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Marquis: The best is yet to come in hard surfaces

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.11.22 AMIt is not uncommon these days for a mid-sized carpet mill to get involved in hard surfaces and try to catch the wave that is the LVT/WPC/rigid core movement. What is uncommon is for that mill to have genuine success to the tune of double-digit growth year over year.

Marquis Industries made the leap into the luxury vinyl world nine years ago. Rather than dabbling in it, the company went full-court press, expanding its product portfolio every year as it continued to grow. In fact, 2016 was a record year for Marquis Industries in hard surface products, fueled by its LVT collections—LVP, WPC and SPC (rigid core products). This year, Marquis has introduced new constructions, specifications and visuals to position the company as a premier source of waterproof vinyl flooring in residential and commercial.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate and have had phenomenal growth over the past year and expect it to continue into 2018 and beyond,” said Kevin Howell, vice president, hard surface division. “Our intention is to win, to deliver unparalleled support to our partners in the industry and continue to develop and deliver products of value to our loyal customer base.”

Marquis is winning with products like Williamsburg, one of the hot new looks introduced at Surfaces 2017. This multi-width pattern WPC is designed with the latest in grays and tan/browns, and measures 7 x 48 with a 20 mil, ceramic bead finish and an IXPE attached cushion. Customers have been impressed with the company’s transformation from carpet mill to full-line hard surface source. One flooring dealer who had carried Marquis carpet but no hard surfaces bought a container.

Roy Rueb, general manager at Vrooman Carpet, a Golden Valley, Minn., wholesaler, said he has worked with Marquis for 25 years, primarily on the carpet side; he added hard surfaces roughly five years ago, starting with a Marquis luxury vinyl line called Country Home. “They’ve always been a stand-up company, always good to work with, so I had no concerns taking on their hard surface products. And when they did come to us it was obvious they had done their homework. They had gone to China and did their research, so I felt comfortable taking it on. In fact, we have actually done quite well with it, starting with Country Home; we now have four collections.”

Rueb said the company is doing quite well with Marquis WPC and will add rigid core when the product comes online soon. “We should have everything covered in that category by then. In hard surface, [Marquis] luxury vinyl hands-down has been phenomenal.”

Vrooman doubled its business with Marquis last year, mostly on the LVT side. “The carpet side stayed consistent but hard surface was significantly more. It is up again this year although not double, maybe 20% up. It’s been a good partnership.”

Likewise, Rob Quinn, owner of Quinn Distributors in Milwaukee, has been doing business with Marquis for 20-plus years, and until recently was a soft surface wholesaler only. “We both saw the writing on the wall that hard surface was coming. We got into it together.”

Although initially hesitant to go to market in hard surfaces with a carpet mill, Quinn said he was duly impressed with Marquis’ offerings, which he said are well engineered and thicker than most; the results bear that out. In 2017, Quinn estimates he will do between $1 million and $1.5 million in business with Marquis, and two-thirds of that will come in hard surface. Quinn represents three LVT suppliers; however, 80% of that business comes from Marquis. He particularly likes the visuals found in the Montana and Granite Falls SKUs. “Marquis does a fantastic job with styling, color and pricing; they have expertise in how to price things,” he said. “What I like is that they don’t have too many SKUs in any one category. We’re not the kind of distributor that’s going to stock 25 shades of green, so this works out well for us.”

According to Marquis’ Howell, the manufacturer will be introducing style and performance with the new designs in 2018 as the company expands the breadth of its product offerings.

 

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Spotlight: Southwind provides retailers with the complete package

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Southwind Carpets, a division of Cherokee Carpet Industries, has been known for providing a range of residential and Main Street commercial carpets to dealers throughout the U.S. and abroad. Since its hard surface division launched in 2015, the company has added LVP, WPC and hardwood collections to its portfolio—providing retailers with the complete flooring package.

Southwind’s leap into hard surfaces occurred when the company saw an opportunity for a smaller business to take stock in the marketplace, said Randy Hatch, president and CEO, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We felt there was an opportunity for an alternative to a lot of the big guys that are out there—specifically a need for a company that focuses on providing great service to our retailer base as well as focusing on quality and making sure we are perceived that way by our customer.”

Even though the company is innovating in the hard surface arena it has not forgotten about the success of its soft surface offerings. Southwind launched its first soft, polyester fiber into the market in January, which is receiving positive feedback from retailers.

Hardwood Displays - Southwind“We’ll continue to introduce new products on both sides,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We try to coordinate everything we do in hard surfaces with our carpet offerings. We look at making quality products that are dependable and available to the customer.”

As a smaller flooring manufacturer, the company prides itself on offering its retail partners more personalized attention. In fact, Southwind takes the time to listen to consumer needs before developing new products. “We want to stay competitive in the marketplace and make sure we provide whatever flooring products the customers are asking for,” Hatch explained.

Retailers such as Amanda Dagnan, office manager at Factory Carpet Warehouse, Knoxville, Tenn., have noticed the benefits of working with a smaller company. “We have carried Southwind for as long as I have worked at Factory Carpet—at least 15 years. Southwind is a small mill just like our business. It is nice to pick up the phone and get the same people every time or know exactly who to talk to when there is a question or issue. Their carpet line is eco-friendly and outperforms most of the bigger mills. Plus, they are able to keep their prices lower since they are a small business.”

Factory Carpet Warehouse is finding success with selling not only the company’s carpets but also its hard surfaces. “Southwind’s LVP is our best-selling floor,” Dagnan added. “We have never been one to stock hard surface; however, we have been through approximately 50 pallets since its line was introduced. We have not had one installation problem or one complaint about wear and tear. We even tested the waterproof capabilities by breaking a water line in a customer’s house.”

Ernie Cavender, owner of Cavender’s – The Interior Company, Cookeville, Tenn., has carried Southwind carpet for more than 25 years and recently started selling the company’s hard surfaces. “I was a little bit surprised when Southwind announced it was going into hard surface, but my experience with the products has been nothing but positive. We started with a couple of hard surfaces and we’ve been very successful with selling them.”

In addition to a wide range of products, Southwind offers retailers good quality, strong price points and the opportunity to increase margins, Cavender explained. Combine these points with the company’s desire to give retailers personalized attention and, as Cavender said, “It’s about a relationship rather than just a sale.”

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Contract: State of the industry—Innovation sparks broader usage of hard, soft surfaces

June 5/12, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 26

By K.J. Quinn

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.25 AMThe dynamics in the top commercial sectors are changing as interior design preferences evolve. While luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and modular carpet are the two fastest growing products, experts say, alternative flooring products are meeting designer needs for good looks, sustainability, durability and low maintenance and are expanding usage across the board.

“Categorically, the commercial carpet market is no longer defined by broadloom vs. carpet tile,” said Mike Gallman, senior vice president, commercial product, Mohawk Group. “It’s now hard surfaces vs. soft surfaces.”

Anecdotally speaking, experts say commercial flooring sales are on pace to increase 3% this year, according to industry estimates. While projections are based on a small sample size— approximately four months at press time—the growth rate represents a slight improvement over Q4 last year when market sales were reportedly soft. What is increasing more dramatically are flooring choices, as new products, aesthetics and finishes provide more selections than ever for the A&D community.

“Choices of sizes, colors, patterns, bevel treatments, constructions, wear layers, etc., affords them the ability to do what they do best—create,” said Al Boulogne, Mannington’s vice president of commercial resilient business. “Offering the broadest portfolio of choices gives them the ability to design a space without limitation of options.”

While experts say sales are fairly even between carpet tile and broadloom—the latter of which maintains a slight edge in volume—modular products are expanding significantly faster. “Carpet tile has been steadily taking share from broadloom in the education and corporate/office sectors, preferred for its ease of installation, increased design options and flexibility for moving and replacing tiles once installed,” stated Matt Miller, president, Interface Americas.

Sharing the spotlight is LVT, which is helping hard surfaces sustain growth in retail and healthcare strongholds and expanding at a double-digit rate into non-traditional markets like corporate/offices and hospitality. Expansion is coming at the expense of carpet and low-cost options such as VCT as lifecycle costs and styling further impact purchasing decisions. Workhorse products such as rubber, linoleum and VCT remain fixtures in healthcare and education settings while hardwood and laminates are carving a niche in certain retail and hospitality spaces.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.37 AM“In all cases, performance and value are the drivers,” said Denis Darragh, Forbo’s vice president, North America, citing linoleum as an example. “Performance encompasses all aspects of the product, from durability through being the best product for a healthy indoor environment.”

Ceramic tile in particular has grown steadily. Estimates show the category represents about 15% to 20% of commercial sales and volume, with specified contract accounting for about 70% of the business. Ceramic is on pace to reach or exceed 2016 growth rates, when volume and sales rose approximately 6% and 5.5%, respectively.

“There still remains a tremendous growth opportunity for the tile category,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product marketing, Dal-Tile. “Our company is diligently working to take advantage of this opportunity and the tile industry as a whole also appears to understand this reality.”

Mitigating factors
Despite the fact key economic indicators such as inflation, consumer confidence, lending rates and new construction are pointing in the right direction, growth—or lack thereof—within the five major markets varies. Each segment faces specific issues impacting interior design and flooring selections. For example, the corporate/office sector is witnessing changes in interior design aimed at helping employers retain and recruit top talent and ultimately drive greater results.

“Driven by strong earnings, many corporations are reinvesting in their offices through renovation or relocation,” noted Mark Oliver, vice president, workplace and retail segments, Mohawk. “They recognize the office—and the way its employees engage with it—is changing faster than ever before.”

The workplace remains a bedrock market for carpet tile, where it is coveted for acoustical properties, durability and comfort underfoot. “We’re still seeing carpet tile increase in the corporate part of the commercial market,” observed Ralph Grogan, president and CEO, Bentley Mills. “There are a lot of law offices and accounting firms using carpet tile now as they are going to a more open office concept.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.50 AMMeanwhile, hard surfaces such as resilient, hardwood, porcelain tile and even polished concrete are quickly gaining coverage in lobbies, break rooms and bathrooms. “Corporate is one of the last segments to be looking at hard surfaces in a bigger way,” Mannington’s Boulogne pointed out. “We are starting to see a shift in preference to LVT as design has started to focus more on targeting this category.”

Hard surfaces remains dominant in healthcare as resilient, rubber and linoleum meet durability, maintenance, hygienic and slip resistance needs, observers say. Ceramic, porcelain and terrazzo tile are commonly found in public areas such as hallways, making it easier to maneuver rolling equipment and mobile aids. Carpet and LVT are primarily specified for non-patient areas like waiting rooms and medical offices.

“Architects and designers are putting LVT in healthcare applications because of its modularity,” said Jeremy Salomon, director of product management and marketing – retail, Tarkett. “We’ve been designing LVT to look like some of the sheet vinyl products. It gives designers flexibility in solutions they want to put into healthcare applications.”

A fast growing area within healthcare is assisted living, due largely to the shortage of rooms available to care for an aging U.S. population. Facility managers are reportedly sprucing up these spaces to create “homey” environments for residents. “Activity is trending up, with some larger, continuing care retirement communities going up—along with new senior-living projects in urban areas, drawn by Baby Boomers in search of a more active retirement lifestyle,” said Jamey Block, vice president, resilient product management, Armstrong.

A similar makeover is occurring in hospitality, as hotels attempt to incorporate residential design with high-performance products that are also easy to maintain. “Our hospitality business has grown at a 33% compound annual rate over the past three years in the Americas region, and we expect that trend to continue,” Interface’s Miller said. More and more hospitality end users are shifting to a mixture of soft and hard surfaces, providing us the opportunity to sell both our LVT and carpet tile offerings.”

Sector-specific solutions
Other flooring materials, such as broadloom and ceramic, are also reaping the benefits. “For example, a design firm specified wood-look tile for the floors of guest rooms at a boutique hotel in Texas, but also specified carpet to be installed under the beds,” noted Lindsey Waldrep, vice president, marketing, Crossville. “Guests get the comfort of carpet right by the bed, yet the rest of the room is covered in easy-to-clean, rarely-needs-replacing tile that will let hotel staff turn rooms much more quickly and in a cleaner fashion.”

Similar to hospitality, the influx of new construction work and remodeling are impacting the retail segment. The sector is a mixed bag, with end uses ranging from small, mom-and-pop grocery stores to larger restaurants, retail chains and other establishments. “Car dealerships and fitness centers, both considered retail spaces at Dal-Tile, as well as quick-service restaurants, are areas of growth that are positively impacting the tile market,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 10.36.45 AMRetail is usually at the forefront of design trends as end users are always on the lookout for trendy, attractive options. “A new and different approach to hard surface designs wins in this highly competitive segment,” Mannington’s Boulogne said. “Abstract visuals are gaining share as are new and different looks.”

At the same time, the high amounts of foot traffic at retail locations require floors that perform well and look good over the long term. Ceramic, wood and carpet are often specified in high end spaces while resilient, VCT and rubber flooring are found in other public areas. “LVT is taking market share from both tile and broadloom sales because of design trends and ease of maintenance,” Mohawk’s Gallman observed.

Meanwhile, in the education segment, LVT is the rising star. Resilient accounts for an estimated half of the flooring specified in this sector, industry research shows. But other products, such as linoleum and rubber, retain a small niche as they provide both visual and functional qualities that appeal to staff, students and parents. “We are constantly improving the visuals as well as the depth and breadth of the product offering, particularly modular options, that enhance the capabilities of the product line,” Forbo’s Darragh said.

Ongoing innovations
Manufacturers of commercial flooring products are continually making investments to meet the varying needs of commercial customers. Designers are creating people-centric spaces for clients which, in part, helps enhance the work-life balance. “That’s why we’re seeing residential and hospitality influences in workplace design,” said Mark Page, senior director creative design and development, Mohawk. “With flooring, designers aim to strike a balance between hard and soft surfaces for work, rest and social activity.”

Soft surface innovation is taking place mostly in design, with new tufting technologies allowing for complex patterns and textures in carpet tile previously only available in broadloom. “It allows the use of more color, patterning capabilities and pinpoint accuracy,” Bentley’s Grogan said. “It has allowed all manufacturers to get lower face weights, which helps with budgets.”

LVT’s good looks have helped propel it to the forefront in many commercial segments. “In addition, the ongoing preference for designing commercial spaces to look more residential in nature has brought popular, proven hard surface products into the commercial arena,” Armstrong’s Block said.

With respect to tile, advances in digital printing technologies have enabled vendors to create realistic 3D visuals that mimic natural materials. “The bar is raised like never before,” Crossville’s Waldrep said. “Convincing wood looks, unique decorative facings, textures, more modular sizes, even porcelain tile panels so versatile they can be installed in ways traditional tile never could.”

Many tile production facilities feature printers that can digitally apply different gloss levels of glaze, metallic and even texture. “When coupled with sophisticated 3D scanners, this means highlights and shadows can actually be printed in line with the physical structure of the tile’s face to enhance the look of even subtly textured surfaces,” noted Ryan Fasan, technical consultant, Tile of Spain. Technology advances are also expanding tile formats, allowing vendors to create everything from beautiful mosaics in hexagon and rectangular shapes to massive porcelain slab sizes.

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Myers Carpet celebrates 60th year in business

Rick and Ray Myers.
Rick and Ray Myers.

Dalton—Myers Carpet will be celebrating its 60th year in business this July. The company was founded in 1957 by Gene Myers, who started buying scraps of carpet from local mills and reworking them into stair treads and small rugs which he sold through area chenille stores. Myers, with the help of his wife Evelyn and later sons Rick and Ray, soon opened Dalton’s first carpet store and began offering carpet from local mills.

In 1987 Myers Carpet opened a 3,000 square foot showroom in Atlanta. Six years later it moved into a 35,000 square foot warehouse and showroom. Then in 1998, Myers Flooring opened in Nashville, followed by the purchase in 2001 of the showroom and warehouse of Division Street Carpets in downtown Nashville. On February 1, 2016, Myers Carpet closed on the purchase of Nashville Carpet Center after several months of negotiations with it’s owner Van Gilmore. Nashville Carpet Center had served the city of Nashville with residential and commercial floorcovering for over 41 years. The company’s name was retained as the commercial division of Myers Flooring of Nashville.

Myers Carpet continues to sell products from Shaw, Mohawk and Beaulieu, and has expanded over the years into selling high-end carpet and area rugs. All three locations have custom workrooms where the company cuts, serges, binds, and creates customized area rugs and room-sized rugs. “The workroom has been a successful addition to our business for several years because high-end customers demand such service,” said Ray Myers. “Many of our customers are in million-dollar Buckhead homes and need quality craftsmanship. We are so close and can turn things quickly for them.”

In recent years, Myers Carpet has also expanded into hard surface stocking several styles and sampling most major hardwood, laminate and tile manufacturers. In-house installation has also been established as another service to customers. The business ranges from a 2 x 3 feet area rug to commercial floorcovering projects.

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Should retailers be worried about hard surface surge?

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

By K.J. Quinn

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 11.54.38 AMIt’s no secret residential hard surface sales are growing at record levels and gaining market share primarily at carpet’s expense. What is unknown is the toll this surge will have on dealer profitability down the road, as margins are thinner and product life spans are considerably longer for natural materials and certain resilient floors.

“This year, for us, was our lowest in carpet sales,” said Tom Urban, general manager, Great Lakes Carpet & Tile, which operates three locations in central Florida. “It’s about 23% of our overall business; we’ve never had it that low. It was much easier to make a profit selling carpet than hard surfaces.”

Most flooring retailers are no longer in the position where carpet is their bread-and-butter product, experts say. The amount of real estate devoted to carpet displays is steadily declining to accommodate pent-up demand for hard surfaces. “Just as Mohawk has diversified our business, retailers have to diversify their businesses,” said Seth Arnold, Mohawk’s senior director of brand, soft surface. “We are able to help navigate the changing consumer preferences. That being said, it is important to note carpet is still the largest single category.”

Indeed, rumors of carpet’s demise are greatly exaggerated, as the category represented approximately 43.4% of total flooring sales and 60% of volume in 2015, according to FCNews research. “Carpet is still king in rural markets,” noted Olga Robertson, president and CEO, FCA Network. “It’s the major metro markets that sell more hard surfaces. It may have more to do with the fact that it’s difficult to get good tile and hardwood installers in rural markets.”

What is getting increasingly difficult for retailers is maintaining the same level of profitability while selling less carpet. For the moment, dealers are making it up largely through volume. “We’ve kind of had to brace ourselves to do more volume to keep the same profit level and make the same profit dollars from a couple of years ago,” Urban reports. “Our average ticket is up over $1,000 a sale, so it has increased dramatically over the years.”

But, how much longer can dealers keep up this pace? Most hard surfaces maintain their appearance long after carpet “uglies” out, which could translate into less business over time. “I think it should be one of a retailer’s top concerns,” said David Snedeker, division merchandise manager, Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), Omaha, Neb. “Hard surfaces are growing, so you’re going to see less customers.”

Evolving product mix
As hard surface expands rapidly into traditional carpet strongholds in the home—such as dining, living and bed rooms—retailers are diversifying their product mix to keep up with demand. “We haven’t felt the effect of lost carpet sales because we have been able to pick up those sales by gaining other rooms of the home,” said Scott Junkins, owner, Harris Flooring America, Anderson, S.C. “The proper product assortment will increase the retailer’s average ticket and proper is based on what is selling, not what you try to sell.”

As dealers update showrooms to reflect what’s trending in their area, industry members say most of these products are supplanting carpet. “[We have] increased hard surface offerings and real estate in our showrooms, resulting in a smaller footprint in our soft surface departments,” added Kelby Frederick, co-CEO/owner, My Flooring America, Denton, Texas. “We have to reduce our ‘me, too’ offering of carpet products.”

Capitol Carpet & Tile, Boynton Beach, Fla., has seen a shift in soft surface sales. “We started out 30 years ago as a carpet store and we’re now about 50% carpet and 50% hard surfaces,” noted Lou Morano, president.

However, dealers have not given up on carpet altogether. “We still do sell a decent amount of carpet,” Morano said. “We want to sell the customer what [she] wants. It doesn’t make a difference to us if a customer wants to buy tile, laminate or carpet.”

The carpet lineup, however, is being streamlined dramaticallyas dealers seek to cover key price points, qualities and styles with fewer selections. Dealers such as My Flooring America are moving away from cut samples while others eliminated them entirely. “We aren’t showing eight different 35-ounce nylon textures that all look alike,” Frederick pointed out. “We have added a broader assortment of carpet products to feature better quality items that are much more fashionable, whether it be pattern, precision cut or print products.”

Less carpet, fewer customers
Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 11.54.43 AMIf the hard surface boom continues, dealers may see fewer customers, especially as product warranties get more extensive.

But not all consumers use end-of-life as the basis for their purchasing decision. “I think the big difference is customers replace hard surface more due to change in fashion than performance,” Frederick said. “We have found the lifecycle to not be quite as dramatic as we feared due to changing trends in fashion.”

Indeed, consumer shopping habits change almost daily. “The younger generation of customers seems to be more focused on individuality, style and design, and easy maintenance vs. their parents wanting something that would ‘last forever,’” said Brad Christensen, vice president soft surface category management, Shaw Floors. “Even with the longer lifecycle with hard surface products, the fact that people are so much more mobile and spontaneous now, there will still be a market to make a space ‘mine,’ even if the current product is not necessarily worn out.”

Generating repeat business
As longer product lifecycles reduce the frequency of customer visits, dealers are exploring different avenues to bring people back sooner. NFM is considering entering other categories, such as cabinets. “You have to expand your horizons from the flooring [business], because you’re going to see fewer customers over time, with so much hard surfaces being sold and continuing to expand in the home,” Snedeker said.

Walgenmeyer’s Carpet & Tile, Madison, Wis., expanded its business to include post-sale services surrounding wood floors. “As we sell more hardwood, we can continue to service the customer that 10 years ago would have put in carpet but now wants hard surface/wood,” owner Erik Kadlec said. “Dealers that are not looking at offering services like buffing, sanding, sealing and finishing wood floors are missing out on profits still coming in.”

Industry members are optimistic the hard surface explosion will open opportunities for products which complement flooring. For example, Rug Gallery by Great Lakes Carpet & Tile recently opened as a one-stop rug store to accommodate growing demand. “We’re hearing numbers like seven out of 10 customers who buy hard surfaces wind up buying an area rug,” Urban said. “Rather than dangle a small area rug rack in the showroom, in September we opened a complete store.”

Ultimately, consumers need to be educated about the “latest and greatest” in carpet, experts say, which will encourage them to buy. “We as retailers need to do a better job, and the industry as a whole, to tout the benefits of carpet,” Robertson said. “It’s pretty, it’s warm, it has insulating qualities, it’s quiet, it’s made in the U.S. and it’s actually hypo-allergenic.”

 

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Torlys brings its innovation lab to Surfaces 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-11-03-amLas VegasTorlys will launch three new technology-driven collections at its Innovation Lab themed booth (#6033) at the 2017 Surfaces show in
Las Vegas: CorkWood digital print cork, EverWood Designer luxury vinyl and SuperSolid 6 hardwood.

CorkWood is an engineered floor that offers the beauty of hardwood, the durability of laminate and the comfort of cork all in one floor. The top layer is made of hi-definition digitally printed compressed cork in hardwood looks, has a durable HDF smart core and is backed by CorkPlus attached underlay with antimicrobial product protection. This floor has the equivalent of an AC4 rating, is Forest Stewardship Council certified and is offered in two collections: CorkWood Designer in long and wide planks measuring 68-3/4” x 7-1/2”; and CorkWood Elite in planks measuring 45-13/16” x 7-1/2”.

The EverWood Designer collection features the latest in styling along with a pet proof warranty and has Microban antimicrobial product protection in its WPC core and CorkPlus attached underlay. These floors feature ultra-tight Uniclic joints and realistic wood grains in 72” x 7” wide planks.

Torlys’ SuperSolid hardwood is all hardwood containing no softwood filler or fiber. The construction is a patented innovation called E-Lock, a cross-joined, compression-locked structure that uses the same species of hardwood for its bottom, core and wear layers, and is finished with highest quality KLUMPP top coat for remarkable durability and performance. The SuperSolid 6 is the third collection in the line-up and features planks in 6” widths by random lengths. The SuperSolid 7 and 5 collections have also been updated to include new colors and textures.

Designed to recreate the feelings of creativity, ingenuity and triumph that goes into developing new technologies and flooring systems, Torlys’ booth will feature a 12 ft. high EverWood waterfall to demonstrate the waterproof nature of the product, along with the Innovation Lab area designed to showcase new products and technologies.

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Wood: Not so made in America

January 2/9, 2017: Volume 31, Number 15

Mystery shopping exercise reveals RSAs don’t always properly identify product origins

By Reginald Tucker

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-4-11-50-pmMuch has been made about the “Made in the USA” slogan in recent years, particularly as it applies to big-ticket items such as automobiles, appliances and, yes, even hardwood flooring products. While it has served as a rallying cry for those who support domestic sourcing and manufacturing, it can (and has) backfired when products claimed by some retail sales associates to be made in America turned out to be produced elsewhere.

Several such instances were exposed when representatives of American OEM conducted a series of “mystery shopper” exercises whereby they asked retail sales associates in select stores to confirm the origin of particular hardwood flooring products that were on display on the showroom floor. In more than a few cases, American OEM representatives report, salespeople did not properly identify the products’ origins when asked by the mystery shoppers.

Allie Finkell, vice president of American OEM, explained how the program began. “Earlier this year one of our team members who was on vacation ended up stopping at a bunch of retail stores up north. He gave the sales rep specific information in terms of what he wanted as far as specifications, style, color, etc. More importantly, he told the rep he wanted a product that was made in America. He was just trying to see if the rep would take him to a private-label brand that was manufactured by American OEM, knowing pretty much that was the only product in the rack that fit the bill.”

What the American OEM mystery shopper found, however, was either the salesperson had no idea where the hardwood flooring was made or he was simply incorrect. While Finkell realizes it’s hard for salespeople to know everything about every product in the store—including where they are made—she feels there ought to be systems in place whereby consumers can readily discern between flooring manufactured within the U.S. or outside the country prior to making a purchasing decision.

“With many consumer goods, especially clothing or seafood at the supermarket, for example, you can look at the tag or the label and see where it’s made. Then you can make a choice if that’s important to you or not. There’s so much transparency happening in virtually every other consumer category at the point of sale. But when it comes to flooring, we have so much imported product that’s coming over and some of it is being marketed with misleading information with American or U.S. sounding names.”

One of the main problems, Finkell says, is there’s no regulation in terms of labeling hardwood flooring products at the point of sale; you only have to put the country of origin on the box itself. Problem is, by the time the customer sees the box she has more than likely already made her decision. “In many cases she doesn’t even see the box in which the materials are shipped because the product usually gets installed before she comes home,” she noted.

While leading industry trade groups such as the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) do not have authoritative powers with respect to enforcement of claims regarding country of origin (that burden falls on the Federal Trade Commission), groups are working to set standards regarding “responsible” sourcing. Such is the case with NWFA’s Responsible Procurement Program, which was developed to ensure member companies observe guidelines pertaining to the environmentally friendly harvesting procedures. The program is a joint initiative between leading environmental groups and wood flooring manufacturers committed to producing products obtained from environmentally and socially responsible sources.

However, this program is voluntary and—while well-intentioned—lacks the regulatory “teeth” that federal mandates might carry.

Other industry groups have been known to take a much more fierce stance in this regard. For instance, Finkell cited the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA), which was created in 1898 to establish a uniform system of grading rules for the measurement and inspection of hardwood lumber. Over time, NHLA’s purview has been expanded beyond hardwood lumber grading. Today it is the world’s largest and oldest hardwood industry association, representing more than 1,200 companies and one million hardwood families that produce, use and sell North American hardwood lumber or provide equipment, supplies or services to the hardwood industry.

NWFA, for its part, is working with retailers on the education front as opposed to serving the role of “enforcer.” As Anita Howard, COO, explains: “NWFA does offer retail sales training for wood flooring professionals, both in person and through our online courses through NWFA University. Some of the courses specifically discuss the regulations regarding chain of custody reporting, so this issue is definitely one we address through our training programs. It provides teams with consistent messages that help them steer their customers toward the right products. We also participate regularly at shows like CCA, Flooring America and ProSource to provide education and training on a larger scale.”

 

A matter of choice
Even those who advocate domestic manufacturing and the proper identification of products and species at the point of sale realize it’s not an issue that’s top of mind for many consumers. As Finkell points out, “Some people might not care where it comes from—maybe they just want the best price or a certain look. But for those consumers who do care about where it’s made, they ought to be able to get the most accurate information and a straight answer at the point of sale.”

For some consumers it is an important issue. And it’s one that manufacturers are sensitive to. Mohawk, for instance, believes the Made in the USA label means more today than it ever has with all the press on the various environmental issues. To that end, the company has people in place to ensure all facets of its hardwood production—including everything from finishes to adhesives—are in compliance.

“The majority of our manufacturing is in the United States, but we also have a large presence in Europe,” said Gary Lanser, president of Mohawk’s wood and laminate business. “Obviously there are many advantages to our customers and ourselves in purchasing and supplying domestically produced products. Clearly there’s the speed of supply and excellent service.”

Other major hardwood flooring suppliers share that philosophy, emphasizing the importance of properly sourcing raw materials and complying with environmental regulations. At Shaw Floors, for instance, the aim is to go beyond standards required by law to pursue independent, third-party assessments such as Cradle to Cradle, Greenguard, FloorScore and others. Shaw says it carefully considers the impact of its products on the environment and on society throughout their life cycle. More importantly, it examines the ingredient materials, the impact of its supply chain, the use of natural resources and the ability to recover and recycle its products.

While Shaw manufactures many of its own products and sources from strategic partners in the U.S. and internationally, the company takes “numerous steps to verify that its products, regardless of where or by whom they are manufactured, meet customers’ high expectations. These steps include: performing manufacturing site inspections to ensure suppliers meet the same high-quality standards the company practices internally; setting raw material specifications that restrict the use of certain chemical substances of concern; and ensuring all products meet the relevant indoor air emissions requirements,” according to a statement.

 

 

 

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Phenix Flooring taps industry veteran, Jason Hair, as VP of hard surfaces

jason-hairDalton, Ga.—Phenix Flooring has hired Jason Hair as vice president of hard surfaces. Hair will be responsible for planning, developing and implementing a strategy to allow the organization to continue to expand and successfully compete within the hard surface category. Hair will be based in Dalton, Ga.

“We’re excited about our future in the ever-expanding hard surface arena and we’re thrilled to have an individual seasoned in the field to be taking on this endeavor,” said Mark C. Clayton, president of Phenix. “It provides additional opportunities for the company to grow and meet our customers’ needs and we are confident that Hair is the right person to make that happen. His insight into the industry is a huge asset on this investment in our hard surfaces department. His leadership experience makes him a perfect fit for the position and the company at large.”

Phenix entered the hard surface arena earlier this year with the successful launch of their Origins luxury vinyl tile and laminate programs.  Hair will play an integral role in expanding upon this offering with the launch of four new products at Surfaces 2017.  These products will each offer unique, industry-leading technologies which address the needs of today’s consumer.

Hair has 22 years of experience in the flooring industry. Prior to joining Phenix, Hair was the senior vice president of hard surfaces and strategic accounts for Beaulieu of America and was responsible for all aspects of the hard surfaces business.

Hair received his bachelor’s degree in business management from Georgia Southern University.

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FCNews exclusive: Mohawk Hard Surfaces goes on the offensive

October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Reginald Tucker

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-11-40-11-amTo say that Mohawk Industries has dramatically evolved over the past 20 years would be putting it mildly. Historically perceived as a carpet company, Mohawk has vastly expanded its portfolio of products—through both acquisition and internal expansion—to include a full breadth of hard surface materials. In fact, ceramic is the largest product category in the company’s offering today, and it also maintains leading positions in hardwood, laminate, vinyl, stone and area rugs.

In the 21 years since its merger with Aladdin, the company has grown from under $1 billion to $8.5 billion. And -ince 2013 Mohawk has invested around $5 billion with the goal of delivering product innovations at a better value to its customers.

To execute those objectives and initiatives, Mohawk relies on a seasoned team of flooring industry executives. At the helm is Brian Carson, who serves as president of North American flooring operations with responsibility for all flooring categories with the exception of ceramic—a separate business unit. Carson, a veteran of the wood flooring business, joined Mohawk about 10 years ago—initially taking on hard surface responsibilities and eventually expanding into soft surfaces.

A recent restructuring resulted in the appointment of Gary Lanser to the position of president of Mohawk’s wood and laminate business, which includes distribution of the Quick-Step and Columbia brands. In this capacity, he will drive the development of innovative products while overseeing the construction and start-up of Mohawk’s new engineered wood and laminate plants. Lastly, David Holt, senior vice president, will be responsible for all wood, laminate, resilient and ceramic sold through the Mohawk channel. As well, he has responsibility for all the builder and multi-family sales channels for Mohawk.

FCNews recently sat down with Lanser and Holt to discuss Mohawk’s outlook on the hardwood and laminate flooring sectors in particular and the company’s approach to growing its market share in each of the categories.

Respectively, what do you bring to the table in terms of your leadership skills, experience and insight as you look to further develop and promote Mohawk’s hardwood and laminate offerings?
Gary Lanser:
What I bring is broad-based experience. Over the course of my career I have worked in several industries, including agriculture, industrial fiber and chemicals, and now I’m in the floor covering space. Function-wise, I have experience in research and development, manufacturing, sales, marketing and supply-chain leadership. With that, I bring strong operational, logistics and business leadership skills to the team. With this diverse background, I bring a fresh set of eyes to the business. I have an intellectual curiosity so I ask a lot of questions.
David Holt: I have been in the flooring business for most of my life, with the exception of a 15-year stint in the recycling world, which was still focused around the floor covering business. I’ve held jobs from executive vice president of sales and marketing to CEO and now senior vice president here at Mohawk for the builder/multi-family channel as well as hard surface retail. This involves selling the whole tool box—a strategy that has been very successful for us. I plan on carrying the exact same selling traits over to the retail side as well.

The growing consumer trend toward hard surfaces is well documented. In your transition from a once carpet-only company to a full-line hard surface manufacturer, how has Mohawk evolved over the years to address this trend?
Lanser:
Certainly Mohawk prides itself on innovation as well as our strong brands. These elements combined enable us to offer a basket of products with unique features and consumer appeal that competitors can’t match. Given our logistics and distribution system, we can offer a full array of products that we can deliver to our customers anywhere in the U.S., typically within five business days. More importantly, we are able to tie in all of our floor covering products into a single experience. That has worked very well for Mohawk.
Holt: We are already the world’s largest laminate producer, and we are adding capacity when others are scaling back. In addition to that, we are No. 1 in ceramic. We expect to quickly become No. 1 in wood as well.

Can you talk about—from a strategic standpoint—some of the steps you are taking to build on your capacity in laminates?
Lanser:
We are investing in laminate manufacturing. This will increase our laminate capacity as we continue to grow and extend our leadership position in the category.
Holt: In laminate our innovation and technology exceeds that of our competitors. We have the Uniclic glueless locking system, which is clearly the best installation system in the marketplace. And it allows us to do more with our product to make it more dimensionally stable than our competitors. Plus, it’s all made in North Carolina. Our design, technology and innovation are the best in the industry; that’s why we’re No. 1—not just because of volume.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-11-40-28-amAre these innovations and features translating into products on which retailers can make higher margins?
Holt:
Yes, they can make more money with our products. When a retailer buys from us, they know they’re getting a product that’s made in America and backed by Mohawk. They can feel comfortable knowing they’re not going to have an issue like we’ve seen with other laminate importers. We keep our distribution clean, our styling separate between channels, and we’re able to react very quickly to market trends because we manufacture the product. Whereas if you are an importer, it takes a lot of time to do that.
Lanser: We offer products that have innovative features, strong brands, great price and value so retailers can trade up the customers to better-performing products. We offer proprietary technologies across all our product lines—Uniclic, AmorMax, Opulux, Spill Protect 24, GenuEdge. Style, design and performance—that’s how we create as much value for our independent distributors as well as the retailers we service.

As a globally recognized brand, how much emphasis do you place on domestic manufacturing? Does it really matter to the retailer at the end of the day?
Lanser:
The majority of our manufacturing is in the United States, but we also have a large presence in Europe. But obviously there are many advantages to our customers and ourselves in purchasing and supplying domestically produced products. Clearly there’s the speed of supply, excellent service, etc. When you take a look at all that, not only are the retailers and the distributors satisfied, but consumers also feel the same way.
Holt: The Made in the USA label means more today than it ever has with all the press on the various environmental issues out there. We are a large company with a lot of assets, and those assets include people who look into everything from finishes to adhesives that might possibly cause anybody a problem. You’re not going to have that kind of control outside of the U.S. As someone who has run the builder multi-family business for quite some time, I can tell you when you’re dependent upon someone else to control your manufacturing assets, you’re always going to have too much of the ‘bad’ thing and not enough of the ‘good’ thing. That does not equal good service; it amounts to upset customers out in the field. Manufacturing in the U.S. allows us to meet our customers’ needs at the drop of a hat.

Competition is fierce, especially among the more popular hard surface categories. Amidst ever-tighter margins at retail, how is Mohawk working with the specialty retailer to ensure he remains profitable?
Holt:
We’re fortunate to have a host of very high-quality brands. From Pergo, which you’ll find in the big boxes, to Mohawk, etc., we keep those lines separate, and we keep those visuals separate. We’re working harder than ever to give the individual retailer a leg up on the styles we offer. You’ll see a whole lot more of that to come in the future. The products that will be coming out of Mohawk Hard Surfaces in the next 18 months from a styling standpoint will be leading edge in every category. And we’re going to lead with the retailer in all those categories.
Lanser: Mohawk is the undisputed leader in hard surface in terms of design, styling and technology. We truly bring differentiated products to our customers and the marketplace.

Mohawk has grown organically and through acquisition. How do you plan to continue increasing your market share in the hardwood and laminate categories?
Lanser:
We will continue to expand our offering, and it begins with innovation and differentiated product. In addition, we have to make sure we take care of our customers. We have to drive innovation and investment back into our business, and we have to improve the return for our shareholders. As long as we stay true to those tenets we will continue to grow organically as well as take market share. It’s a commitment to our customers, employees and shareholders, and we will continue to drive that tenet of our strategy.
Holt: There are five words that are most important to me in terms of growing sales: technology, innovation, style, design and investment. We have been blessed and fortunate enough to make the investments we’ve made to be able to continue to lead in all these areas. It’s a benefit and a blessing to be a well-run company that has the ability to be able to deliver to customers the things they need.

As you have expanded your portfolio of brands, how has the retail community reacted relative to the brand position of some of your offerings?
Lanser:
Look at our Columbia and Quick-Step brands, for example; they are targeted toward the independent distribution channel. We are committed to our independent distributors; we value the relationship, they value the brand. It’s a combination of that brand plus the products we bring to the market. As far as Pergo goes, it continues to be extremely valued. We will continue to drive the brand and put more products under the Pergo banner.

As part of your growth initiatives, are you putting more marketing resources toward social media?
Lanser:
We are absolutely heavily committed to being the leader in digital marketing, and that includes social media marketing to consumers, especially millennial groups. We are aggressive from a national social standpoint and also a syndicated social standpoint, equipping our retailers with social content so they’re successful in their local marketplaces. From programs like Yelp to Promoboxx, hard surface is central to our social strategy. Anywhere that millenials communicate, we are committed to it. It is the new way, and we will continue to invest strongly in every omni-channel marketing that’s out there.

In closing, what point would you like to stress to your partners in the industry?
Lanser:
We are bullish on this business. We’re investing in the flooring industry and we feel very strong and confident about our products, style and design. We expect you will see a lot of great things coming out of Mohawk, not only our wood and laminate offerings but the entire Mohawk brand as well. Ultimately, the goal is to drive the business forward, spark innovation in the team and encourage creative ideas. It’s really about taking the business and the team to that next level.