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Cali Brands grows, evolves, disrupts

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Steven Feldman

 

San Diego—Cali Brands, the company formerly known as Cali Bamboo, is growing faster than a weed after a rain shower on a sunny day. The company continues to evolve its product portfolio, adding vinyl, rigid core wood and engineered European hardwood to the mix while staying true to its sustainability mission and “green to the core’’ roots.

Bamboo is still an important part of the business, according to Doug Jackson, president and CEO. “We grew 40% last year with Cali Bamboo and Cali Vinyl. We have no interest in losing that business. We’re the largest importer of bamboo in the country, more than Home Depot, Lumber Liquidators, Floor & Décor, etc. People don’t realize that about us because we’ve got a wide reach across an omnichannel platform.”

Constantly appearing on Inc. magazine’s “5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies” listing (2018 was its 10th consecutive year as it checked in at No. 2370), Cali now boasts sales well north of $100 million and in 2018 increased its sales into the specialty retail channel sevenfold—quite impressive given its selective distribution strategy.

“We have about 1,100 actively purchasing dealers,” Jackson said. “In a perfect world we’ll have around 1,000 in the right 1,000 marketplaces that have the ability to make money with our products and allow us to drive those end users into their stores. We’re looking for the cream of the crop—close partners who want and are able to grow with us.”

With 30 years in the business under his belt, Jackson knows the “right people,” many of whom are in the National Floorcovering Alliance, to which Cali became a core vendor in 2018. “We gave them a handful of exclusives, and they will have a year to see if that works for them,” he said.

As the company evolves, it seems more retailers are interested in taking on Cali than Cali is in taking on retailers. In fact, it doesn’t seek too much exposure. “We’re not going to be on the show floor at Surfaces,” he said. “We’re going to call people up, go see them, catch up with them, find out if we’re a good fit, and if we are we’ll move forward. So far everybody we’ve talked to has gladly taken us on.”

In illustration, at the last NFA meeting in Napa, Calif., Cali was showing its brand spanking new Meritage collection, its first foray into the long and wide French oak hardwood arena pioneered by companies like DuChâteau. The line is aggressively priced at a price point where the retailer can make a healthy margin.

“Companies like DuChâteau, Provenza and Urbanfloor are doing a good job here offering a similar product where the consumer may pay $20,” Jackson said. “But a dealer might make 20% or 30% if they’re lucky because everybody in town can get it. We’re going to sell our 800 to 1,000 dealers and be happy about it.” The line debuts in the first quarter in eight SKUs that are 9½ inches wide, 72 inches long on a sustainable acacia core.

 

A fresh approach
Jackson uses the word “disruptive” to describe Cali’s approach. “We’re going to come in and say we only sell [Retailer X] in a particular area. They can make a great margin and a consumer can’t shop it. If they want to call us direct, fine, but we’re going to sell it for the same price. It’s much like that Apple phone. It doesn’t matter where you buy it, it’s just what level of service you want. Most folks would not know how to put this floor down. Ultimately, they are going to say, ‘Who is going to move my furniture? Who is going to measure? Who is going to install it?’ Buy from us and we will put it on your doorstep but we’re not going to lay it down. That’s where we get a chance to refer that consumer to our dealer partners. And for a product like this, nine out of 10 times she is going to say she needs someone local to measure, move the furniture, put it down, all those things.”

Another new product for Cali Hardwood this year is Odyssey, an engineered hardwood collection in European oak, American maple and American hickory. The line launches in 5½- and 7½-inch widths and 11 colors on an engineered, plantation birch foundation, illustrating Cali’s commitment to remaining “green to the core.” Plantation birch is grown with the intention of being cut. It’s a fast-growing, renewable, sustainable tree. The birch comprises more than 80% of the product, topped by a 2mm veneer that’s sourced from responsibly managed forests.

Cali Hardwood is also launching the second generation of GeoWood, its revolutionary engineered hardwood layering real timber over GeoCore, a flexible and waterproof limestone composite. The first generation, launched last year, was a 3-foot plank in bamboo, “which was really who we were as a company,” said Alex Brodkin, Cali’s new product introduction manager. “But we wanted to make sure the next generation really matched where we’re going.”

GeoWood 2.0 is a 6-foot-long, 5-inch-wide plank with a 1.2mm real oak veneer and comes with an attached 2mm pad. The pad helps with noise mitigation, one of the issues surrounding some SPCs. “For a DIY consumer who has done a vinyl install this is only marginally more challenging,” said Mike Belprez, director of innovation/product management. As an added advantage, the core of the product is coordinated to the wood. “So if you ever dent, ding, or scratch the surface and expose a bit of the SPC core, it will not stand out.”

Last but not least, Cali is taking its sustainability story to area rugs. “We all know when someone buys a wood floor, within a month on goes a rug,” Jackson said. “We’ve got that covered, too, with 100% sustainable rugs shipped directly to your house.” The rugs are handwoven from natural jute fiber, wool and upcycled denim and cotton.

“If you look at what we are doing and where we are going, it is all about options,” Jackson stated. “We talk to consumers every day to determine the best floor for their lifestyle. Where do we fit into their world? You can go vinyl, waterproof wood flooring or take a step up and have the best-looking woods on the market. We ask how long they plan to keep the house, what their cost expectations are, etc. We are going to provide a range of options for her lifestyle and budget.”

Five years from now, Jackson admitted the product mix might be different, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to how. “As we evolve the consumer is going to determine our product mix. I’d love to say my perfect plan is to be 50% this or 60% that, but because we’re asset light, we’re going to deliver what the market wants. You see what’s happening with WPC and rigid core. That can continue to grow strong or it could take a shift. We saw what happened with laminate. What we do know is we want to be mid to high end, we want to be affordably elegant, and we want to find voids in the marketplace where other people won’t, or can’t, make the products we can deliver.”

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DuraMatt: Mirage’s silver bullet

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Reginald Tucker

 

When Karla Wisch-meyer, an interior designer at Verhey Carpets in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently conducted a one-year follow-up visit on a residential hardwood flooring installation the company performed, she was absolutely confident she would be pleased with the result. After all, the job entailed several hundred square feet of Mirage hardwood flooring, which features the company’s signature DuraMatt, low-sheen, high-performance finish.

But what Wischmeyer and her team probably didn’t anticipate was the degree to which the finish withstood a full year of wear, tear and heavy pet foot traffic. “As we approached the house, we could hear a big dog barking from the driveway. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is either going to be a nightmare, or it’s going to be beautiful.’ We opened the door and the floor still looked fantastic. The homeowners have this big dog but the floor held up great. I believe it’s due to the durability of DuraMatt and the matte finish, which really hides a lot of what can happen in the home.”

Verhey Carpets has a long track record of success with DuraMatt and the Mirage brand in general. Wischmeyer, who has been selling the brand for the past 10 years, attributes 95% of the company’s wood business to the Mirage brand.

“We have been very pleased with it, and I’m sure we haven’t had any claims,” she told FCNews. “The other thing I love about the product is the styling—today’s wood looks are a little more casual and urban looking, and that matte finish on DuraMatt really lends itself to that style. Homeowners aren’t really going for a formal look these days, so they don’t really use finishes with a high sheen or gloss anymore.”

Wischmeyer—who has personally visited the Boa-Franc manufacturing plant at least five times—isn’t the only one who cites the product’s exemplary track record. Neil Coughlin, regional vice president of sales, Belknap-White, is also a believer.  “The DuraMatt finish from Mirage gives the homeowner the look of an oil finish without the maintenance issues; it wears like a urethane. But the scratch resistance is 20 times better than traditional urethane finishes.”

Another indicator of the product’s success is the rate of its adoption across other collections within the Mirage portfolio. At the launch of the finish, it was only offered in one collection; it’s now available in five collections.”

Point of differentiation
For Mirage, DuraMatt is much more than a high-tech finish; it’s also a point of distinction for the company. “The DuraMatt finish has the look of an oiled hardwood floor without the hassles of regular oil application and low wear resistance,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing, Boa-Franc. “This urethane finish brings out wood’s natural beauty and offers many benefits. It is 20 times more wear resistant than a conventional oil finish and is easily washable, and the technology also provides superior resistance to stains and scratches.”

To demonstrate the product’s technological attributes, Boa-Franc has posted several videos on YouTube covering everything from scrub, Taber and marker tests to demos on how the finish resists staining from spilled wine. (Visit youtube.com/watch?v= OsY3Ohcccy0 for more information.)

“We have created videos comparing DuraMatt’s performance to other finishes available in the industry, and the results speak for themselves,” Williams stated. “Nothing can be compared to the quality of this finish.”

Beyond the bells and whistles, DuraMatt ultimately provides a means for retailers to boost their wood business. How? By simply offering consumers peace of mind. “This technology meets the needs and requirements of any consumer by offering the desired look and gloss level combined with high performance and resistance without the hassles of regular maintenance,” Williams explained.

While DuraMatt is primarily geared toward residential applications, Boa-Franc reports its acceptance has been extended to the architect and designer community. Some Mirage retailers have also installed the products within their stores to demonstrate the strength of the DuraMatt finish. “We have the product installed in our downtown showroom, and we also have a rug gallery with Mirage on the floor,” Wischmeyer said. “This serves as a demo regarding commercial and Main Street applications.”

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Wood: Mercier’s new Naked Series bares all

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Reginald Tucker

 

When the Mercier Wood Flooring marketing team brainstormed to come up with a name for its latest collection featuring state-of-the-art finishing technology, the goal was to not only define the line’s underlying capabilities but also turn heads and make retailers take a second look. So, after kicking around potential monikers like “Raw” and others, the company decided the “Naked Series” most accurately and effectively conveyed the gist of the new offering.

“With this new finishing technology, we are able to apply a coating to the wood and seal the wood and then apply our Generations coating on top of it without changing the look,” Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales, U.S., explained. “With most other wood flooring finishes, once you put a urethane finish on it really does change the look of the graining of the natural wood species. What we have been able to do with the Naked Series is seal that visual with a finish without changing the natural sawn look of the wood.”

While the concept behind the Naked Series seems simple, the application process is quite complex. “It’s a very delicate process,” Bondrowski said. “If you don’t seal it correctly, then any part of the finish where you apply it is going to pop that graining, which would make it look undesirable.”

The good news for retailers—beyond having a product that can’t easily be replicated—is it offers them an opportunity to trade up customers from the bevy of entry-level engineered wood products available on the market. “This product is going to cost a little more than some of the other products in our lineup, but not as much as others might think,” Bondrowski explained. “It’s definitely going to be positioned as an upgrade, but it’s not going to be off-the-charts expensive.”

Some of Mercier’s customers had the opportunity to view the technology firsthand during an annual distributor/retailer meeting at the company’s headquarters back in November. One such individual was Tom Norris, Pittsburgh regional manager for ProSource, a Mercier partner for the past 20 years. “This is an extremely clean looking product,” he said. “With this process Mercier is using, it looks like a fresh-cut sawn plank. It’s better looking than any engineered product I’ve seen out there.”

The Naked Series, which launched in Canada back in November, will be available to retailers and distributors in the U.S. beginning this month.

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Wood: It’s high time for domestic species to shine

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Reginald Tucker

 

With interest in tropical exotic hardwood species waning among U.S. consumers in recent years, domestic wood flooring suppliers are capitalizing on the trend toward greater consumption of white oak, hickory, walnut and red oak, among others.

“Domestic wood species have become more popular over the last several years,” said John Hammel, hardwood and laminate category manager, Shaw Floors. In particular, he cited the company’s new Repel Hardwood line offered in Relic and Landmark styles. “Consumers are favoring American hardwood, but many still desire non-traditional visuals from their flooring. Domestic exotic species like hickory and walnut answer that need.”

This shift, experts say, is closely tied to overarching trends in residential design. “Today’s homes are becoming a reflection of the unique personality, style and trend preference of the homeowner,” said Sara Babinski, design manager, Armstrong Hardwood Products. “From industrial to transitional to eclectic, design options are virtually unlimited, and a floor can serve as the focal point of a room.”

With respect to specific species and colors, Babinski said red-toned woods are fading in popularity—along with tropical exotic species—and the trend has moved toward either dark or light color palettes. “Light colors are trending due to their clean look and ability to disguise imperfections and brighten interior spaces. This emerging light category would include natural tones, blonde woods and white-washed woods.”

As a prime example, Babinski cited AHF Products’ Appalachian Ridge collection. Made from 100% solid Appalachian hardwood, the line features Diamond 10 Technology for greater scratch protection that still allows the beauty of the natural species to shine through.

Shaw Floors and Armstrong are not alone. Mullican Flooring has also expanded its American-made engineered product offerings to satisfy growing consumer demand for domestic species. The company recently rolled out Wexford, a “EuroSawn” product line that combines three traditional North American sawing techniques to create a classic European look, and Nature, a 1⁄2-inch-thick hickory product featuring a character-rich sawn surface. Available in a 5-inch width, this collection offers random lengths up to 7 feet. Wexford, by comparison, is a 1⁄2-inch-thick product available in 7-inch widths and random lengths up to 7 feet.

“Our EuroSawn cutting technique produces a highly desirable look that is gaining prominence throughout the market,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing, Mullican Flooring. “We are proud to integrate this process into our robust, made-in-the-USA portfolio, which offers customers superior materials, shorter wait times, sustainable manufacturing practices and premier beauty and quality.”

Industry experts primarily attribute the growing interest in domestic species to the combination of consumer trends away from tropical exotics along with the color/texture characteristics domestic species provide. As Brett Miller, vice president of education and training, NWFA, explained, “With hickory, for example, it’s the variation in color that generates interest and demand. Even when you look at some of the imported species that are popular, they have that variance in color like hickory.”

Right alongside hickory are domestic variations of walnut. Proponents cite the species’ unique look, which has a high-end connotation compared to more mainstream species. “It has that nice, deep brown chocolate/almost purple color along with that light, blond sapwood, which is a drastic variation,” Miller explained.

Given this rising popularity, it should come as no surprise that many of these domestic species are increasingly factoring into recent introductions and/or best-selling products from some of the industry’s major manufacturers. “Over the past few years, we have focused our introductions on these species with tremendous results,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “There is something timeless about North American hardwoods. Smooth, elegant graining, great character, and the way they accept stain and other visual effects make them the prime choice for consumers.”

In particular, Natkin cited Mannington’s Carriage oak line, which he describes as “a runaway hit.” He also referenced the Cider Mill collection, which combines the elegant graining of North American white oak and hickory with a proprietary hand staining and distressing process to further enhance the visuals.

Trendy offerings from Mohawk also reflect the popularity of domestic species. In fact, the company has been using domestic white oak for many of its products combined with special proprietary manufacturing and finishing techniques to render different visuals. Mohawk said it has also witnessed growing interest in species such as hickory and walnut, and it is adding more collections to meet those needs. The company cited popular offerings such as Homestead Retreat—a 9⁄16-inch thick x 7-inch-wide sculpted hickory and walnut collection. And let’s not forget about the company’s newly launched domestic products such as Castlebriar, Hartwick, Hideaway Ridge, Sheridan and Windrose—all derived from oak species.

“Consumers who are looking to be more unique are trying the hickories, walnuts and some other visuals to give it  more flavor and variety in the mix,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate.

Then there’s American OEM, which markets the Hearthwood-branded, Made-in-the-USA line. Allie Finkell, executive vice president, attests to the popularity of domestic species. “We are still seeing most of the business being driven by white oak, but there are still great selling SKUs in hickory as well. Walnut is gorgeous, but it’s still very niche.”

 

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Armstrong Flooring leverages domestic resilient capacity

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Reginald Tucker

 

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding the impact of tariffs on imports from China, Armstrong Flooring is moving to boost the intrinsic benefits of domestic resilient flooring capacity. This move comes on the heels of its recent decision to sell its wood flooring operations (FCNews, Nov. 12/19, 2018).

“We’ve been ramping up volume in the Stillwater, Okla., plant, which we repurposed last fall, and we continue to increase the capacity and through-put here at Lancaster as well as in Kankakee, Ill., where we make Alterna,” Don Maier, president and CEO, Armstrong Flooring, told FCNews. “The other side of the equation is with the change in the tariffs, we’ve been demonstrating to the market the value of our legacy resilient sheet products.”

Similarly, with VCT and other resilient products, Armstrong said it believes it has the ability to provide both commercial and residential end users with alternatives to products that have been impacted by the tariffs. “The message to the market here is we have a broad portfolio of domestic products both in the LVT category as well as in others that create very high-value alternatives,” Maier added. “Second, we’re always working with our supply base and distributors to offset and be more efficient in how we do business. Basically, we have our partners’ backs in terms of products impacted by the tariffs as well as providing alternatives that give them options to avoid the impact of the tariffs.”

An added bonus, according to Maier, is the fact that many of the resilient products Armstrong Flooring manufactures in the U.S. feature the company’s proprietary and exclusive Diamond 10 technology. “While the technology was first offered on our LVT products made at our Lancaster plant, we have now taken it across nearly the entire portfolio,” he explained. “That not only gives the retailer a differentiating story, but it gives the end user/consumer a product that’s going to stand up to challenges and continue to look and wear extremely well.”

Armstrong Flooring’s distributor and retail customers are embracing the company’s strategy to build on its domestic production capabilities. “Businesses that concentrate too heavy a mix into imported goods—especially goods from a single-source nation—remain exposed to significant financial, operational and logistical risks,” said Scott Rozmus, president and CEO, FlorStar Sales. “Having options available from global suppliers such as Armstrong Flooring, who have retained a domestic manufacturing base, certainly helps mitigate such tariff and related political risks.”

The fact that Armstrong Flooring operates a variety of plants across the country affords both the manufacturer and its distributors the luxury not only of offering some pricing stability relative to tariffs, but also providing benefits in terms of a more reliable supply chain, Rozmus added. “It is never a bad thing to eliminate multiple ports as well as oceans in terms of providing greater shipping accuracy. Offering customers more predictability creates happier customers.”

Among those happy customers are dealers like Merv Breckbill, co-owner of Strasburg, Pa.-based Wall to Wall Coverings, an Armstrong dealer for nearly 18 years. For him, domestic production provides more stability with respect to pricing.

“With the stuff coming in from overseas, along with the uncertainty of the price increases, anything that’s produced here in the U.S. is a plus. The other thing is domestic products are readily available. Most of the Armstrong Flooring products we order are available the same week, sometimes even next day, which is a big plus for us and our customers.”

Future plans
Beyond bolstering capacity of existing product lines, Armstrong Flooring also hinted at plans to begin manufacturing WPC-type products here in the U.S. “We have a team dedicated to bringing rigid core capabilities domestically,” Maier told FCNews. “I won’t offer a lot of details here other than to say we continue to make strong progress, and our intention is to repurpose existing assets we have just as we did in Stillwater.”

In this respect, Armstrong said it believes it also has an advantage. “The difference between us and other companies looking to establish rigid core production is we’re not looking for a greenfield site,” Maier stated. “Plus, we don’t have as many of the start-up related things that come along with that. Another benefit is it does not require as much capital investment.”

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Executive forecast: Wood—Suppliers see the upside of opportunity for the coming year

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Reginald Tucker

 

Over the course of 2018, the industry saw several big announcements. Some domestic manufacturers shuttered their solid flooring plants, while an industry leader announced plans to sell its hardwood flooring operations altogether. The sector also witnessed greater strategic alliances among wholesalers and producers. Heading into 2019, the industry expects to see more seismic changes amidst modest growth projections.

 

Wade Bondrowski
Director of sales, USA
Mercier Wood Flooring

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year?We are anticipating another year of growth in the overall category of around 5%.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?We are currently looking for high, single-digit/low double-digit growth.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?It’s still housing, commercial with a little multi-family.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.Having new products and technologies in finishing, along with our new display system should give a push in the right direction for 2019.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2018.The X factor is the housing market and interest rates, along with an uncertainty in the stock market and regulatory trade.

Where you see the greatest opportunities?We see opportunity all around us, but we need to stay focused and continue servicing our clients with the fashions that consumers are looking for.

 

Roger Farabee
president, wood & laminate
Mohawk Industries

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year?We’re predicting hardwood will be up about 2% in terms of dollars.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?We anticipate we will exceed the growth rate of the overall category in 2019.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?We expect engineered to continue growing while solid will decline. Within engineered, we still see the bulk of that being in residential remodel, less so in builder.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.We will continue to focus on engineered, especially in our TecWood enhanced platform as well as all of our new products. We are also offering an alternative to solids without giving up the benefits of solid.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2018.LVT is still the wild card that will impact all categories. We will have to wait to see if that rate of growth continues.

Where you see the greatest opportunities?We still see the bulk of activity come from the residential remodel sector, but less so in builder.

 

Drew Hash
vice president, hard surface portfolio management
Shaw Floors

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year?We’re projecting growth in the mid- to single-digits next year.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?We expect to be very much in line with the overall hardwood category growth.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?A lot of our growth is geared toward that single-family part of the business, specifically in prefinished and engineered.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.Extension of the Floorte resilient brand into hardwood; second, applying the topical surface-treatment technology utilized on our Repel laminate products on wood; and focusing on thicker, sawn-faced products.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019.You’re going to see Shaw Floors delve into a wider spectrum of colors—something that we typically do in resilient but not in hardwood.

Where you see the greatest opportunities?We feel good about that in 2019. Our focus is definitely on the independent specialty retail channel.

 

Christopher King
Vice president of sales
Armstrong Hardwood Flooring

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year?

We are optimistic that demand for wood flooring will remain strong going into 2019 in both the new construction and remodeling markets.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?We will enter 2019 with a singular focus on hardwood and supporting powerhouse brands such as Bruce. As an independent wood flooring company, we will enjoy greater flexibility to pursue strategic growth opportunities as we are 100% focused on hardwood.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?We expect to see increased activity in the engineered sector, and we also see solid wood flooring remaining a go-to product in certain parts of the country. Wide-plank, long boards and low-gloss finishes will also continue to grow.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.Innovation will continue with solid and engineered structures in all of our brands. Engineered offers opportunity for design innovation combined with its installation flexibility, and we will develop new, on-trend visuals in solid.
Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019.Going into 2019, we will be closely watching the status of tariffs on wood flooring products imported from China and ongoing trade negotiations.

Where you see the greatest opportunities?Look for more in innovations in aesthetics and performance in 2019 with an increased emphasis on speed to market. We also see opportunities in commercial hardwood.

 

Dan Natkin
Vice president of hardwood and laminate
Mannington  

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? Overall modest growth within the category given the headwinds from LVT. 

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?  Generally in line with the market.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?Primarily upper-end wood products will see nice growth as consumer demand remains strong in that area. Lower-end hardwood will continue to cede share to printed products such as laminate and LVT.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.We have just completed a major capital upgrade of our plant in High Point, N.C., and we will be launching several new products throughout the year that utilize state-of-the-art capabilities.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019.The biggest X factor is the overall economy.  

Where you see the greatest opportunities? There is still very strong fundamental demand for hardwood. Capitalizing on the natural aspects of it presents some of the largest opportunity.

 

Paul Rezuke
Vice president, U.S. sales
Wickham Hardwood Flooring

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year?There are so many factors that can and will impact wood flooring positively and potentially negatively next year, namely the proposed implementation of future tariffs and anticipated interest rate hikes.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019?In spite of a high level of volatility, we are targeting 8% to 10% year-over-year growth. Assuming the landscape does not experience severe changes, this level is attainable.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth?In 2018, we experienced increased opportunities within the architectural and design segments of our industry. Our expanding engineered products will serve as the impetus for this continued growth.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019.We will be expanding our engineered products. You will also see wider planks, more diversity in our product look along with the resurrection of some of the more traditional colors. An acquisition in 2018 also increased our raw materials.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019.There is no question pending tariffs and projected interest rates will have a significant impact on the industry in its entirety.

Where you see the greatest opportunities? Our opportunities lie specifically in the expanding geographic areas targeted. Over the past two years our footprint has been expanding, and it will continue to grow in 2019.

 

Brad Williams
Vice president of sales and marketing
Boa-Franc (Mirage brand)

What is your projection for the growth of the category next year? We project the overall hardwood category to have a moderate growth of 3% for 2019.

What are the growth projections for your company in particular in 2019? We project the overall growth to be moderate as well, coming in at 2% to 4% in 2019.

What end-use segments and/or products will fuel this growth? Wider and longer hardwood planks are getting more traction among consumers. New construction will also be a driver within the markets that are experiencing an increased population coupled with a good economy.

Cite a few major company initiatives for 2019. We will continue investing in updating our customer experience via mill tours at our factory. Seeing what goes into making a Mirage product is key for our customers to be able to sell the difference.

Identify the “X” factor that will impact business in 2019. The X factor will be the different innovations that our competition will be launching along with our own product launches.

Where you see the greatest opportunities? We feel our greatest opportunity continues to be within our existing network. We will continue to listen and try to understand our customer needs and focus on creating opportunities for them.

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Wood: Surface treatments expand design possibilities

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Reginald Tucker

 

Wood flooring manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of style and design by applying various surface finishing/coloring techniques to give consumers a greater range of options.

Case in point is the new Floorté Hardwood line from Shaw Floors. Named after one of the company’s most popular resilient flooring collections, Floorté Hardwood utilizes special surface technologies to create unique products for retailers to sell. With a waterproof SPC core and a hardwood veneer, Floorté Hardwood offers both style and durability.

“To accentuate the beauty of its hardwood veneers, we employed advanced finishing techniques such as reactive staining, wire brushing, balayage highlighting, white and black accent graining as well as band saw marking, to name a few,” Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface portfolio, explained. “These techniques, which are displayed on the brand new Floorté Hardwood’s Exquisite collection, allow us to manufacture products that suit any style preference—from urban or rustic to traditional and modern.”

Innovative surface finishing techniques are also featured on Shaw’s new Repel-branded hardwood offering. Each style in the collection, which plays on the water-resistant capabilities of the laminate line of the same name, features a variety of surfacing techniques to enhance the natural character of the wood.

Mohawk is also utilizing a variety of scraping techniques to render different looks for the consumer. Its TecWood line, for instance, offers various options based on different levels of distressing. In illustration: Castlebriar offers six sophisticated styles of wire-brushed oak enhanced with the company’s “Natural Alchemy” staining process, while Hartwick offers five unique rustic oak colors with smooth surface. Then, there’s Hideaway Ridge, which features five softly scraped oak styles with vibrant color variations, followed by Sheridan, which comprises six unique fashion-forward oak varieties with wire-brushed surface. Lastly, Windrose offers five genuine dry-sawn oak options that reflect the natural beauty of hardwood.

Additionally, TecWood’s thicker, premium veneer provides greater durability with additional benefits that keep floors looking newer longer and performing better over the long term. “Innovation is at the heart of every TecWood product, and our enhanced engineered construction gives our new collections greater stability, density and weight,” said Angela Duke, director of brand marketing.

Other major manufacturers are employing surface finishing techniques in novel ways. Provenza, long known for its artistic approach in coloring, treating and applying different surface textures to its wood products, offers retailers an ever-growing catalog of eye-catching products enhanced by manual artisan techniques.

Among the most popular lines: Dutch Masters collection, a wide-plank, European oak prefinished engineered hardwood offering with a light to heavy wire-brushed surface and multi-stain process; the award-winning Colour Nation Lighthouse Cove collection, also a wide-plank, European oak prefinished engineered hardwood line featuring a multi-color, multi-layered paint technique; and the Old World hardwood collection, which boasts a wire-brushed, hand-distressed treatment combined with an innovative smoking and carbonizing technique.

Provenza takes it a step further by applying a “fuming” technique to add greater depth and dimension. “We combine that with staining and oil looks to create a UV oil, which provides a harder, smoother finish with less maintenance,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner. “The technology has evolved to the point where we went from hard wax finishes to polyurethane combined with reactive stains.”

Experimentation with innovative staining techniques has also produced positive results for companies like American OEM. Take its Controlled Chaos and Dynamic Earth lines, for example. The technology Hearthwood employs on these offerings is very similar to chemical reactive staining but it produces more consistent results, according to Allie Finkell, executive vice president. “Some of the chemical reactive staining processes are really hard to control, making it difficult to be consistent across production over time and from run to run. But we’ve been able to recreate the highlights of those chemicals utilizing a regular water-based UV-cured stain, which is done in our Tennessee plant with low-emitting finishes.”

Controlled Chaos features a light, wire-brushed finish on white oak for a more contemporary look in a 7-inch-wide x 8-foot-long format in colors ranging from, in Finkell’s words, “shocking to subtle.” Meanwhile, Dynamic Earth, which is also in a sliced white oak product, has more of a reclaimed, scraped texture. “Our handscraping technique is not the old, machine-scraped process that’s so common in the industry,” Finkell told FCNews. “Our process delivers more of that reclaimed barnwood look. This way the customer gets a modern format in long lengths and wide widths, but she can still pick a timeless color that she’s going to love for years.”

 

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Wood: Ark Floors sets its sights on strengthening the brand

November 26/December 3, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 12

By Reginald Tucker

 

Ark Floors is doubling down its efforts to build capacity, expand its product offering and develop customized programs for its customers. The goal, according to Ed Goldberg, national sales and operations manager, is to fortify its position with distributor partners around the country while strengthening awareness of the Ark brand.

“Carl Lu, the owner of Ark Floors, told me he wanted to build a great brand,” Goldberg told FCNews at the recent NAFCD conference in Dallas. “‘I want to be like Armstrong,’ he said. Well, I took that to heart, and I carry that with me every single day.”

That explains why Goldberg made it a point to attend NAFCD and share that message with former, present and potential distributors alike. “My goal is to promote our brand and let people know we are still here,” he said. “We have a clear map for success and a direction moving forward.”

Part of that game plan, according to Goldberg, entails instilling a stronger sense of discipline across all facets of the business. “When I took over as general manager of Ark Floors about a year ago, we essentially only had one way to go—and that was back up,” Goldberg said. “Some of those changes I needed to implement were specifically in regard to product and color consistency, although the quality of the product was always good. When I surveyed our partners, there were very little issues with quality but more about color matching the samples. We are going to work more closely with our factories to maintain a higher level of color consistency to those samples.”

Some of those efforts are already paying dividends. “We achieved 15% growth this year; by Sept. 1 we had already matched our gross sales for 2017,” Goldberg said. “More importantly, we have greatly increased our gross profit margins.”

Goldberg attributes that success, in part, to the commitment of the company’s distribution network. “Much to my delight, distributors that I’m resurrecting relationships with as well as new industry partners I’m going after are excited to promote the Ark brand,” he explained. “I’m an old dog, so my go-to-market strategy is predominantly through traditional distribution, and that network is coming along. There are few areas of the country where we have not been able to get a good partner to commit yet, so we are going forward with a direct-to-retailer program. However, the price structure I have put in place will allow that to ultimately be a turnkey system to hand over to the right distribution partner.”

A few of the wholesale partners who are on board include Bay Area-based Medallion, Ark Floor’s longest and most loyal partner; Certified in Pittsburgh, which is moving forward with a new, revamped program; Finishes, which will handle Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana; and Marietta, Ga.-based A&M Supply, which has committed to resuming a business relationship with Ark Floors in the Southeast after a brief hiatus. “Every single day those guys are seeing opportunities with our brand,” Goldberg said.

A&M Supply, looks forward to having Ark Floors back in the fold. “We believe Ark will be a tremendous addition to our product offering,” said Dunn Rasbury, director of flooring. “Its exotic product offering is second to none. We’re also very excited about an updated color palette in oak Ark has introduced.”

Among Ark Floor’s most popular lines is a “genuine” mahogany that Goldberg described as having different characteristics than a traditional South American mahogany. (It doesn’t “amber” or go through photosynthesis, and it replenishes very quickly and takes color stains very well, he said.) The company also offers popular European white oak species in predominantly A and B grades with a “little bit of C grade mixed in. Our Asian birch also continues to sell very well,” he added.

A winning formula
At a time when many distributors and retailers are being inundated with products that are often “force fed” by some of their manufacturer partners, Ark Floors is taking a slightly different tack. In essence, the manufacturer’s wholesaler partners are encouraged to cherry-pick from its wide offering so they may only stock those products that sell well in their respective markets.

How it works: Ark Floors maintains 64 running-line SKUs (25 of which are ¾-inch solids, with the rest being engineered). From that batch, distributors are asked to select their “Top 20” best-selling products or potential movers, and then Ark Floors works to ensure a consistent supply of that inventory based on those specific SKUs. At the same time, distributors are not necessarily locked in; they do have some flexibility. “For example, Finishes, based in Texas, actually identified their Top 36,” Goldberg stated. “And that’s OK, too.”

Bottom line: Whatever distributors decide, Ark Floors will support them with display systems, samples and inventory. In fact, the company is working to develop a better balance of inventory on the East and West Coasts via its warehousing facilities in Baltimore, Md., and Los Angeles, respectively. Part of that lies in improving communications between the various warehouses and factories located in Brazil, Cambodia, Croatia, Ghana and Indonesia. “The factories are going to be responsible for letting us know when containers of specific SKUs are ready to ship, and where those products are going to be shipped,” Goldberg explained.

All that is music to distributors’ ears. “Ark Floors has created a great logistics model that will allow us to great provide service and value to our customers,” A&M’s Rasbury told FCNews.

At the end of the day, Ark Floors just wants to do the right thing for the customer. As Goldberg explained: “Having been in the industry for 30 years, I pride myself on longevity and maintaining relationships and also maintaining my integrity in an industry that can be full of empty promises.”

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Ribadao to boost production capacity in Portugal

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By Reginald Tucker

 

Specialty hardwood flooring manufacturer Ribadao Wood Boutique has been quietly building its North American distribution network while simultaneously increasing its presence in the global market via high-profile retail and hospitality installations. Now the company has announced plans to expand its manufacturing footprint by investing in a new hardwood flooring production facility at its home base in Portugal.

The new facility (Plant #2), which occupies nearly six acres in Santa Comba Dao, Portugal, will be dedicated to the production of engineered flooring. At present, both solid and engineered wood flooring products are made in the existing factory (Plant #1). Upon completion, which is slated for May 2019, the new plant will have the capacity to produce 25 container loads—roughly 425,000 square feet—of engineered floors per week.

“It’s amazing,” said Bruce Hammer, Ribadao’s vice president of sales for North America. “The whole operation will be run and managed by a small, highly trained crew. Everything is automated, even the sorting and assembling of cartons for shipping.”

Ribadao’s latest plans follow investments the company has made in its manufacturing facilities and logistics operations over time. Several years ago, it invested in a new finishing line, expanding the covered area to 160,000 square feet. In that same time frame, Ribadao also opened distribution centers in Hillside, N.J., Miami and Los Angeles to better service its customers across North America.

In anticipation of the increased production capacity that’s expected to come online when the new plant is up and running, Ribadao expects to grow its warehouse operations accordingly.

“We’re looking at opening up a third warehouse, also on the East Coast. It will likely be in the Southeast, somewhere between New Jersey and Miami,” said Pedro Tavares, president and CEO. “From a logistics standpoint, it just makes sense for us to have something in between those two points that can serve the East Coast and also serve the middle of the country. We want to continue to keep bringing in inventory to supply distributors if they run short on product.”

Seizing the opportunity
As far as strategic initiatives go, Ribadao’s investment plans couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. Amidst the recent imposition of tariffs on imports from China, Ribadao is looking to leverage its European manufacturing base and diverse sourcing structure.

“This whole tariff situation presents an opportunity for our company,” Hammer told FCNews. “One of our main selling points has always been that the turnaround time out of Europe is better. For example, we can take a special order or container order and normally turn it around in six to eight weeks from the point of being issued to delivery. Our typical lead-time is a month and a half to two months; China is probably 90–120 days out. That’s almost half the time.”

Not only is the turnaround time substantially shorter, but Ribadao also claims it provides other advantages—namely product quality. “Even with some of the tariffs that are being imposed, the Chinese manufacturers do things really doggone cheap over there,” Hammer said. “But we believe we’re much more competitive by comparison.”

As a case in point, Tavares cites Ribadao’s ability to customize products that still allow its customers to turn high margins. “We can develop products to fulfill our customers’ specific needs. Engineered, solid, unique species, different finishes and surface textures, smooth, wire-brushed, distressed, handscraped—whatever they need, basically,” he said.

That’s where owning the plant makes the difference, Tavares explained. “Customers can talk directly with us because we are the mill. We are not just an importer or distributor; we are a true manufacturer.”

More importantly, Hammer noted, Ribadao is a manufacturer that doesn’t trade at the low end of the spectrum. “We’re not a commodity type of company,” Hammer said, citing floors the company has furnished for prestigious retail brands such as Chanel and Banana Republic stores.

More recently, Ribadao’s floors were specified for Sacoor Brothers, a high-end men’s clothing chain with locations in Portugal, Spain and Dubai. “We do mid to high-end work. It’s a more upscale, quality approach,” Hammer added.

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Wood: Wall accent programs complete the package

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By Reginald Tucker

 

Hardwood flooring suppliers are providing retailers with additional profit opportunities by looking up (literally) for new revenue streams. Several companies have either launched dedicated collections specifically designed to be installed on the walls, while a few others are encouraging dealers and installers to utilize their existing flooring products in unconventional ways.

Case in point is the Rowlock Plus line of wall accents from Johnson Hardwood Floors Initially launched in 2016, the program has been expanded due in part to the growing popularity of the trend. “Sales have been steadily growing on both the residential and commercial sides,” said Bill Schollmeyer, CEO. “Residentially, most orders are for a feature wall of some sort to complement an already chosen Johnson Hardwood floor. We’ve supplied several smaller commercial projects and have been specified in several hotel projects still under construction.”

End users have their pick from more than a dozen Rowlock Plus SKUs currently available, allowing designers to coordinate with the corresponding Johnson Hardwood flooring product based on their personal taste or style. Schollmeyer reports particular interest in the trendy, newer colors recently added to existing lines. Among them: Copper Mountain Walnut, which he said “coordinates perfectly with our Tuscan Walnut Lucca floor.” Breckenridge Walnut, Aspen Acacia and Loveland Oak are also great sellers, he added.

DuChâteau is another player with a proven track record of success in selling dedicated wood wall programs. In just a short time, the company has refined its offerings, growing its selection of wall accents and panels to 15 styles and 13 colors. This fall the company also plans to launch a new collection, Celestio, which features unique shapes and profiles of wood mounted to acrylic substrates. The addition of the acrylic allows for installation with LED lighting, creating unique atmospheres.

Beyond hard-wax oil and traditional wood finishes for the wall accents, DuChâteau also offers metallic color treatments such as Wave Gold and Kuadra Silver, which have proven to be very popular with its customers, the company said.

“When we first created our wall coverings, we were inspired by the desire to move the beauty and variety of wood from the floor to the wall, opening a whole new way to feature wood in the home,” said Misael Tagle, CEO and co-founder.

Provenza, whose forte also lies in the high-end spectrum of the hardwood flooring market, is reporting success with its dedicated wooden wall accent and paneling programs as well. Popular lines include its Wall Chic brand of wood accents, a peel-and-stick wall panel line geared toward the DIY market. It comes in more than 25 colors—some of which are painted to coordinate with the company’s Beacon Point hardwood flooring line. Also available are wall panels designed to coordinate with its Lighthouse Cove collection—the breakthrough hardwood flooring line that earned Provenza the Surfaces Style & Design award in 2017.

For Surfaces 2019, Provenza plans to kick it up a notch or two. There, the company will roll out its Wall Cladding line, which—unlike the peel-and-stick long boards—consists of an “up-and-down fingerblock pattern” in various sizes. “This product will be more dimensional and needs to be professionally installed,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner. A separate wood wall accent line available through Tri-West, one of its distributor partners, will also make its debut.

Provenza also plans to launch a “charred” wall covering product, which employs a surface-altering technique similar to the traditional Japanese method (known as shou sugi ban) used to burn wood. “It looks absolutely awesome,” Sadri said.

Other major manufacturers are encouraging retailers and designers to utilize hardwood flooring in unconventional ways. At USFloors, for instance, the company’s popular Castle Combe line of handcrafted floors is suitable for both horizontal and vertical installations. The natural oil finish applied to the product provides the look and feel of an ancient reclaimed floor while modern performance features give consumers the durability they have come to expect from wood. According to Philippe Erramuzpe, COO, the wide portfolio of products allows customers to express their creativity. “This allows the designer or homeowner to make a personal statement or add a customized element to the home,” he said.

Customers looking to coordinate their hardwood flooring installations with accent walls have no shortage of options. The Cabin Pine series from Mercier, for example, matches well with the company’s long-plank, rough-textured boards. “Whether the consumer is looking to add to the rustic charm of her home, or simply give a bit of pop to an otherwise bland space, she will find the perfect look and feel in one of the six featured colors that will harmonize beautifully with the rest of the decor,” said Michel Colin, director of marketing. “You can’t ignore the lightness of pine boards when looking for a quick and easy install, as they can simply be glued to the wall.”

Beyond pine, birch floors—which are known for their hardness and durability—also make great candidates for wall accents. “Pricing is similar to other hardwoods, but birch stands out for its color variations that can run from light tones to dark ones and its natural highlights which add visual appeal,” said John Lee, CEO of Arte Mundi. “The highlights are due to the lighter sapwood and darker, contrasting hardwood that birch contains. These provide the appearance of light, creamy shades mixed with red and brown tones.”

Lee cited several birch options in particular that are conducive to wall installations: Nantucket Mist, a tea-like brown tone that provides a smooth surface with natural crevices and mineral streaks; Morning Haze, which provides a creamed coffee tone with heavy hand scraping, natural crevices, saw marks and mineral streaks; and Coffee Bean, the darkest of all the Arte Mundi birch offerings. It is marked by rich, chocolate-brown hues and features a smooth texture that complements its lighter and darker highlights.

Creative reimagining
The surge in wood wall accents has inspired non-traditional uses of products previously designed strictly for the floor. Companies like Naturally Aged Flooring, for example, said its engineered hardwood planks can safely be installed on most wall surfaces as an accent piece to complete a unique interior design.

“Accent walls provide a striking level of style and design and become the focal and talking points of any space,” said the company in a prepared statement. “Engineered hardwood provides natural, warm beauty, and Naturally Aged Flooring’s distinct colors and distressing create a captivating design element that immediately sets a room apart from any other.”

From a functional perspective, Naturally Aged wall panels feature a protective UV coating. In addition, the panels can be easily installed via tongue-and-groove construction. What’s more, multiple species, finish type and levels of distressing are available, thereby allowing for creativity and freedom in design.

“Whether you use the accent wall to complement or contrast a floor, provide a rustic charm, or bring additional warmth to a room, the combinations are endless,” the company stated.

Other specialty hardwood flooring suppliers are getting into the act. Case in point is Ribadao Wood Boutique, which—after launching its signature Exotics line of hardwood flooring several years ago—followed up with a corresponding offering for the wall. Much like the unique species offered on the flooring side, the wall covering collection from Ribadao focuses on various exotic species from South America and Africa as well as wide-plank European oaks planks. “We have a mixed bag of products that bring value and selection to our customer base,” said Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, North America.

Noted designers such as Emily Morrow, CEO of Dalton-based EF Floors & Design, attribute the craze behind the use of wood on the walls to creative applications often employed by celebrity designers on cable television.

“In the past three or four years, we have witnessed a resurgence of wood finishes working their way from the floors to the walls and even ceilings,” she told FCNews. “Adding elements with character and warmth to interiors has become not just a trend but a major design movement. Thanks to design personalities like Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper,’ we all find ourselves loving the shiplap treatment on walls, beams and wood treatments to ceilings—which, besides creating three-dimensional authenticity, adds to the home’s actual value. What’s not to love about hardwood on the walls?”

All in the positioning
Not all consumers will be predisposed on supplementing a wood flooring purchase with an accent wall installation. In these cases, the power of suggestion—and some creative merchandising strategies—may be in order.

“This is a product that needs to be sold, or at least enthusiastically presented, by a retail salesperson,” Johnson Hardwood’s Schollmeyer said. “It’s a tactile, three-dimensional product that a consumer needs to touch as well as see. The most successful retail sales seem to start with a floor selection, followed by a design suggestion of a complementary Rowlock Plus product. Whether the home is country or contemporary by design, the retailer needs to make the suggestion, and the consumer’s tastes will take it from there.”

The secret to success, experts stress, is helping the customer envision what a flooring installation with a corresponding wall treatment might look like.

“We believe the key is to show the customer how the wood wall covering can be used,” DuChâteau’s Tagle said. “People love the look and feel of a wood wall covering, but oftentimes they have no idea how they can integrate it into their design plans. Showing varied installations at the point of purchase is critical.”