors will look the same as they did when they were first installed,” Lanser stated. “The realism of NatureTEK and RevWoods is incredible, and the moisture resistance is incredible. We’ve put down millions of square feet of product; when there are spills the water doesn’t leak through. We’ve done a lot of real-world testing that bears this out.”

First impressions
Distributors on hand for the official rollout of the NatureTEK at Surfaces 2018 were impressed with the realism of the visuals as well as they performance story. They also embraced the new marketing strategy.

“This is good stuff,” said Keith Slobodien, president, Apollo Distributing, a top 20 wholesaler. “Laminate has become secondary to wood in terms of prestige and waterproof capabilities. By focusing on TEK—whether it’s vinyl, wood or laminate—it’s probably a better overall product positioning.”

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Laminate: Advancements spark innovation in form, function

January 8/15, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 15

By Reginald Tucker

 

In a mature flooring segment such as laminate, one might not expect to see groundbreaking advances emerge with regularity. However, suppliers point to several recent and developing innovations that stand to build on an already durable, fashionable and desirable product.

“Innovation is always key to business and we have seen a lot of changes in the past years to laminate (i.e., water resistance and enhanced design) and composite product (new categories and product features),” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “We expect this to continue at an even faster rate in 2018 and beyond.”

Other industry executives share that view. Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate at Mannington, and president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), sees the industry continuing to invest millions of dollars in the production of laminate flooring in support of strong demand. “There have been significant innovations in the category, including water-resistant coreboard technologies, improved visuals and different surface treatments. “It’s not the laminate flooring of 20 years ago.”

In Mannington’s case, some of those innovations are evident in new technologies designed to repel moisture in places where laminate coreboards are most vulnerable: at the tongue and groove areas and along the edge seams. Its new technology—SpillShield—is a factory-applied, moisture-resistant coating exclusively available on its Restoration Collection of laminate floors. It is designed to protect customers’ floors from everyday spills and messes by resisting moisture. “Floors protected by SpillShield will not be damaged by ordinary spills and pet messes that are removed within 72 hours,” Natkin stated.

Mannington is not alone in the fight to improve laminate flooring’s chances against water incursion. Shaw Floors recently rolled out its Repel line of laminate flooring, which is designed to stand up to the toughest household conditions, including spills. “The biggest innovation within the category is centered on the advancements in water-resistant technology,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface. “Our Repel laminate collection features beautiful styling and superior scratch-, stain-, fade- and water-resistant performance attributes, making it a great investment for retailers and consumers interested in high-end laminate products.”

Laminate manufacturers are not just “talking the talk” when it comes to improving the product in terms of both form and function. Many are pumping resources, capital and manpower into both new and existing facilities. Case in point: In 2017, Swiss Krono broke ground on a $200 million laminate and coreboard facility in Barnwell, S.C. That investment comes on the heels of several multi-million-dollar cash infusions made over the past few years.

“Customers are continuing to demand products produced in the U.S., and in response we are adding higher value product manufacturing capacity,” said Erik Christensen, president and CEO. “We will continue to shift our domestic product mix to higher value products, and as a result we anticipate overall growth of around 10%.”

Mohawk is another company that’s literally banking on laminate’s success. “We have invested heavily in a new laminate facility in Thomasville, N.C., which makes some of the most realistic product on the market,” said Gary Lanser, president, laminate and hardwood.  “These investments will increase our laminate capacity as we continue to grow and extend our leadership position in the category.”

Suppliers’ commitment to the advancement of the category is not overlooked by its retail partners. For San Jose, Calif.-based Conklin Bros., which adopted the Mohawk laminate line over a lower-end product some time ago, the decision was a no-brainer. “At one time we brought in some inexpensive laminates and sold them for a while, but our customer base wanted the Mohawk product,” said Rick Oderio, owner. “Since then we have literally sold miles and miles of Mohawk laminate flooring.”

On the horizon
As suppliers look deeper into 2018 and beyond, they predict continued innovation across the category—albeit at a marginally slower clip. “The product mix in laminate is expanding to include more high-end products with enhanced realistic visuals, thicker coreboard and increased durability,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk. “Today’s consumers expect affordable laminate floors but refuse to sacrifice quality, style and design.”

But that also means the industry must take a more proactive role in educating the consumer on the different types of products entering the market—especially in light of stiff competition from alternative categories. As Shaw’s Hash explained: “The broad range of products available within the laminate market can create misconceptions for this product category, making it increasingly important for manufacturers and flooring retailers to be able to effectively communicate the benefits and attributes of each product line and how it does or doesn’t meet a particular customer’s needs.”

Mohawk’s Farabee agreed, adding, “It’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits this category offers. There’s a role for the laminate category to play with respect to the new products starting to emerge.”

 

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Retailers recall top intros of 2017

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

By Lindsay Baillie

 

FCNews asked retailers to name the top flooring introductions of 2017. It should come as no surprise that the responses covered a broad range of products across the spectrum—LVT/WPC, wood, laminate and carpet. Some of the products identified were updated designs and looks from intros of 2016, while others were completely new launches.

Following is an overview of the new products that stood out in 2017:

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Laminate: Managing conflict via private-label strategies

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.08.46 AMIn the ongoing battle between independent flooring retailers and the big boxes, laminate manufacturers have come up with a way to keep their channel partners happy: Develop private-label programs for some of the home centers while awarding specialty dealers with long established brands that carry the greatest brand equity.

But this is not a distinction in name only; many of the laminate brands destined for price-conscious shoppers who frequent outlets such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and the like are developed and positioned accordingly. Meanwhile, many of the household laminate flooring brand names consumers might find at the specialty retailer level are designed to provide better margin opportunities; and they are manufactured and marketed to support that strategy.

“We’ve always tried to create differentiated products in terms of style and performance so those products can compete with one another in the marketplace,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk. “So far that strategy has worked pretty well. We’ve not only been able to do that with respect to the quality of the product itself but also with respect to our brands that have meaning to the consumer and the trade. It is a challenge, but that’s why we have so many products in the pipeline.”

Case in point is Pergo, a brand under Mohawk’s Quick-Step umbrella but one that you won’t find at the specialty retail level. (Much to the delight of Lowe’s and Home Depot.) Conversely, Mohawk laminate lines are not available at big box stores—and specialty retailers are just fine with that. Rick Oderio, owner of Conklin Bros., San Jose, Calif., recently upgraded from an entry-level laminate offering to a higher quality line from Mohawk. And he hasn’t looked back. “We literally sell miles of Mohawk laminate. More importantly, we don’t get any callbacks with the Mohawk brand. It has been a very profitable category for us, and the visuals are truly amazing.”

Armstrong is another household flooring brand name that is benefitting from the multi-channel approach. The goal, according to Morgan Hafer, product manager, is to continue to provide innovations in performance and design to not only compete but also give specialty retailers more products that can’t be shopped at the big boxes.

In that same vein, Shaw Floors maintains its commitment to the specialty retail channel by offering laminate products under the Shaw brand name. But it also manufactures a separate range of laminate lines for home centers as well as private-label collections for buying groups. However, new high-performance products like its Repel line—which is specially designed to withstand liquid spills and accidents—is strictly available to specialty retailers.

It’s a model that seems to be working for other manufacturers who cater to various channels. Uniboard, for example, is probably best known in Canada as the manufacturer of brands such as Allegria—which you won’t find in specialty retail stores. (In fact, the company supplies a host of other producers around the world with laminate flooring whose clients, in turn, market under other brand names.) However, when it comes to providing distributors with differentiated laminate products that can boost their profit margins, a Uniboard-branded strategy is the way to go.

“There is tremendous equity in the Uniboard brand name, which is why we decided to focus on that brand recognition when we re-entered the U.S. market,” said Don Raymond, vice president of sales and marketing. “For many retailers and distributors, the Uniboard brand is synonymous with high quality, and it only makes sense for us to leverage that name recognition.

Specialty retailers seem to be embracing the strategy. For some, the private label distinction—be it home centers vs. independents or independents vs. buying group brands—keeps consumers from shopping around solely based on price. “Being in a buying group has given us many benefits—one being able to have our own private-label brand,” said Carlton Billingsley, president and owner, Floors and More, Benton, Ark. As a member of both the FCA Network and Starnet, this approach sets him apart from the competition. “Private labels allow us to focus on products that are important to our market, and we work with our vendor partners to have a good assortment. This allows our customers to receive very good products at aggressive pricing while seeing products that are different from the dealer down the street.”

While private labels can certainly help improve profitability, some believe exclusive brands are the way to go. As Eric Demaree, president, Carpet One Floor & Home, told retail members during the group’s summer convention: We provide our members with exclusive brands, not just private-labeled products. “We add exclusive colors, superior warranties, product attributes and guarantees that cannot be offered by simply slapping on a private label. We integrate our exclusive brands in a comprehensive selling system that helps make the selection process easier for customers and the presentation process easier for retail sales professionals.”

Many flooring retailers, mindful of the dilemma that manufacturers have to contend with by serving different channels, appreciate the ability of suppliers to diversify the product mix. Most specialty retailers would prefer not to compete with home centers on price alone, and the branding strategy laminate manufacturers have developed sufficiently addresses this problem.

“We try not to compete with box stores on any product,” said Char Smith, manager of Gallagher’s Flooring, Grand Junction, Colo. “For the most part, they are selling to people who are only interested in a price point and have no idea or concern regarding quality of product. We have chosen to deal with laminate suppliers that produce quality products.”

 

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Distribution: Despite threats from LVT/WPC, segment hold its own

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.04.14 AMPrior to the explosive growth of LVT/WPC, hardwood was the hot product in the hard surface flooring segment. In fact, 2012 and 2013 saw some of the largest increases in the wood category, with double-digit gains each year.

Since then wood has continued to grow, albeit at a declining rate. Some observers surmise that this slow growth, which in many ways mirrors the overall flooring industry over the past five years, is the new normal. “I think wood growth is going to level off for the industry in the low single digits going forward,” said Torrey Jaeckle, vice president of Jaeckle Distributors, Madison, Wis. “What we are seeing is the wood jobs we are getting are larger average sizes, which has a positive impact on growth. The average order size (in square feet) is up 15% from several years ago. Wider widths and scraped product continue to show steady gains, and while you can get those same looks in a number of different product categories now (LVT, ceramic, laminate), real wood still remains an aspirational product for many consumers and will continue to do so. I think what we are seeing is the designs of other products have become so good now some consumers are becoming more willing to give up the real thing for the wear, maintenance and other benefits these other products offer.”

Another leading distributor suggested wood flooring “will never be back to where it was.” His view is the pace of new home builds is down 60% from its peak in 2007 and will be hard-pressed to match the pre-recession levels anytime soon given the shortage of skilled labor that is impacting construction. “The peak of home building is when wood really shined,” he said. “New homes drive building flooring contractors. I don’t know that the builder market will have exuberant growth but I expect it to climb in the low- to mid-single digits.”

Based on the percentage of business distributors still do with hardwood, they are clearly still bullish on the category. Many of the top 20 have wood portfolios in the 25%-35% range; some are lower; a few much higher. Scores of consumers still want genuine wood, not something that merely replicates it. “What we are noticing is wood styling trends seem to be changing quickly. It’s imperative for us to work with our suppliers to provide the latest and greatest looks,” said Chip Moxley, president of Tingle Flooring, Lees Summit, Mo.

Several wholesalers said they have seen a significant shift toward engineered wood vs. solid, and others have seen a steady increase in their unfinished wood business as well.

For Galleher, William M. Bird, Belknap White, All Tile and others, wood remains a constant. It is the largest segment for each of these wholesalers. In its New England market, Belknap White executives says customers remain passionate about solid wood, whereas in its southern area more engineered is being sold.

Laminate
For most top 20 distributors, laminate represents well south of 10% of their product mix, with several saying it is now 5% or less. “Laminate is taking a severe dive,” one prominent West Coast distributor told FCNews.

Blame it on the success of LVT/WPC, which has eroded virtually every other category. But while some have given up on laminate, there are those who are encouraged by new developments, in particular some of the new water-resistant offerings.

Mannington’s Spill Shield, for example, was cited as a product that offers true differentiated advantages. “Laminate has surprisingly held its own because it has been embraced by the builder channel,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, Owings Mills, Md. “[The 12-mil format] has made them more comfortable. You can get the wood visuals at a fraction of the cost. It is a much more durable floor from the time it goes in to the time the homeowner takes over [occupancy of the home].”

Distributors who have not abandoned the category have picked up share from those who have. For Herregan Distributors, Eagan, Minn., laminate is still 10% of its business.  “Laminate is showing some positive trends because of stronger moisture warranties,” said Pat Thies, vice president of sales and marketing.

 

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Laminate: I4F system benefits consumers and installers alike

September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 4.08.11 PMInnovations4Flooring (I4F), a technology company focused on the development of patents and flooring installation solutions, has more than doubled its number of licensees over the last 12 months. This growth is driven largely by acceptance of the company’s flagship technologies, including 3L TripleLock and Click4U. 3L TripleLock provides a one-piece drop-lock installation innovation, and Click4U delivers an angle system for the long side, combined with drop-lock on the short side.

3L TripleLock is being acclaimed as the new market standard with more retailers in the U.S. asking their suppliers to switch over to the system. Results, so far, are proving extremely positive with those implementing the solution witnessing a sharp sell-out growth rate that is outperforming the overall market.

According to retailers and installers, the solution is extremely easy to use, enabling the placement of floors to be much quicker while maintaining the highest quality levels. The system’s appeal is now also extending to consumers as it is suitable for all types of flooring and, in particular, products made from new, high-demand materials.

In the U.S., installers are voicing their support of 3L TripleLock, expressing how easy and fast it is to install floors using the solution. They especially like the fact that it delivers tight seams without the inconvenience of any moving parts, according to I4F. 3L TripleLock is up to 30% faster to install than basic clicks and doesn’t need any special tools, including tapping blocks or tool bars. In addition, replacing or swapping out planks is straightforward with its simple slide and lift system.

All this enables installers to meet and exceed their customers’ demands.

“Our goal is to revolutionize the global flooring industry by bringing meaningful innovations into the market and, at the end of the day, the customer is king,” said John Rietveldt, chief executive officer of Innovations4Flooring. “People will always choose the easiest and fastest solution, and when they can also use the same technique on the newest materials, their decision becomes very clear cut.”