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Laminate: End-use activity shifts amidst sales, volume declines

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

 

By Reginald Tucker

 

A palpable shift in import shipments, combined with the loss of significant domestic capacity when one major supplier shuttered its U.S. laminate operations, led to a simultaneous dip in both category sales and volume for the first time in many years. FCNewsresearch shows sales of laminate in the U.S. fell to $1.123 billion, a falloff of 2.7% compared to 2016. Volume shipped also decreased in 2017—albeit at a slower rate—as square footage at the first point of distribution hit an estimated 1.034 billion square feet, down 1.9% compared to 2016.

That would put would laminate sales at their lowest level since 2013—when sales reached just over $1.12 billion before rising each year for three consecutive years—and volume at its lowest point since 2011, when shipments totaled 1.02 billion square feet. The contrast is even more stark when comparing last year’s activity to laminate’s performance 10 years ago; at that time, U.S. sales hit $1.169 billion, with volume reaching roughly 970 million square feet.

Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates at Mannington, and president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), concurs that U.S. laminate flooring sales were down about 2%-3% in 2017. But that doesn’t mean the category is down for the count. (In fact, Mannington’s top-selling laminate line was up by double digits last year.) “At the end of the day, it’s still a $1 billion product category,” he said. “We are forecasting 2018 will be a growth year for laminate.”

As of now, though, the laminate category has its hands full trying to fend off pressure from competing hard surface segments. In 2017, laminate represented 5.1% of total flooring sales and 10.6% of hard surface consumption. That’s down markedly from 2012, for example, when laminate flooring represented roughly 17% of all hard surface sales and a little over 15% in terms of volume. Meanwhile, competing products such as resilient and ceramic tile grew their shares of the hard surface market to 37.8% and 13.3%, respectively, in 2017.

While laminate has been facing some stiff competition, particularly from LVT, WPC and hardwood, not everyone believes the category lost as much share as has been reported. “Our research shows laminate was up about 1% to 2% in 2017,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. Meanwhile, Swiss Krono’s 2017 estimates put the laminate market around 1.3 billion square feet and about $1.3 billion in sales—a level that category has not seen since its heydays in the U.S. market some 20 years ago. Others still are split with respect to sales/volume activity within the category. Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product category manager, Shaw Floors, estimates the segment was down in terms of overall square footage shipped in 2017 but up in revenues.

Nonetheless, suppliers are still bullish on the category’s prospects. “Most laminate companies would probably
say their mix of better-end goods has improved throughout 2017, and that trend should continue this year,” Hash told FCNews. “From our perspective, we
still believe—now that we have a model where we can truly take the most innovative products anywhere in
the world and put them through our systems with
our salesforce and service—
that it will be a growing part
of our business.”

Proponents of the category—particularly those companies that continue to invest in new technologies and innovations in support of the segment—attest to laminate’s viability. “The laminate flooring industry is in a good place,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “It continues to enhance its core value proposition, which is a great looking floor at a leading price point that won’t let you down on performance. We see continued evolution in terms of design and features that are creating some amazing looks and furthering the value proposition of laminate.”

Other industry executives agree wholeheartedly. “It’s a wood product with the look and feel of solid hardwood but with less maintenance and more durability,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono. “It’s easier to install and offers a much healthier, sustainable environmental impact than many competing products.”

Part of that optimism, observers say, comes from evidence showing a continued shift in consumption by end-use channels. For example, in 2012, the new home construction market accounted for roughly 6.3% of laminate sales. But that has changed as more major home builders embrace the product category. FCNews research shows new residential construction accounted for 10% of sales, while the residential replacement sector maintained its share of nearly 88% of sales—consistent with its stake in 2012. Where the category has seen the biggest drop-off consumption-wise, however, is the commercial market. Estimated at 2.5% of category sales in 2012, laminate represented less than 0.2% of specified commercial in 2017. However, the Main Street market, which hasn’t moved the needle above 2.5% of sales since 2012, still seems to be popular among barber shops, boutiques and stores of that ilk.

“Laminate flooring has always been strongest in residential replacement, and this continued in 2017,” Inhaus’ Welbourn said. “We feel there has been an increase in new construction thanks to better designs.” But it’s the new home construction market where suppliers see the greatest potential. “We see a rapidly growing acceptance of laminate here,” Mannington’s Natkin said. In fact, he believes this sector may have accounted for as much as 15% of laminate sales last year. “Laminates have begun to take the place of entry-level hardwood in this sector.”

Changing channel dynamics
Just as end-use activity has changed in recent years, so has the sales activity as defined by distribution channel. FCNews research shows the specialty retail sector accounts for roughly one-third of category sales. What’s more, observers say, many of the laminate flooring products sold at this channel represent thicker, higher-margin items not typically sold at the average home center or mass merchant. Some observers feel specialty retail’s share was a bit higher than that. “We feel it might be as high as about 35%-36% given the growth in new home construction,” Natkin told FCNews.

Despite this optimism, however, the fact remains home centers and mass merchants still account for the bulk of laminate flooring sales. FCNews research shows Home Depot and Lowe’s increased their share of laminate sales to the tune of a combined 46%, up from 42% in 2017. That’s in keeping the big-box giants’ market share of laminate sales reported in 2012. Meanwhile, warehouse clubs, home décor outlets and the like accounted for roughly 10% of sales, down a few percentage points from 2016.

When it comes to actual profit margins, however, specialty retailers stand to emerge as the biggest beneficiaries. A cursory review of national home center laminate flooring pricing finds much of the products advertised target the $1.99-2.49 range, while many specialty retailers and buying group dealers concentrate on the mid-to-upper end of the price spectrum (those products retailing in the $3.49-$4.99 realm).

Price pressure from competing categories such as WPC, LVT and SPC, along with aggressive advertising promotions driving some of these categories, is also impacting how the traditional laminate customer views the product. “There is no doubt these hot categories have stolen growth from the laminate cate- gory and others,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “However, laminate is in a much better cost position than these plastic- based categories, and it is able to deliver some of the best value in the flooring business. This fact, along with continued innovation in the laminate category, has kept it competitive.”

As consumer preferences shift toward more hard surfaces being incorporated into the home, resilient flooring has seen an uptick in market share. The challenge for laminate flooring manufacturers, executives say, lies in improving upon water-resistant technology. This was evidenced by the various performance demonstrations conducted at Surfaces 2018. Proponents say it is only fitting given the innovations that originally inspired the creation of the laminate sector. Suppliers say enhancing these features certainly has created greater value for laminate flooring. “Additional focus on design continues in laminate with further enhanced textures and high-definition printing contributing to creating the best designs the laminate category has ever been able to offer,” Welbourn added.

Many concede that laminate—much like other flooring products—has lost some market share to WPC/rigid core (roughly $950 million in sales last year). But from the consumer’s perspective, suppliers believe laminate is still a viable product that’s relatively inexpensive and offers several key attributes end users are looking for—realistic-looking patterns and design with proven performance.

Imports vs. exports
The changing import vs. domestic production dynamic is palpable—so much so that many industry observers are seeing almost a complete reversal with respect to the traditional laminate product mix. While FCNews research showed the share of domestic production of laminate rising from 60% to 64% in 2016 (compared to imports’ market share decline from 41% to 36%), some believe that ratio is even more lopsided.

“The ratio appears to be shifting in favor of domestically produced laminate due to the increase in capacity that came online in 2017,” Shaw Floors’ Hash said. “We estimate closer to a 70/30 split between domestic and imported laminate, respectively, as domestic capacity continues to increase.”

Swiss Krono’s Bass has the domestic/import split closer to 60/40, respectively. But even he’s in agreement that German producers increased their share the past year. “I believe Europe’s share shifted from 14% to 19% while China’s share of the overall pie fell by double digits.”

To some industry experts, the dramatic drop in imports from China reflects a paradigm shift. “What we’re seeing is a preference for European and domestic supply,” Welbourn said. “As the domestic suppliers add capacity, the volume of imports will go down and the ratio of import vs. domestic will be reduced.”

Not everyone, however, believes the full impact of all this additional capacity is being felt at present. Some industry experts feel the biggest ripples are yet to come. “It really hasn’t had an impact yet because most of that new capacity has not yet come online,” Mohawk’s Farabee told FCNews. “We’re certainly seeing companies putting more capacity in the U.S., going after all the big- box customers in particular. This will continue as that capacity comes online.”

In some cases, this new capacity simply displaces product that had previously been made in Europe by those same companies that are now producing domestically, observers said. This phenomenon will likely put pressure on the remaining producers both in the U.S. and in Europe to be able to compete not only on price but also in terms of product performance and visuals. “It will be interesting to watch because there’s a lot of new capacity coming online in a category that’s not really growing,” Farabee said “However, we do expect some price pressure.”

The road ahead
In spite of the challenges facing the laminate sector, manufacturers believe laminates have a place in the market. “In some cases, we’ve lost sight of what makes laminate great—phenomenal realism, all bio-based, superior indentation and scratch resistance, and the fact the vast majority is made in the USA,” Natkin said. “Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Natkin is not alone. “We see continued growth for the laminate category at a pace between 2% and 5% in 2018,” Welbourn said. “We estimate as a whole will have a higher rate of growth as the housing sector continues to recover.”

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share, the fact remains it is still a viable option since its official entry into the U.S. marketplace more than 20 years ago. “As manufacturers, it’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits laminate flooring offers,” Mohawk’s Farabee pointed out. “It’s a wood-based product; it’s the most durable hard surface product outside of ceramic; it’s the easiest to install; it’s the most cost-effective product on an installed basis; and it offers the most realistic visuals of any replica product on the market.”

Barron Frith, president, CFL North America, maker of the Atroguard brand of laminate, concurs. “The bulletproof reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard more than four years ago. Today, many large players are getting into the game and pushing these products to their distributors. We believe the combined marketing power of the big players has already started bringing much attention to the category, and we would not be surprised to see a slightly stronger growth for the category in 2018.”

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Active families are no match for RevWood Plus

By Mara Bollettieri

Gabriel Rodriguez, manager of Carpet Liquidators, Everett, Wash., is in a unique position—he is both a retailer who sells Mohawk’s RevWood Plus flooring and a consumer who has used the product almost exclusively throughout his own home.

In many ways, Rodriguez fits the profile for the prototypical customer that Mohawk had in mind when it developed RevWood Plus. The store owner, along with his fiancée, have four pets (two cats and two dogs) and a 5-year-old son. A family of that size not only required a floor that can stand up to the rigors of an active household, but the owners also desired a product that was visually appealing. RevWood Plus’ waterproof attributes, trendy looks and All Pet Protection warranty—along with its ease of maintenance—proved to be the winning combination.

“The boards are made with Mohawk’s HydroSeal, which gives you the peace of mind for spills,” Rodriguez told FCNews. “There are LVT products out there that are waterproof, but LVT is not very strong. RevWood Plus has the best of both worlds.”

RevWood Plus’ highly touted scratch resistance, in particular, was a big draw for Rodriguez. Although his pets are house trained, there are occasional “accidents.” Then there’s junior, who often drips water all over the floors after bath time. But with RevWood Plus, Rodriguez is not at all concerned about water damage. “Not only does it look phenomenal, but it has just been holding up perfectly fine,” he explained. “I know the boards aren’t going to swell up, and I don’t worry that we’re going to have to replace all of the floors, which can cost a lot of money.”

True believer
There’s no shortage of laminate floors on the market that claim to be impervious to water damage. But Rodriguez knew he had a winner with RevWood Plus early on when he was introduced to the product by Mohawk reps who conducted training for his employees.

“They had this little display and they poured gallons of water onto it,” he told FCNews. “None of the water was getting through because the locking mechanism is

so tight; the boards aren’t exposed. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a phenomenal product.’”

Rodriguez’s fiancée is pleased with the floor as well, but more so for its aesthetic appeal. “Since I’m more of the flooring guy, I’m the one who really focuses on the performance,” he said. “She just loves how it looks.

The design is really great, and that’s one of her favorite things.”

The Rodriguez family is so confident in RevWood Plus that the product is installed in almost every room in their new home. “It’s literally installed everywhere,” he said. “Every bathroom, every closet.”

 

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What retailers need to know about RevWood

By Reginald Tucker

 

When it comes to positioning RevWood and RevWood Plus for maximum sales potential, product placement is key. Rather than grouping the product in with competing laminate floors—many of which retail on the lower end of the spectrum—Mohawk is advising its dealer partners to aim high. In other words, place RevWood displays on a more level playing field right alongside other hardwood flooring displays in the showroom.

“We realize retailers may be a little hesitant to do that, but it goes back to simplifying the retailers’ shopping experience,” said Angela Duke, director of brand marketing. “Our research shows dealers should group all their wood and wood-based products together, then take the consumer through her shopping journey based upon her performance requirements, lifestyle and then the benefits and features she is seeking.”

As Duke explains: “We know consumers—especially those with active families who have pets and kids—are looking for some type of performance product but still want the high-end wood look. Now we’re able to show them RevWood or RevWood Plus. But if a consumer says, ‘You know what, I’m not really concerned about scratches but I’m looking for a natural hardwood product.’ Then we can take them to our TecWood line, which is our engineered hardwood product. So having them all grouped together is beneficial for the retailer.”

Options galore
Of course, it can’t hurt when you offer dealers a compelling package of styles and visuals to sell. All RevWood/RevWood Plus collections are designed to address consumers’ aesthetic needs while providing the durability, performance and value homeowners crave. Each collection features the latest embossed-in-register technology and beveled edges for ultra-realistic detail.

Following is a snapshot of the initial patterns and designs:

Elderwood: This collection is available in four trending colors with distinctive knots and grain patterns. Elderwood provides a choice of sophisticated oak visuals in 12mm planks measuring 7 ½ inches wide x 54 11⁄32 inches long.

Antique Craft: Five color options in time-worn hardwood looks available in trending soft brown and gray tones in longer, wider planks spanning 9 7⁄16 inches x 80 ½ inches.

Sawmill Ridge: An ensemble of reclaimed hardwood visuals in four fashionable colors that coordinate with a variety of today’s design

styles. Natural wood character is enhanced with deep texture to high- light knots and varied grain patterns. Plus, Sawmill Ridge features radial saw marks, adding a rustic charm inspired by vintage hardwood planks produced by the early sawmills. Planks are 12mm thick, 6 1/8 inches wide x 47 1⁄4 inches long. Dealer excitement surrounding the project launch is evident in the number of displays that have been purchased thus far. According to Duke, more than 1,200 merchandisers have been shipped since the official launch at Surfaces 2018.

Mike Fleming, owner of Carpet Liquidators in Seattle, is a fan. “We’ve had some early success with it,” he told FCNews. “The styles and colors are out of this world, and that’s why we’re selling it.”

With respect to product placement, Fleming chooses to straddle the line. “Because we are a stocking dealer, we put RevWood toward the front of the store with laminate but next to the engineered hard- wood,” he said. “I was concerned about the price point because it gets into the engineered wood category; however, the styling and colors are just spot on.”

Mike Lekocaj, co-owner of Niko’s Import-Export, based in Ma- comb, Mich., is also a believer in RevWood. “It’s a very good product. What I like in particular are the width and the length—9 inches wide x 7 feet long. That’s what’s doing well with consumers. Mohawk did a very good job with the colors.”

With respect to placement, Lekocaj, follows Mohawk’s recommendation. “We have it right next to the wood section,” he said. “The younger generation seems to like it; they don’t care as much if it is laminate or wood as long as it looks good.”

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Extolling the performance attributes of RevWood Plus

“Wood without compromise.” That’s the overarching tagline and driving philosophy behind Mohawk’s new RevWood Plus collection—the step-up product to the entry-level RevWood line.

In developing RevWood Plus—an offering loaded with bells and whistles designed to boost performance attributes for end users and profits for dealers—Mohawk took into account the challenge active families face when evaluating wood flooring as an option for their homes. Compared to solid wood flooring, RevWood Plus aims to provide the solution for homeowners seeking stylish wood options that can perfectly accent any room design—all while meeting expectations that it will withstand the wear and tear active families place on their flooring.

“RevWood Plus is the premium offering in the line while RevWood is the opening price point,” Angela Duke, director of brand marketing, Mohawk Industries, explained. “It has more premium visuals, longer/wider planks and more textures, while RevWood features more of the commodity-type visuals. However, both brands feature state-of-the-art technology and are made in the U.S.”

Mohawk created RevWood Plus to deliverthe look and feel of authentic wood but providethe toughness and durability associated withlaminate flooring. The product boasts the abilityto keep spills, accidents and tracked-in stainmakers on the surface for quick and easy cleanup. What’s more, it is billed as a waterproof flooring system that’s scratch resistant.

Several distinct attributes of RevWood Plus work in conjunction to form what Mohawk calls a complete waterproof system. From the Uniclic MultiFit locking system to Mo- hawk’s GenuEdge pressed beveled edge and HydroSeal perimeter coating, these innovations are designed to trap liquids on the surface of the floor, thereby preventing damage to the core. The waterproof seal is so reliable, according to Mohawk, that consumers can even regularly wet mop a RevWood Plus floor—something unheard of with traditional laminate floors.

“With RevWood Plus, we have taken performance to the next level,” Duke said. “The combination of HydroSeal, GenuEdge bevel technology and the Uniclic glueless locking system—which keeps water from seeping past the joints—makes a complete waterproof sys- tem. On top of that, we are able to offer All Pet Protection as well. The end result is a product that’s much easier for the consumer to maintain.”

Mike Fleming, owner of Seattle-based Carpet Liquidators, has only had the product for about three months. But he likes what he’s seeing so far. “The waterproof story is a great feature for customers to do a trade-up sale in laminate vs. the [cheaper] competition in laminate,” he said.

And thanks to RevWood Plus’ environmentally friendly construction, it’s also a product that allows the homeowner to sleep easier—literally. “RevWood Plus products are low in VOCs, so it contributes to good indoor air quality as well,” Duke stated.

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RevWood—what’s it all about?

A whole new spin on traditional wood flooring

By Reginald Tucker

 

A revolutionary engineered flooring product that combines the look and feel of authentic wood with the tenacity of laminate. That’s how Mohawk Industries describes its new RevWood and RevWood Plus lines—a pair of collections tailored for consumers who desire the aesthetics real hard- wood offers without the hefty price tag associated with high-end wood or the limitations associated with natural wood products.

In essence, RevWood is billed as a revolutionary wood flooring (hence the “Rev” in “RevWood”) that’s built to withstand the rigors of today’s active households. The product, which features a laminate decorative layer bonded to an HDF engineered core, is designed to resist stains, scratches and dents while still rendering a realistic hardwood visual. While RevWood does not usher in an entirely new flooring category unto its own, the positioning of the product is intended to challenge typical consumer notions of how they perceive traditional laminate flooring products and engineered hardwood flooring.

Back in early 2017, Mohawk conducted extensive consumer research—including targeted focus groups and surveys—to determine how shoppers discern the differences between the various hard surface flooring products available today. The company also wanted to find out what factors consumers consider when making their final selections.

“Specifically, we wanted to know what they thought about wood, vinyl and laminate products,” said Angela Duke, director of brand marketing, Mohawk. “We learned from consumers that their shopping experience can be very complex and frustrating. Our main goal is to make shopping for flooring very easy and simple to understand, and that’s precisely what we’re doing with the launch of RevWood and RevWood Plus.”

Consumers who participated in Mohawk’s focus groups reviewed samples of laminate, vinyl and wood planks, and they were asked how they would categorize each product. The results, according to Duke, were enlightening. “In the consumers’ minds, they put a natural divide between vinyl and wood—there’s really no middle ground here. But when they

looked at the solid wood, engineered wood and laminated wood samples, consumers put them all in the same group.”

Based on those findings, Mohawk saw an opportunity—and seized it. “We capitalized on what we learned, and that led to the creation of the RevWood and RevWood Plus brands,” Duke explained. “We know consumers understand there’s prestige in hardwood, but they also have a hard time justifying paying a lot of money for a solid hardwood floor—nature’s ‘gold’ standard. It represents the highest quality in the mind of the consumers, but it’s also the highest cost. But wood is not as durable or scratch resistant as laminate, so consumers don’t get all the benefits.”

Making the mental leap from laminate to hardwood was not as difficult for consumers, Duke argues, because of the way Mohawk’s laminate products are constructed. “Our laminate products are mostly made up of wood,” she noted. “It wasn’t a big challenge for us to put laminate and engineered wood in the same category because the consumer automatically did that for us.”

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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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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

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

By Reginald Tucker  

 

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

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

Other industry observers agree laminate looks have been elevated to new heights.  “Laminate designs over the last couple of years have really evolved from what we’ve seen in years past,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk Industries. “The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you see in other categories such as ceramic, LVT and rigid core products.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the real thing

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

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

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

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

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Laminate: Do moisture-resistant claims hold water?

Observers debate merits of overplaying the ‘waterproof’ card

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share to red-hot products such as WPC, SPC and LVT, the fact remains it is still a viable option since its official entry into the U.S. marketplace more than 20 years ago. “As manufacturers, it’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits laminate flooring offers,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. “We’re asking consumers to take another look at the product category and great visuals and performance it offers. They can now have a premium wood look without any compromise. At Mohawk we are still very bullish about the product.”

Farabee is not alone in his assessment of the product’s capabilities. Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington, attests to both the category’s long history and reputation for durability, as well as the newfound focus on waterproof attributes. “In some cases, we’ve lost sight of what makes laminate great—phenomenal realism, all bio-based, superior indentation and scratch resistance, and the fact the vast majority is made in the USA. Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Other proponents are bullish on the category’s current position in the marketplace. “I think the laminate flooring industry is in a good place,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “It continues to enhance its core value proposition, which is a great-looking floor at a leading price point that won’t let you down on performance. We see continued evolution in terms of design and features that are creating some amazing looks and furthering the value proposition of laminate.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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