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Wood: Growth of engineered goods expands opportunities

September 17/24, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

When it comes to hardwood sales in the U.S. today, all signs point to increased consumption of engineered products. Proponents of the format cite—among other benefits—more efficient use of raw materials, improved performance in demand climates and the increased design and application flexibility that engineered products offer.

“There’s never been more changes taking place in the wood flooring segment than what we’re seeing before our eyes right now,” Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential, told FCNews. In particular, he’s seeing many consumers moving away from solid at a rapid pace. “We see the engineered category evolving right in front of our eyes from what was historically a 5-ply construction format to an HDF solution.”

As Mohawk seeks to leverage its position as an integrated, vertical HDF engineered wood producer, it continues to benefit from the shift to engineered. “Making all our own HDF internally gives us an advantage in terms of consistency and uniformity of the product,” Lape explained. “In addition, we produce all those products here in North America, which gives us an advantage in terms of supply chain and reliability.”

Other industry observers attest to the trend. Mannington, which moved to an all-engineered format several years ago, saw the proverbial writing on the wall. “While the overall wood category grew by low single digits last year, the growth rates were different between solid and engineered, with solids declining in overall volume and engineered growing by mid-single digits,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate.

But for suppliers that play in both the engineered and solid segments of the market, there’s still room for both formats. As Michael Bell, vice president, hardwood, Armstrong Flooring, explained: “In engineered, we see much of the growth occurring on the bookends of the market with significant increases in the opening price point/value engineered products and the best/premium sliced- and sawn-face engineered products. Solid is similarly seeing increased activity on the best/premium side of the market.”

While it is generally accepted that consumer tastes differ by region and/or climate, some point to inherent limitations of solid products as an impediment to acceptance beyond the core solid markets. “With the demand and overall trend moving toward longer and wider, there are limitations you have with solids that are not there with engineered,” said Clark Hodgkins, director of hardwood and laminate, Shaw Floors.

Longer, wider trend

Suppliers agree that having the ability to go longer and wider has ushered more consumers in the direction of engineered products. It’s simple physics, actually—the wider the board, the more it will flex under stress and temperature changes. This plays directly to the strengths of engineered products, which—by sheer virtue of their multi-ply construction—can better resist this movement.

“We’re giving consumers more of what they want—wider and longer,” Mohawk’s Lape said. “We’re selling planks up to 80 inches long and 9 inches wide, and we’re making better-performing products for contractors, retailers as well as consumers.”

It’s no surprise then that suppliers continue to fortify—and diversify—their product mix. Over the past 18 months, for example, Quebec-based Wickham Hardwood introduced several new engineered offerings designed to complement its solid collections. “What we are seeing is the demand in the U.S. market for a thicker platform appears to be on the rise,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president residential sales, U.S. “With this demand, we are projecting a significant demand for ¾-inch platform engineered products in our U.S. footprint.”

In that same vein, Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand, has bolstered its offering of wider/longer engineered planks. The company now offers new board lengths up to 82 inches. “The new lengths make any room in the house look bigger,” said Brad Williams, vice president of marketing. “Since fewer boards are needed to cover a given area, fewer joints are visible.”

Other major manufacturers are utilizing technology to produce engineered products that are much wider and longer than their predecessors. Case in point is Tennessee-based American OEM, founded by Don Finkell, whose family legacy of producing engineered hardwood floors dates back to 1938.

According to Allie Finkell, executive vice president, the company’s plant has the capability to produce board lengths up to 8 feet in wide widths across a variety of species and platforms. “It is flexible in the constructions it can produce, ranging from veneer core to HDF core, topped with sawn-, sliced- or rotary face veneers,” she said. “Limitless design capabilities are achieved through a talented, hands-on workforce and industry-leading staining techniques for every color of the spectrum. The American OEM/Hearthwood facility is efficient and has capacity to accommodate increases in the demand for domestically produced engineered wood flooring.”

With the continued growth of engineered—and as a means to provide differentiation in the market—suppliers are continuing to push the envelope and expand the possibilities. An example of this is Arte Mundi, the Jurupa, Calif.-based supplier of innovative engineered collections such as Bauhaus, Renaissance and Nouveau. But perhaps the most intriguing offering is the company’s Crystal Elements collection—an engineered hardwood flooring line that incorporates actual crystals in the wood’s surface. Developed in conjunction with world-renowned brand Swarovski, the new line was designed to provide retailers and distributors with a step-up product. “Our product lines embody the most natural elements without chemicals, resulting in a process that is completely organic,” said John Lee, president/CEO, citing Arte Mundi’s approach to high-quality wood flooring production.

The company’s product development teams start each new collection by searching for the most aesthetically pleasing, highest-grade lumber for the top layer. This is supported by top quality, multi-layered plywood. Additional visual enhancements are achieved through 100% hand scraping as well as other proprietary techniques.

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Wood: Domestic species see resurgence in popularity

August 6/13, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 4

By Reginald Tucker

In recent years, much attention has been focused on the highly stylized, European-inspired oak hardwood flooring products that are popping up in retail showrooms around the country. At the same time, industry observers are seeing surging interest in various domestic varieties such as hickory, walnut, maple as well as red and white oak.

“Over the past couple of years, domestic species have been even more popular—specifically white oak, walnut and even hickory in some markets,” said Brett Miller, vice president of education and training at the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). “Red oak is still popular, though not as much as white oak.”

Miller attributes this growing interest to the combination of consumer tastes moving away from tropical exotics along with the color/texture characteristics domestic species provide. “With hickory, for example, it’s the variation in color that generates interest and demand. Then there’s walnut, which has a very unique look and has always been regarded as a higher-end species. But white oak seems to be the most popular, most likely because of the color.”

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. In particular, he cited the company’s Carriage oak line, which he describes as “a runaway hit,” along with the Cider Mill collection, which combines the inherent graining of select North American white oak and hickory with a proprietary hand-staining and distressing process to further enhance the visuals. “There is something timeless about North American hardwoods,” he said. “Smooth, elegant graining, great character, and the way they accept stain and other visual effects make them the prime choice for consumers.”

Other major suppliers are capitalizing on the shift toward domestic species. Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk, said the company has been using domestic white oak for many of its products.

“There are slight differences between domestic oaks and European oak, but overall we are seeing more demand for hickory, walnut and other domestic species as there has gotten to be such a wide variety of every color, style and design of oak under the sun,” Ward explained. “Consumers who are trying to be more unique are trying hickory, walnut and some other visuals for greater variety.”

In illustration, Ward cited Mohawk’s Homestead Retreat line, which made its debut at Surfaces earlier this year to great acclaim.

“It’s a really great collection of sawn-faced hickory and walnut that has a nice sculpted visual to it that has been very positively received by the market. We’re seeing a lot of interest among consumers.”

Mohawk also launched five oak collections, and it plans to expand its offering of hickory products as well. This includes Canyon Lodge, a 6½-inch-wide scraped product. “We definitely plan on launching more of those products that feature species such as hickory and walnut along with some maple products as we round out our line of oaks,” Ward stated.

Other major suppliers are also tweaking their domestic offerings to keep up to date with trends. Mullican Flooring, which launched its oak-based Wexford collection last year, believes it can provide consumers with that popular “European oak” visual by tweaking the manufacturing process it uses to saw the veneers on its domestically sourced product. More recently, the company rolled out its new Astoria and Dumont lines, which entail a combination of white and red oak. It also offers the Nature Collection, which features wide-width hickory planks in a character grade.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of demand for these domestic species,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of sales and marketing. “It’s mostly white and red oak, but we’ve also seen pretty consistent demand for hickory and walnut. We’re also expecting to see maple come on a little bit as prices for white oak continue to rise.”

Some industry observers link the popularity of some of these domestic species to overall design trends. “The gray tones of walnut and white oak are really resonating with consumers,” said Clark Hodgkins, director of hardwood and laminate at Shaw Floors. In particular, Hodgkins cited growing sales of the company’s Epic Extreme Nature collection. “These visuals exemplify looks found outdoors and incorporate slight distressing techniques that showcase the wood’s natural variations and beauty.”

By that same token, the latest hardwood introductions from USFloors, which was acquired by Shaw last year, also address consumers’ affinity for domestic species. “We are definitely seeing a resurgence in demand for North American species such as white oak, maple and walnut,” said Philippe Erramuzpe, COO. These species, he notes, figure prominently in the company’s new Enclave collection as well as a solid wood line due to roll out this quarter. A new collection featuring an HDF core with oak and hickory veneers is also available.

Specialty, private-label suppliers are also getting in on the act. American OEM, which markets custom products to distributors in addition to promoting its own Hearthwood-branded line, is making sure it has all the bases covered. “We are still seeing most of the business being driven by white oak, but there are still great selling SKUs in hickory as well,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president. “Walnut is gorgeous, but it’s still very niche.”

For some industry observers, the trend toward greater domestic wood flooring consumption is not so “new” after all. “At Armstrong Flooring, we have been saying for a while that ‘Domestic is the new exotic,’” said Sara Babinski, design manager. “Like local produce and handmade crafts, the trend is buying local and U.S. home-grown woods. White oak is still the most popular, followed by beautiful domestic exotic species such as maple, walnut and hickory.”

With red-toned woods and tropical exotics fading in popularity, Babinski sees the trend moving toward either dark or light color palettes. These are reflected in top-selling Armstrong collections such as Prime Harvest, which is crafted from select- and premium-grade Appalachian hardwood for a more consistent visual.

Even high-end, specialty manufacturers are capitalizing. Provenza Floors, for instance, is expanding its already deep portfolio of European oak-inspired floors to include domestic gems such as elm, ash, hickory and, of course, American maple. New lines include Artifact, an entry-level line, and Volterra, a long-board offering. “These products reflect the contemporary format that’s so popular today,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner.

Supply and demand

One unintended consequence of the increased consumption of select domestic wood species is the higher prices manufacturers are seeing in terms of raw materials. This is especially the case with select and better grade flooring in white oak.

“As demand rises, prices also increase,” NWFA’s Miller said, citing white oak and walnut in particular. “If you speak to any wood flooring manufacturer or any mill, they will tell you those are the logs for which they are paying the highest prices.”

Manufacturers can attest. “There has been such a demand for oak, especially the wide boards, that prices have increased,” Mohawk’s Ward explained. “There’s also competition for raw materials from the furniture industry as well.”

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Wood: Canadian suppliers in a class all their own

July 9/16, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

Most laymen associate Canada with sprawling, breathtaking forests, maple syrup and feverishly devoted hockey fans. But when it comes to flooring, especially hardwood, industry observers agree the country produces some of the highest quality products in the industry.

Case in point is Boa-Franc, manufacturer of the standard-setting Mirage brand of hardwood floors. Over the past 10 years, the company has earned 33 quality awards—more than any other North American hardwood floor manufacturer, according to Pierre Thabet, president and founder. This includes an impressive streak of FCNews Awards of Excellence trophies as well as honors from the Canadian government and private enterprises. Among them: the prestigious Gold Trophy Award at the Canada Awards for Excellence several years ago, and the highest honor at the Grands Prix québécois de la qualité awards in 2017 and, prior to that, 2012.

“Boa-Franc strives to pro- duce the finest hardwood floors,” Thabet said. “Our entire focus is on making superior quality flooring that exudes well-being and gives dramatic new life to consumers’ home décor dreams.”

For the past 35 years, Boa-Franc’s main goal has been to produce the industry’s finest hardwood flooring, according to Thabet. To follow through on that quality promise, he said, the company adopted a management philosophy founded on five core values: passion, respect, integrity, commitment and innovation.

“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do here at Boa-Franc,” Thabet stated, adding that being a leader means being the best, not necessarily the biggest. “It’s what enables us to make superior quality products and maintain our leading position in North America.”

Boa-Franc’s distributor and retail partners appreciate that quality-minded philosophy. Shawn McCloskey, marketing manager for J.J. Haines, the industry’s top-ranked wholesaler, cites one of the company’s best-selling lines—Mirage’s Flair collection, which features an advanced finish called Duramatt. “It is an extremely durable, low-gloss urethane finish that has the appearance of an oil finish without the associated maintenance. It also contains anti-microbial agents and is 20 times more wear resistant than a conventional oil finish.”

Another quality-minded supplier renowned for its expertise in hardwood production and coating application is Mercier, which markets the advanced Generations 2500 Intact finish. The molecules that comprise the coating, named for its numerical performance on the Taber test, interlock with the wood cells to create a waterproof barrier. The finish also features aluminum oxide particles of varying sizes and boasts a multilayered composition for greater flexibility and impact resistance. Generations 2500 also touts antimicrobial qualities and features anti-yellowing properties to combat the effects of UV rays.

“Mercier gives us a first-quality, Canadian-manufactured wood line that fits all possibilities in today’s ever-changing customers lifestyle,” said Steve Flanagan, product and marketing manager, Jaeckle Distributors. In particular, he cited the appeal of Mercier’s matte finish on its Design Plus collection, as well as the Legend Series from the Nature collection. “Mercier fits the consumers need anywhere from a quality entry-level product in their Pro series to the most fashionable 7-inch-wide pine board or other in-demand species such as hickory, maple, red and white oak and their entire Exotics series.”

Depth and breadth of product—as well as high service levels—are also hallmarks of many Canadian wood flooring manufacturers. That’s according to dealers like Mike Caroll, owner of Buffalo, N.Y.-based MP Caroll, a hardwood-only retailer that positions the Preverco line front and center. Although he has only carried the line for a few years, it has quickly become the company’s go-to product. “Preverco is our leading line, which we consider an upscale offering,” he told FCNews. “It’s super consistent with its milling and colors, and their attention to detail is unmatched.”

The same can be said for companies like Wickham Hardwood Flooring, which prides itself not only on consistent product quality but also quick turnaround times on special orders—a rarity in the industry. A big plus, customers say, is Wickham’s unique make-and-ship program. How it works: All stock is kept unfinished and then is finished as ordered. Regardless of species, colors, grades, sheens or widths, retailers can meet almost any consumer specification when participating in the program.

“Assisting the client in order to constantly grow their business is a crucial component of a healthy business relationship, and we are committed to making sure efforts to sell are mutual on both sides,” said J.P. Nittolo, president. “Our sales- force is devoted to assisting the customers, whether it is for product knowledge sessions, travel with the sales representatives or even in helping with product marketing. We also offer a variety of merchandising programs where customers can build their own displays—with joint efforts from the Wickham team—based on the end consumers’ needs.”

Clients like Craig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based distributor, knows this firsthand. “Since assuming a controlling interest in Wickham Hardwood about 10 years ago, J.P. Nittolo has completely transformed the former Wickham Hardwood Flooring company into a brand new entity. From the time when I first visited them to today, Wickham has been in constant transformation. They have evolved from a quiet little mill to a major supplier in the North American market. Benchmarked against his competition, the growth has been remarkable.”

 

Satan Flooring sees opportunities on the wall
Toronto, Canada—Satin Flooring, maker of a variety of trendy, high- performance hard surface flooring materials, is going vertical. Known primarily for its wide offering of laminate, hardwood and resilient flooring products, Satin Flooring is now targeting consumers in the market for decorative wall materials.

With the launch of Decora 3D wall panels, Satin Flooring is targeting the homeowner who’s looking to do a complete room remodel—not just the floors. Featuring a decorative laminate wrap over a high-density fiberboard core, the new decorative panels address one of the biggest trends in interior design.

“Feature walls have become more important in decorating today,” said Ingrid Mancini, senior marketing manager. “People are putting in accent walls using stone or wallpaper, etc. This is not a throwback to the ’70s, when you had wood panel walls, but I think it’s adding texture and dimension to make the space more homey, interesting and more visually appealing.”

Available in five introductory patterns (concrete, slate, light barnwood, brown barnwood and earth pine) the new wall panels aim to complement—but not necessarily match to a tee—the products currently available in the company’s flooring line. “The patterns in the Decora 3D wall collection were created specifically for a certain kind of texture or look, but they will definitely coordinate with our flooring patterns,” Mancini said. “In my home, I have the concrete pattern on the wall and a beautiful, engineered red wood called Twilight on the floor. It’s a little more brown/gray, but it goes nicely with the concrete wall color.”

Another feature of the new wall line, according to Mancini, is it can be installed in a variety of different sizes and blocks to create a multi-dimensional effect. “So, depending on the person, there’s a lot of variation that’s available and there are a lot of trims to match,” she stated.

The new Decora 3D wall line, which was previewed at the NWFA convention earlier this year, makes its official debut this month.

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Wood: Sector maintains share on strong demand

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

 

By Reginald Tucker

Rising demand for residential replacement projects combined with a strengthening new home construction market contributed to another steady year of growth for the U.S. hardwood flooring industry. FCNews research shows wood sales at the first point of distribution climbed to $2.32 billion in 2017, a 4% increase over 2016. Volume-wise, units shipped increased 3.6% to 930 million square feet, reflecting an uptick in slightly higher-value goods.

To put the numbers in greater perspective, in 2017 the hardwood sector accounted for nearly 10.6% of total industry sales but more than 17% of hard surface revenues. With respect to volume, wood represented only 4.7% of total industry square footage shipped but 11% of all hard surfaces sold at the first point of distribution. Five years ago, wood’s share of total industry sales was 9.5%, while its share of total industry volume was 4.1%. Going back even further—to 2007—hardwood’s share of total industry sales was 9%, while its share of volume sold was 4.4%. However, the size of the total pie at that time was much greater—$22.34 billion in sales in 2007 vs. $17.3 billion in 2012. Ditto with respect to volume; in 2007, more than 22.7 billion square feet of product was shipped compared to just over 16.8 billion in 2012.

While evidence shows competing hard surface categories seem to be growing at a faster clip (save for laminates), wood has not ceded its position relative to its ranking among the likes of tile, resilient flooring, WPC, etc. For example, wood represented the third-largest hard surface category in terms of dollars in 2017, trailing only resilient (19.2% market share of total industry sales) and tile (13.3% of total sales). Back in 2007, wood was also the third-largest hard surface category—although resilient and tile represented a much lower portion of the overall pie at 9.8% and 9.3%, respectively. Ten years ago, wood held a 9% share of the market. The only oddity is the volume of wood sold has been exceeded by the overall square footage of laminate flooring shipped virtually every year since 2009. Industry observers attribute this phenomenon to a variety of factors, including: much lower comparative pricing of laminate vs. wood; the relative ease of installing laminate flooring vs. more complex, intricate hardwood flooring products; and the vast number of retail outlets—including big boxes and discount stores—that sell laminate over the counter and online.

Industry executives attribute hardwood’s consistent performance over time to the strength of key end-use sectors here in the U.S. market. “Single-family construction and residential replacement continue to be the core drivers of demand for hardwood,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminates, Mannington. “While the wood category grew by low single digits, the growth rates were different between solid and engineered, with solids declining in overall volume and engineered growing by mid-single digits.”

Other executives, including Natalie Cady, vice president, hard surface marketing, Shaw Floors, concur. “Residential is driving the market, which includes both single family and residential remodel.”

FCNews research supports those anecdotes. In 2017, residential replacement and new construction end-use markets accounted for 55% and 35%, respectively (or 90% collectively), of hardwood flooring sales. That’s up slightly from 2012, when new residential and residential replacement represented about 83% of category sales. One of the biggest shifts over that time period occurred in the commercial sector, which—including specified contract and Main Street market applications—accounted for 17% of sales. Last year, contract commercial and Main Street represented just 10% of sales, research shows.

The fact that hardwood is still be able to participate across a variety of end-use channels is a testament to the segment’s allure and viability. “A more stable economic environment continues to steer the hardwood segment on a course of steady growth, with increases in demand in both the new construction and remodeling markets,” said Michael Bell, vice president, hardwood, Armstrong Flooring. “We also see hardwood opportunities in the commercial marketplace.”

Other industry observers, including Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Boa-Franc, parent company of the Mirage brand, believe commercial performed better than many expected. In fact, as far as the ratio of end-use consumption is concerned, he feels a shift has occurred. “I believe single-family construction is driving the most growth in hardwood, followed by contract commercial and residential replacement.”

Shifting formats, trends
While several industry executives continue to debate the precise ratio of end-use consumption, there’s no denying there is an industry-wide shift in the types of hardwood floors produced and sold. Take traditional solid hardwood floors— the mainstay in many regional markets—vs. the preponderance of new, technologically advanced engineered formats. Ten years ago, solid wood floors represented more than 60% of the market, anecdotal information shows. According to FCNews research, the engineered/prefinished segment is close to overtaking solids, accounting for roughly 57% of sales.

While solid—what some refer to as the industry “gold standard”—is still preferred by many customers, home builders and designers in markets like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, the rapid development and evolution of products that fall under the category of engineered floors is opening up opportunities even in hardcore solid markets.

“There’s never been more changes taking place in the wood flooring segment than what we’re seeing today,” said Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential. “The biggest trend we’re seeing in the wood flooring segment today is a blurring of the lines within the product categories. For example, we’re clearly seeing many customers, dealers and consumers moving away from solid at a rate that has been running unabated for five years running and continues to accelerate. We see the engineered category evolving right in front of our eyes from what was historically a 5-ply construction format to an HDF product solution.”

Mohawk is so convinced that engineered wood flooring products based on an HDF core are quickly overtaking conventional, multi-ply hardwood flooring options that it is banking on wholesale consumer and end-user acceptance of the emerging format. “When you see high-end custom builders and high-end production builders in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest coming off solid it is eye opening,” Lape said. “Solids are not going away, but where there is a reasonable trade off of in terms of cost, value, etc., I think you’re seeing the market accelerate the move to engineered.”

Boa-Franc’s Williams is in general agreement. “The shift in demand will continue to put additional pressure on manufacturers as the majority of domestic suppliers have solid equipment and capacity. This causes your business to transform when converting to producing engineered, or more engineered vs. solid. Everything changes—from your lumber purchasing to your go-to market channel strategy.”

For others, the continued migration from solid to engineered doesn’t necessarily spell the end of a category. While engineered floors offer opportunity for design innovation combined with its installation flexibility, solids still have their place. As Armstrong’s Bell explained: “The dynamics are different in solid vs. engineered. In engineered, we see much of the growth occurring on the bookends of the market with significant increases in the opening price point/value engineered products and the best/premium sliced- and sawn- face engineered products. Solid is similarly seeing increased activity on the best/premium side of the market.”

While it is generally accepted that consumer tastes differ by region and/or climate, some point to inherent limitations of solid products as an impediment to acceptance beyond the core solid markets. “With the demand and overall trend moving toward longer and wider, there are limitations you have solids that are not there with engineered,” Shaw Floors’ Cady said, citing the tendency of solid floors to expand and contract more easily than engineered. “Having the ability to go longer and wider will help people move more toward engineered. Plus, with single-family home construction on the rise, that represents an increase in concrete slab construction— and that lends itself to engineered. At the end of the day, we believe the solid market— which includes both finished and unfinished product—is steady, not actually shrinking.”

In keeping with the industry’s ongoing transition to engineered, suppliers are also seeing demand move away from traditional strip flooring to wider/longer plank formats. “We’re giving consumers more of what they want,” Mohawk’s Lape stated. “We’re selling planks up to 80 inches long x 9 inches wide, and we’re making better-performing products for contractors, retailers as well as consumers.”

While all this continues to play out, suppliers continue to fortify—and diversify—their product mix to ensure they have all the bases covered. Over the past 18 months, for example, Quebec-based Wickham Hardwood introduced several new engineered offerings designed to complement its solid collections. According to Paul Rezuke, vice president residential sales, U.S., the breakdown seems to follow along geographic lines. “As part of our engineered strategy, we targeted two platforms based on a 1⁄2- and a 3⁄4-inch format. We initially envisioned the 1⁄2-inch product would be most suited for the U.S. market and the 3⁄4-inch line for our Canadian business partners. What we are seeing is the demand in the U.S. market for a thicker platform appears to be on the rise. With this demand, we are projecting a significant demand for 3⁄4-inch platform engineered products in our U.S. footprint.”

The shift in product preference in wood goes beyond the product’s core construction. Industry observers are also gauging changing consumer tastes relative to color, species, surface texture and even board length and width. “The key is making sure we stay out in front in terms of styling and design,” Shaw Floors’ Cady explained. “We’re still seeing the move toward longer, wider planks, but we are also seeing a move toward more traditional visuals.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some suppliers are seeing a mild resurgence in demand not for domestic species—which had been rising in popularity—but for exotic looks. With anecdotal information and consumer purchasing trends showing shoppers gravitating more toward home- grown species such as walnut, hickory and birch, to name a few, others say there’s still a viable market for imported tropical species.

“Brazilian cherry, teak and oak are still in demand,” said Luxia Hong, director of business development, North America, for Grupo Maderero Amaz, based in Peru. “What we’re doing is taking the Brazilian teak, for example, and applying wirebrushing to the top layer. We can also apply stains such as gray, espresso and cappuccino—the colors that are trendy today. Brazilian oak can also take stains and wire brushing very well.”

Mitigating factors
Hardwood flooring has long been linked to its ability to con- tribute to rising home values, and it remains—as suppliers argue—the product that many homeowners covet. But aggressive competition from competing “wood-look” visuals available with LVT, WPC, laminate and, now, ceramic is a cause for concern.

“The growth of wood-look products such as WPC is an issue,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “While cannibalization is minimal for the consumer who really desires hardwood, there is conversion for consumers who are not sure what product is right for them.”

Armstrong’s Bell is in agreement, adding that—with the exception of tile—most of these products cost less than real hardwood. Also at play, he said, is the fact that the quality of the visuals and textures has evolved so much that many consumers feel comfortable using these faux wood products instead of the real thing. “However, there is nothing that can truly compete with genuine hardwood from either a look or value equation. It is a great, long-term investment and can actually become a strong resale argument, exceeding the initial installation cost of the floors. Plus, it’s organic, natural and renewable and, of

course, since it is natural, has less pattern repeat.”

Traditional, hardwood-only suppliers
seem to be taking it in
stride. As Wickham’s Rezuke explained, “Currently, WPC appears to be the category of the month.
We’ve experienced this
in the past with both laminate and LVT. Our position remains that
there will be new products that will present challenges. But in thelong run, hardwood
will always maintain a
significant market share in the flooring industry.”

Price pressures
On the other side of the coin, wood’s classification as a natural product also subjects the category to price fluctuations due to rising raw material costs. In fact, some of the segment’s top suppliers recently announced hikes in the 3%-7% range, mostly on solid goods. Suppliers warn it might not be the last this year.

“We are seeing some upward pressure in raw material pricing,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “Certain regions are more dramatic than others.”

Armstrong, one of the suppliers to pass on increases to its customers earlier this month, attributes the hikes to rising natural gas and electricity prices—all of which impact costs to power the plants. Bell doesn’t see any let up in sight. “We expect this cost pressure to continue throughout 2018.”

Canada-based Mercier Wood Flooring, which instituted a price increase at the start of the year, hinted at the possibility of additional hikes if cur- rent trends persist. “We try to stay consistent,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S. “However, a couple more increases in raw materials and we will be forced to raise prices again.”

Boa-Franc, also based in Canada but services customers throughout North America, is feeling the pinch as well. “We are still sitting at a high point on species such as red oak and white oak,” Williams said. “Hopefully it will cool down and stabilize in the quarters to come.”

Mid-term outlook
Despite raw materials fluctuations, pricing pressure from imported product and increased competition from other hard surface categories, executives remain optimistic about the hardwood sector for the remainder of 2018. “We predict the overall hardwood category will have a moderate growth rate of 3%-5% this year,” Williams said, citing the commitment of its distribution partners. “We feel our greatest opportunity continues to be within our existing network.”

Don Finkell, president and CEO, American OEM, is confident the category as a whole

will grow by at least 6% this year, surpassing the rate of growth achieved in 2017. The prospects look even better from an internal standpoint, he noted. “I expect our company to more than double that growth rate at about 12% to 15%. We are adding new products for our existing distributors, building on our private-label programs and developing coverage of our new Hearthwood brand. Plus, we will be adding more domestically made products to our Hemisphere brand.”

Others are similarly bullish. “We’re still forecasting growth in the wood segment, although I think it’s going to be a different wood segment by virtue of a lot of trends we’ve been talking about,” Lape stated. “The trend is going to be more innovation in the wood category. The industry is not sitting still; it continues to innovate in terms of form, function and value.”

For Mercier, the key to continued success lies in geographic expansion—along with continued development of its engineered program. “In a number of areas, the Mercier line is fairly new,” Bondrowski said. “But with the amount of design and quality we have and continue to pursue, these markets could use a product line like ours.”

For Shaw, opportunities abound both within industry wide. “The launch of our premium brand, Anderson Tuftex, will bring about some exciting new possibilities,” said Drew Hash, vice president hard surface product category management. A strengthening housing market can’t hurt, either. “The greatest opportunities for hard- wood products are within single-family and new construction. We continue to expect an increase in housing starts, which will have an impact on growth throughout 2018.”

 

Rising demand sends lumber pricing higher
By Reginald Tucker

Rising demand for hardwood flooring products resulted in a steady rise in lumber prices across a range of species in 2017, a trend that is expected to continue at least throughout 2018. That’s according to data released by Forecon, a forestry consulting firm with in-depth knowledge of the U.S. lumber industry. Forecon reports high demand for red oak, hard maple, ash and cherry (the latter due to mostly export demand). Red oak, which has set record export levels in volume and dollars this past year, is also seeing robust demand domestically.

Those findings are corroborated by statistics cited in the latest Indiana Forest Products Price Report and Trend Analysis published in January. According to the report, pricing for premium species such as red oak and white oak—often viewed as the primary market/economic indicators in the hardwood industry—is trending higher. White oak lumber (#2/Btr) prices are 3% higher than what was reported in July 2017, while red oak prices are almost 6% higher. Aside from domestic demand—especially among sectors like millworking and cabinetry suppliers, which compete for raw materials—industry observers cite strong

export activity to China. Current pricing for red oak, especially #2/3A red oak, is at levels not seen since January 2015. The most popular kiln-dried grade red oak, #1C, is increasingly high in demand among Chinese and Vietnamese suppliers.

Pricing for green upper-grade red oak lumber (FAS & FIF) peaked at $1,370 per thousand board feet (MBF) in the summer of 2014. Prices for FAS lumber spiraled downward through early 2016 before rising to the current price of $1,150 MBF. Both #1C and 2A pricing have been increasing since January 2016 to $845 and $560 MBF, respectfully.

White oak pricing is also seeing a bump, with most of the upper-grade lumber heading to the Far East and Europe. Here in the States, white oak demand by hardwood flooring producers is rising. Upper-grade white oak pricing has increased steadily since January 2016 to its current

price of $1,650 MBF. This price is also 38% higher than what was reported in July of 2013. Further, #1C and #2A pricing has also firmed quite well with increases of 34% and 7%, respectively.

Other species commanding high prices include: upper-grade green walnut ($2,900 MBF). According to the report, #1C prices are over 47% higher than in July 2013 and 16% higher than the figured reported in July 2017. Meanwhile, the cherry market continues to rebound, primarily due to Chinese demand. Upper-grade cherry prices are trending 16% higher than the year-ago period, with common grades averaging 13% higher than those reported in July 2016.

Lastly, upper-grade hickory lumber prices are nearing levels reported during the summer of 2015—a high point for the product. The overall average of hickory lumber prices are 7% higher than the fall of 2016.

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Xpress Global Systems opens new service center

Chattanooga, Tenn.–Xpress Global Systems, LLC (XGS) has opened a new, 68,500-square-foot service center in Lakeland, Fla. According to Darrel Harris, CEO, the new facility allows XGS to more efficiently service a greater footprint in Florida.

“Analysis showed us that a much larger, more modern facility in Lakeland would provide better service to our valued customers and allow us to improve efficiencies,” Harris stated. “The Lakeland facility fits well with our expansion plans in the Florida market and beyond.”

XGS, which began in 1986 as a long-haul shipper for the carpet industry, employs more than 600 people across 31 facilities around the U.S. With decades of experience serving the transportation needs of the floor covering industry, XGS has a long track record of success in handling a wide range of products, including carpet, hardwood, laminate, vinyl, tile and area rugs.

“XGS remains committed to efficiency and growth in 2018 and beyond,” Harris added. “We are happy to add the Lakeland facility to our portfolio.”

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Wood: Oil and urethane—A winning combination of aesthetics, function

Blend of finish formulations expands end-user options

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Reginald Tucker

With the advent of aluminum-oxide finishes, hardwood manufacturers were able to deliver high-performance products that could withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear. But as consumer trends evolved over time, consumers began to clamor for a more natural, low-luster topcoat—hence the resurgence of the oil-based finishes that are trending today.

Manufacturers are facing a new challenge: How to develop a finish that will allow the natural beauty and characteristics of the wood veneer to show through and yet provide the durability consumers and end users have come to expect from today’s advanced finishes. To address this issue, some suppliers are offering the best of both worlds by developing special blends of oil and UV-cured urethane finishes.

Case in point is Provenza Floors, which combines two different finishing technologies on some of its collections. As Ron Sadri, principal owner, explains: “We put a lot of money and research behind it to make sure we came up with the look we wanted while offering a product that was easy to maintain. So we put two technologies together (polyurethane and oil), which was challenging but it paid off in the end.”

Provenza Floors has more than 20 years of experience under its belt in developing different finishing processes and treatments. Some techniques, Sadri noted, were born out of pure experimentation.

“We tried to use an air-dried polyurethane finish vs. aluminum oxide or UV, which dries very quickly,” he explained. “Our finishes usually air dry and cure for about five to seven days before we package the product. This process provides a very natural look.”

Techniques such as these, he said, dovetail nicely with the advent of so-called “reactive” finishes and fuming processes—another area in which Provenza Floors specializes. “We combine that with staining and oil looks to create a UV oil, which provides a harder, smoother finish with less maintenance,” Sadri explained. “The technology has evolved to the point where we went from hard wax finishes to polyurethane combined with reactive stains.”

It’s an approach whose benefits are not overlooked by Provenza Floors’ distributor partners. “Provenza is a step ahead of the market,” said Alan Gage, president of Tri-West, a distributor partner for nearly 20 years. “They bring us products that are innovative and cool. The reactive stains and fumed products they produce are very popular in our market. Consumers love them. In fact, the entire lineup is ahead of the curve and right on with colors and tones.”

Other major producers are leveraging their manufacturing expertise to develop finishes that combine both advanced and traditional technologies. The Winery collection from Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, features a matte, five-degree, UV-cured oil finish for an Old World look with modern performance enhancements. The multi-ply, 3¼-inch-wide product features a sturdy Baltic birch plywood construction with a 4mm veneer for added durability.

“We use soybean components, allowing us to claim that our oil finish utilizes the most enhanced environmentally friendly technique,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales, U.S. “The biggest advantage to oil-finished flooring is the simple fact that it is highly repairable vs. a lacquered floor. An oil finished floor also is appealing given that the floor is relatively static free; therefore, the accumulation of dust is minimal. I would also point out that oil finished floors are also a better choice for high-traffic applications. This finish will stand up better than a lacquer-based finish.”

Not only can Wickham Flooring provide distributors with products that feature these hybrid finishes, but they can customize them according to a distributor or dealer partner’s specifications. “Wickham has a unique business model in that they produce an enormous amount of product, but they don’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor,” said Craig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesale flooring distributor. Aside from the visuals, he likes the flexibility and deep range of options the Wickham Hardwood Flooring brand offers his customers. “I don’t know how they manage the logistics of it, but they’re very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still get it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives dealers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen. Having Wickham as a vendor is like having 10 lines at the same time.”

Even the niche suppliers are getting in on the act. Monarch Plank, a division of Galleher Hardwood, provides specialty, wide-plank flooring that can be customized according to the client’s specifications. Many of those products feature UV oil finishes. Case in point is the Domaine collection, a ¾-inch-thick, 9½-inch-wide x 8-foot-long product with a hefty 6mm top layer.

“Today’s high-end contractors are turning more to prefinishing—either in their own shops or through custom prefinishing like ours,” said Todd Hamar, senior vice president. “The colors designers are demanding nowadays are often only achieved through processes like fuming, bleaching and reactive stains that are difficult—if not impossible—to work with on site. Designers are also increasingly seeking to customize texture in ways that are too tedious to achieve on the job site.”

The Monarch Plank manufacturing plant, a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, features dedicated lines for UV oil and urethane finishes, plus vacuum coaters, standalone spray booth and a spray line. Hand finishing as well as commercial-grade finishes are also offered.

“By coloring and texturing in a shop, customers have the opportunity to work with these processes in a controlled environment using labor-saving machines,” Hamar told FCNews. “More importantly, clients have the opportunity to dial in the look and get approval before installation.”

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Wood: NWFA Awards showcase craftsmanship, creativity

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

 

Tampa, Fla.—The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) announced the winners of its 2018 Wood Floor of the Year contest during its annual conference and expo here earlier this month. The awards recognize innovative craftsmanship and design in wood flooring installations.

All entries featured installations completed between January 2017 and January 2018 and were evaluated by a panel of industry members and press editors. NWFA membership voted for the Members’ Choice winner.

And the winners are…

Members’ Choice & Best Parquetry/Inlay Application

Contractor: ArtParquet, Khimki, Russia

Project notes: This 10,705-square-foot, nail-down/glue-down installation entailed 16 different species to naturally incorporate the color and overall style of the room into the flooring. The parquet layers were designed according to schemes provided by the project engineers.

After the design was approved, engineers prepared AutoCAD drawings that were sent to the factory where CNC machines cut patterns. The components were then assembled manually, and the panels were packed and delivered. It took five months to design and produce the flooring, followed by another two months to install the floors. No stains were used to achieve the look.

Best Circular/Curved Application

Contractor: Acorn Hardwood Flooring, Sylmar, Calif.

Project notes: This 8,900-square-foot, nail-down/glue-down installation featuring light rustic hickory/pecan was installed in a plank, herringbone and parquet pattern. All gallery parquet patterns were hand cut, routed, fitted with a tongue and groove, and then center matched. All pieces were cut, prefinished and assembled in the factory, then reassembled on the job site.

Best Color & Finish Application

Contractor: Treadline Construction, Tualatin, Ore.

Project notes: The design is a 400-square-foot, glue-down installation featuring 21⁄4 x 3⁄4-inch-thick red oak, white oak and maple. After the floor was sanded, aluminum custom circular-shaped inlays were routed into the floor and installed. The floor was resanded, then each section was masked before a custom application of colored water conditioners, reactive chemicals and custom blends of oil- and water-based stains and penetrating oils were applied. Select sections received a final application of acid-cured finish.

Best Restoration/Makeover 

Contractor: Endurance Floor Co., West Park, Fla.

Project notes: The three-dimensional look was achieved using a mix of species, including Gaboon ebony, English sycamore, massaranduba, sapele and Brazilian ebony for the field; Macassar ebony, padauk, birds-eye maple, bocote and pink ivory were utilized for the border.

Best of Social Media 

Contractor: BC Hardwood Floor Co., Vancouver, BC, Canada

Project notes: This 5,500-square-foot/nail-down installation of first-grade northern Canadian and hard maple wood flooring was utilized to replace the original floors laid down circa 1927. Following subfloor remediation, installers added a layer of plywood and installed the new floor as per the original specifications.

Best Textured Wood Application 

Contractor: WD Flooring, Laona, Wis.

Project notes: This 2,050-square-foot, nail-down/glue-down installation of white oak was installed in a new construction spec home. The floor was finished with a multi-step process and then UV cured.

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NWFA conference delivers value for installers, vendors

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Tampa, Fla.—Scores of hardwood flooring contractors, manufacturers and distributors converged at the Tampa Bay Convention Center here recently for the 33rd annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and expo. As advertised, the event offered something for everyone in attendance—new products galore, networking and educational opportunities, technical tips and even some entertainment.

“It was a great event,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told FCNews. “In terms of numbers, we had about 3,000 people attend the expo—which has been pretty steady when you look at our shows over the past few years. We felt really good about it.”

Martin has good reason. The NWFA conference and expo was named one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows for the past six consecutive years. Beyond the sprawling showcase of hardwood flooring products, installation tools and accessories, a big draw for attendees is the depth of technical, marketing and management sessions offered. In fact, the conference portion of the event boasted 20-plus hours of educational programming.

“We try to devise seminars that address the needs of all the channel segments we serve,” Martin explained, citing the mix of attendees who come to the show. What’s more, conference sessions are structured in such a fashion that encourages audience participation and interaction. “It’s not people talking ‘at you’ all the time. To that end, the sessions are arranged so participants are vocal and active during at least one-third of the sessions to keep them engaged. This allows everyone to learn from each other.”

Indeed, training and education remain a top priority for the association—and this extends beyond the instruction provided during NWFA’s renown installation schools held at its headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo., as well as regional training events across the country. During his opening keynote address to attendees, Martin provided an update on NWFAU—the group’s online training program. Since its inception in the summer of 2016, more than 30,000 courses have been completed by roughly 5,000 users—that translates into about 45 courses taken daily.

“We’re very encouraged by the participation we’re seeing in our online NWFA University,” Martin stated. “At the end of the day, the program benefits retailers, installers and consumers alike.”

Vendors see the value

Many of the exhibitors FCNews spoke to during the product showcase applaud the efforts NWFA management has made over the years to provide value for all members involved. Not only does the NWFA develop programs designed to raise the skill level of the dozens of professional hardwood flooring contractors in attendance, but the association goes above and beyond to deliver a captive audience for manufacturer members and vendor partners

“We’re here to support the industry and the association,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Many of the attendees here service the new home construction and residential replacement markets—both of which are important sectors for us.”

Pierre Thabet, president and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood floors, agrees. “If you’re looking to reach the specialty hardwood flooring contractor, then this is the place to be,” he said. “This is where you meet the installers who really know all about hardwood flooring.”

Mannington and Mirage are not alone. Paul Rezuke, vice president, residential sales, USA, Wickham Flooring, also sees the value in exhibiting at the NWFA expo. “It’s been a really great show for us,” he told FCNews on the second day of the exhibition. “We feel it’s important to have a presence here as we expand our go-to-market strategy in the U.S. We’ve had some pretty good leads.”

Others see attending the expo as an opportunity to not only get in front of professional contractors, but also wood flooring distributors. “We’re here to show our new offerings in our branded Hearthwood line as well as products on the American OEM side that we can offer to distributors on a private-label basis,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Show stoppers

Among the key highlights of the 2018 NWFA show was the Plank Tank contest the association created to encourage members to submit their industry-related business ideas. Modeled after ABC Network’s “Shark Tank,” contestants in NWFA’s Plank Tank pitched their idea during the opening general session.

The competition was hosted by Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, owners of Cousins Maine Lobster, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in a previous season. The businessmen, known for growing their small food truck start-up into a national franchise success, also shared their experiences with attendees during the keynote presentation. The celebrity judges, along with a team of wood flooring professionals, reviewed previously submitted business ideas to determine their merits.

The contest winner, which was announced on the last day of the show along with the NWFA Floor of the Year finalists (see page 8), was Insight Flooring Technologies. The company was recognized for QuoteHero, an app that allows contractors and estimators to measure the square footage of rooms, estimate jobs and close sales on the spot. Insight Flooring Technologies received a $15,000 customized package of NWFA marketing and education products and services.

NWFA’s Martin applauded the concept. “It was good to see NWFA members up there on stage talking about new tools and innovations that will help the industry.”

Look for more coverage of the 2018 NWFA expo in upcoming editions of FCNews.

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Armstrong extends Diamond 10 tech to new collection

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

 

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring is extending its exclusive Diamond 10 Technology, which was first made available on its resilient sheet flooring line, to Appalachian Ridge, a new solid hardwood collection. Utilizing the technology, Armstrong Flooring believes it is able to deliver a beautiful solid hardwood that is more versatile and durable.

“Our research consistently shows solid hardwood is the most coveted flooring choice by consumers for its timeless beauty and the considerable value it adds to a home,” said Michael Bell, vice president-wood. “But a factor preventing some from purchasing is concern over scratches and maintaining that beauty over time. When investing in hardwood, consumers seek peace of mind that their floor will look beautiful for the long term. For many consumers, scratch is a top factor when considering the durability of the floor.”

Appalachian Ridge features scraped and brushed artisan effects combined with gentle sanding to create a refined, tactile canvas. When treated with carefully selected stains and color washes, this fusion of soft focus texture and multi-tonal colors creates a designer floor with subtlety and sophistication. “Converting shoppers into happy purchasers is every retailer’s goal, and gorgeous hardwood flooring that offers scratch resistance is a powerful tool that can help dealers close the sale,” Bell said.

Armstrong’s Appalachian Ridge is the second hardwood collection to incorporate Diamond 10 Technology. Paragon, which was introduced in late 2017, was the first of the company’s hardwood offerings to incorporate the advanced finish.

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American OEM achieves CARB-exempt status

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

 

Burns, Tenn.—American OEM, a private-label hardwood flooring manufacturer, has obtained renewed status of its CARB ULEF exemption on engineered wood flooring products. This renewal was granted after a perfect record of passing indoor air quality tests for formaldehyde emissions and was also extended to include product with HDF core materials, which the company will manufacture beginning in the second quarter of 2018.

Essentially, this exemption grants American OEM the ability to reduce submittal samples for VOC testing and establishes the company’s products as ultra-low risk for off gassing.

HPVA Laboratories, a third-party association, performed the tests. Highly respected and independent, HPVA has been testing and certifying North American manufacturers of engineered wood products for more than 50 years.

“The health and safety of our consumers is of upmost concern to us,” said Don Finkell, American OEM founder and CEO. “We will continue quarterly tests for VOCs to ensure that we remain compliant with all regulations, even though it is no longer required.”

In addition to CARB-exempt status, American OEM has also achieved Indoor Advantage Gold certification for ultra-low emitting materials, verifying that all hardwood produced in the company’s Tennessee facility contributes to healthy indoor air quality for customers of American OEM private-label products, as well as all flooring sold under the company’s new Hearthwood brand.

This type of continuous quality assurance provides customers with peace of mind, something many lost after the “60 Minutes” TV special exposed unsafe levels of formaldehyde in wood-based products sold in a major retail chain, according to Finkell.