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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

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

By Reginald Tucker  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the real thing

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

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

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

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

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Laminate: Do moisture-resistant claims hold water?

Observers debate merits of overplaying the ‘waterproof’ card

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NWFA conference delivers value for installers, vendors

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Tampa, Fla.—Scores of hardwood flooring contractors, manufacturers and distributors converged at the Tampa Bay Convention Center here recently for the 33rd annual National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and expo. As advertised, the event offered something for everyone in attendance—new products galore, networking and educational opportunities, technical tips and even some entertainment.

“It was a great event,” Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO, told FCNews. “In terms of numbers, we had about 3,000 people attend the expo—which has been pretty steady when you look at our shows over the past few years. We felt really good about it.”

Martin has good reason. The NWFA conference and expo was named one of the 50 fastest-growing trade shows for the past six consecutive years. Beyond the sprawling showcase of hardwood flooring products, installation tools and accessories, a big draw for attendees is the depth of technical, marketing and management sessions offered. In fact, the conference portion of the event boasted 20-plus hours of educational programming.

“We try to devise seminars that address the needs of all the channel segments we serve,” Martin explained, citing the mix of attendees who come to the show. What’s more, conference sessions are structured in such a fashion that encourages audience participation and interaction. “It’s not people talking ‘at you’ all the time. To that end, the sessions are arranged so participants are vocal and active during at least one-third of the sessions to keep them engaged. This allows everyone to learn from each other.”

Indeed, training and education remain a top priority for the association—and this extends beyond the instruction provided during NWFA’s renown installation schools held at its headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo., as well as regional training events across the country. During his opening keynote address to attendees, Martin provided an update on NWFAU—the group’s online training program. Since its inception in the summer of 2016, more than 30,000 courses have been completed by roughly 5,000 users—that translates into about 45 courses taken daily.

“We’re very encouraged by the participation we’re seeing in our online NWFA University,” Martin stated. “At the end of the day, the program benefits retailers, installers and consumers alike.”

Vendors see the value

Many of the exhibitors FCNews spoke to during the product showcase applaud the efforts NWFA management has made over the years to provide value for all members involved. Not only does the NWFA develop programs designed to raise the skill level of the dozens of professional hardwood flooring contractors in attendance, but the association goes above and beyond to deliver a captive audience for manufacturer members and vendor partners

“We’re here to support the industry and the association,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “Many of the attendees here service the new home construction and residential replacement markets—both of which are important sectors for us.”

Pierre Thabet, president and CEO of Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood floors, agrees. “If you’re looking to reach the specialty hardwood flooring contractor, then this is the place to be,” he said. “This is where you meet the installers who really know all about hardwood flooring.”

Mannington and Mirage are not alone. Paul Rezuke, vice president, residential sales, USA, Wickham Flooring, also sees the value in exhibiting at the NWFA expo. “It’s been a really great show for us,” he told FCNews on the second day of the exhibition. “We feel it’s important to have a presence here as we expand our go-to-market strategy in the U.S. We’ve had some pretty good leads.”

Others see attending the expo as an opportunity to not only get in front of professional contractors, but also wood flooring distributors. “We’re here to show our new offerings in our branded Hearthwood line as well as products on the American OEM side that we can offer to distributors on a private-label basis,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Show stoppers

Among the key highlights of the 2018 NWFA show was the Plank Tank contest the association created to encourage members to submit their industry-related business ideas. Modeled after ABC Network’s “Shark Tank,” contestants in NWFA’s Plank Tank pitched their idea during the opening general session.

The competition was hosted by Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, owners of Cousins Maine Lobster, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in a previous season. The businessmen, known for growing their small food truck start-up into a national franchise success, also shared their experiences with attendees during the keynote presentation. The celebrity judges, along with a team of wood flooring professionals, reviewed previously submitted business ideas to determine their merits.

The contest winner, which was announced on the last day of the show along with the NWFA Floor of the Year finalists (see page 8), was Insight Flooring Technologies. The company was recognized for QuoteHero, an app that allows contractors and estimators to measure the square footage of rooms, estimate jobs and close sales on the spot. Insight Flooring Technologies received a $15,000 customized package of NWFA marketing and education products and services.

NWFA’s Martin applauded the concept. “It was good to see NWFA members up there on stage talking about new tools and innovations that will help the industry.”

Look for more coverage of the 2018 NWFA expo in upcoming editions of FCNews.

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Ten people making a difference

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

Some adjectives used to describe the leaders who made the cut in this year’s list include “visionary, bold, enthusiastic and innovative.” Then there are those who just seem to have a natural proclivity for developing creative ideas that generate results. In another camp you have those talented leaders who inspire others day in and day out, challenging them to continue raising their game to a higher level.

FCNews’ 10 people making a difference features puts the spotlight on those individuals who consistently bring out the best in others.

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Hardwood sales grow for first time since 2006

Volume remains sluggish; domestic species usage on the rise

by Emily J. Cappiello

At the end of 2010, the wood flooring industry was being dragged down by continued sluggishness in new home construction and remodeling along with the continued increase in lumber prices. But in 2011, hardwood flooring was able to bounce back a little and, according to many industry insiders, the category made some much-needed gains. Continue reading Hardwood sales grow for first time since 2006

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Defining quality to consumers

by Matthew Spieler

In recent years, manufacturing has gotten to the point where some low-end products have a high-end look and feel. This is especially true in laminate. In fact, there are products that if brought back in time to just 10 years ago, they would qualify as mid- to high-end goods. So what’s a retailer to do to show consumers the differences between a quality product and one constructed not to perform very well? Continue reading Defining quality to consumers

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Economy, End of ITC case helping sales

by Matthew Spieler

Ask people from just about any sector and they will say since December, sales have been steadily picking up. While this is welcome news for anyone who has suffered through the economic downturn, for those in the wood business, it is a breath of fresh air.

As one of the hardest categories of products—flooring or otherwise—hit by the recession thanks to being tied so closely to the housing market, among other factors, a positive growth trend could not have come at a better time. Though final figures for 2011 are not yet available, most experts said the year should have ended slightly better than 2010, which would be the first time the wood category finished in the black since 2006 when the industry reached its peak in sales at more than $2.5 billion. Continue reading Economy, End of ITC case helping sales