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Wood-rigid hybrids promise to change the game

October 28/November 4, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 9

By Reginald Tucker

 

The beauty of real hardwood married with the performance of rigid core technology. That’s what the latest innovation in flooring is offering consumers in an age where waterproof is king.

For the past few years, the wood flooring category has watched as competing hard surfaces—particularly LVT, WPC and SPC—have nipped significant market share. Industry observers point to, among other things, the ability of these competing products to offer consumers realistic replications of wood without the shortcomings associated with natural materials such as wood. On top of that, these alternative products are often available at the fraction of the cost of the real thing.

But wood flooring suppliers have gotten wise and are increasingly developing and marketing hybrid products that offer the best of both worlds. The recent proliferation of wood-rigid core hybrid products is not only providing retailers with innovative new options to sell. It’s also giving manufacturers an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition in a nascent category.

Following is an overview of some of the latest wood-rigid core hybrid products currently available:

GEOWOODCALI BRANDS
Originally launched in the spring of 2018 with a real bamboo wear layer atop a waterproof limestone composite core, GeoWood from Cali Brands has expanded to include a real European oak wear layer. This technological breakthrough yields rock solid hardwood flooring with exceptional water resistance.

“Rather than bury exceptions deep into a warranty, we chose to state up front that this is real wood on a waterproof core and gave it an overall water resistance rating,” said Alex Brodkin, new product introduction manager. “GeoWood carries so many features and benefits; superior water resistance is just one selling point. It’s also more dimensionally stable, more dent resistant and easier to install than typical engineered wood floors. Plus, a 7-coat aluminum oxide scratch resistant finish keeps planks looking fresh.”

 

RAINTREEAMERICAN OEM
American OEM and Hearthwood Floors are bringing the future of hardwood to the flooring industry with the launch of Raintree. The product’s proprietary Ninja technology reinforces the natural hardwood wear layer to protect against moisture, scratches and indentation better than traditional wood flooring, while offering the same beauty, authenticity and value-adding elements that make real hardwood the No. 1 flooring choice for today’s consumers.

The proprietary Ninja Pet Guard finish seals the wood’s pores. Plus, the finish is infused with aluminum oxide to provide exceptional scratch and wear resistance. The Ninja H2O Core reinforces the wood for indentation resistance. From spills to heels, the Ninja H2O Core is 100% waterproof and indentation resistant, and it can withstand high-traffic and heavy loads.

 

 

FLOORTÉ HARDWOODSHAW FLOORS
Shaw Floors, maker of the Floorté resilient line, now offers retailers Floorté Hardwood, an innovative product combining the attributes of SPC flooring with the classic character and feel that can only come from genuine hardwood. Floorté Hardwood utilizes a waterproof SPC core to give consumers the stability, strength and protection they expect from the Floorté PRO collection with the added beauty of a hardwood veneer on top.

Floorté Hardwood features a click profile and can be installed quickly over an existing flooring or subfloor. An attached Soft Silence acoustical pad ensures comfort and sound reduction.

The product is available in multiple species, finishes, sizes and colors, with planks 7.5 inches wide and up to 72 inches long.

 

COREtec WOODUSFLOORS
COREtec Wood truly is the best of both worlds. COREtec Wood is not a vinyl product, but rather a multi-layer product in the wood category.

Real wood veneers cover an innovative, mineral core to create a carefree floor with truly authentic wood grains, tones and appeal. COREtec Wood’s revolutionary rigid mineral core is completely waterproof and more rigid than traditional engineered hardwood HDF and ply cores. Boasting superior indentation resistance and dimensional stability, the core consists of a mined mineral that forms a solid panel and is free of PVC and plasticizers. A natural cork underlayment provides comfort and warmth underfoot.

COREtec Wood comes in 72-inch x 7 1⁄2-inch planks with hefty 1⁄2-inch total thickness.

 

HDPC WATERPROOF HARDWOOD FLOORING WELLMADE
“Wellmade’s HDPC Waterproof Hardwood Flooring represents the industry’s first hardwood floor that is 100% waterproof,” said Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing. “The product has a proven track record of success among retailers and distributors.”

Wellmade’s innovative waterproof process begins with its patented high-density plastic composite core whose closed cell construction is extremely dense; it eliminates air pockets and the potential for moisture absorption. Next the hardwood wear layer is bonded directly to the HDPC core and completely sealed using Wellmade’s HardMax finish system. Topical moisture and stains are sealed out from above while the HDPC core blocks out moisture penetration from below.

What’s more, the product is twice as hard as solid oak and tolerant to temperature fluctuations. Best of all, no acclimation is required.

 

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Wholesalers rally behind the merits of hardwood

October 28/November 4, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 9

By Ken Ryan

 

Wood is getting a raw deal. That’s the impression among several leading distributor executives who believe hardwood flooring has been underappreciated and even marketed unfairly during this LVT rally.

By any measure, wood has been under tremendous pressure in the wake of the WPC/rigid core explosion and is being negatively impacted more than any other flooring segment. For example, multifamily used to be primarily the domain of hardwood. Now, it is almost exclusively rigid core. Observers say builders have begun replacing wood with cheaper SPC.

Marketing ploys that refer to laminate as hardwood and faux wood products that are vinyl have hurt hardwood as well, executives say. And yet, consumer surveys continue to support wood. A recent survey from the National Association of Homebuilders listed hardwood flooring as one of the top 10 features desired by U.S. homeowners. This data supports a similar finding in the National Wood Flooring Association’s consumer survey, which revealed 80% of homeowners would choose hardwood for their dream homes.

So, what gives? Executives are wondering that as well. “When I talk to almost anyone outside of our industry who has any personal interest in flooring, such as for their own home, they almost universally want a hardwood floor,” said Scott Rozmus, president and CEO of FlorStar Sales, Romeoville, Ill. “I wonder whether many such folks get talked out of that aspiration once they begin the shopping process.”

Bob Weiss, CEO of All-Tile, Elk Grove Village, Ill., is among those who view hardwood as a tremendous value proposition for consumers. He suggested retailers rededicate their efforts in that direction. “It is vitally important that we, as an industry, do not take the easy way out and only sell the LVT sector,” he said. “If we only sell that category, we are short-changing the consumer and might be foregoing higher revenues by not selling a balanced offering of flooring products.”

It is clear that distributors are rooting for a hardwood come- back as they continue to extol its merits in the marketplace. Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Gilford JohnsonFlooring, for example, is launching several new higher-end wood series at year’s end in the hopes this will serve as a catalyst. “Wood is good,” said Bill Schollmeyer, president and CEO. “It’ll come back certainly but probably not as much on the lower, base-grade end.”

Top 20 distributor William Bird, Charleston, S.C., said it is continuing to cultivate partnerships with hardwood manufacturers to meet demand in the growing Southeast. New to the lineup in 2019 is American OEM’s Raintree SPC/hardwood hybrid. “We are looking forward to growing our hardwood offering with the addition of the Raintree brand,” said Maybank Hagood, CEO. “This is an exciting new category of waterproof hardwood with a high potential for growth in 2020.”

Similarly, Houston-based Adleta has invested in hardwood, with a complete refresh that company president John Sher bragged is “beating the market.”

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Wood: Raintree waterproof line expects to make a big splash

Wood/SPC hybrid generates excitement

October 14/21, 2019: Volume 35/Issue 8

By Reginald Tucker

 

Raintree debuts in 14 trendy SKUs. Shown here is Aspen Estate Full Moon.

American OEM first piqued the interest of dealers and distributors earlier this year when it previewed its wood/SPC hybrid product, Raintree, at winter markets as well as major buying group shows in the spring. Now, the company is gearing up for an all-out hard launch to get samples and displays out to the field.

The excitement surrounding Raintree, according to Don Finkell, American OEM founder and CEO, lies in its novel hybrid construction. Raintree features a 1.2mm genuine hardwood veneer bonded to a 5mm composite core the company claims is denser and more heat resistant than WPC. Furthermore, the product is backed with a 1mm IXPE attached pad for sound attenuation, insulation and comfort underfoot.

American OEM is billing the product as the future of hard- wood. “Our family has been passionate innovators in the wood flooring industry for over 70 years, and we consider Raintree to be the continuation of our legacy for future generations,” Finkell told FCNews. “Raintree’s proprietary Ninja technology reinforces the natural hardwood wear layer to protect against moisture, scratches and indentation better than traditional wood flooring, while offering the same beauty, authenticity and value-adding elements that make real hardwood the No. 1 flooring choice for today’s consumers.”

While the trendy visuals offered in Raintree were designed to inspire double-takes (the inaugural launch entails 14 SKUs across three collections), it’s the performance aspect of the product that’s stirring interest. The various enhancements Raintree offers allow hardwood floors to go down in areas previously off limits. More importantly, it allows hardwood flooring to go head-to-head with the likes of WPC and LVT/P, etc.

As Finkell explained, the wood veneer utilized in Raintree by itself is not waterproof; rather, the glue that bonds it to the core is waterproof. Plus, it’s finished using a protective waterproof coating that essentially isolates the wood from the rest of the environment. “These are very sophisticated coatings that are fairly new and didn’t exist a few years ago,” he said. “It allows wood to answer the waterproof [craze] that’s been propelling vinyl so heavily into the market.”

The timing of Raintree’s release is key in other respects. It comes on the heels of the release of updated standards established by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) that now classify hybrid wood/SPC-type products such as Raintree as real wood floors. With this development, American OEM is confident this will allay any concerns raised by hardwood flooring traditionalists.

“Over the last couple of years there has been some debate about whether or not this is a wood floor,” Finkell stated. “Some of the hardcore wood people are less enthusiastic about the product and don’t consider it to be a wood floor, but other people think it should be included as a wood floor. It reminds me of a time back in 1985—when NWFA was created—when there was a debate as to whether engineered hardwood flooring should be included under the definition of a wood floor. The association was pretty adamant that this was new technology and wood flooring needed it to stay relevant, so engineered wood flooring was included in the definition. We’re witnessing the same thing with products like Raintree—it’s just the natural evolution of wood.”

That’s not the only development playing in Raintree’s favor. Turns out, the engineered wood flooring standard, which is developed under the auspices of the Decorative Hardwoods Association, is in the process of reviewing its own wood flooring definition (the last time it was modified was in 2012). Raintree is said to also be included in DHA’s guidance as a real wood floor. “This means Raintree is not a substitute for a wood floor—it’s essentially a real wood floor,” Finkell stated. “That’s significant.”

Unlike solid hardwood floors, Raintree is not designed to be sanded/recoated multiple times, but that’s not necessarily a drawback. “It’s no more of an issue than it is with a regular engineered wood floor,” Finkell stated. “With the aluminum-oxide finish we’ve put on this product, it’s almost impossible to sand it off. You’re more likely to wear out the sandpaper first. With many factory-finished aluminum oxide floors it’s really difficult to remove the finish in the field.”

Another advantage Raintree has over solid (unfinished) floors is the price. While not exactly an “entry-level” product, it’s certainly cost competitive. Finkell puts the MSRP between $4-$5 per square foot. “It’s a little less expensive than a solid wood floor, but not dramatically.

Distributors gearing up
With the initial offering set and the marketing/merchandising strategies in place, the next step entails getting the word out on Raintree through American OEM’s distribution network. Top 20 distributor T&A Supply, based in Kent, Wash., is just now getting on board.

“We just landed our Raintree displays and samples two weeks ago,” said Michael Goria, hardwood products manager. “Within the next two weeks we will expect to start getting the product out into the field.”

Ironically, T&A initially had reservations about “waterproof hardwood” in general. “Waterproof wood has been around for the last four or five years, but some of the product lines that have come out haven’t done very well because of the visuals,” Goria explained. “The finish on the first iterations of waterproof wood were just so thick, it looked like LVP. So we decided to hold off.”

The company’s position changed when Raintree was previewed. “When we saw Raintree for the first time we looked at it and said, ‘Wow!’ The visuals are there with this product. We are also excited with the marketing they’ve put behind it, the display unit, etc. If waterproof wood is really going to take off, we feel Raintree is the vehicle to use and American OEM is the company to go with.”

T&A Supply also views Raintree as a product that could recoup some market share from WPC and pure SPC products. “Consumers are drawn to the visuals WPC offers, but ultimately people want real hardwood,” Goria said. “This is an opportunity for us to get some of that back in the hardwood category and create some noise with it.”

The sentiment surrounding Raintree was similar with other top 20 wholesalers, including Southern Diversified Distributors (SDD), parent company of William M. Bird. In fact, the company is planning a full-scale rollout of the product throughout its territories next month. “It’s definitely one of our highly anticipated launches,” said Sharon Higgins, senior marketing strategist, SDD. “We constantly seek out products that bring real value to flooring retailers, and we’re very purposeful in every collection for each manufacturer we partner with. Raintree fits perfectly with the Bird offerings, and our customers are going to love the designs and performance of the product.”

William M. Bird will also take it a step further by promoting Raintree on its consumer-facing website, Twenty & Oak. Sister company to William M. Bird, Twenty & Oak was created earlier this year to drive online traffic to the distributor’s retail partners. “We’re going to place Raintree in both the hardwood and waterproof sections of the site,” Higgins explained. “We will deliver samples to consumers, but we will work very hard to deliver those leads to our retail partners.”

Beyond traditional distribution channels, American OEM also expects Raintree to gain traction among some of the largest buying groups in the industry. “CCA Global is very enthusiastic about the product,” Finkell stated. “We’re looking to expand our program next year to include Raintree. The people who are attuned to what’s going to happen in the future in this industry are pretty excited about the product.”

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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.