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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.

 

 

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A look back at 2018’s top introductions

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

By Lindsay Baillie and Ken Ryan

 

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

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


Terra Linda by Anderson Tuftex

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

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

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

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

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

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


Titanium by Karastan

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


Acrylx by Raskin

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


Great California Oak by Republic Floors

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


Bellera by Shaw Floors

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


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


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


Radius by Stanton Carpet

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

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

 

 

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Wood: State of the industry—Key sectors fuel greater buying activity

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Reginald Tucker

 

Like other hard surface sectors facing intense competition from the likes of LVT/WPC/SPC, hardwood flooring also felt pressure in terms of both market share and profit margins. But thanks to strong end-use activity in 2018, the category continued to post respectable numbers despite the onslaught of so many wood look-alike products.

It’s not just the widely held belief that real hardwood remains the most aspirational product category today— although some ultra-high-end offerings are admittedly out of reach for many consumers. What’s also working in wood’s favor is the health of several key end-use market sectors.

“Hardwood flooring consumption is being driven primarily by a combination of single- family new construction and residential replacement,” said Michael Bell, COO of AHF Products, the former wood division of Armstrong Flooring that was purchased by American Industrial Partners (AIP) last year. “We have enjoyed steady overall growth for the past 10 years, but housing starts slowed a bit during the winter months, especially with the extreme weather conditions this year.”

AHF Products is not alone in its assessment of the market. Key bellwether sectors also drove hardwood sales at Mannington. “Residential replacement continues to be the primary driver of hardwood consumption,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. “New construction would be the next biggest sector—primarily single family. At the core, consumers still have a desire for hardwood flooring. It is the only flooring type that has been proven to add value to the home.”

But within these end-use sectors, observers cite some product stratification. “In single family you’re still seeing less expensive wood,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk. “At the same time, you’re definitely seeing more products such as rigid and LVT and even products like RevWood doing well in single family. But when you get into multifamily it’s a different story; carpet continues to do well there, although we have seen the desire of end users to switch to hard surface in that environment as well. When you look at the upper-end multifamily market, particularly in the major metro areas like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we still see wood as a desirable option at that price point.”

Let’s not forget about non-residential applications. For some suppliers, this sector accounted for the greatest sales growth in terms of a percentage increase. “We have experienced growth across several major sectors, but I would say we’re much more involved in the commercial arena, especially with our engineered lines,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president, U.S. sales, Wickham Hardwood Flooring. “It’s still a predominantly solid market for us, but clearly engineered is gaining more market share every month.”

The commercial contract market is also driving sales at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. In fact, according to Mario St-Pierre, the company’s director of marketing, it’s the second strongest sector behind single-family construction.

Another upside for those companies that do a healthy commercial business is the type of products generally specified for those segments often hit higher price points—and, thus, provide much better margins. “Entry-level products in the 3⁄8- to 1⁄2-inch thickness with a 2mm wear layer are driven, as always, by the new construction sector,” noted Mitch Tagle, founder and CEO of DuChâteau. “But as we move to higher-end specifications, we are seeing more style-driven projects hit the market, especially in the hospitality sector.”

Fierce competition

One of the factors that has put increasing pressure on the hardwood category and stolen market share in some end-use sectors is the competition from LVT/WPC products—many of which are designed to mimic not only the visual depth of genuine hardwood, but also the texture.

“There is no question that wood flooring—along with most floor covering categories—has been significantly impacted by the rise of waterproof products in the marketplace,” said Don Finkell, CEO and founder, American OEM.

Mannington’s Natkin agreed. “Without a doubt, these categories are exerting tremendous pressure on the lower end of the wood category. We have seen significant cannibalization within the category as vinyl- based products continue to take share. However, the mid to upper ends of the segment remain stronger and less prone to impact from the look-alike products.”

Companies like Wickham, which specializes in wood, are really feeling the heat. “There’s no doubt about it—WPC/LVT has gained market share, and some of our customers have looked at investing in some of those products,” Rezuke stated. “But we have been able to offset that impact with our growth in other areas where we haven’t had a presence—namely engineered.”

The onslaught of LVT/WPC reminds Rezuke of a time when laminate flooring was in its hey- day. “Everyone was predicting that category was going to replace hardwood,” he recalled. “Well, that hasn’t happened.”

Other major hardwood flooring suppliers are responding to the threat of LVT/WPC by coming out with their own rigid core products. American OEM is one of them. “For this reason we are introducing our Raintree product line, which is a real wood veneer on a waterproof SPC core,” Finkell explained. “We are also planning to introduce a water-resistant, six-surface coating system on our premium products at the NWFA convention in May. This enhancement will allow our traditional veneer core wood floors to be warranted 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. This real wood floor will be warranted to withstand being totally submerged in water for up to 24 hours.”

Other suppliers, including Shaw Floors, are stepping into the hybrid arena as well. At Surfaces earlier this year, the company took the wraps off a water-resistant wood line, Repel Hardwood, as well as Floorté Hardwood, which is billed as waterproof. In addition, there’s COREtec Wood from its USFloors division. As Herb Upton, vice president of hard surfaces, explained, “On the Floorté hardwood side, it’s a traditional SPC core with a real wood veneer; on the COREtec side, we’re coming out with a mineral-based board core attached to a wood veneer top. We see this as the best of both worlds. You have the authenticity and beauty of real wood in these products, because it is real wood veneer available in multiple species and different finishing applications and other textures, but it’s on a core that is high performance that makes it waterproof and reliable.”

Those flooring companies that participate in multiple product categories believe the advent of LVT/WPC/SPC as well as so-called hybrid offerings has forced real hardwood to emphasize what makes it special and unique to the customers. “Hardwood at the upper end—I’m talking about the better, best and premium category—still remains a viable option because there’s less com- petition there,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “There’s a lot of new products in the hardwood category as well as others that are making it a dynamic market. At the end of the day we welcome the competition; it ultimately forces the stronger players to adapt and innovate, and it gives consumers more choices as well.”

Traditional hardwood flooring enthusiasts, however, are not budging. “Surely the LVT category has taken its toll on the wood market, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting our products as much as it is at the lower-end type products,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of U.S. sales, Mercier. “We are finding the real wood buyer is considering better goods and they understand the added value to their homes.”

Boa-Franc’s St-Pierre concurred, adding that it’s mostly lower-end, entry-level hardwood that’s feeling the pinch. And that’s not an area where Mirage plays. “For consumers who want to add value to their home, hardwood floor remains their preferred choice. It’s our responsibility to promote the benefits of hardwood over look-alike products.”

AHF Product’s Bell embraces a similar philosophy as a strictly hardwood flooring manufacturer. He believes hardwood consumption will remain strong due to the authenticity of natural products. “Hardwood flooring continues to be desired by homeowners as the ultimate complement to any design, style and taste, and is the flooring of choice because of its natural beauty, enduring quality, warmth and natural durability,” he explained. “This is an investment that lasts for years and offers timeless style.”

The benefits of real wood don’t end there, proponents say.

While a challenge comes from faux wood-look products, many argue there is nothing that can truly compete with genuine hardwood from either a visual, prestige or value equation. “It’s organic, natural and renewable,” Bell added. “What’s more, hardwood flooring comes from a natural resource that can be maintained and regrown—which is perfect for people who are sensitive to allergens. These sustainable factors cannot be overlooked and play a particularly important role with buyers.

“Simply put, at the end of the day, consumers really don’t want imposters; they want the real thing and we are innovating to bring them real hardwood that also addresses performance needs, such as resistance to moisture, dents, scratches and stains.”

Impact of hybrid products

As the hardwood flooring sector has evolved, the industry certainly is seeing more “hybrid” products emerge. For example, more suppliers are using real hardwood veneers (albeit much thinner ones) over traditional rigid cores, HDF cores and, now, magnesium-oxide based core boards. The jury remains mixed on whether these hybrid products negatively impact the viability of the hardwood flooring category with respect to traditional 3⁄4-inch solid and 3⁄8-inch (and thicker) engineered hardwood products.

For some it’s nothing new. “These types of products have been around for years,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “Originally on HDF cores and now evolving to vinyl or stone based. The latest twist is the marketing of products as waterproof—that claim is somewhat dubious and its impact has yet to be determined.”

Others don’t see hybrids as an immediate threat. “It hasn’t had an impact on our business,” Wickham’s Rezuke said “First of all, as a Canadian supplier, we have to manufacture to certain specifications so we can ship our real hardwood products into the U.S. What we are finding is more and more customers are interested in our 3⁄4-inch platforms with 4mm, 5.5mm and 6mm veneers.”

Others are taking a more cautious approach when it comes to hybrid products. As Mohawk’s Ward explained, “Products like this have the potential to be good; we’re obviously monitoring the products that are coming out and looking at how can we offer a superior option. 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 real, authentic product. And the visual of a real wood product is vastly superior to others and is valuable to the consumer who’s buying it. If we can marry that with some of the benefits—such as a water-resistant or waterproof option—that makes it all the more valuable to a certain subset of customers.”

Shaw Floors’ Upton expects to see greater acceptance of these types of products as the platforms commercialize and become more mainstream. “We’ve seen that in builder where they may have been initially hesitant or slow at some point to adopt WPC and SPC products, but now they are currently specifying those products. nationally.”

By and large, suppliers welcome the competition. “We think it is 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,” Mercier’s Bondrowski stated. But he offered this caveat: “I would ask, isn’t wood supposed to be a sustainable environmentally friendly floor that has the least adverse health effects with a true green footprint?”

Like Bondrowski, AHF Products’ Bell embraces the development and evolution of core structures. He believes this will ensure the hardwood customer has relevant options based on their particular needs. “It is our job to innovate and lead in the development of such products so we are considered as a dependable solution provider for our channel partners.”

DuChâteau’s Tagle follows that same logic—to a point. “There is certainly a market for new hybrid products; some consumers do get excited about advances in technology, and the idea of a low-cost, low-maintenance floor with real wood is appealing,” he explained. “However, at the higher end of the market, we believe there will continue to be a growing demand for engineered hardwood floors, since consumers love the depth, richness, durability and variation they provide.”

Raw materials pricing

Another factor that impacted the hardwood flooring sector last year—and briefly at the start of 2019—is the availability of popular wood species. “Definitely in 2018 we saw fluctuations especially in white oak,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “There continues to be a trend toward wider widths in natural white washed colors, and white oak works best for that. So, naturally, there’s a lot of competition for that species. The fluctuations that we saw in 2018 have moderated so far in 2019. We haven’t really seen prices come down a lot, but at the same time you’re not seeing a lot of variation in price. We’re just now starting to get into the logging season so we’ll see how that goes. But so far we’re seeing pretty steady pricing.”

Some suppliers are still feeling the sting from last year’s fluctuations. In 2018 Shaw announced an increase on solid hardwoods. While lumber prices have modestly fallen since then, it’s all relative compared to the fluctuations experienced during the first half of 2018, according to Upton. “Prices have leveled off somewhat, but you have to remember we’re coming off a pretty high peak. Then you have the usual supply and demand issue when you have bad weather and you can’t pull trees out of the forest.”

Another issue impacting pricing is the capacity generated by the major sawmills, Upton added. Combined with demand from the other users of wood—such as mat timbers and other businesses that use lumber for industrial purposes—this can cause major disruptions in the supply chain.

For now, though, things seem to have normalized. “We can take a half of breath now compared to what it was this time last year,” Upton stated. “But it’s certainly not what it was 24 months ago.”

So much depends of where manufacturers source their lumber. For example, Mercier has seen prices on red oak and maple stabilize in recent months. But that’s not the case for AHF Products. “We have seen increases in all species, with red oak being the most volatile,” Bell explained. “We have also experienced significant inflation in freight and packaging costs.”

Tariffs take a toll

Beyond raw material price fluctuations, suppliers had to con- tend with the fallout from another issue: newly imposed tariffs on hardwood flooring imports from China. “The tariffs/duties are creating a lot of uncertainty for many manufacturers’ forecasts for 2019,” AHF Products’ Bell said. “The political and economic tensions between the U.S. and China have heightened the need to diversify the supply chain and reduce dependence on hard- wood products from China.”

Even those companies that don’t import directly from China were nonetheless impacted by the repercussions. “For us the imposition of tariffs has been a negative because all of our customers import competitive products affected by duties and tariffs,” American OEM’s Finkell said. “As a result, there has been significant hoarding to beat the imposition of tariffs, which has squeezed available cash supply to buy our products.”

DuChâteau’s Tagle is seeing the same. “We have noticed an increase in prices to the trade, even on products not finished or sourced from regions affected by the tariffs. Many U.S. suppliers have also ramped up their inventory to beat tariff deadlines in an effort to insulate their dealers as much as possible. The good news for the industry is the trade issue seems to be moving toward a resolution.”

 

 

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NWFA 2019 preview: Stage is set for hardwood’s premiere event

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) is looking to corral wood flooring professionals from all segments of the industry to attend the group’s annual conference and expo, which is set to take place May 1–3 at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Visitors are encouraged to participate in a host of educational sessions, networking events and group activities while perusing the scores of exhibitor booths slated to occupy the trade show floor.

“We are looking forward to bringing our industry together for another tremendous show,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO. “We have more to offer than ever, and we know that will make this year’s show even better.”

Martin has reason to be optimistic. The NWFA expo continues to rank high amongst professional business conferences and conventions. In fact, the show was named a 2018 Trade Show Executive “Fastest 50 Awards” winner in three categories: total attendance; net square feet of exhibition space; and exhibiting companies.

“We’ve managed to grow attendance each year by reaching out to new audiences—including remodelers, builders and designers—and by offering premier programming in new, rotating locations,” Martin explained. “This offers both a unique location each year but also ensures we’re meeting the needs of our membership, which is spread throughout the U.S.”

Following is a sneak peek of the 2019 NWFA Expo:

Opening Stampede
NWFA 2019 kicks things off at 4:30 p.m. on May 1 via the “Opening Stampede,” which entails a welcome reception and keynote presentation by Matthew Luhn, noted motivational speaker and storyteller. Luhn—a writer and story consultant with more than 25 years' experience creating stories and characters at Pixar Animation Studios and “The Simpsons,” among others—plans to share his process for creating new ideas, great stories, memorable characters and how to make stronger connections with customers to build better brand and business communication.

“The intent is to couple our own ‘wood is good’ story with the power of storytelling to learn how to influence customer buying decisions, establish meaningful relationships and have a positive impact on future business,” Martin stated.

On the show floor
The 2019 NWFA Expo will feature more than 270 exhibitors showcasing the latest in wood flooring products, adhesives, tools, accessories and services. The exhibition area will be open May 2, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and then again on May 3, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., for a total of 11 hours. In addition to the booths, attendees will be able to watch hands-on demonstrations taking place at designated areas on the show floor.

School’s open
Expo education sessions that take place on May 2 and May 3 are included in the registration fee. Attendees are encouraged to participate in quality programming that will focus on marketing, management, health, inspectors and technical skills. Sessions will include a mix of traditional speakers lecturing on a topic as well as roundtable discussions facilitated by an industry expert. The roundtable sessions are designed to allow attendees to have a more meaningful and impactful experience through peer-to-peer interaction and reflective discussions. What’s more, each participant will receive one CCU.

“We have restructured our education sessions to be less of a teacher/student format, which is a complete departure from traditional presentations,” Martin explained. “This is based on the success we’ve had with NWFA University as a learning format (60,000-plus micro-learning courses completed in a little more than two years). Today’s student wants relevant information in quick, targeted bursts. Students also want to collaborate with others to learn from their experience as well.”

Pre-expo symposium
Additional educational opportunities are available May 1, during the pre-expo symposium, which is open to all NWFA members (fee is $225 in advance or $275 on site). The pre-expo symposium will consist of a morning session—Understanding Moisture Management and Building Science—taught by Steve Easley, a building science consultant specializing in construction quality, sustainability, performance and problem avoidance.

Easley’s primary focus is helping industry professionals build and remodel structures that are durable, energy efficient, healthy and comfortable. He brings more than 30 years of industry experience, performing thousands of jobsite quality surveys and presenting building science seminars around the world.

An afternoon session round-table discussion, led by NWFA’s Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification, along with instructors Jon Namba and Kjell Nymark, is also on tap. “The pre-expo symposium and expo education is an opportunity for industry professionals to collaborate and discuss advanced topics that can have a tremendous impact on their businesses,” Miller stated. “Industry experts will be on hand to lead discussions and provide industry-specific insights that can yield immediate results.”

Upon completion of expo education, attendees will earn one continuing certification unit. Those who attend the pre-expo symposium and expo education sessions will earn a total of three CCUs, which meets the two-year requirement of CCUs needed from NWFA live/hands-on training.

Concrete certification
NWFA is working with the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI) to offer its Certified Concrete Slab Moisture Testing Technician (CCSMTT) Certification Program. The purpose of this program—scheduled to take place on May 2 and May 3—is to help improve the performance of concrete slab moisture testing to result in more consistent, accurate and reliable results designed to help flooring manufacturers, architects, engineers and contractors make better decisions as to when a concrete floor is ready for a floor covering installation. (Note: fees range from $200–$875 depending on which certification you choose.) Attendees are encouraged to contact ICRI at 651.366.6095 or email info@icri.org with questions.

Floor of the Year awards
The NWFA’s highly anticipated Wood Floor of the Year awards program was developed to encourage and recognize innovative craftsmanship and design in wood flooring installations. The categories are: Best Restoration/Makeover; Best Color & Finish Application; Best Circular Curved Application; Best Parquetry/Inlay Application; Best Textured Wood Application; Members’ Choice; and Best Use of Technology Application, a new category for 2019.

The winners of the 2019 Wood Floor of the Year contest will be announced during a special ceremony on May 2 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. 
Carmen Ciricillo, licensed contractor, continuing education teacher and stand-up comedian, will provide a few laughs to conclude the awards program.

Tee time
NWFA has announced the Hardwood Forest Foundation Golf Tournament, scheduled to take place May 1, 7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. All proceeds from this golf tournament benefit the Hardwood Forest Foundation and the Truth About Trees educational program. The cost for the tournament is $175 before April 1 and $200 after that date. Club rental is available at an additional cost of $25. For more information, contact the Hardwood Forest Foundation by sending an email to info@hardwoodforest.org or calling 901.507.0312. Companies or individuals interested in sponsoring the tournament may also contact Deonn DeFord via email at deonndeford@ganahl.com.

Special events
Attendees are invited to mix it up during a Honky Tonk Happy Hour on May 2, 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., right on the trade show floor.

Grab a drink and network on the trade show floor. There’s also a special distributor & manufacturer reception scheduled to take place 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at a designated area. The expo wraps up on May 3 with a “Last Call Saloon,” slated for 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by the Big City Outlaws, a Texas-based band specializing in Top 40 hits as well as popular country music tunes.