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Installation: Grouts, mortars help tile setters do it right

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

By Lindsay Baillie

 

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

Bostik

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

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

Ardex

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

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

Custom Building Products

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

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

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

Laticrete

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

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

Schon̈ox

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

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

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

Uzin

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

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

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

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

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Fall intros: Innovations entice dealers to sell better goods

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

By Ken Ryan

 

The newest product introductions in the flooring industry run the gamut from latest in rigid core construction to carpet tiles engineered for exterior applications. What these disparate products have in common, however, are technology advancements that will help define and differentiate these innovations as they hit the market at the height of the fall selling season.

Engineered Floors
Its Dream Weaver residential brand is bringing to market a brand new line of design-focused patterns, textures and colors called DW Select. Comprising 14 initial styles, these carpets bring textural nuances reminiscent of natural materials into the home. Featuring EFs’ proprietary twistX technology, DW Select features blended fiber components that enhance wearability and styling.

Foss Floors
Foss’ Grizzly Grass mimics artificial grass but eliminates the many negatives associated with tufted grass constructions. Available in both broadloom and tiles, Grizzly Grass features DuraLock technology, which bonds all fibers in place without the use of latex/chemicals. Its premium self-stick tiles includes the company’s peel-and-stick backing system, making installation over any surface easy. Grizzly Grass is 100% waterproof and comes with a lifetime warranty against fraying, zippering, fading, stain and wear.

Inhaus
Launched as Inhaus’ first 100% commercially focused floor, Moto is a 3mm-thick, PVC-free, glue-down resilient plank manufactured in Japan. It is made of a polypropylene mineral composite core, ultra-clear 20-mil polypropylene surface wear layer and embossed surface to enhance the texture of wood. It is also topped with a protective surface coating. Created in collaboration with the design community, Moto consists of a collection of 12 colors.

Mohawk
Mohawk’s new, 100%waterproof SolidTech Plus blends style and durability. With low pattern repetition, painted beveled edges and embossed textures, SolidTech Plus adds a more authentic, natural hardwood look and feel to the SolidTech collection. Mohawk said the new rigid flooring is three times more scratch resistant due to its tough wear layer and enhanced lacquer finish. Its EasyClean technology adds stain and soil protection, while a UniClic locking system creates a watertight seam that traps water on the surface.

Phenix 
Entice and Tempt—created with 100% SureSoftSD and protected by Microban antimicrobial technology, are classic, casual textures. Available to retailers this fall, the multi-tonal shades of the 15-color palette are designed to create a neutral statement that sets the tone for an interior space. Resourceful & Rational, the newest casual textures from Phenix, combines fresh, earthy colors to create a 30-color line. Protected by Microban and constructed with 100% SureSoft carpet yarn, Resourceful & Rational are ideal for active households. Determined, Eager & Energetic—the latest pattern collection from Phenix—is crafted from original artistry, pulling inspiration from natural materials and textures. Twenty natural colors are available in this Microban-protected grouping.

Philadelphia Commercial
The newest carpet collection by Philadelphia Commercial, Shape of Color, is a 24 x 24-inch carpet tile featuring the company’s environmentally guaranteed EcoSolution Q Nylon and EcoWorx tile backing. Engineered to perform, Shape of Color is ideal for high-traffic applications. This collection includes two styles offering design versatility while adding bold expression to any space—Block by Block and Line by Line. Block by Block has bold contrasting colors, saturated tonal hues and neutrals that encourage the uninhibited use of color being embraced in fashion, the home and the workplace. Line by Line features a subtle color palette and a sophisticated linear pattern that reflects the angles in Block by Block.

Shaw Floors
Distinction Plus is Shaw Floors’ latest WPC introduction featuring 7 x 48 planks with 10 visuals in a range of wood species, including oak, maple, pine and eucalyptus. Part of the Floorté Classic Series, Distinction Plus was designed with classic style and amplified comfort in mind. Its foamed, 100% waterproof core promises better sound absorption and enhanced comfort underfoot for a softer, warmer hard surface flooring option. Distinction Plus protects from splashes, spills and daily household traffic thanks to Shaw’s Armourbead finish and 12-mil wearlayer.

USFloors
COREtec Stone presents a designer-curated collection of tile and stone designs. An embossed thermo-resin layer provides realism while integrated grout lines match the floor perfectly, without making a mess.

Chief among COREtec Stone’s achievements is a new, rigid mineral core that’s free of PVC and plasticizers. The rigid mineral core offers indentation resistance with dimensional stability, allowing the product to offer a 18 x 36-inch platform among its array of design-forward aesthetics and formats suitable for commercial or residential use. The rigid mineral core offers greater dimensional stability than WPC and SPC, making COREtec stone ideal for large spaces without using transition pieces. According to USFloors, moisture from the top or bottom will have no effect on COREtec Stone as its rigid mineral core is waterproof.

Wellmade
Opti-Wood rigid core hardwood flooring is now available in wider/longer premium planks—7-inch widths and 84-inch lengths featuring real hardwood bonded to Wellmade’s patented HDPC rigid core. Low-luster, wire-brushed finishes along with distressed and hand-scraped textures augment the collection’s dramatic visuals. Representing the next generation of engineered flooring, Opti-Wood is tolerant to temperature fluctuations while remaining stable in the most demanding environments. With its waterproof properties, Opti-Wood can be installed in areas prone to moisture and humidity, including kitchen, bath and below-grade applications.

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Top selling tips for cork, bamboo

August 5/12, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 4

By Megan Salzano

 

Cork and bamboo flooring have unique features and benefits, which, if promoted properly, can entice a variety of consumers. First, however, flooring store owners have a number of topics they must become familiar with in order to be successful with these products—from sustainability to installation to showroom placement. With those topics in mind, several major manufacturers in these respective flooring categories gave FCNews the following tips for success.

Education
“It is crucial to ensure customers and installers are set up for success with a thorough understanding of the best practices involved with each product and installation technique. Starting with a quality product is key, but clear install guides, videos and helpful customer support go a long way in ensuring that floor stands the test of time.”
-Tom Hume, vice president of marketing, Cali Bamboo

“It is crucial to educate the RSAs on the harvesting and manufacturing processes of cork and bamboo flooring. Since many people want to be ‘green’ but do not realize cork and bamboo flooring are options, the focus on sustainability will appeal to an ever-growing segment of buyers. For instance, did you know removing cork bark from cork oak trees actually adds years of life to the tree? These bits of information will help educate and impress the customer.”
-Natalie Cady, director of USFloors category

“For retailers wanting to get into the bamboo market, they will need to do their homework. Installing strand-woven bamboo, [for example,] cannot be done by nailing it. The product is so hard that most nailers won’t be able to penetrate all the way through.”
-Rick Shewmake, vice president of operations, Bamboo Hardwoods

Product positioning
“The answer to success is differentiation with a real story. It’s important to choose the right product that has a story that will resonate with your customers. If you offer a cork product that no one else has—and you tell the full story of warmth, soft foot feel, durability, environmental friendliness and visuals that your customer wants—you have a stronger chance of success.”
-Brian Gencher, vice president of marketing, Torlys

“I’d recommend positioning strand bamboo as an exotic, fashion-forward hard surface floor with an eco-friendly edge. The stranding process used in manufacturing creates a natural, character-driven mosaic of color variation that is currently very popular with leading hardwood flooring looks. Add to that contemporary low-luster or wire-brushed finished and/or advanced glazing techniques and you have a sure-fire winner.”
-Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing, Wellmade Performance Flooring

“It is a solution for those looking for green, quiet, comfortable and warm flooring that’s easy-to-maintain. The successful dealer introduces [cork] to the customer when showing wood floors and as a solution to any of these issues.”
-Ann Wicander, president, WeCork

“Position cork as an alternative in the resilient section. Hardwood is a very popular surface right now, but people are looking for alternatives. Plus, cork tends to be overlooked in the wood section. Also, target the younger buyers. The older generation has sort of passed over cork, but this new generation of buyers is showing an affinity for the natural performance characteristics of cork.”
-Bo Barber, vice president of business development, Ecore

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Wood: Canadian players carve out their own niches in the market

Suppliers leverage capabilities in finishing, service and logistics

 

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

With all the talk of tariffs in recent months, much of the focus has been on hardwood flooring manufacturers from China and Southeast Asia. But you can’t overlook the impact that suppliers from Canada have had—and continue to have—on the U.S. market.

Given their long reputation for producing some of the clearest, cleanest maple flooring available today—along with their steadfast focus on product quality, finishing innovation and strict environmental controls—some of the major Canadian suppliers continue to raise the bar by which many wood brands are measured.

Case in point is Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage Floors brand, which continues to be recognized by the trade in both the U.S. and its home base in Canada. No stranger to the winner’s circle, the company recently achieved another milestone by earning its 10th Award of Excellence honor. “We are honored to be recognized as the top company in the hardwood flooring category again this year,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing, Boa-Franc. “Having received 35 awards for quality and excellence over the last 20 years is a testament to the quality of the employees, suppliers and customers we have at Boa-Franc. This goes to show that we keep our promise of continuously providing our sales network with consistent quality products and service.”

Dealers who stock the Mirage brand tend to agree. Karla Wischmeyer, an interior designer at Verhey Carpets in Grand Rapids, Mich., has specified the brand for scores of renovation projects. In fact, it’s the top-selling hardwood flooring line in her store. Wischmeyer is particularly impressed with the technology utilized in Boa-Franc’s signature finish, Duramatt, which combines the in-demand look of a low-gloss finish with the durability of a high-performance urethane coating.

“We have been very pleased with it, and I’m sure we haven’t had any claims,” she told FCNews. “We have the product installed in our downtown showroom, and we also have a rug gallery with Mirage hardwood on the floor. This serves as a demo regarding the product’s performance.”

Other major Canadian suppliers have made strides in advanced finishing technology. Mercier Wood Flooring, known for its high-performance, low-sheen Generations finish, is looking to raise the bar with its newly launched Naked Series. The line features a proprietary process that allows the aesthetic qualities of the natural species to come through even after the application of the finish and stain.

“With this new finishing technology, we are able to apply a coating to the wood, seal it and then apply our Generations coating on top of it without changing the overall look,” said Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales, U.S. market. “With most other wood flooring finishes, once you put a urethane finish on, it changes the look of the graining of the natural wood species.”

Some of Mercier’s longtime customers attest to the attributes of the technology. “This is an extremely clean-looking product,” said Tom Norris, regional manager for ProSource in Pittsburgh, a Mercier partner for the past 20 years. “With this process Mercier is using, it looks like a fresh-cut sawn plank. It’s better looking than any engineered product I’ve seen out there.”

Not to be outdone, Lauzon Hardwood Flooring has been marketing its own brand of high-performance finishing technology. Some of its select products feature an innovation called Pure Genius, which contains a patented titanium dioxide technology that decomposes bacteria, viruses and mold, thereby reducing potential carcinogens, according to the company. Activated by natural or artificial light—in combination with the movement of ambient air in a room—the finish constantly transforms toxic airborne particles into harmless water and carbon dioxide molecules, creating a constant supply of pure air in the home.

“Many people don’t realize the extent to which the air-tight environments in today’s homes contain pollutants and toxic contaminants, such as formaldehyde emitted from furniture, building materials and common household products,” said Priscilla Bergeron, communication manager at Lauzon. “Studies show that the air in rooms installed with Pure Genius is up to 85% cleaner than spaces without it. And after 30 days, rooms installed with Pure Genius flooring have been shown to have a formaldehyde level of only 5 parts per billion, compared to 16-32 parts per billion in a typical home.”

Even upstart hardwood flooring manufacturers from Canada are looking to capitalize on the reputation of suppliers in the region. Times Flooring, a manufacturer of high-end engineered wood products, recently jumped into the fray with the rollout of Aqua Allira, a new product that provides a waterproof engineered wood flooring option for commercial and residential use.

Developed in collaboration and acquired from Uniboard Canada, Times Flooring’s proprietary development process showcases the unique characteristics, performance and finish of its engineered flooring. The Aqua Allira collection features modern colors with natural variation for an authentic look.

“Luxury engineered wood flooring is already a hugely popular option for both homeowners and commercial businesses,” said Linda Gelly, owner and president, Plancher Times Flooring. “When you add to its benefits—waterproof features, enhanced durability and innovative colors and textures—Aqua Allira is the best product in its category in the North American market.”

How it works: When exposed to water, Aqua Allira waterproof flooring maintains its integrity thanks to the AquaTimes application process that combines a patented construction and a superior formulated finish, which prevents the wood from swelling, buckling or delaminating. It features a non-toxic hypoallergenic finish with an antimicrobial agent and is highly durable.

At your service
Beyond their sheer technical capabilities, Canadian suppliers also tout their ability to service a diverse range of client needs. Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, has successfully employed a business model that allows it to produce large quantities of product without applying a color or finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor. Its customers say this gives them an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen.

This capability is particularly important for distributors like Warwick, Rhode Island-based Builder Surplus, whose clientele runs a wide gamut. The fact that Wickham can produce a high volume in a short period of time is also a plus for the wholesaler, which purchases a full truckload of product roughly every few weeks. “We’ve been a good partner for them and they have been a good partner for us,” said Mike Winter, president and owner.

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Wood: Price hikes, look-alikes squeeze profit margins

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

While several major hardwood flooring manufacturers reported modest sales increases in 2018, many will admit that profit margins were a bit tighter than they would have liked. That’s due in large part to numerous price increases enacted last year in response to rising lumber and energy costs. On top of that, portions of the category—particularly entry-level products—faced pricing pressures from the surging popularity of less expensive alternatives to hardwood, namely LVT, WPC and, more recently, SPC.

When the smoke cleared, the hardwood flooring category generated $2.422 billion in sales, a 4.4% increase over 2017. The volume of hardwood flooring sold at the first point of distribution also grew, albeit at a slower rate (3.2%), to 959 million square feet, reflecting higher-priced product and better-quality goods.

Industry observers owe hardwood’s performance to the strength of key end-use market segments. “Residential replacement continues to be the primary driver in hardwood consumption, followed by new construction—primarily single family,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminates, Mannington.

Michael Bell, COO of AHF Products—the company created when Armstrong Flooring spun off its hardwood business—is in agreement. “Hardwood flooring consumption is being driven primarily by a combination of single-family new construction and residential replacement. We have enjoyed steady overall growth for the past 10 years.”

For Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand, single-family construction is driving revenues followed by commercial contract and residential replacement, according to Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing.

Mohawk, whose gross hardwood flooring sales are up, also sees activity in the new home construction sector, especially single-family homes. Residential replacement sales are strong as well. “Commercial is strong in certain areas, but by and large it’s not a huge market for hardwood,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate. “We don’t see those trends changing anytime soon.”

Anecdotal observations from suppliers is supplemented by hard numbers. FCNews research shows the residential replacement sector grew its share of the pie in 2018, accounting for roughly 58% of end use. That’s up a few percentage points from 2017, when residential replacement activity accounted for approximately 55% of wood sales. But that growth came at the expense of lower consumption by the new home construction sector, which fell to roughly 33.5% of sales last year compared to 35% in 2017. Commercial (specified plus Main Street) also saw its share slip in 2018, accounting for only about 8.5% of category sales. That’s off from approximately 10% of category sales in 2017.

Wood’s shifting consumption trend is more readily evident when compared to activity across other hard surface categories. In 2018, for example, hardwood represented about 17% of hard surface sales but only 10.1% of volume. Going back five years, wood accounted for nearly 20% and 15% of hard surface sales and square footage, respectively.

Much like other traditional hard surface categories, hardwood has ceded market share to the likes of trendy resilient flooring options in recent years. That’s no surprise considering many of these less expensive alternatives do an admirable job of replicating the natural visual—if not the overall heft and feel—of genuine hardwood flooring.

Bruce Zwicker, former president and CEO of Haines turned independent industry consultant, recently delivered a sobering keynote address that drove home just how much resilient flooring—both flexible and rigid core products—are nipping share from the total floor covering pie, not just hardwood. Specifically, he cited research showing LVT grew by 25% in the U.S. last year, accounting for roughly 20% of the total flooring market. By comparison, he said hardwood—although it represents approximately 13% of the total flooring space—grew by single digits.

“Flooring demand in general is growing, but wood flooring demand is not,” he said. “Why is that? No. 1, the price of wood combined with the installation cost of wood makes it the most expensive floor covering. And as we all know, economic growth is not robust; disposable income is not rising at a high rate, and the standard of living in the U.S. is not growing like it used to. Hardwood is still the consumer’s aspirational choice, but flooring dealers are fighting a battle in educating the consumer that they can get more value from wood compared to some of these other products.”

Nonetheless, it’s a real issue with which wood flooring suppliers must contend. “Without a doubt, these categories are exerting tremendous pressure on the lower end of the wood category,” Natkin explained. “We have seen significant category cannibalization as vinyl-based products continue to take share. However, the mid to upper ends of the hardwood category remain strong and less prone to impact from the look-alike products.”

Observers believe the onslaught of WPC, SPC and LVT products has put many hardwood suppliers back on their heels. “It has forced hardwood to strengthen what makes it special and unique to the customers,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “However, hardwood at the upper end of the market still remains a viable option—there’s less competition there.”

Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S., at Mercier Wood Flooring, attests to the toll resilient has taken on the wood market, but he’s not overly concerned. “It doesn’t seem to be affecting Mercier as much as the lower-end type products on the market” he explained. “We are finding buyers in the market for real wood typically consider better goods.”

Domestic vs. outsourcing
The gradual shift in consumer tastes is also manifested in the types of products manufacturers make domestically vs. what they import from other countries. With profit margins getting ever tighter, particularly with respect to the solid side of the business, suppliers are exploring options that make the most sense from a financial and practical point of view.

“In the U.S. today, we produce less wood flooring than we used to and we import a whole lot more,” Zwicker said. “You can actually take lumber from the U.S., ship it over to China, create a floor and ship it back to the U.S. and still be more competitive than many U.S. producers. The Chinese have lower labor costs, and the government subsidizes manufacturing there. There are anti-dumping penalties and tariffs in place to prevent unfair trade, but their costs are still really low compared to U.S. producers.”

The import trends are reflected in the numbers. Zwicker cited research showing total flooring imports account for almost 50% of U.S. consumption, with China representing at least a third of those imports. Looking specifically at wood, however, China represents 50% of wood but 85% of LVT/multilayered flooring—the category that has been taking the greatest share from wood.

Even more telling, Zwicker said, wood imports accounted for roughly 30% of the U.S. market 10 years ago compared to 52% last year. In 2006, wood imports accounted for just 15% of the market, he said.

“The fact is producing wood flooring in the U.S. is simply not profitable for many manufacturers,” Zwicker stated. “In response, many manufacturers scaled back production, raised prices and sold all or part of their wood divisions.”

One of the companies Zwicker referenced was Shaw Floors, which earlier this year announced plans to sell its solid hardwood flooring plants to Beasley Forest Products, a vertically integrated operation based in North Carolina. The move allows Shaw to lower its production costs without disrupting the supply chain.

“We’re continually looking at how we can optimize and create value through our supply chain to make sure we’re aligned with the market,” said Herb Upton, vice president of hard surfaces at Shaw Floors.

Emerging formats
In addition to taking measures to better control costs, hardwood flooring suppliers are adapting their product offerings to better compete with the likes of WPC and SPC. In fact, many traditional wood flooring manufacturers are increasingly incorporating non-wood-based cores in their products. And now with the National Wood Flooring Association’s updated standards that classify rigid core-based floors that feature sliced or peeled wood veneers as real wood, it’s open season for this emerging format.

“These types of products have been around for years—originally on HDF cores and now evolving to vinyl or stone based,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “The latest twist is the marketing of these products as waterproof.”

AHF Products’ Bell believes these new “hybrid” formats open the door for further innovation. “We embrace the development and evolution of core structures to ensure the hardwood customer has relevant options based on their particular needs,” he explained. “It is our job to innovate and lead in the development of such products so we are a dependable solution provider for our channel partners.”

American OEM, whose forte has long been genuine engineered hardwood, is jumping headlong into the arena with a new product called Raintree, which features a sliced veneer on top of an SPC core. “This real wood floor will be guaranteed to withstand being totally submerged in water for up to 24 hours,” said Don Finkell, CEO. “We also introduced a water-resistant, six-surface coating system on our premium products that will allow our traditional veneer core wood floors to be approved for certain wet mopping maintenance systems. We think this is a significant improvement to most wood floor warranties offered today, which disclaim any type of wet maintenance.”

Another player that has reported growing acceptance of the wood veneer/rigid core for- mat is Wellmade, which markets the Opti-Wood line of waterproof wood flooring. “Our HDPC Opti-Wood products provide dealers and distributors what they need to grow sales and improve margins in the emerging market for waterproof hardwood flooring,” said Steve Wagner, vice president of sales and marketing.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. “So-called hybrid products like these have the potential to be good,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “We’re obviously monitoring the products that are coming out, looking at how we can offer a superior product. While we don’t have one of those cores out yet, we want to make sure what we believe customers want in a hardwood is a real, authentic product. If we can marry that with some of the benefits—such as a water resistance or waterproof features—that makes it all the more valuable to a certain subset of customers.”

The challenge for wood flooring suppliers, observers say, is leveraging the category’s winning proposition. “All these products—LVT, WPC, SPC—are taking market share,” Zwicker said. “However, wood flooring isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Lumber pricing trends
Another factor that impacted hardwood flooring in 2018 was the escalation in raw material prices, especially for in-demand species. “Last year, we saw fluctuations in raw lumber, especially in white oak,” Mohawk’s Ward said.

Shaw Floors announced price hikes on its solid offerings last year as a result of both domestic and international demand. Upton cited the impact of an increase in shipments of logs destined for further processing in Southeast Asia as well as normal ebbs and flows of stateside demand for flooring. Also factoring into the equation, he noted, is growing demand from the other users of wood—such as mat timbers and other businesses (industrial lumber applications). “These can, over the long term, cause a major disruption in demand patterns,” he explained. “For example, we’ve seen industries such as fracking exploration impact demand for wood.”

The impact of rising demand from exports as well as domestic industries that compete for raw materials is well documented in reports provided by the Hardwood Review Weekly. The publication concluded that 2018 was by and large a good year for the U.S. hardwood industry as it ended up being the second strongest export year on record. Research shows export volumes totaled roughly 1.73 billion board feet–quite a feat considering Chinese demand tailed off significantly during the second half of the year.

The spring of 2018 in particular was particularly noteworthy with respect to export volume movement. In fact, the month of April was the highest on record for U.S. exports of red oak lumber, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service data. Chinese demand for 4/4 #1C grade red oak and green #2A, 3A and kiln-dried #2A red oak remains strong as flooring plants continue to aggressively purchase lumber. FAS red oak green lumber pricing is 9% higher than a near record increase seen in July 2017. (Grades such as #1C & 2A prices were 10% and 8% higher, respectfully, during the period.)

International demand for white oak is also on the rise. Reports indicate increasing FAS grade white oak sales to Europe the, Far East and Oceanic destinations. Back at home, U.S. residential and truck-trailer flooring factories are aggressively pursuing green #2A & 3A white oak with some buying kiln-dried stock to fill gaps in supply. Sawmills also report solid orders for green #1C and better white oak from exporting concentration yards.

Overall pricing across all grades shows white oak increasing by almost 6%, with grade #1C and 2A pricing increasing 7%. The market direction for walnut, which is also rising in popularity, has shifted in recent months with demand for green exceeding kiln-dried lumber in addition to demand for grades higher than #1C and #2A. (FAS walnut lumber pricing was reported at $3,000/MBF, the highest since January 2015.) Common-grade walnut prices have followed the same trend, according to the Hardwood Review. Green walnut lumber pricing across all grades is 20% higher than the high mark seen in July 2017.

Pricing for cherry species is also up thanks to rising demand from China. This despite declining demand in the U.S. and elsewhere. Cherry lumber supplies are running thin, particularly green stocks, which has kept pricing up. Green lumber prices across all grades of cherry are 19% higher than those reported in July 2017. Pricing for FAS grade cherry has been on a roll since July 2014; common-grade cherry (1C and 2A) is averaging 23% higher than what was reported in July 2017.

Sawmills also report growing order files for hard maple, primarily due to demand from cabinet and wood component manufacturers. Residential flooring factories and distribution yards are buying at a steady pace at a time when hard maple is seasonally slower, according to the Hardwood Review Weekly. This combination of circumstances is compressing supplies and gradually lifting prices, particularly for the common grades, which are attracting the strongest interest. Hard maple lumber pricing in mid-2018 was 14.5% higher across all grades compared to what was reported in July 2017. (Grade 1C lumber showed the largest increase at 18%.)

But it’s not just raw materials that’s impacting the cost of wood flooring production. “We also saw transportation inflation throughout the first half of the year in 2018,” Mannington’s Natkin explained.

With respect to the impact of the tariffs on pricing, supply and demand, some executives are seeing the warning signs. “We have noticed an increase on prices to the trade, even on products not finished or sourced from regions affected by the tariffs,” said Mitch Tagle, founder and CEO of DuChateau.

Even if the imposition of tariffs on imports from China result in tangibly higher prices or reduced shipments, experts believe it won’t significantly stem the tide because it’s still more cost effective to make hardwood flooring outside the U.S. Zwicker’s research shows countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand are already picking up some of the slack. “Put them all together, and they represent 17% of all the wood flooring imports coming into the country today,” he said. “That will continue to rise.”

Outlook
Despite the well-documented challenges, hardwood suppliers remain confident the category will remain viable. In fact, many are investing in their operations in anticipation of strengthening demand. Earlier this year, for example, AHF Products announced the acquisition of LM Flooring, a major producer with a global manufacturing footprint. In that same vein, Wickham Hardwood Flooring invested millions of dollars in its milling and finishing operations in Canada. Mannington also recently completed a major capital upgrade of its hardwood manufacturing plant in High Point, N.C., to enhance efficiencies and production capabilities. “There is still very strong fundamental demand for hardwood,” Natkin told FCNews.

Another factor leaning in wood’s favor is the outlook for residential remodeling spending—a critical end-use sector for the category. A newly released report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University showed homeowners spent $339 billion on remodeling in the first quarter of 2019, a 7% increase from a year earlier. More importantly, consumers are expected to lay out $345 billion in the second quarter, up 6.9% year on year, according to the center.

By the first quarter of 2020, spending on home remodeling is projected to reach $347 billion, an increase of 2.6%. This compares with estimated expenditures of $352 billion in the third quarter of 2018, a 6.9% rise from a year earlier, and $353 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, a 5.2% uptick over 2017.

“Home improvement and repair spending has been in an extended period of above-trend growth for several years, due to weak homebuilding, aging homes and other factors,” said Abbe Will, associate project director at the center’s Remodeling Futures Program.

On the downside, suppliers expect raw materials pricing fluctuations to continue to be a challenge, remaining higher than this time last year. “We expect to see increases across all species, with red oak being the most volatile,” AHF Product’s Bell said. “We have also experienced significant inflation in freight and packaging.”

All in all, though, suppliers expect to see movement in the right direction. “As we look further into 2019, we expect to see slight to modest growth,” Shaw Floors’ Upton said. “We’re predicting growth around 5% for the hardwood category.”

Mirage’s Williams predicts a slower increase than what the industry experienced in 2018. “We project the overall hardwood category will see a modest growth rate of 3% for 2019.”

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Getting with the ‘Times

Canadian manufacturer ups the ante on waterproof wood

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

By Steven Feldman

 

The waterproof flooring category is by far the fastest-growing segment of the floor covering industry, and one of the latest innovations within this category has been something referred to as composite engineered waterproof wood flooring. In layman’s terms, it’s a real wood veneer attached to a waterproof rigid core, which—according to the National Wood Flooring Association’s definition—falls within the hardwood flooring domain.

A handful of flooring manufacturers have entered the category with a 1.2mm wood veneer. But upstart Canadian manufacturer Times Flooring on June 17 entered the arena with an upgraded product featuring a thicker veneer ranging from 1.6mm to 1.8mm attached to a calcium carbonate core.

The product is called Aqua Allira. (If the name sounds familiar to some, it’s because Uniboard attempted to launch something similar under that moniker two years ago.) However, this iteration is different, primarily because Times Flooring upgraded to a sliced-faced, thicker veneer. “Uniboard was promoting a much thinner, 0.9mm rotary-peeled wood veneer,” said Linda Gelly, who founded Times Flooring three years ago. “A rotary peel visual does not provide the richness of a real sliced hardwood floor. You are unable to see the grain of the wood.”

Gelly knows a little something about hardwood flooring in general and Aqua Allira in particular. She has been in the business for 25 years in roles ranging from working for sawmills in Canada to coloring and finishing unfinished hardwood flooring products using her own formula. In fact, she is credited with inventing the coating to make Aqua Allira waterproof (application, formulation and process). Uniboard sourced its finishing through her company. “But I always wanted to start my own collection of engineered flooring—to design and create my own colors and styles,” Gelly explained.

The waterproof hardwood category has been attracting attention throughout the industry because of its ability to be installed in any room in the home, including bathrooms and kitchens where standing water can be an impediment to the installation of traditional hardwood flooring. It can also be installed over wood or concrete subfloors and can even hide minor subfloor imperfections.

What makes this waterproof hardwood better than existing products of its kind? Plenty, Gelly said.

1. The 1.6mm veneer provides a better visual than a 1.2mm veneer, she said.

2. It is the only waterproof hardwood flooring line made in North America—to the best of her knowledge.

3. Times Flooring offers customization of colors in matte, semi-gloss and satin finishes for 5,000-square-foot minimums without the six- to eight-week wait from Asia. “We can deliver in two weeks because we have 750,000 square feet of unfinished inventory at our facility in Montreal,” Gelly said.

4. Aqua Allira products are third-party tested, submerged in water for 30 days with no warping or cupping, according to Gelly. Competing products are tested for a maximum of 72 hours, she said.

5. Aqua Allira boasts the only residential lifetime warranty for a product of this type.

6. Aqua Allira offers a 10-year heavy commercial warranty while competing products offer a 5-year light commercial warranty.

Other attributes:

•Aqua Allira is phthalate free, low-VOC, antimicrobial and pet friendly.

•It can be installed over heated subfloors.

•Because it is manufactured in Canada, Aqua Allira is not subject to tariffs.

•Every varnish is made in North America.

•The product has proven to be dimensionally stable under temperature variations.

•Can be glued down in commercial applications.

•The click installation is ideal for DIYers.

Times Flooring is launching Aqua Allira in eight SKUs in hard maple, hickory and red oak. However, if a distributor or large retailer would like to add to the collection with additional colors, Times is more than capable of delivering on that. Every product in the line comes with the choice of a handscraped or smooth finish, Gelly said. Handscraped products are 1.8mm and the smooth finish is 1.6mm.

Retail price points will range between $4.99 and $5.99 per square foot, product only, which gives the retailer the capability of making a 40% margin or more. Merchandising includes stand-up displays, chain sets and tote boards with architect folders in the works.

Forty-year industry veteran Gilles de Beaumont is consulting with Times to develop and grow the brand in North America. The short-term goal is to establish national distribution, whose efforts will be supported by a marketing campaign to the trade. The long-term goal, according to Gelly, is to become the leader in this composite engineered waterproof wood flooring category.

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NWFA honors individual, group achievements

May 27/June 3, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Reginald Tucker

 

Fort Worth, Texas—The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) held a special ceremony here at its annual convention last month to recognize individuals and organizations alike for their contributions to the industry. These ranged from service awards honoring important achievements to master craftsmen who showcase their installation skills all the way down to the next generation of wood flooring professionals.

Following is an overview of some of the presentations:

Networking
Barbara Titus, vice president of Sheoga Hardwood Flooring & Paneling, Middlefield, Ohio, and the person responsible for the creation of NWFA’s Procurement Program, was recognized for her role in launching the now-famous initiative whereby NWFA members contribute labor and materials to build new homes for critically injured U.S. Veterans. Those accomplishments helped her land the NWFA’s first Women’s Industry Network Award.

According to NWFA, Titus was the one who introduced the NWFA to the Gary Sinise Foundation, named for the actor-turned-activist who has spearheaded efforts to honor wounded U.S. veterans and their families by developing specially crafted custom homes that allow them to live comfortably and with dignity. To date, 39 homes have been completed and NWFA is currently working with its members to source wood flooring for 18 additional R.I.S.E (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) homes in various stages of planning and construction. To date, 61 NWFA member companies have donated product, logistics and installation services in locations throughout the U.S.

Jim Schumacher, account executive at 3M, who came up with the idea for the new award category, presented. “Barbara came to the NWFA four years ago with a mission. After providing flooring for a veteran and his wife in Marion, Ohio, she got to know some folks who would create the Gary Sinise Foundation. At the time, Gary Sinise was a spokesperson for another veterans organization, but he felt he could do more and do it better and do it on his own. After working on a local project, Barbara made a call to the NWFA and said: ‘I believe in what Gary is doing for our veterans. I’ve seen it personally. I would like Sheoga to provide the wood flooring for all the homes myself, but we’re a small manufacturer and we just can’t do it alone. Will you help the veterans who need hard surfaces in their homes?’ The NWFA unanimously said yes.”

Today, nearly $5 million in product and labor has been donated by NWFA members to answer Titus’ call for action. “I am so grateful to Gary Sinise for giving me the opportunity to work with his foundation on something that truly feeds my soul,” she said during her acceptance speech. “His R.I.S.E. program provides specially adapted homes that accommodate the specific needs of each veteran and their families. Each one of these dedications is a reminder for all of us to call these veterans the heroes that they truly are. It’s an emotional and life-changing experience.”

By the end of this year, 70 specially adapted homes will be completed or under way through the R.I.S.E program.

Service
Twelve individuals were recognized for demonstrating their dedication and commitment to their profession. Specifically, these individuals actively participate in the advancement of industry programs, projects and initiatives through volunteerism. Achievements are awarded based on a cumulative summation of areas of service within the NWFA. These areas include, but are not limited to, participation on NWFA boards and committees, participation in the Hardwood Federation Fly-In, NWFACP proctoring and contributions to Hardwood Floors magazine, the official publication of the NWFA.

The Vanguard Service Award winners are:
•Andrew Fronczek, Floor Works Inspection Services
•Kellie Hawkins Schaffner, Waterlox Coatings Corp.
Jesse Joyce, Middle Tennessee Lumber
•Carl Mattingly, Galleher
Rich Olson, Just Around the Corner
•Jason Spangler, Wagner Meters
Ben Totta, Totta Hardwoods
Darek Zukowski, Chicagoland Flooring

The Ambassador winners are:
Steve Brattin, SVB Wood Floors
Brenda Cashion, Swiff-Train Company
Richard Kass, Master Flooring Inspectors & Consultants
Tony Ziola, Mapei Corp.

NWFA also recognized Aacer Flooring, Horizon Forest Products, Olde Tyme Craftsmen and Ridgefield Flooring for their community service during the event. These companies donated their time, material and labor to local businesses, historical buildings, schools and residents.

Design/Craftsmanship
The NWFA Floor of the Year Awards were developed to encourage and recognize innovative craftsmanship and design in wood floor covering installations. Since the program began in 1990, more than 200 awards have been presented to NWFA member companies throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Russia and Finland. All entries in this year’s competition were completed between January 2018 and January 2019.

The 2019 award recipients are as follows:
Member’s Choice: Artistic Floors by Design, Parker, Colo.
Best Color & Finish Application: Diamond W Floors, Dearing, Ga.
Best Parquetry/Inlay Application: Atelier Passe Partout, Mechelen, Belgium
Best Restoration/Makeover: Brookens Wood Floors, Springfield, Ill.
Best Textured Wood Application: Four Board Wood Works, Louisville, Ky.
Best Use of Technology: Czar Floors, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Best of Social Media: Cincinnati Floor & Window Coverings, Loveland, Ohio
Best Circular/Curved Application: Artistic Floors by Design, Parker, Colo.

Next generation
Fineas Luca, the 11-year-old son of NWFA member Dinu Luca, owner of ADL Floors, Woodinville, Wash., has been named the first recipient of the NWFA Next Generation award—a category created to recognize the growing impact young people are having on the wood flooring industry. Fineas is the youngest person to successfully complete all of the NWFA University (NWFAU) courses in the Installation learning path and the Sand & Finish learning path. To accomplish these feats, he took 72 required courses and passed each of the assessments with a score of 80% or higher for each.

“Almost three years ago now, the NWFA launched NWFAU in an effort to reach more wood floor covering professionals with training opportunities when and where they want it,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO. “Our vision at the time was to offer a new, cost-effective, convenient way to provide training basics without the burden or cost of travel. Our hope at the time was to engage with younger generations in ways they already embraced—digitally. Never in our wildest dreams did we image we would have an impact on an 11-year-old protégé.”

(For additional coverage from the NWFA convention, please see the May 13/20 of FCNews.)

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Wood: Domestics vs. exotics—A matter of taste, economics

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Reginald Tucker

 

In the perennial battle between domestically produced hardwood and imported exotics, anecdotal information shows homegrown species are continuing to grow in popularity at a much faster rate than their tropical counterparts. At the same time, suppliers of hardwood flooring from South America, Southeast Asia and even parts of Africa said they are seeing a resurgence in demand for some of their products.

“In terms of domestics, white oak, red oak and hickory are still the drivers,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing, Mullican Flooring. “We’re doing some different things with those species, such as light distressing and wire- brushing, to give them a more unique look.”

Industry experts primarily attribute the growing interest in domestic species to the combination of consumer trends away from the old “red’ exotics along with the color/texture characteristics domestic species pro- vide. “With hickory, for example, it’s the variation in color that generates interest and demand,” noted Brett Miller, vice president of education and training, for the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). “Even when you look at some of the imported species that are popular, they have that variance in color like hickory.”

Right alongside hickory are domestic variations of walnut. Proponents cite the species’ unique look, which has a high-end connotation compared to more mainstream species. “It has that nice, deep brown chocolate/almost purple color along with that light, blond sap-wood, which is a drastic variation,” Miller explained.

Domestic wood species have become more popular over the last several years in particular, given the frequent use of European white oak across many domestic and imported brands alike. This has created opportunities for manufacturers to differentiate themselves from the pack by utilizing various techniques. “Consumers are favoring American hardwood, but many still desire non-traditional visuals from their flooring,” said John Hammel, director of category management, hardwood and laminate, Shaw Floors. In particular, he cited the company’s new Repel Hardwood line offered in Relic and Landmark styles. “Domestic species like hickory and walnut answer that need.”

Given this rising popularity, it should come as no surprise that many of these domestic species are increasingly factoring into recent introductions and/or best-selling products from some of the industry’s major manufacturers. “Over the past few years, we have focused our introductions on these species with tremendous results,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “There is something timeless about North American hardwoods. Smooth, elegant graining, great character, and the way they accept stain and other visual effects make them the prime choice for consumers.”

Mohawk has been using domestic white oak for many of its products combined with special proprietary manufacturing and finishing techniques to render different
visuals. Mohawk said it has also witnessed growing interest in species such as hickory and walnut, and it is adding more collections to meet those needs. “Consumers who are looking to be more unique are trying the hickories, walnuts and some other visuals to give it more flavor and variety in the mix,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate.

Despite the strong allure of select domestic species, hardwood flooring importers believe there are still viable opportunities for exotics in the North American marketplace. Take IndusParquet, for example. The company has made a huge push over the past few years to broaden its product offering to appeal to a larger customer base.

“Although we still use only South American raw lumber, we have many more options for our consumers,” said Dan Gold, director of architectural sales. “For instance, in addition to our traditional, smooth, semi-gloss natural line, we can now stain, texture and use different gloss levels to meet the color trends of today.”

With trends moving away from the darker, dated, “deep red” species that define many imported species, especially those from South America, companies are adjusting their color range to conform to today’s trends toward lighter, warmer, cooler, brown/gray tones.

“Two of our fastest growing product lines come from wood species we rarely used until just recently,” Gold said. “A species named tauari, which we market under the Brazilian Oak Series, and a species called copaiba, which we market under the Langania Hickory Series, have been great additions for us. Brazilian Oak has been especially successful with the 3⁄4-inch solid version and Langania Hickory in the wide plank engineered version. Those woods don’t have natural red tones like others in the traditional lineup.”

Other exotic flooring suppliers are tweaking their finishing processes to appeal to more mainstream American consumers. Amaz Floors, for example, applies specialized staining techniques that mimic grain structures found naturally in other species. “With some of our species from Peru, we apply wirebrushing and a two- tone staining process to deliver a unique look,” said Ross Oliver, vice president of international marketing. “We also offer a species we call Peruvian pecan, which features contrasting colors. And for those customers who desire walnut (we don’t have that species in Peru), we offer jatoba but we put a chocolate stain on it. This gives it that variation you would normally see in American walnut.”

Ribadao Wood Boutique also reports a renewed interest in exotics, especially among those who purchased exotics in the past and are looking to expand into other rooms. During Domotex, Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, North America, said people were asking for South American species. He also cited growing interest in some of the species the company imports from Africa, including wenge, sapele and iroko. “There’s just a rareness factor about it,” he said.

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Wood: NWFA convention—Industry looks to leverage category’s winning proposition

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Reginald Tucker

Fort Worth, Texas—Although hardwood remains arguably the most aspirational flooring product today, it is increasingly facing intense competition from look-alike products such as LVT, WPC and SPC. The most effective way to recoup market share, proponents say, is to make a more compelling case for retailers and, ultimately, consumers to go for the real thing.

That was the prevailing message that came out of the 2019 National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) convention and expo, which took place here earlier this month. While many of the specialty hardwood flooring contractors, manufacturers and distributors in attendance here believe hardwood has significant advantages over competing hard surface products, recent trends reflect a tangible decline in market share.

“All our research shows consumers prefer and want real wood products in their homes, but market sales show noticeable shifts to non-wood products,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told FCNews. “The truth is wood has a great story to tell. Consumer research tells us they want flooring products that are beautiful, durable, easy to maintain and add value to the home. Hardwood checks all these boxes.”

It’s not enough that wood is ceding some market share to competing hard surface categories designed to emulate wood; the proliferation of so many wood-look products in the market today is also causing a lot of confusion among consumers who are looking for the real thing. Hence the newly launched “Real Wood, Real Life” marketing campaign NWFA recently launched to combat misperceptions about the various products now being positioned as real wood.

“At the end of 2017 we published a research study on consumers to get their insights and perceptions about wood floors,” Martin recalled. “What we discovered was two-thirds of consumers want wood floors. However, we found many consumers don’t know the difference between wood floors and other products. The intent was to take that research and design a campaign around it.”

But before the NWFA could proceed, it realized it first needed to devise a formal definition of what constitutes a real wood floor. So late in the fourth quarter of 2018, the association published an official release describing real wood flooring as follows: “Any flooring product that contains real wood as the top-most, wearable surface of the floor.” (This includes solid and engineered wood flooring, as well as composite engineered wood flooring.)

“The first two definitions are pretty self-explanatory—solid vs. engineered—with the third being engineered composite,” Martin explained. “We also felt we could not ignore any floor that had a real piece of wood on the wear layer—no matter what’s on the back, whether it’s composite, plastic, resin or otherwise. As long as it has a real wood surface, it falls under the definition of a real wood floor. What doesn’t fall under that definition is a photograph of wood on a piece of paper that’s then sealed onto a piece of plastic—that’s not wood.”

The NWFA convention served as the ideal platform to generate greater awareness of the new campaign. Utilizing two primary vehicles—the Homeowner’s Handbook to Real Wood Floors and woodfloors.org—the association is looking to educate wood flooring contractors, retailers and distributors on what they can do to promote the message in their local markets. Along with the new handbook and website, NWFA has produced a campaign “toolkit” for retailers and contractors to make it easier for them to tailor the “Real Wood, Real Life” marketing message to their unique businesses. NWFA is making available to contractors and retailers creative assets such as digital and print ad materials, campaign logos, trade show tabletop signage, media outreach materials and product fact sheets. NWFA has also provided retailers with social media posts they can use in their online marketing efforts.

Sobering statistics
Bruce Zwicker, former president and CEO of Haines and now independent industry consultant, delivered an enlightening keynote address that drove home just how much resilient flooring—both flexible and rigid core products—are nipping share from the total floor covering pie, not just hardwood. Specifically, he cited research showing LVT grew by 25% in the U.S. last year, accounting for roughly 12% of the total flooring market. By comparison, he said hardwood—although it represents roughly 13% of the total flooring price— grew by only 3%.

The rapid rise of LVT/LVP is putting hardwood contractors in a tough spot. “I’ve done some LVT projects, but I limit it to below-grade applications,” said Chris Zizza, outgoing NWFA chairman and co-owner of C&R Flooring in Westwood, Mass. “But in all other areas of the home, I recommend the customer put down real wood.”

Another telling statistic reflects decreases in domestic wood flooring production. Zwicker’s research shows imports account for almost 50% of U.S. consumption, with China representing at least a third of all imports. Looking specifically at wood, however, China represents 50% of wood imported but 85% of LVT/multilayered flooring. Even more telling, wood imports were 30% of the U.S. market compared to 52% last year. In 2006, wood imports accounted for just 15% of the market. “U.S. producers are not very profitable, and there is over-capacity,” Zwicker told attendees. “In response, manufacturers scaled back production, raised prices and sold all or part of their wood divisions.”

Other findings: Prefinished hardwood has grown to represent nearly 60% of all wood flooring sold in the U.S. market today, with unfinished accounting for 40%. That’s nearly a reversal of the breakdown from eight to 10 years ago. In terms of end use, Zwicker estimated 20%-30% is new construction; 60%-65% is residential replacement; and roughly 10%-15% is commercial.

Exhibitors...assemble

NWFA exhibitors did their part to entice hardwood flooring contractors and specialty retailers with their latest collections as well as additions to existing best-selling lines. At the American OEM booth, for example, the spotlight was on trendy new colors and patterns along with a line of engineered composite wood floors.

“We’ve added more colors to upper-end Appalachian Springs line, which features a sliced white oak veneer,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president. “It offers an aged antique look with circular saw blade marks, then we add the highlights and low lights to give it more variation. It’s designed to look like reclaimed wood from the old textile mills in the Carolinas. We’ve received really great feedback.”

American OEM also took the wraps off Woodlands, a 3⁄8 inch-thick product available in 5-foot long planks. “It comes in four hickory looks, four oaks and features light wire brushing and good mix of tones,” Finkell explained. “And at $3.99, it offers a great price point for the consumer.”

The company also tested the waters with Raintree, a product line featuring a real wood veneer over an SPC rigid core. It comes in a 75-inch-long x 7 1⁄2- inch-wide plank format with four-sided locking system and attached backing pad. Although it made its official debut at Surfaces, this was its first appearance at the NWFA expo—the domain of the hardwood flooring enthusiast.

“We’re really proud of the way this looks,” Finkell said. “We have brought our expertise in finishing and staining to this hybrid category, and when it’s installed it looks just like our Hearthwood products. I was curious to see what the reception would be among all the wood nerds here, but people feel there’s a great market for this. People can get a look they want in wood and not have to compromise.”

There was also quite a bit of action and excitement at the Anderson Tuftex booth, where the spotlight was on newly launched Ombre and Metallics. The former utilizes a four-pass process of texture, stain, high- lights and lowlights to create a full gradient of color washes across each plank, while Metallics—as the name implies—entails actual metallic particles infused into the stain treatment similar to techniques employed in the automotive paint industry.

“Our specialty is doing unique things you can’t do on a site-finished floor,” said Matt Rosato, hardwood category manager. “A lot of people are looking for differentiated products, especially with this customer base.”

More importantly, the occasion marked Anderson Tuftex’s NWFA debut as a combined entity. “It’s been a great show for us,” Rosato stated. “We’re planning an even bigger presentation for next year.”

NWFA also marked the official debut of AHF Products, the spinoff company created when Armstrong Flooring sold its wood division to AIP back in November. For Brian Carson, the company’s newly appointed CEO, the focus was on brand promotion.

“We have the Bruce brand, the best consumer brand in the industry,” he told FCNews. “We’re going to be putting more focus into that, more merchandising for the specialty retailer. We will also be transitioning from Armstrong brand to the Hartco brand, which dates back to 1946. That legacy and heritage is a natural fit. We’re also going to be relaunching the Robbins line, which dates 125 years. That’s going to be for retailers who want some exclusivity around their territory.”

There was also a fair amount of activity at the Mullican booth, where the company’s popular Wexford products generated attention. As Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing, explained, the allure is all in the manufacturing technique. “It’s live sawn in Virginia and finished at our engineered plant in Tennessee. We take the center of the log and cut it in one direction, which gives you a ‘cathedral’ graining. It’s a real high-end look.”

Mullican also showcased unique finishes made possible via a process called carbonization. This technique employs a heat-treating process to deliver interesting visual characteristics. “It essentially gives you a reactive stain look without actually using chemicals to do it,” Oakley explained.