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Laminate: Retailers reveal profitable products

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 4.58.18 PMWith 2015 in its final months, retailers across the country are reporting a shift in the laminate category. While there is buzz about newer designs in LVT, particularly with a focus on hybrid products like WPC and EVP, many dealers are prospering in the laminate segment thanks to lack of competition in their particular markets. As such, laminate manufacturers have been vying to stand out in a sea of sameness by introducing wider planks, multi-widths and more creative patterns and designs. FCNews asked retailers about their best-selling products and what makes them unique.

Casey Dillabaugh

Dillabaugh’s Flooring America

Boise, Idaho

“Our best selling laminate is through our local distributor, T&A Supply. Their line, TAS at Home, is priced aggressively with looks that compare to the national ‘big boys.’ They offer lower pricing and better service than we get from a lot of national vendors for like products.”

 

Dawn Iversen

Jerry’s Floor Store, Fridley, Minn.

“Short, sweet and unanimous—Casabella for its good price points, newer colors and styles. Casabella is a private label brand from All Tile. In general, wider planks and dark rustic or glossy wood looks have been more popular.”

 

Troy Wonnacott

Bassett Carpets, Longmont, Colo.

“We use mainly three manufacturers for laminate: Quick-Step, Shaw and Evoke. They give us the most variety of price, quality and style. Representation from the manufacturer level has always been mandatory for us and those companies have knowledgeable, professional people who are always accessible. Far more important to us is the ability to know our customers can enjoy their new floors and we don’t need to lose sleep on the expectation of them calling us with any issues.”

 

Trent Schutte

Century, Grand Rapids, Mich.

“The laminates we sell the most of are Shaw and the Mannington Restoration Collection. These two lines have the best looks and we seldom have defects or claims with them.”Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 4.58.32 PM

 

Kevin Murray

Murray Floor & Window Coverings

Billings, Mont.

“Laminate is more of a commodity product so when we do sell it, it’s usually one from a local distributor. Bourbon Street from TAS at Home is probably our best seller.”

 

Steve Weisberg

Crest Flooring, Allentown, Pa.

“Quick-Step—it has the best locking system which is loved by our installers and do-it-yourselfers alike plus fashionable offerings which seem to be updated more often. Mannington’s handscraped products are in second place.”

 

Ron Rogers

America’s Carpet Barn

Traverse City, Mich.

“IVC Balterio laminate is my best selling laminate because of its water resistant technology and great looking patterns.”

 

Sam Chesher

Carpet Wise Flooring America

Longmont, Colo.

“Our best-selling products are both in the Flooring America’s Floorcraft display. In terms of square feet it’s Malagasy, a pad-attached product, and in terms of dollars it is Ossabaw Island, a 12 mil product. Having private labeled SKUs that are very well made gives our salespeople the confidence to show consumers the difference between quality and the big box offerings.”

 

Greg Loeffler

Pierce Flooring & Design

Missoula, Mont.

“Our best selling laminate is an import we buy through distribution called Bentley. It is an overall 12mm thick, multi-width product [available in] 3-, 5- and 7-inch widths sold to us through T&A Supply out of Kent, Wash. The look is a combination of quarter sawn and scrape, which is very appealing in our market today.”

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Carlton Billingsley

Floors & More, Benton, Ark.

“We work with our local distributor, Adleta, to source our laminate called Bella Cera. The product is very well made and in compliance with all current regulations. We have the product available each morning from our distributor for pick-up with delivery twice a week on their company truck. Pricing is very competitive and we have great support from our friends and vendors at Adleta. Our customers have been very responsive to larger display panels when shopping and we have had zero complaints of manufacturing defects.”

 

Denise Smith

FA Design Build

Fairfax, Va.

“Our best selling laminate is Armstrong’s Coastal Living in Oyster Bay Pine. We have it displayed on our showroom floor in a kitchen vignette that greets you as you walk through the front door. Because the kitchen speaks perfectly to the transitional taste of so many of our customers, it is very popular.”

 

Paul Riemer

Riemer Floors

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

“We classify USFloors COREtec as a laminate and it is our best seller due to a core that can go over ceramic without removal. In true laminate it is Armstrong’s Grand Illusions for its visuals, price point and durability.”

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Laminate: Positioning helps consumers find the right fit

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.43.23 PMDespite recent rumors about the demise of the category, a majority of manufacturers and dealers in the industry agree that laminate isn’t going anywhere. In fact, laminate flooring remains a viable option today, offering benefits such as ease of maintenance, wear resistance, durability and designs that mimic stone, tile and hardwood at affordable prices. Although the product has enough desirable features to impress consumers on its own, dealers often tout its advantages when compared to hardwood, resilient and ceramic.

Positioning laminate, however, is not about which flooring segment is better; instead it is about finding the right fit for the customer’s needs. A combination of her lifestyle, family, desires, tastes and budget will determine whether laminate is the right product for the application.

“Your job as a salesperson is to fulfill needs,” said Mark Nassis, partner at Woodchuck Flooring in Toronto. “When a customer comes in, the first thing you should do is figure out where the floor is being installed, what color she’s looking for, if she prefers graining vs. no graining, etc. From there you can ask about wide boards vs. narrow boards. The last thing you talk about is budget; then you steer her to the right floor for the right [amount of] money.”

Customers look for salespeople who can ease the shopping experience and share their knowledge without overwhelming them. Al Capaul, president of Capauls Floor Covering, with two Wisconsin locations, does not have a preference when directing customers toward product; rather, he makes suggestions based on initial questions. “They usually come in and don’t know what they want. We ask how many people are in the household, how many pets there are, if there are any kids. For the most part laminate meets their expectations—we don’t push them one way or another.”

Some customers walk in looking specifically for laminate because they’ve already had a positive experience with it, but others are steered toward it without a dealer even mentioning the category. “Laminate falls into a certain price point—it’s all about what they can afford,” said Brad Coty, sales manager at Carpet Brokers of Missoula in Missoula, Mont. Aside from price, “a lot of laminate jobs [come about] because people like the way it cleans. You don’t have to spend a bunch of time with it and that’s usually a main selling point.”

Laminate vs. hardwood

Many consumers go to local dealers with hardwood in mind and end up purchasing laminate. Why? These customers usually like the idea of real wood, but scale down to just the wood visual when they realize the price difference. Laminate offers the same looks at a more affordable price, along with Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.43.39 PMresistance to indentations, wear and tear, and high traffic.

“When they understand how expensive some hardwoods are, customers often change their minds,” Coty said. “You can get some exotic wood looks in laminate such as acacia or a unique walnut for $3.95 a foot, whereas the real wood might cost $8 or $9 a foot.”

Laminate has become a price-point product, which means someone with a lower budget might opt for wood looks with better wear characteristics as opposed to the real thing. But for higher-end customers who understand what their homes are worth, “they’re getting hardwood, not a synthetic product,” Coty continued. The exception is a high-end customer with pets or kids who prefers the practicality of laminate.

With digital printing and advancements in technology, customers often cannot decipher between real wood and laminate, especially in recent years during which realistic aesthetics, textures, and wider and longer planks have been trending. “A lot of the newer products are doing better because the visuals have changed to look more on-trend with new rustic patterns and more realism in textures,” Capaul said. “That has helped keep [laminate] around, especially with the different species they are now offering.”

Laminate vs. resilient

LVT is available at a similar price point to laminate, but the latter carries multiple advantages over vinyl, including dimensional stability and environmental friendliness. Still, LVT has been putting fire under laminate because

dealers and manufacturers alike have cited laminate’s reaction to spills and moisture as a major weakness. As a result, a number of laminate manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to one-up flooring’s hottest category.

“The LVT market is getting pretty big and laminate is losing ground because of the moisture aspect of it,” Capaul said. “The moisture issue is probably the largest thing to overcome.” To address this concern, newer laminate products feature highly advanced coating technology to ensure spills don’t affect the product, compromise its locking system or cause lifting, gapping and installation-related Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.43.30 PMproblems.

In addition, manufacturers are focusing on laminate’s visuals beyond trending colors and patterns. Edge treatments allowing designs to roll over the surface, matte finishes, multi-length and multi-width planks, mixed species, and high visual counts that decrease pattern repeats and create more randomness all add to the category’s aesthetic appeal.

 Laminate vs. ceramic

Laminate can emulate stone’s elegance while maintaining its warmth. Consumers often gravitate toward laminate products with visuals that mimic those found in ceramic or porcelain because of the ease of maintenance and durability associated with laminate. State-of-the-art technology also allows for more realism when it comes to tile looks, offering popular sizes such as 12 x 24, modular formats, sophisticated textures and depth similar to real tile.

Laminate and ceramic or porcelain tile come in wood and stone looks, and both categories are popular options for kitchens and bathrooms, but laminate’s advantages over tile are clear. First, it is much easier to clean because consumers don’t have to worry about scrubbing grout lines. Next, it is significantly warmer and more comfortable underfoot; tile tends to feel cold, which can mean the difference between wearing shoes and walking barefoot in a home. Laminate is also exceptionally durable yet still safe for kids, a plus for families with active lifestyles. Lastly, laminate’s floating options and locking systems save installation time and cost. 

Showroom layout

How product is positioned in a showroom can make all the difference when it comes to closing a sale. If the customer is overwhelmed or cannot visualize the product in her home, she will make her way to another dealer nearby who may better facilitate her purchase process. Because consumers are looking for certain styles and designs rather than a specific product type, successful retailers place laminate in its own section on the floor.

Retailers encourage shoppers to look at large samples, allowing them to see patterns across bigger spaces. Small samples make it difficult for the consumer to picture a product throughout an entire floor. Having various laminate selections installed on the showroom floor allows consumers to see products as they would look in a home. Walking on large samples also allows consumers to feel the textures in each offering.

Woodchuck Flooring’s showroom resembles an art gallery; there are no racks. Instead, large samples are lined along each wall and can easily be taken down and placed on the floor. “As far as side-by-side comparison, we put samples down and let customers walk on them,” Nassis said. “We also let customers take samples home to see how they like it in their spaces. Sometimes they may like a product in the showroom but may not like it in their own lighting and vice versa.” Instead of giving out small samples, customers can sign out full boards for a deposit, which is given back once the boards are returned. “It gives them a good representation of what they’re going to get.”

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Laminate: Manufacturers go beyond style, design to ‘reinvent’

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4 

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.51.08 AM With LVT continuing to rise as flooring’s hottest segment, laminate manufacturers have stepped up their R&D game to keep pace. Some have completely refreshed the category with new looks and textures, while others have specifically targeted the product’s moisture-related issues.

“There are a lot of people crying the fall of laminate because of LVT, but we’re finding that is not necessarily true,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington. “When you look at the wear resistance, visual realism and the fact that laminate is still more environmentally friendly than others, there’s still a great market for it. Newer products aimed at hitting laminate harder have some of the same [vulnerabilities] when it comes to dimensional stability and indentations. Laminate will remain an extremely viable category for a long time.”

Moisture resistance

Dealers and manufacturers alike have, in the past, cited moisture as the one Achilles heel of laminate, and a number of companies have developed a solution, allowing it to directly compete with LVT. For example, Mannington has “invested in new technology behind the scenes that will rival LVT,” Natkin said.

Balterio, IVC US’ wood-look waterproof laminate, has become a favorite among dealers because of its moisture-resistant capabilities and affordability. The collection is divided into three style categories—Traditions, Heritage and Metropolitan—and offers varying plank sizes.

Quick-Step’s latest introduction, Envique, which was previewed at The International Surface Event (TISE), comes with a 24-hour spill claim designed to specifically go after LVT and WPC. Envique combines the patented Uniclic glueless installation locking system with a proprietary coating technology, resulting in a product that won’t incur damage from any household spill that sits for up to 24 hours.

“It’s unique because with most laminate floors—depending on how they are made or their locking systems—if you spill something, the liquid will penetrate the joint in less than an hour, maybe even minutes,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Unilin/ Mohawk Hard Surfaces. “It can absorb into the product and create lifting, gapping and other problems. We wanted to add this feature to the product without taking away any benefits to give [customers] that extra level of confidence.”Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.51.01 AM

Visual elements

Quick-Step is also raising the bar when it comes to aesthetics; not only does Envique feature complex design elements but it also has very deep surface structures. “We pride ourselves on having the best looks but are always challenging ourselves to increase the level of realism,” Farabee said. As a result, the feel of real wood enhances Envique’s visuals. With its unique edge treatment using GenuEdge technology, the edge of the product can be completed by pressing rather than milling, allowing the design to roll right over the surface and making the planks “fit the exact profile of the wood species we’re going after,” he continued.

For example, the collection’s Summer Pine option features an unstained pine look with deep wire brushing so the finished product “feels like hardwood in terms of its matte surface structure and subtle roughness.”

At Armstrong, a combination of multi-width and multi-length planks, mixed species and high visual counts take laminate to the next level. “We’ve added various dimensions to the product beyond the realistic print and texture,” said Brian Parker, laminate product manager. “These elements create randomness in the layout on the floor to make it look more like the real product or medium—whether it is stone or concrete—you’re trying to emulate.”

Wider planks are currently on-trend, so a number of the company’s laminate collections feature a mix of planks of different widths and lengths within the same design. Also within one design is the look of multiple species, creating more variation and enhancing randomness and realism. Whereas other laminates typically have six to eight unique visuals before the pattern repeats, Armstrong’s laminate features two, three and sometimes even four times that amount.

“If you have heavy character that’s easy to notice and distinguishable, it may look very realistic, but if the pattern has six to eight unique visuals you will easily notice the pattern repeat,” Parker said. “It can look like wood but once you see the pattern repeat you know it’s laminate.” Woodland Reclaim, the manufacturer’s best-selling product within its entire laminate portfolio, is part of Architectural Remnants and incorporates all three design elements with multi-width planks, a high visual count and nine species.

Technology

Inhaus, the North American sales and marketing arm of global manufacturer Classen, uses high-speed definition digital printing to produce its laminate. The technology saves development time, allowing the company to bring new designs to market at a much faster pace. “It is an art, not a science, and it is an expertise that we didn’t traditionally have,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “We now have the technical ability to create an infinite number of planks which translates to no repeats. This isn’t quite perfected yet, but it is only a matter of time. It enables us to create designs with more dramatic features that won’t show the repeats when installed.”

Positioning in marketplace

BerryAlloc, which offers a variety of higher-quality product, positions laminate as a category with its “own merits, own pace and own price structure,” said Steve Roan, sales and marketing director, North America, Beaulieu Flooring Solutions USA. Roan believes with all of laminate’s benefits, including its visuals, durability, scratch resistance and ease of maintenance, the product delivers what the customer is looking for in particular rather than acting as an alternative to hardwood.Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.50.48 AM

On the other hand, Kronotex USA positions its American Concepts brand as a value product with a focus on being the best alternative to hardwood for price-conscious families with kids and dogs. “Our laminate is increasingly sophisticated in look and feel, much like hardwood,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “Laminate remains the only hard surface category that truly looks, feels and sounds like solid wood, primarily because it is created from a wood core. When you look at what goes into the planks, laminate is a wood product. LVT is plastic, made from crude oil.”

Merchandising matters

Parker noted three key factors that go into display systems based on feedback from dealers: the right size, large samples and simplicity. Having the right size display is important because if it is too tall, it will disrupt the line of sight for customers and they won’t be able to span the room. In addition, if it is the right size it can go anywhere in the store vs. being limited to a wall.

Sample sizes are vital as well; when merchandising products with higher visual counts and multiple species, larger samples are ideal to communicate the message. “Larger samples help the consumer see the variations in the design and visualize it better in her home,” Parker said.

Lastly, the display should be simple to sell, featuring products of similar price points and a sales story that resonates with the sales team.

As manufacturers refresh their laminate offerings, they are also putting more resources into helping their dealers sell more product. BerryAlloc, for example, is focusing on installation education through a partnership with the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), while Kronotex USA is emphasizing to its dealers the differences between laminate and LVT and what goes into creating both products.

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Laminate: Category continues to hold its own amid pressures

June 29; Volume 30/Number 1

By Nadia Ramlakhan

While the laminate segment seems to be the category most vulnerable to the onslaught of LVT and, more recently, WPC (wood plastic composite or wood polymer composite), it is still holding its own. Yes, the gains of the mid-2000s are long gone, but rumors of the category’s demise are greatly overstated. In fact, FCNews research reveals the segment has posted the slightest of gains in dollars in each of the last three years and in volume for six consecutive years.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 3.39.00 PMOf course, throughout the years we have seen laminate prices plummet with an average selling price down from $1.30 in 2006 to $1.05 in 2013. The good news is there seems to be some stabilization as specialty flooring retailers concentrate on selling higher-end goods to make up for the increasing volume through the home center channel and Lumber Liquidators. In fact, FCNews actually shows the category up a penny to $1.06 in 2014.

“This indicates to us that consumers are willing to pay a bit more for innovation and design, which they weren’t a few years ago,” said Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA). “We are coming out of a horrible recession and real estate is moving so people are increasing their budgets, especially for home improvement.”

More specifically, FCNews research found that sales in 2014 increased 1.1% to $1.135 billion, up slightly from $1.123 billion in 2013. In terms of volume, the category was generally flat in 2014, rising 0.6% to 1.066 billion square feet from 1.06 billion in 2013.

Further testament to laminate’s challenges lies in market share. In 2014 it commanded a 5.8% share of the total flooring market in dollars, down from 6% in 2013, 6.4% in 2012, 6.6% in 2011 and 6.9% in 2010. The overall market share decline in square footage parallels dollars as its 6% share in 2014 and 2013 is down from 6.2% in 2012 and 2011.

What was once a category that was primarily comprised of imported product, laminate is now nearly two-thirds domestic thanks to Mohawk/Unilin and Mannington plants in North Carolina along with the Kronotex facility in South Carolina. Then there are the Shaw and Faus facilities in Georgia. Add Clarion in Pennsylvania, which manufactures a plethora of private-label brScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 3.39.09 PMands, and domestic laminate production is strong.

China is still responsible for the largest portion of imported product, estimated to account for about 70% of all imports. Germany is a very distant second with between 10% and 15% share of all laminate flooring imports.

The most significant reason for laminate’s lack of movement is product competition, notably from LVT, which served as laminate’s main opponent in 2014. Although an increasing number of styles can be created through advancements in digital printing technology and manufacturing processes, the waterproof features of LVT give it an advantage over the sophisticated designs of laminate. Other competitors include new hybrid products, such as COREtec from USFloors, which offer a durable and affordable alternative.

“The category is under a lot of pressure,” said Steve Roan, sales and marketing director, North America, Beaulieu Flooring Solutions USA. “But the people who think laminate is going to go away are incorrect. It definitely has a place in the market; as new products come in it needs to adapt, and we’re making changes to quality and design.”

Other industry leaders believe that LVT has hindered the growth of laminate more than anything, leaving little room for expansion. “The laminate business has been very stable for the last three to four years,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Kronotex USA. “I would say we have missed growth more than we have lost share. Maybe laminate would have grown if LVT didn’t come on as strong, but on the other hand we didn’t lose.”

Push toward higher end

Joe Bondi, vice president, residential, Armstrong Floor Products North America, added, “Laminate sales were hampered last year by the sluggish start in the remodel market and competition from LVT, but benefited from improved style and design on the higher end which helped increase the average unit value on the units sold.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 3.39.19 PMBig box stores still take the cake when it comes to sales volume, with specialty retail representing 30% of the market. This is due to home centers’ appeal to customers who want lower priced products, whereas specialty retailers are known for their expertise; the shift toward high-end products allows retailers to compete on customer service and knowledgeable staffs rather than price. “When consumers are looking for a vScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 3.39.31 PMalue product, they are trained to look to the big box,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias-Wilf, a top 20 distributor. “When they’re looking for something they want installed or if they’ve got a little more discerning taste, they typically go to a flooring retailer.”

For most dealers 12 mil offerings seem to be the sweet spot, giving customers an ideal option in a good/better/best scenario as opposed to choices being driven by price. In addition, dealers can offer unique and on-trend products including reclaimed wood looks, wider widths, longer planks, lighter colors and textured surfaces such as embossed-in-register selections. Compared with other resilient alternatives, premium laminates usually offer the most realistic visuals on the market, experts said, often confused with real wood.

“Specialty retailers continue to gain ground by focusing on high fashion options and a variety of constructions and visuals,” Bondi said. “With premium laminate, customers can’t believe it’s not wood. Quality laminate still has that advantage, as well as performance benefits due to its scratch-resistant nature.”

Newfound opportunities

It came as no surprise that the laminate category remained predominant in the remodel market last year. What was unexpected, however, was that it also had some penetration in the builder segment with builders opening up to the possibility of installing the product as an entry-level or first-upgrade option. Its easy installation features make it ideal for installers to get the floor in place in a timely manner before bringing in other furnishings. Builders also consider laminate an ideal product for replacement; while it used to be difficult to replace a damaged floor, most of the training now centers around replacing a single plank.

“The remodel market was still a little tepid in 2014 although it got stronger in the second half,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington. “In a new home, 8-inch wide laminate looks almost like the real thing and is more scratch resistant. As a result, more builders are open to considering it.”

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Laminate: Dealers find new methods to generate profit

June 8/15, 2015; Volume 30/Number 1

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.31.47 PM Although laminate seems to have lost some of its popularity—due in part to the rise of competing products, namely LVT—the category still carries with it a number of benefits that appealed to consumers in the first place: durability, ease of maintenance and simplified installation. Retailers who still generate a large profit from laminate focus on its advantages, along with exceptional customer service, training and attention to detail that comes with owning a specialty floor covering store.

One—and maybe the only—major drawback of laminate is its susceptibility to water and moisture, which can often cause swelling at the joints. While LVT offers a waterproof solution, some laminate manufacturers have taken on the challenge in order to keep up.

“Durability is the key with laminate,” said Ron Rogers, founder of America’s Carpet Barn in Traverse City, Mich. “But if an ice cube melts on the seam, it’ll ruin it. Right now we are only selling Balterio from IVC—it’s waterproof and I think that’s going to be the only thing to save laminate flooring. When IVC combined durability with waterproof features, it took off like wildfire.” Rogers also noted that Balterio is very affordable, allowing it to compete with the various types of LVT on the market today.

Independent flooring dealers provide a personalized shopping experience for the customer, a perk specialty retailers should optimize when selling laminate. While big box stores and major home centers are known for low prices, it is recommended that retailers stop competing with major outlets altogether and concentrate on delivering a simple, easy and painless buying process for the customer.

“The best thing a specialty retailer can do is stop trying to compete with the big boxes and focus on selling their strengths,” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for the flooring division of RC Willey Home Furnishings, with multiple locations throughout Utah, Nevada, California and Idaho. “They should staff professional sales associates who can correctly qualify the consumer to products that best meet her needs. Consumers will gladly spend a little extra to have a great shopping experience.”

Despite recent allegations against Lumber Liquidators and Lowe’s claiming their laminate flooring contained high levels of formaldehyde, laminate sales haven’t dramatically declined. In fact, the curiosity and concern sparked by the news helped some retailers in differentiating their product assortments. “I think the Lumber Liquidators exposé has actually helped specialty retailers sell better goods,” Mondragon said. “Consumers now question the origin of product and are no longer making buying decisions based on price alone.”

At RC Willey, laminate sales have iScreen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.31.41 PMncreased by 20% over last year, although units are down 13%. This translates to consumers opting to buy higher- grade laminate. The sentiment is the same at America’s Carpet Barn, where laminate offerings consist only of high-end product, benefitting both the business and the customer.

“I make a nice profit out of laminate because I don’t offer the lower end,” Rogers said. “The key is to only offer the nicer laminates and make it about quality instead of price points. We don’t sell $0.69 or $0.99 laminates because we wouldn’t make money if we did, and those are the ones we typically have issues with. We don’t want our customers to have problems so it’s not worth it.”

When it comes to selling, dealers agree that laminate has a story to fit multiple consumer needs. Whether she is trying to maintain a clean home while juggling an active lifestyle or wants the latest styles and designs without incurring the high cost, the category attracts all kinds of consumers as its visuals have evolved over time. No longer targeted toward the budget-conscious, first-time homeowner, new technology and sophisticated looks have made laminate an ideal fit for a larger audience, opening the doors to new opportunities for retailers to profit.

“Initially laminate was all the same regardless of the manufacturer; it was a wood plank look,” said Dawn Iversen, president and owner of Jerry’s Floor Store in Fridley, Minn. “Since then it has expanded into stone, different sized tiles—even patterns of stone mixed in with wood. As the product category was growing, we started to see the return of our past customers. A few years ago it may have been the younger customer attracted to the price but with the evolution of style and design, 40- to 50-year-olds are coming in interested in the product.”

Iversen makes sure to promote all of laminate’s advantages including those that come with the forgiving nature of the material, allowing it to be installed over existing products. “Instead of tearing out underlayments and tearing the customer’s home apart, laminate is a better solution,” she continued. “It takes less time and is less of a headache. It could cost several hundred dollars or more for some units to accept a new sheet vinyl, whereas laminate floors may be installed over existing conditions. It offers a more efficient solution and could be cheaper for the customer in the end.”

Another surefire way to generate a larger profit from laminate is to simply have it in stock. Product that is ready for immediate installation is desirable for customers who want to make the process as easy as possible. Jeff Macco, co-owner of Macco’s Floor Covering, with multiple locations throughout Wisconsin, has a designated area in the showroom for in-stock products, in addition to manufacturer displays. By ordering them truckloads at a time, Macco is able to offer customers a better value. “The items that we inventory really give us a competitive advantage. The goal is to show our inventoried products first and explain to our customers that it’s the best value for them. They like that it’s readily available, plus it’s much cheaper.” This tactic allows Macco’s to compete with the pricing of big box stores without having to offer lower grade materials.

 

 

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Laminate: How display methods ease the shopping experience

April 13/20, 2015; Volume 29/Number 1

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 5.44.16 PM The techniques retailers use to display products can oftentimes make or break a sale, especially when it comes to laminate. With the attention span of today’s consumers dwindling by the day, sales associates only have a few minutes to make an impression. It doesn’t matter how durable or scratch resistant laminate is—if a customer can’t visualize a product in her home right away, or if the display space is too cluttered and overwhelming, she’ll be on to the next one in no time.

“The whole objective is to simplify [the process],” said Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer for the flooring division of RC Willey Home Furnishings with multiple locations throughout Utah, Nevada, California and Idaho. “It can get very confusing with the amount of choices customers have today. We have to narrow down the best products from quality [manufacturers] and make the shopping experience easier for customers.”

Most retailers recommend having large samples on display in the showroom, giving potential buyers a better and more realistic idea of how certain looks play out in a larger space, whereas with smaller samples it can be a challenge to picture a product covering an entire floor. However, because larger samples are difficult to handle, it is also a good idea to keep smaller swatches available.

“Customers like large samples because they give them the ability to visualize what it’s going to look like in their own homes,” Mondragon said. “But because they are so large, customers aren’t eager to take them home. It serves both purposes as far as visuals and keeping samples on the floor.”

Surprisingly, retailers who sell large amounts of laminate don’t position the category against hardwood. Instead, laminate usually makes up its own section on the floor within the hard surface area. One reason for this placement is cScreen Shot 2015-05-29 at 5.44.07 PMonsumers aren’t shopping based on materials or product types; they are typically looking for a particular style or appearance. “Consumers come in to find a certain visual,” Mondragon continued. “Then depending on their lifestyles we qualify them to a product we feel will fit their needs and give them options from there.”

Ron Rogers, founder of America’s Carpet Barn in Traverse City, Mich., believes “it’s a generational thing” and that customers either want hardwood or laminate—not both. “They are two totally different customers. The younger people want laminate, the older ones want hardwood, and since there aren’t many older people in the market the laminate outsells the hardwood by far.”

For some retailers the merchandising process begins before they even choose suppliers. Eric Langan, owner of Carpetland USA in Davenport, Iowa, carefully decides which companies to work with so that when it comes to displays, he doesn’t have to make the decisions. “We’re selective with who we partner with. But once we make that decision, each manufacturer has a good variety of samples on their displays. They do most of the work for you.”

Although manufacturer displays tend to offer a range of colors and sizes, other dealers take matters into their own hands and provide their own displays to complement them. Dawn Iversen, president and owner of Jerry’s Floor Store in Fridley, Minn., has a system of her own generic displays that carry entry level or value-based products. “We’ll fit a mixture of a couple styles of laminate, maybe a couple prefinished woods or a few tiles at a lower price point in theScreen Shot 2015-05-29 at 5.44.00 PMre, and keep them primarily in the hard surface area.”

Mondragon said his custom displays are what make his business successful. Since real estate is limited in the 3,500-square-foot showroom space, he uses one merchandising system throughout the store in which each manufacturer makes custom samples to fit. The displays hold 15 large sample boards 20 to 25 inches wide by 31 inches in length, with seven on each side and one in the center.

“Typically any time you have a supplier’s full display unit out, 80% of it doesn’t get sold,” he noted. “I take the 20% that I normally would sell and put those in my displays.”

Each company has its own display (some have two) and makes a header to fit. After reviewing sales every few months, Mondragon and the manufacturer decide together which boards need to be replaced.

When a customer walks into America’s Carpet Barn, she immediately sees laminates lined along the entire 35-foot-long right side wall. This approach was inspired by a trip to Las Vegas during which Rogers saw a similar set up from a carpet mill. Since this kind of display wasn’t for sale, Rogers glues Velcro to the back of the boards and sticks them onto a carpeted wall. Using this method, customers can easily pull samples off the wall and set them down on the floor.

Rogers encourages retailers to use actual product as opposed to manufacturer samples, which do not show end joints, he said. By snapping a few boards together, customers can actually see the product installed with seams. Since beginning to display its laminate products on the wall three years ago, Carpet Barn’s category sales have increased three fold. “When people walk in they see this wall of laminates and say, ‘Wow! This is nice.’ They spend a lot of time looking instead of quickly browsing through.”

All of Rogers’ bases are covered with a 10-foot wide section of laminate also installed on the floor. He has customers walk on his best sellers while examining their options and when they are done they can peruse through four 4 x 8 tables with four types of laminate installed on each. “This section is meant to be used as a workshop; customers can snap and unsnap the boards. They love to feel it and look down at it because that’s the way they’re going to see it in their homes.”

Successful retailers emphasized that an important thing for fellow dealers to remember is a customer is not going to want to purchase something she cannot see. Langan, for example, suggests putting as many products on the floor as possible without creating clutter. “You give yourself a good advantage if you put as much as possible out on the floor. You want to give them as many options as you can.”

 

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Lumber Liquidators, Lowe’s halt sales of Chinese laminate

May 11/18, 2015; Volume 29/Number 3 

By Ken Ryan

Lowe's laminate storeTwo months after a damning report of its Chinese laminate flooring products, Lumber Liquidators announced it is pulling all of its Chinese-made laminate flooring, effectively immediately. In a related announcement, it has brought on former FBI director Louis Freeh to help review its sourcing procedures amid widespread concern over the safety of its products.

The Lumber Liquidators decision on May 7 was followed by Lowe’s announcement six days later that it was halting sales of some of its Chinese-made laminate flooring “out of an abundance of caution” after a financial blogger said that it may have the same issues with formaldehyde that have been plaguing Lumber Liquidators. The company plans to source all of its laminate products from the U.S. starting in January.

Lowe’s said it would conduct independent testing on the products in question. In a recent post on the Seeking Alpha blog, Xuhua Zhou, who acknowledges he is a short seller of Lowe’s stock, cited testing performed by an anonymous industry source that allegedly shows high levels of formaldehyde in a sample of laminate flooring purchased from Lowe’s.

In an interview with FCNews, Zhou said it was “very encouraging” to see how fast Lowe’s acted. “It was easy—almost a no brainer—for them once it reached the decision makers,” Zhou said. “[My] story was more about adding a piece to the puzzle and raising some issues that seem to be generally neglected by the media due to all the attention on Lumber Liquidators.”

Lumber Liquidators is pulling all Chinese laminate from its 356 stores.In addition to its laminate woes, the company is facing possible criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice related to some hardwood flooring products it imported from Russia.

The company is also bringing on Freeh Group International Solutions LLC, founded by Louis Freeh, the former FBI director and federal judge, to help in reviewing its sourcing and compliance policies.

Lumber Liquidators has historically sourced most of its laminate flooring from Chinese suppliers, though it has been scaling back in recent years. Since the “60 Minutes” segment aired, sales of laminate flooring, particularly those from China, have fallen amid customer concerns.

In 2014, Chinese-sourced laminate made up 13.1% of Lumber Liquidators’ overall sales. That figure fell to 12.5% during the first three months of the year and to 10.4% during April, according to company reports.

Flooring makes up just 6% of Lowe’s sales, and less than 10% of its laminate product is manufactured outside the U.S., according to the company.

Armstrong sells a small amount of laminate flooring at Lowe’s, under both the Armstrong and Bruce brand names. “None of the potentially non-compliant laminate products identified have been an Armstrong or Bruce product, which is consistent with our proven track record of safety, reliability and trust as a U.S. company that has done business for more than 150 years,” said Joe Bondi, vice president and general manager at Armstrong World Industries. “We’re committed to providing the best quality, safest products for our customers every day. We are confident that our laminate products meet or exceed all applicable standards, just as they always have. We source laminate flooring for both Bruce and Armstrong brands, made to our specifications, from a select group of approved suppliers.”

A check of the Lowe’s Garden City, N.Y., store on May 9 found no cartons of Armstrong laminate, and a very small amount of Bruce. Pergo made up the bulk of the assortment, along with private label brands.

The dual moves by Lumber Liquidators and Lowe’s is seen as potentially helping U.S.-based flooring manufacturers who comply with CARB standards, as well independent flooring dealers who can further differentiate their offerings.

Carpet Wise Flooring America, in Longmont, Colo., sits just 250 feet away from a Lumber Liquidators. Since the March 1 airing of the “60 Minutes” report, owner Sam Chesher said his business has flourished. “Flooring America was smart. As soon as the story broke, they came by with Made in the USA flags to put out. I don’t get into their game of $1.09 laminate, 79-cent laminate. We stand on our principals of quality, Made in the USA. In a way, I love having them next to me. I’ve had probably the strongest quarter ever in my 20 years here on the hard surface side.”

The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) was quick to assure retailers that laminate flooring products carrying the NALFA Certification Seal of approval have passed rigorous ANSI performance tests for quality and are also CARB 2 compliant. “Ultimately, we want consumers to have peace of mind that the products they place in their homes are safe,” said Bill Dearing, president of NALFA. “When retailers place NALFA certified products on their shelves that goal is achieved and both retailers and their customers can rest assured that a good decision has been made.”

Zhou told FCNews he does not believe there is anything inherently wrong with Chinese-made laminate flooring. “I don’t think the source of laminate is the issue here, it’s more about if the finished products are compliant with regulations and safe for use,” he said. “Aside from the California standard, the regulatory framework on formaldehyde is still a work in progress.”

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Lumber Liquidators halts sales of all Chinese laminate

Flooring upstart bucks recession

Toano, Va.—Lumber Liquidators is pulling all of its Chinese-made laminate flooring, effective immediately, and has brought on a former FBI director to review its sourcing procedures amid widespread concern over the safety of its products.

The directive to pull all Chinese laminate went out on May 6 to the company’s 356 stores.

The move follows the “60 Minutes” segment that alleged the retailer sold Chinese-made laminate flooring containing levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, that exceeded California emissions standards. In addition, the company is facing possible criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice related to some hardwood flooring products it imported from Russia.

Lumber Liquidators is bringing on Freeh Group International Solutions, founded by Louis Freeh, the former FBI director and federal judge, to help in reviewing its sourcing and compliance policies.

Lumber Liquidators has historically sourced most of its laminate flooring from Chinese suppliers, though it has been scaling back in recent years. Since the “60 Minutes” segment aired, sales of laminate flooring, particularly those from China, have fallen amid customer concerns.

In 2014, Chinese-sourced laminate made up 13.1% of Lumber Liquidators’ overall sales. That figure fell to 12.5% during the first three months of the year and to 10.4% during the month of April, according to company reports.

In a statement, Lumber Liquidators said, “Based on the review to date, it appears that the company’s Chinese laminate flooring suppliers have sold product to the company that the suppliers have certified and labeled as compliant with California formaldehyde standards. However, we are further reviewing the underlying certification and labeling processes and practices of our suppliers. In light of this and mounting industry concerns relating to laminate products sourced from China, the company this week decided to suspend sales of all laminate flooring sourced from China pending completion of the Special Committee’s review.”

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NALFA Certification provides quality, CARB compliant laminate

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.56.11 AMWashington, D.C.—In light of recent news stating Lowe’s has halted sales of some of its Chinese manufactured laminate flooring products, the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) assures retailers that laminate flooring products carrying the NALFA Certification Seal of approval have passed rigorous ANSI performance tests for quality and are also CARB 2 compliant.

“Ultimately, we want consumers to have peace of mind that the products they place in their homes are safe,” said Bill Dearing, president of NALFA. “When retailers place NALFA certified products on their shelves that goal is achieved and both retailers and their customers can rest assured that a good decision has been made.”

Prior to earning the NALFA Certification Seal, laminate floors must pass a series of 10 rigorous performance tests including static load, thickness swell, light resistance, cleanability and stain resistance, large ball resistance, small ball resistance, water resistance, dimensional tolerance, castor chair resistance and surface bond. An independent laboratory completes the testing and submits the results to the NALFA board for final approval.

For a complete list of NALFA certified products, visit nalfa.com.