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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

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

By Reginald Tucker  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the real thing

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

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

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

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

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U.S.-China tariff tiff troubles some flooring executives

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Flooring executives are acting with trepidation amid the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China, which ratcheted up a few notches last week when the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs on some $50 billion in Chinese imports across 1,300 categories of products.

The imports targeted for 25% levies range from high value-added goods, such as medicines and medical equipment, to intermediate products like machine tools and chemicals as well as durable consumer goods such as dishwashers, TVs and automobile parts. The list also includes machinery used in the production of some flooring products, including carpet and rugs, as well as milling or molding machines for products such as wood, cork, hard rubber, plastics or similar hard materials.

The day after Trump’s announcement, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced plans to impose a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of U.S. exports. The 106 affected products included soybeans and chemicals and came one day after China announced tariffs on $3 billion in imports of U.S. food and other goods, 128 categories in all.

The penalties will not happen right away, if at all. The designation of targeted products will be followed by a comment period in which American companies can provide feedback to the Trump administration on the product choices. The administration will hold a public hearing on the submissions on May 15 in Washington, and companies will have until May 22 to file final objections.

The move stems from a White House investigation into China’s use of pressure, intimidation and theft to obtain American technologies.

Flooring executives argue that in a global economy, any trade war between economic powers would ultimately result in a slowdown of the world economy. Thomas Baert, president of CFL Flooring, a China-based LVT supplier, said issuing large import tariffs sounds like a great idea since theoretically it would help local production in the West but would hurt categories like LVT, which are mostly sourced in China. “In our industry, the product categories that are imported at this stage cannot be made on the domestic machines,” Baert said. “Although several manufacturers are now transforming some production lines to be able to, it is questionable whether this will truly replace China production.”

Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM, a domestic wood manufacturer, had a different take as he pointed to the U.S. trade deficit. “We’re running at an $800 billion trade deficit with the rest of the world, of which $500 billion of that is with China. Most economists say that it is unsustainable, but they don’t really agree on what the consequences are. It’s been this way for more than a decade and growing. Since more jobs are involved in making a product than in importing a product, loss of jobs seems to be the long-term consequence of a trade deficit.”

Finkell said wood flooring going to China from the U.S. has a combination of tariffs, fees and taxes in the range of 27%. If there is a tariff on wood flooring under these trade actions, he said he would expect it to be in the range of 25%. He termed it “significant but not catastrophic to the industry.”

Flooring observers say the tariffs—should they be implemented—would impact the full line distributor to a greater extent than other sectors since wholesalers have been importing LVT/WPC/SPC products in large part to promote their own private-label brands. Jeff Hamar, president of Galleher, a top 20 distributor from Santa Fe Springs, Calif., which sources from China, said he would be very surprised if flooring is ever involved in the tariffs. “There are already duties on wood flooring produced in China so, in theory, the government is already adjusting those prices to reflect market realities,” he said. “If they were to go after rigid LVT flooring the argument would be that there is so little U.S. domestic capacity, who are they harming? Clearly, any duty would be passed onto the consumer and would result in higher prices. Duties on LVT would cut the gap between wood and LVT possibly helping wood flooring sales.”

Jonathan Train, CEO of Houston-based Swiff-Train Co., which also sources extensively from Asia, is clearly not an advocate for excessive tariffs. “Small tariffs that are clearly understood and fairly implemented are fine and do not block trade,” he said. “Plus, they add a reasonable means of revenue for the government. But larger, volatile and retroactive tariffs disrupt markets unnecessarily and do not fix anything.”

Many economists see a trade war as little more than punishing the other country rather than protecting domestic producers. Some flooring executives have similar views. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be a ‘tit for tat’ kind of game that we can’t afford to play,” said Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network. “Imagine just for one second if Walmart couldn’t fill their stores with goods—it would be Armageddon.”

manufacturing to make more stuff here in the U.S.,” said Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network, Shorewood, Ill. “But unfortunately, it’s going to be a ‘tit for tat’ kind of game that we can’t afford to play. Imagine just for one second if Walmart couldn’t fill their stores with goods—it would be Armageddon.”