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Lowe’s recalls Chinese laminate brand

lowesMooresville, N.C.—Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer, has halted 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 dogged Lumber Liquidators.

Lowe’s recalled its Tecsun line of flooring, which was only sold online, and plans to do an investigation, according to a spokesman.

Back in June 2013, financial blogger Xuhua Zhou claimed that Lumber Liquidators flooring sourced in China had toxic levels of formaldehyde in a blog post on Seeking Alpha. Zhou, who said he’s an individual investor that is shorting Lowe’s stock, wrote new allegations about Lowe’s.

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Laminate: State of the industry- Benefits outweigh rumored category pressures

March 16/23, 2015; Volume 28/Number 19

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.03.02 PMThe recent Lumber Liquidators exposé on “60 Minutes” has created more buzz in the laminate category arguably since the mid-1990s when Pergo landed on these shores, which could potentially boost sales for specialty retailers over the long haul. The segment continues to parallel the residential remodel market, which has been slow to recover from the recent economic slump.

FCNews’ 2014 statistical issue reported that laminate sales in 2013 were $1.123 billion and 1.06 billion square feet. In review of 2014, flooring executives have stated that the category was mainly flat in the North American market, with some stating a slight decrease and others a minor increase. So, it’s safe to assume there was not much change in the category over the last year.

“There’s no question this sluggishness of recovery in the remodeling market post recession has had the biggest impact on laminate, as it is roughly 90% remodeling driven,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Unilin/ Mohawk Hard Surfaces. “Consumers in general are delaying renovation projects longer than we thought they would.”

Brian Parker, laminate product manager for Armstrong, said there was no dramatic change in the laminate market last year, nor was one expected. “Most of the laminate market is the remodel segment, and there is further penetration into the builder segment. It has made a transition over recent years, and we certainly saw it last year where laminate isn’t the low-end, entry-level product it used to be.”

As the economy continues to bounce back, so too will laminate, experts predict, thanks to positive consumer sentiment restoring faith in both new homebuyers and remodelers. “Continued housing starts and positive consumer sentiment that has increased the activity of the repair and remodeling market has fueled demand for laminates,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inahus, the North American sales and marketing arm of global manufacturer Classen. “Remodel is very important to laminate. Whether DIY or BIY [buy it yourself, where end users buy but contractors install], it’s easy to use and very mainstream in repair and remodeling. As people get more comfortable with jobs and the economy, we are seeing the segment continue to grow.”

Big box vs. specialty retail

The industry has been witnessing a shift in laminate sales toward big box stores, though specialty retailers continue to pick up share of higher-end products. With laminate being an easy DIY option and readily accessible for purchase by the BIY shopper, home centers are many times the go-to for value-priced laminate, though due to success in the category options are increasing.

“The BIY and DIY percentage picked up during the recession for people who decided they couldn’t delay projects any longer and took on labor themselves, which benefitted home centers,” Farabee said. “In general home centers are a more natural destination for consumers thinking about laminate [rather] than other categories. It’s a profitable category for home centers and as they’ve seen those results they’ve invested in more SKUs.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.03.23 PMBut big box traffic should not discourage specialty retailers, the latter offering many products the former cannot, such as high fashion options and a variety of constructions and visuals.

“The differentiator with big box and specialty retail is the variety of choices,” Armstrong’s Parker said. “Big box in general is kind of a sea of oak. You can have 68 different shades of oak in multiple strips, and that’s very different than what you see at independent retailers, where [customers are] more design and fashion conscious, looking for floors that will make their homes look beautiful.”

According to Welbourn, big box continues to claim share with laminate, particularly with large volume orders, mainly at the lower end. Again, specialty retailers maintain an edge with being able to offer a higher-end, more refined product mix. “Big box is an extremely efficient channel that is hard to compete with on cost. However, specialty retailers do extremely well with mid- to upper-end products. On total dollars per channel, there was no change [from 2013 to 2014]. Box stores sell a ton of stuff…they buy hundreds of truckloads of one color and it sells, and it’s extremely efficient. If [the customer] wants a different higher-end or middle-end product, that opens up the entire gamut for specialty retailers. And major manufacturers are getting better at creating much more individual styles. Specialty retailers can offer a diversified product mix.”

Carr Newton, vice president of laminate and resilient, Shaw Floors, believes home centers are driving the laminate category with extensive advertising. While specialty retailers are certainly still participating in laminate sales, they are not doing as much to get the word out to consumers, particularly those in the DIY market. “[The category] is dominated by DIY and the end user installing it herself, in various types of applications. Home centers are advertising heavy on that sale.”

The rise of composites

Among the recent happenings affecting the laminate market include the onset of composite products, including Shaw’s Floorté, Inhaus’ Zig and USFloors’ COREtec Plus, with similar products coming out seemingly by the day. Some members of the industry believe these offerings will take share from laminate, particularly because of water-resistant properties. However, some executives believe composites will be more of a threat to LVT.

“[Composite products] were specifically designed to go after ordinary LVT,” Parker said. “They offer the same benefits that a standard LVT has, but the unique differentiator is that it has a click system and can be floated, which is an advantage over LVT products that do not have these installation options. Composite products can float and hide subfloor irregularities. Laminate already provides this benefit, but they will certainly go after the laminate market.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.05.34 PMParker added that composite products come up short in design, in that because it is essentially vinyl it cannot be mistaken by end users for real wood. “You don’t have to touch it or walk on it—you see it and you know. With premium laminate, customers can’t believe that it’s not wood. Good laminate still has that advantage, as well as performance where it has extremely high scratch resistance. That has been one shortfall of LVT, and composite products are no different.”

Welbourn believes that despite the potential of composites taking share from laminate, the category will perform due to its historical success thanks to efficient manufacturers, benefitting both from low product costs along with increased focus on style and design.

“The ultimate success [of composites] will be dependent on how well they offer tangible benefits to the end users,” he said. “There has and continues to be success for these new composite products and they are claiming share in the flooring market against laminate and all flooring categories. Our experience has shown that although some of the market share that laminate would have claimed is going to new composite products, the overall laminate category continues to grow. The result is that laminate offers some great value that is hard to beat. The cost advantage of producing laminate relative to the new composite products often exceeds 50%.” Inhaus does, however, “believe in composite products,” investing heavily in its new Zig line that uses LP3 technology (luxury polypropylene plank) that is a combination of polypropylene and wood fiber, said to be a category of its own.

Farabee noted that composite products are mimicking the benefits of laminate but in a different way, with water resistance remaining an advantage of LVT and composites over laminate. This has “opened up that discussion more so than we’ve seen in the recent past, even though moisture is not a big issue with laminate. As long as you don’t saturate laminate or have liquid on it for a long time it is generally not an issue. There is still plenty of life in laminate. If the look is there and the price is there, it still gives people what they want, along with its benefits. There isn’t that same stigma of, ‘Oh, that’s laminate.’”

No real threats on the horizon

Laminate will continue to hold its place in the market, executives said, despite the recent developments affecting the category. Regarding Lumber Liquidators, Dan Natkin, Mannington’s senior director of residential products, said the harmful ramifications of some Chinese products can actually benefit the category, particularly laminate made in the U.S. “Products that are NALFA [North American Laminate Floor Association] certified are tested regularly for CARB compliance, and most manufacturers go an extra step in getting FloorScore or GreenGuard certifications as well. These certifications provide an extra assurance to the consumer that their flooring helps to promote good indoor air quality.”

Farabee also believes the added certifications by major manufacturers such as Mohawk/Unilin/Pergo will help them promote products as being safer options. He explained that the “60 Minutes” exposé “calls attention to consumers’ concerns about some laminate products produced in China potentially not meeting CARB 2 requirements. All of our laminate flooring products meet this standard. In addition, we have achieved FloorScore certification for all of our branded products, so consumers can rest easy that our products will not negatively impact indoor air quality.”

Retailers will likely find continued success with these “safe” products, as there are certain laminate options that are strong sellers, overpowering the historical stigma that once existed for the category. For example, John Marano, owner of We’ll Floor U in Hampton Bays, N.Y., said Quick-Step and Mohawk laminate are his “go-to” products. “We position laminate against hardwood floors. I’ll fake people out and put it next to Provenza or DuChateau products. I tell them it’s laminate and they say how beautiful it is and how much they love it. It looks good and it’s half the price [of real hardwood]. It’s also more durable and more stable. You can get a nice, wide-plank laminate for $4 per foot, while a wide-plank hardwood is $9 or $10.”

Mohawk has plans to continue to expand the category, looking for ways to improve the high performance of laminate that is already evident. “A lot of that will be around moisture, which is the next frontier. In the next 12 months we’ll be focusing a lot on it. We’re not convinced that at the end of the day most consumers will be impacted by it, but if the perception is that [water resistance] is a ‘weakener’ then we have to address it.”

Robin Osterhaus, co-owner of Flooring Frenzy & More in Owatonna, Minn., “sees the flooring industry heading back to laminate. The Mannington Restoration collection is beautiful. I also like Shaw’s Heron Bay product.”

Natkin noted the laminate story doesn’t get told as frequently as it should considering it’s still the “best performing category for active lifestyles. There is nothing more wear resistant, plus there are environmental benefits.”

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U.S. Customs seizes patent-infringing laminate flooring products

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.45.22 AMDallas—U.S. Customs officials have seized and destroyed containers of laminate flooring that are using Unilin’s patented click technology without authorization. Recently, multiple containers of laminate flooring manufactured by Changzhou Century Wind were seized and destroyed.

In 2007, Unilin obtained a General Exclusion Order from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) stating that products utilizing Unilin’s click patent portfolio without authorization would be blocked from entry into the U.S., and in certain circumstances seized and destroyed.

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Laminate: Old favorite proves its worth in the face of threats

February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.57.23 PMContrary to popular belief, the laminate segment is alive and well despite recent threats from LVT, LVP and its latest challenger—the hybrid, which can come in the form of cork plus synthetic WPC, a combination of polypropylene and wood fiber and much more.

At Surfaces, laminate manufacturers honed in on the one thing that differentiates the product from any other in the market—it’s ability to replicate hardwood while providing enhanced wear resistance and durability—by introducing a number of reclaimed wood looks. By virtue of advanced printing technology and new embossing techniques, attendees could easily mistake laminate for wood in the respective suppliers’ booths as they were surrounded by “natural” features such as hand-scraped finishes, nail holes and saw marks, while wide, long planks generally leaned toward whitewashes and grays.

Armstrong

Armstrong is introducing 20 laminate SKUs of which three are new designs inspired by existing styles within the company’s best-selling collections: Architectural Remnants, Rustic Premium and Antique Structure.

“The reclaimed look has been tremendously successful for us,” said Brian Parker, laminate product manager. “Architectural Remnants Woodland Reclaim is the best-selling design in the entire portfolio. People love the low-gloss look. [It has] a lot of character and dramatic visuals from plank to plank, and the color changes even within the planks themselves. So we wanted to create new visuals and designs along that theme.”

The result was Reclaimed Hickory, a distressed plank; Reclaimed Pine, a warm gray plank mixed with a brown tone and blue accent, and Reclaimed and Weathered Oak, a mixture of blue and gray tones.

Parker noted each design is of high visual count. Whereas typical laminate incorporates six to eight unique visuals, these designs have 18 that create variation and reduce pattern repeats. “You’re not only getting the high fidelity print quality that makes it look like real wood, but you’re also getting the great embossing texture that gives it the feel of real wood. That’s a real big focus for us in design: reality in print, texture and the variation and randomness overall.”

BerryAlloc

With artwork made of laminate strung across the walls of the BerryAlloc showroom, the company showed off new designs and colors that were added to existing collections.

Known for its high-pressure laminate, BerryAlloc was able to take advantage of its presence outside of the U.S. to stay ahead of the game. “Since we’re a worldwide company, we were able to access different designs in different countries and fine-tune the visuals for the U.S. market to be a step ahead trend-wise,” said Cindy Thornton, marketing director. Some of the bolder colors that BerryAlloc produces for its European market aren’t so popular here in the U.S. “We find that people want different, but not that different.”

The company’s Elegance line debuted with six SKUs in October 2013 that were so well received that four new colors were added, including grays and whitewashes, in walnut, oak and maple visuals. The 9mm collection carries extra-long (6 to 8 inches) and wide (9 inches) planks.

Inhaus

Vintage Impressions, the company’s new collection set to launch in July, uses a conventional press plate to create a unique, embossed-in-register visual to achieve a reclaimed wood look.

“Reclaimed wood is hot,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “It’s always a hot category and very diverse. With reclaimed wood, it can be anything from paint splash to alternative species, so there are all kinds of designs involved. That’s the direction we went with ours.”

He highlighted one design method in particular called crosshatching, which emphasizes areas where blades have gone in two different directions so it starts to look like linen, as well as a few new colors.

KronoSwiss

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.57.12 PMKronoSwiss’ goal as a laminate manufacturer is to produce products that can “hardly be distinguished from real wood,” said Urs Küchler, product manager, laminate. In an effort to provide enhanced realism, the company focused on textures and larger planks with the launch of two products this year.

Aside from its embossed-in-register visuals, the Swiss Infinity product stands out in a crowd of laminates because of its “endless appearance.” Each plank is a continuation of the previous one, giving the entire floor a flow and connectivity that makes it look like “one giant plank.” The product is available in seven species. Also new is the Grand Selection Monumental, which comes in an XXL format measuring 9.4 feet in length.

Mannington

Mannington launched four new patterns for its popular and fast-growing Restoration collection. “We’ve continued to evolve the looks in Restoration as both print technology and embossing techniques continue to get better,” said Dan Natkin, senior director of residential products.

The first pattern, Treeline Oak, is designed as a high variation floor mimicking the reclaimed look of wood after it’s been pulled out of old factories or barns due to years of wear. In this design, red, blonde and brown planks are visible but subtle. Treeline is available in three colors.

The second pattern, Riviera Teak, comes in two colors and is hand-rubbed with oil, allowing it to lean toward contemporary while still offering a rustic flare.

Fairhaven’s subtle embossing was designed to replicate the understated wirebrushing “found in the real thing,” while Nantucket comes in three colors: true white, gray and beige.

“The trend in wood right now is wider and longer, so we’ve carried it over to laminate,” Natkin continued. “This year, three of our four introductions offer 8-inch widths.”

Power Dekor

In order to keep up with today’s laminate trends, Power Dekor launched two collections centered on the popular reclaimed wood look. The first, Montrose, features 15mm beveled planks with crosscuts and natural textures, and utilizes the Uniclic glueless installation locking system. The second, the Random Width & Length Laminate Collection, offers variable widths ranging from 4 to 7 5⁄8 inches and lengths ranging from 23½ to 71¾ inches in several species with V-groove and embossed finishing.

Sustainability is also a core value for Power Dekor, proven by offering a majority of its products with E0, super-low emitting VOC coreboards that will become more important to consumers in the very near future, the company said.

Quick-Step

The goal for Quick-Step is to ensure it launches interesting, innovative products that will capture a part of the market that it previously wasn’t hitting with existing offerings. In other words, the manufacturer must put out something better each time.

In an effort to do so, Quick-Step launched new SKUs in its Reclaimé, Veresque and Dominion collections as well as a completely new line called Envique.

Fire-charred, sandblasted and “wood concrete” textures lend to Envique’s realistic look coupled with extra-long and wide 12mm planks measuring 7½ inches wide x 54 inches long. The line includes four oak and two pine colors and is made with GenuEdge technology, in which the edge treatment of the product can be completed by pressing rather than milling, allowing the design to roll right over the surface.

 

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Quick-Step launches new laminate products at TISE 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.44.31 PMDallas—Quick-Step launched a new collection at The International Surface Event (TISE) 2015 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Jan. 20-23.

Quick-Step’s new Envique Collection features extraordinary visuals and textures including fire-charred, sandblasted, “wood concrete” and hand-scraped designs.

Envique is made with GenuEdge technology, allowing the surface design to roll over the edges of the plank for a truly authentic look. The top layer of each plank also features ScratchGuard Advanced Finish Technology helping the floor resist scratches that can dull a floor’s surface over time. In addition, a special anti-static surface repels dust and dirt, making Envique floors virtually maintenance-free.

“Quick-Step is a fashion-based product line that is on pace with the latest styles and trends,” said Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of brand marketing for Unilin, Quick-Step’s parent company. “Our brand prides itself on being the first to market with the hottest styles, latest trends and most sophisticated features. Quick-Step has the technical ability to produce visuals and an unmatched level of realism that competitors cannot. This year’s Surfaces launch is the right mix of products to keep our brand firmly in the position of style leader.”

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Eternity to waterproof entire laminate collection

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 4.02.06 PMLos Angeles—Eternity Flooring will incorporate moisture-resistant technology throughout its entire 100-plus SKUs of laminate flooring during the first quarter of 2015.

While a number of leading laminate floor suppliers have dabbled in implementing moisture resistance into select lines, the additional expense has prohibited the technology from becoming a mainstay offering until now.

Eternity embarked on this course earlier in 2014 with the launch of its Metro and Manhattan lines, both of which feature advanced moisture protection. The immediate success of these two offerings, according to Eternity CEO Doran Gal, prompted the recent decision to make the technology a staple feature.

“We doubled down on moisture protection,” Gal said. “We’re waxing the edges twice. We’re also putting special balancing paper on the back that prevents moisture penetration. It’s much more water resistant than regular laminate flooring. [In 2015] we’re taking these steps further, with all of our laminates featuring this water protection.”

Abe Bassir, owner of North Hollywood, Calif.-based Carpet Town Warehouse, said the moisture-resistant Metro and Manhattan collections have taken his market by storm. “Water is usually the enemy when it comes to any flooring; this new Eternity offering is the solution. And it’s not only beautiful and durable, but it’s also affordable. It’s very competitive even with the added water protection. I’ve already moved a lot of customers over to this product. It’s going to seriously impact laminate market share.”

From its start in 2007, Eternity Flooring has distinguished itself from other California importers by shunning low-ball, thin 7mm profiles to focus exclusively on affordable, upscale 12mm formats. And while many importers prefer P.O. boxes and multi-week, direct-from-factory shipments, Eternity maintains meticulous inventory throughout its four U.S. warehouses.

“Inventory is the name of the game,” Gal said. “People are willing to wait for expensive products that are $8 or $10 a square foot. But we have great pricing and our customers capitalize on that by getting it right now. They get the job because they can get a great product at a great price, immediately.”

Eternity also invested in state-of-the-art inventory control software in late 2014 to better manage the supply/sales process while making product availability completely transparent to its vendors.

“Our products can be tracked from the moment they are loaded onto the ship through the different ports, until they reach one of our warehouses. Our customers can evaluate availability and monitor the status of their materials.”

Bassir, who has been a loyal Eternity customer since its inception in 2007, said, “They always have inventory. I’ve never had a problem with being able to get what I need.”

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Laminate: What’s selling now? Products that move across the U.S.

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

Laminate may have appeared to be overshadowed by LVT in recent years, but many suppliers and retailers would agree that the category does, in fact, have a solid place in the market. Manufacturers continue to enhance laminate’s style and design to keep it appealing to customers. FCNews asked a retail store from each region of the U.S. what its best-selling laminate product is and why. Here we graphically reveal their responses.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.59.32 PM

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Laminate: NALFA takes the high road

January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14 

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.33.37 PMThough laminate flooring’s market share has been negatively impacted by LVT—often the result of a direct sales-pitch assault espousing LVT’s superiority due to its water resistant, silent nature—North American Laminate Floor Association (NALFA) members have refrained from responding to the attack. Now, for the first time, NALFA president Bill Dearing discusses the issue in an exclusive FCNews interview.

FCNews: Why hasn’t NALFA responded to the LVT suppliers specifically selling against laminate flooring?

DEARING: We at NALFA have an understanding that we should promote the benefits of NALFA rather than get caught up in political nonsense and attack a single category. Our personal belief is to talk about what you can do, not what the other guy can’t.

FCNews: Is NALFA aware of the separation issues some click and loose lay LVTs are experiencing? And, if so, why not capitalize on it?

DEARING: I don’t want to come off as knocking LVT, but strictly from a technical perspective it does have some drawbacks—every product does. All I’ll say is that laminate doesn’t experience those joint expansion issues that could arise from seasonal temperature changes.

FCNews: So laminate won’t expand or shrink from exposure to sunlight or turning the heat up or down?

DEARING: No. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, NALFA-certified laminate is used extensively in Toronto condominiums because it won’t separate or pop up from raising the heat in winter or cooling the condo down in the summer. Laminate flooring has been proven to work in Canada and in climates around the world that are much more severe than what is experienced in the United States.

FCNews: Though NALFA won’t directly counter LVT, is it doing anything new to promote the category?

DEARING: We will have a pavilion at the Las Vegas NAHB International Builder’s Show—that market is coming back as far as real estate is concerned; they’re upgrading to laminate. We’ll also have a pavilion at Surfaces again. This will be our second year of having a pavilion there.

FCNews: Any additional thoughts or points about laminate you would like to convey?

DEARING: I don’t understand why laminate continues to be portrayed as a weakened category or why some of the trade press gives that impression. Not only have we seen sales increase the past two years, but, more important, we’ve seen a significant increase in square-foot prices. That’s a good sign that the consumer is able and willing to loosen her purse strings and go after better products she didn’t consider a few years ago. That should make everybody happy. It’s nice to talk about square-foot increases, but a price increase you can take to the bank. It’s good for the dealer and our membership. That’s significant.

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Suppliers look for market opportunities with innovative styles, designs

December 8/15, 2014; Volume 28/Number 12

Laminate

By Ken Ryan

Flooring manufacturers and association members are forecasting growth of between 1% and 5% for laminate in 2015. While not headline-grabbing numbers, it does represent an increase for a segment that has been hurt by competing products and big boxes. Laminate continues to grow by offering high performing, visually appealing characteristics at affordable prices.

Derek Welbourn CEO, Inhaus

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 2.45.03 PMOverall we see the market as a bright spot. We have seen continuous success for ourselves and for our competitors. There is definitely a little wind at our back with market demand, and we believe this will continue. It doesn’t seem to us that the market is growing at a pace that will create a bubble, but rather slow, steady growth that is benefiting the industry as a whole both now and in the longer run. This is our outlook for North America.

However, being part of the Classen Group based in Germany, the European market is important to us and we see some weakness there. One note of caution is that if Europe slides into a recession it could be bad for North America. We are all tied to the global economy; I believe that the saying is, “If Europe catches the flu, best case scenario, North America gets a cold.”

We see the laminate market in North America continuing to grow—5% in dollars and even higher numbers in volume because of lower and mid-priced laminate taking a larger share of the market. We see the mid and upper end of the laminate market growing but getting increased competition from other categories, mainly LVT. There is also tremendous growth in hybrid products that combine strengths of multiple categories such as wooden-based composite products. We have made a major investment in this growing category that will be making its debut at Surfaces.

Laminate is continuing to grow as it offers value with high performing and visually appealing attributes at a very affordable price point relative to other categories. For this reason the low- and mid-end laminate segments continue to claim share.

We continue to be successful and enjoy the laminate category. It is our focus. 2014 will be the third year running that Inhaus has posted a strong double-digit growth. This is due to our customers having success with our unique laminate line, leading to an increased focus on our offerings. We also continue to expand geographically, and have an ongoing focus on new designs and innovations. Our laminate line is not for everyone as we center on design-oriented products. We find that consumers who are looking for something unique that fits more with their personal style often choose Inhaus. We will not be changing this strategy and we will be launching six new, totally unique laminate designs in 2015. We see more steady growth in 2015 for both Inhaus and the industry.

Roger Farabee Senior vice president, marketing, Unilin NA/Mohawk Hard Surfaces

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 2.45.09 PMWe are forecasting laminate to be up about 1% in dollars for 2015. This growth will continue to be driven by sales outside of specialty retail. All category growth will come from home centers, warehouse clubs and national retailers such as Lumber Liquidators. We anticipate floor covering retail [for laminate] to be down again in 2015 as in 2014.

Weakness in Europe impacts the U.S. market for laminate in that it allows for more low-cost goods to come in, adding to the imports from China. This is putting pressure on all domestic producers, particularly at some of the opening price points.

We have a lot of exciting new products coming in 2015 for both Quick-Step and Mohawk. We will introduce the new Mohawk products at the Solutions convention [in early December] and the new Quick-Step products at Surfaces.

Barbara June Marketing manager, Kronotex USA

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 2.45.16 PMLaminate has been steady in 2014 and we expect modest category growth in 2015. Homeowners and businesses alike have numerous flooring options today, more so than ever before with the new tile and vinyl wood looks. Laminate is still a superior choice for the discerning owner who wants durable wood flooring without the expense and mess of traditional hardwood installation. Trendy decors are invigorating the category as well, from end planks to wood grains in vibrant art colors. Laminate can give the consumer the exact look she wants—quickly and economically.

As for us, the initial response to our new American Concepts collection has been outstanding, and we anticipate continued growth in 2015. We have a few changes in store for next season, but for now let’s just say that we are listening to customer demand and industry-wide feedback.

Bill Dearing President, North American Laminate Flooring Association

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 2.45.24 PMLaminate overall will improve but not double digits or anything [major]. I see a small increase, no more than 5%; if that happens, I will be happy.

I expect the industry will dovetail to the recovery of the real estate market. Laminate remains predominately a remodel product and the economy is now progressing enough that all flooring materials are benefiting. Laminate flooring is no exception and consumers appear to appreciate the value option with the styling that laminate flooring provides.

I am bullish on 2015. If you look at the West Coast market, where I am located, it was up, it was down, and now it is up again. That is a good sign, hopefully too for the rest of the country. I think [consumers’] pocketbooks will open up for more exotic and decorative laminate floors. That market will progress in line with the improving housing market.

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Will digital printing be the next big thing?

November 10/17, 2014; Volume 28/Number 11

Industry slow to embrace advanced technology

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 3.11.44 PMDespite some companies’ success with the technology, laminate flooring manufacturers have yet to fully embrace digital printing. Some further education, testing and investments may lead to increased usage of digital printing in years to come, but for now many producers are admiring the process from afar.

“Currently digital printing doesn’t offer pure cost advantages, but what it does appear to offer is significantly higher quality printing and design flexibility,” noted Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, the North American marketing arm of global laminate manufacturer Classen. As of now, about 10% of Inhaus’ 1,000-plus SKUs is digitally printed.

“The challenge with the higher quality printing is that once the product is manufactured into a laminate with a wear layer overlay, the higher definition of the digital printing can become lost,” Welbourn explained. “However, there is a major advantage in design flexibility both in terms of investment and development speed. No longer is there an investment required in paper inventory and cylinders; once a digital print is developed it can be manufactured into finished flooring immediately.”

Germany-based Classen has invested heavily in multiple high-speed digital printers that have significant production capacity, Welbourn said. “We are just beginning to see the design and flexibility advantages. We are also exploring alternative finishes, which can take advantage of the higher resolution of the digital printing. We believe in digital print technology both in terms of design, flexibility and future cost reductions.”

Mannington has not yet commercialized digital printing on its laminate products, but the process does allow for creation of prototypes in a faster and more realistic format. “We can now simulate almost exactly how the product will look in the final form,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products. Mannington currently uses digital printing in other flooring categories.

Like many other laminate manufacturers, Armstrong still uses the “old fashioned” method in laminate production, the rotogravure process. The company does, however, employ digital printing on its trim and molding. “It has been very successful because you can get an apples-to-apples look with the floor and trim, while before it was more of a coordination,” explained Sara Babinski, principal designer, laminate flooring. “That’s where we are dipping our toes into digital printing.”

Inhaus' Urban Loft
Inhaus’ Urban Loft

When it comes to digital printing benefits that laminate producers will acknowledge, advanced design and customer demand are high on the list. Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Kronotex USA, noted that digital printing “allows quick turnaround of high quality prints for customer approvals as well as shorter print runs to prepare actual finished product samples. Our benefit comes from the advantages [digital printing] gives the printers for trial products and better quality decors from our designers.”

Similarly, Babinski said being able to print on demand would be good in terms of supplying the customer, but also beneficial for the manufacturer as there would be less sitting inventory. She also cited print fidelity and custom design, which Welbourn also said has created a “significant advantage” for Inhaus.

“Another advantage is random designs with no repeating patterns,” he added. “You create a cylinder whenever you design a printed floor. With digital printing, because it’s data management, there is simply a picture used instead of a cylinder. The image is scanned and the printer can randomly select a chunk of data. You should have an infinite number of variations because the image will select, flip and mirror random parts. However, the challenge with digital printing is it is just too much data for a machine to crunch while still maintaining high print speed.”

Natkin had a similar assessment, noting that digital printing “allows for fewer plank repeats, creating a much more unique floor. [But] digital print is still far too slow and costly versus rotogravure printing in laminate.”

While digital printing for laminate for now is utilized by a select few, there is a belief that as the technology progresses it will become more mainstream, which in turn should positively affect costs related to the process, such as the price of ink.

“I think [digital printing] could potentially replace how laminate is manufactured today,” Babinksi said. “I don’t know how far out that would be. It would be a change of investment for different businesses that manufacture anything digitally printed.”

Expressing a similar sentiment, Natkin said, “As the cost continues to come down on digital print technology and equipment, it may eventually replace the printed décor paper.”

Welbourn noted that a big part of cost of producing laminate flooring is the price of the ink. “If a lot of people get involved and there is a bigger volume of ink flowing, the cost will come down and it can be a more competitive process.” That being said, Inhaus is refining the digital printing process and “moving to the next step.

“It never separates you from the pack for too long,” he continued. “The biggest advantage for the whole category is we are going to be able to create exciting designs and achieve design flexibility you haven’t seen. Laminate is quite good, and it is going to get even better.”