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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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Wood: State of the industry—Builder business, remodel sector propel category

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Preliminary anecdotal information shows the hardwood flooring category grew between 3% and 4% in 2017, placing the estimated value of the category just north of $2.31 billion at the first point of distribution. That growth, manufacturer executives say, puts the category on par with the estimated growth of the industry as a whole but slightly above the total gross domestic product for the year.

In terms of volume, that growth estimate equates to roughly 930 million square feet, lifting the hardwood flooring category ever closer to the 1 billion-square-foot threshold.

Ask a roomful of hardwood flooring manufacturer executives to identify the root cause of this growth, and many will point to the strength of key end-use sectors here in the U.S. market.

“Single-family construction and residential replacement continue to be the core drivers of demand for hardwood,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminates, Mannington.

Natalie Cady, hardwood category manager, Shaw Floors, agrees, citing consumption trends and demographic shifts. “Residential is driving the market, and for Shaw that means both single family and residential re-do. And as our single-family business grows, it has that wonderful trickle-down effect.”

By that, Cady means more people are able to get into a new home while sellers have been able to get better market value on their existing properties. As for the former, she is finding that many people strongly aspire to real hardwood and wood lookalikes. She also sees a direct correlation to influential purchasing segments. “Millennials want wood, and they are the No. 1 consumer right now. At the same time, the empty nesters are downsizing and finding they can afford hardwood flooring.”

But that doesn’t imply that it’s going to be smooth sailing. “For us, the driving factor is still the housing market,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S., Mercier Wood Flooring. “Although this segment is trending up, we are still below normal levels.”

Other executives are seeing hardwood growth across virtually all end-use sectors, including commercial specified and Main Street applications. “We think it is all of the above,” said Michael Bell, vice president, hardwood, Armstrong Flooring. “A more stable economic environment continues to steer the hardwood segment on a course of steady growth, with increases in demand in both the new construction and remodeling markets. We also see hardwood opportunities in the commercial marketplace.”

But that doesn’t mean all segments within the hardwood flooring category are growing at the same pace. When it comes to solid vs. engineered, for example—or even between subcategories within the engineered flooring offering—activity can be quite mixed. “While the wood category grew by low single digits in 2017, the growth rates were different between solid and engineered, with solids declining in overall volume and engineered growing by mid-single digits,” Mannington’s Natkin said.

It’s not that the solid segment of the hardwood flooring business is no longer an in-demand category. Truth be told, it still is preferred by many customers, home builders and designers in markets like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Rather, experts say, the rapid development and evolution of products that fall under the category of engineered floors is opening up opportunities even in hardcore solid markets.

“There’s never been more changes taking place in the wood flooring segment than what we’re seeing before our eyes right now,” Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential, told FCNews. “The biggest trend we’re seeing in the wood flooring segment today is a blurring of the lines within the product categories. For example, we’re clearly seeing many customers, dealers and consumers moving away from solid at a rate that has been running unabated for five years running and continues to accelerate. We see the engineered category evolving right in front of our eyes from what was historically a 5-ply construction format to an HDF product solution.”

Mohawk is so convinced that engineered wood flooring products based on an HDF core are quickly overtaking conventional, multi-ply hardwood flooring options that it is banking on wholesale consumer and end-user acceptance of the emerging format.

“When you see high-end custom builders and high-end production builders in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest coming off solid, it is eye-opening,” Lape said. “That’s not to say that people living out in the Hamptons are buying engineered. Solids are not going away, but where there is a reasonable trade off of in terms of cost, value, etc., I think you’re seeing the market accelerate the move to engineered.”

And all this plays to Mohawk’s strengths, according to Lape. “We try to focus on our game, which is leveraging our position as a true, integrated and vertical HDF engineered wood producer. Making all our own HDF internally gives us an advantage in terms of consistency and uniformity of the product. Second, we produce all those products here in North America, which gives us an advantage in terms of supply chain and reliability.”

For others, the continued migration from solid to engineered doesn’t necessarily spell the end of a category. While engineered floors offer opportunity for design innovation combined with installation flexibility, solids still have their place.

As Armstrong’s Bell explained: “The dynamics are different in solid vs. engineered. In engineered, we see much of the growth occurring on the bookends of the market with significant increases in the opening price point/value engineered products and the best/premium sliced- and sawn-face engineered products. Solid is similarly seeing increased activity on the best/premium side of the market.”

Innovation, Bell added, continues to happen across both structures. “While there is significant activity in engineered floors, we also see that solid wood flooring remains the go-to product in certain parts of the country and for key consumer segments.”

While it is generally accepted that consumer tastes differ by region and/or climate, some point to inherent limitations of solid products as an impediment to acceptance beyond the core solid markets. “With the demand and overall trend moving toward longer and wider, there are limitations you have with solids that are not there with engineered,” Shaw Floors’ Cady said, citing the tendency of solid floors to expand and contract more easily than engineered. “Having the ability to go longer/wider will help people move more toward engineered. Plus, with single-family home construction on the rise, that represents an increase in concrete slab construction—and that lends itself to engineered. At the end of the day, we believe the solid market—which includes both finished and unfinished product—is steady, not actually shrinking.”

With consumers continuing to ride the longer/wider wave, suppliers remain committed to giving them more of what they’re looking for. “The good story is the industry is not sitting still; we’re giving consumers more of what they want—wider and longer,” Mohawk’s Lape explained. “We’re selling planks up to 80 inches long and 9 inches wide, and we’re making better-performing products for contractors, retailers as well as consumers.”

While all this continues to play out, suppliers continue to fortify—and diversify—their product mix to ensure they have all the bases covered.

Over the past 18 months, for example, Quebec-based Wickham Hardwood introduced several new engineered offerings designed to complement its solid hardwood collections. According to Paul Rezuke, vice president residential sales, U.S., the breakdown seems to follow along geographic lines. “As part of our engineered strategy, we targeted two platforms based on a ½- and a ¾-inch format. We initially envisioned that the ½-inch product would be most suited for the U.S. market and the ¾-inch line for our Canadian business partners. What we are seeing is the demand in the U.S. market for a thicker platform appears to be on the rise. With this demand, we are projecting a significant demand for ¾-inch platform engineered products in our U.S. footprint.”

Tracking design trends

The shift in product preference within the hardwood flooring segment is not limited to the product’s core construction. Industry observers are also keeping a close eye on changing consumer tastes relative to color, species, surface texture and even board length and width. For many suppliers, staying ahead of consumer trends and anticipating what’s going to be the next big thing is akin to shooting after a moving target.

“The key is making sure we stay out in front in terms of styling and design,” Shaw Floors’ Cady said. “We’re still seeing the move toward longer, wider planks, but we are also seeing a move toward more traditional visuals. Instead of going into the European wide-oak visuals, we’re going back to basics by focusing on the natural characteristics of hardwood—meaning showcasing less texture and lighter colors so consumers can see the actual wood, not covering it up with dark stains.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some suppliers are seeing a mild resurgence in demand not for domestic species—which had been rising in popularity—but for exotic looks. With anecdotal information and consumer purchasing trends showing shoppers gravitating more toward home-grown species such as walnut, hickory and birch, to name a few, others—including companies like Ribadao Wood Boutique—say there’s still a viable market for imported product.

“We’re still very bullish on exotics, although it’s just one line that we offer,” Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, said. “It’s true the U.S. market is nowhere near what it was for exotics about 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for us. We consider our products to be more ‘boutique’ offerings. It’s still a viable product line for us to be offering.”

Ongoing challenges

Hardwood flooring has long been linked to its ability to contribute to rising home values, and it remains—as suppliers argue—the product that many homeowners covet. But aggressive competition from competing “wood-look” visuals available with LVT, WPC, laminate and, now, ceramic is a cause for concern.

“The growth of wood-look products such as WPC is an issue,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “While cannibalization is minimal for the consumer who really desires hardwood, there is conversion for consumers who are not sure what product is right for them.”

Armstrong’s Bell is in agreement, adding that—with the exception of tile— most of these products cost less than real hardwood. Also at play, he said, is the fact that the quality of the visuals and textures has evolved so much that many consumers feel comfortable using these faux wood products instead of the real thing. “However, there is nothing that can truly compete with genuine hardwood from either a look or value equation. It is a great long-term investment and can actually become a strong resale argument, exceeding the initial installation cost of the floors. And, it’s organic, natural and renewable, and, of course, since it is natural, has less pattern repeat.”

Traditional, hardwood-only suppliers seem to be taking it in stride. As Wickham’s Rezuke explained, “Currently, WPC appears to be the category of the month. We’ve experienced this in the past with both laminate and LVT.  Our position remains that there will be new products that will present challenges. But in the long run, hardwood will always maintain a significant market share in the flooring industry.”

Those companies that supply the full range of competing hard surface materials believe all products can successfully coexist. But that doesn’t mean equal market share for all product segments.

“It’s an ongoing conversation with all flooring suppliers and it comes down to having products to fulfill consumer needs and wants, Shaw Floors’ Cady said.

But wood’s classification as a natural product also subjects the category to price fluctuations due to rising raw material costs. “We are seeing some upward pressure in raw material pricing,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “Certain regions are more dramatic than others.”

Armstrong, one of the suppliers to pass on increases to its customers earlier this month, also attributes the hikes to rising natural gas and electricity prices—all of which impact costs to power the plants. Bell doesn’t see any let-up in sight. “We expect this cost pressure to continue throughout 2018.”

Despite these challenges, suppliers are optimistic about the category’s prospects in 2018. “We predict the overall hardwood category will have a moderate growth rate of 3%-5% this year,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. “We feel our greatest opportunity continues to be within our existing network. We will continue try to understand our customers’ needs and focus on creating opportunities for them.”

Don Finkell, president and CEO, American OEM, is confident the category will grow by at least 6% this year, surpassing the rate of growth achieved in 2017. The prospects look even better from an internal standpoint, he noted. “I expect our company to more than double that growth rate at about 12% to 15%. “We are adding new products for our existing distributors, building on our private-label programs and developing coverage of our new Hearthwood brand. Plus, we will be adding more domestically made products to our Hemisphere brand.”

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Spring product offerings ‘unseen’ at Surfaces

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Ken Ryan

 

While the vast majority of flooring companies exhibit at Surfaces, there are a handful of companies that do not partake in the big show, preferring other venues in which to introduce their new wares. Several of these offerings will be available soon and are worth a closer look.

Here are some of the spring introductions unseen at Surfaces.

Metroflor Engage Genesis

The Engage Genesis 1200ML Multi-Length series extends the narrow-plank format, featuring new 5-inch-wide planks in varying lengths of 24, 35 and 59 inches to add more dimension to the floor. The natural timber embossing is enhanced by a “painted” accent-bevel for more realistic plank definition than micro-bevel. The Engage Genesis 2000T collection features its first-ever tile format in a 16 x 32 size.

Mirage Lunar Eclipse/Sand Castle

As rich as it is vibrant, Lunar Eclipse boasts a look that’s anything but ordinary. With its shades of brown, black highlights and warm touches of beige, this versatile color will stand the test of time for decades without losing its original charm. Sand Castle is a sandy brown that looks like it was scooped straight from a desert dune. It’s a fashionable addition that is sure to be embraced for its timeless, classic style.

Mullican Wexford/Nature

Renowned for its high-quality hardwood flooring and environmentally sound manufacturing practices, Mullican Flooring’s distinctive collections are available in elegant, smooth finishes as well as rustic, hand-sculpted or wire-brushed surface treatments. Two new collections are Wexford and Nature. Wexford offers a classic, wide-plank farmhouse style with a 1⁄2-inch thickness and low-gloss finish. Nature, a 1⁄2-inch-thick sawn hickory, captures all the natural wood characteristics.

Shaw Bellera

Bellera will change how consumers feel about carpet, according to Shaw Floors. The company’s new Endurance high-performance fiber retains its softness and looks, creating carpet that stays beautiful for years. Consumers and experts can’t tell the difference between new samples of Bellera and those with five years’ worth of wear, Shaw said. Bellera includes Shaw’s patented R2X stain and soil treatment and LifeGuard spill-proof backing.

Tarkett Access

Access from Tarkett, which launched in February, is a glue-down LVT engineered to resist stains, scratches, wear and moisture. The collection features 10 wood grains and four stone designs. It carries a 15-year residential and five-year limited light commercial warranty. Access is FloorScore certified and phthalate free; in other words, it’s ideal for multifamily housing where a durable, good-looking and safe floor is essential.

Shaw Epic Reflections

Shaw Floors’ leading product designers celebrate the natural characteristics of hardwood with the introduction of Epic Reflections. The line extends the popular Extreme Nature collection, which features sliced visuals in ash, white oak and maple Appalachian hardwood. This collection highlights the imperfections of knots and grains with colorations inspired by the weathering process of raw wood as it is exposed to the elements.

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NWFA 2018 Preview: New products, education, training abound

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Reginald Tucker

 

Excitement is building for the 2018 National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) conference and exhibition, set to kick off April 11–14 at the Tampa Convention Center. Continuing on its steady growth trajectory for the past seven consecutive years, NWFA will feature scores of vendors showcasing the latest in hardwood flooring products, installation tools and accessories; and dynamic keynote speakers and expert technical demonstrations.

NWFA 2018 expects to draw hundreds of specialty hardwood flooring contractors, retailers and distributors from around the globe. The three-day event offers attendees 20-plus hours of educational programming, invaluable networking activities, an exhibition teeming with stylish new products and installation tools as well as special events and entertainment. It’s all part of an evolution designed to deliver greater value to all participants.

“We are really looking forward to bringing our industry together for another tremendous show,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO. “With the continued success of NWFA University and increased engagement with our members, we have more to offer than ever and know that will make this year’s show even better.”

Among the key focal points of the event:

Opening Splash. An opening welcome reception on Wed., April 11, from 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., will be followed by a keynote presentation featuring special guests Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, owners of Cousins Maine Lobster who appeared on TV’s “Shark Tank” series. The businessmen, known for growing their small food truck start-up into a national franchise success, will share their experiences with attendees during the keynote presentation.

The owners started their small business in 2012 with one food truck in Los Angeles. In a few short years, they’ve grown to having 20 trucks in 13 cities throughout the U.S. “No matter what facet of the industry you are in, they have a lot of knowledge and expertise we can all benefit from and take back to our own businesses,” Martin said.

Tselikis and Lomac are also expected to serve as judges on NWFA’s “Plank Tank” competition, a play on “Shark Tank,” where contestants pitch their business ideas in the hopes of securing private investment funds to develop those ideas and concepts. The celebrity judges, along with a team of wood flooring professionals, will review previously submitted industry-related business ideas to determine their merits. Three finalists will then present their ideas on stage at the NWFA Expo. The grand prize winner will receive a customized package of NWFA marketing and education products and services valued at more than $15,000. It’s all designed to help the winner bring his or her product/idea to market.

Live entertainment immediately follows the keynote presentation by Cousins Main Lobster. NWFA has invited the Hammerhead Band, which will kick off the Expo with a heart-throbbing steel drum performance.

Expo and product showcase. The trade show floor runs from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 12, and from 10:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Friday, April 13. Here, more than 260 exhibitors spanning hardwood flooring manufacturers, as well as suppliers of adhesives, tools and accessories, will showcase their goods and services.

In addition to the booth presentations, attendees will have an opportunity to view 15 exhibitor demonstrations taking place across the show floor. Following seven consecutive years of growth, this year’s Expo will offer even more education, more hands-on demonstrations and more opportunities to engage with industry professionals.

“Our trade show has grown for the seventh consecutive year, with dozens of first-time exhibitors on the show floor,” said Anita Howard, COO of the NWFA. “Contractor attendee prizes will top $20,000 this year, including a
Lägler TRIO worth $6,000.”

Educational sessions. NWFA attendees are invited to participate in quality programming that will focus on a variety of topics, including sales and marketing, management or industry-specific technical topics. With 20-plus sessions addressing the entire supply chain, this year’s education offers something for everyone.

“This year’s education sessions will take a deep dive into relevant industry topics, including sales, management and technical issues,” Howard noted. As we continue to implement adult learning principles, our Think Tank sessions will combine conventional presentations with attendee-directed collaborations. It’s a hybrid of traditional and modern learning methods that will engage all generations and learning styles.”

This year’s education program is going to look different than years past. Sessions will include a mix of traditional speakers lecturing on a topic as well as roundtable discussions facilitated by an industry expert. “These interactive sessions are designed to allow attendees to have a more meaningful and impactful experience through peer-to-peer interaction and reflective discussions,” Howard added. “Our hope is that each attendee will leave with something they can practice when back in their daily routines, and that a collaborative and reflective environment will lend to this experience.”

Floor of the Year Awards presentation. The winners of the popular NWFA Floor of the Year Awards will be announced during a special reception from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 13, during the “Final Drive.” NWFA developed the coveted awards program to encourage and recognize innovative craftsmanship and design in wood flooring installations.

For this year’s competition, NWFA has revamped the categories to align the awards with its refined Master Craftsman program. The new categories now focus on specific skill sets taught during NWFA training:

  • Best circular/curved application
  • Best color & finish application
  • Best parquet/inlay application
  • Best restoration/makeover
  • Best textured wood application

The event comes to a festive close after the Floor of the Year awards ceremony with a performance by the Landsharks Band, the official Jimmy Buffett Tribute Band members who also play the music of the Beach Boys.

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Manufacturer spotlight: Alston puts its own spin on the traditional engineered format

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

It’s rare that the inspiration for a breakthrough in the manufacture of an engineered hardwood flooring product comes from a distributor. But that’s precisely what happened in the case involving Swiff-Train and Alston, one of its vendor partners.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-53-39-pmAs the story goes, Swiff-Train and Alston— a China-based hardwood flooring manufacturer with U.S. distribution headquarters in California—met at Surfaces in Las Vegas and again at Domotex Asia to discuss a collaboration on an engineered product line that would be outside the scope of Chinese imports that were subject to strict anti-dumping duties. The challenge was to devise an engineered platform that deviated from the traditional three-ply layered construction—i.e., veneer, core and backing—while still providing strength and stability associated with engineered products. So with pen to napkin, so to speak, the owners of Alston—Alan Chou and Sunny Zhou—along with Jason Train, vice president of sourcing and marketing, Swiff-Train, together sketched a rough prototype of a two-ply engineered product that would change the game.

“There were other types of two-ply products out there on the market but none were dimensionally stable,” recalled Alan Chou, president of Alston. “The mindset at that time was to develop a platform without any limitations in terms of quality and performance.” What Swiff-Train and Alston came up with was a two-ply engineered product that features a veneer atop a core comprising a row of sawn fillets (see diagram). The rows of fillets are flanked by perpendicular beams that provide stability. Incredibly, the design does not incorporate a traditional backing layer.

As a result, this product was ruled by the Department of Commerce to be outside the scope of the current Anti-dumping and Countervailing case and is, therefore, not subject to any anti-dumping duties, which is currently around 19%. In addition, this invention also qualifies for zero import duty, an additional savings of 8%.

Chou likened the design to an “I” beam construction. “We took out the bottom layer but on the sides of the core we turned it and use what we call an edge beam that runs parallel with the veneer. Then we have the fillets in the middle that run perpendicular to the two beams. By doing that, we solved the problem of the product not being balanced. The edge beam solves the horizontal movement, whereas the middle layer stabilizes the veneer. It’s really simple when you think about it.”

Jason Train, who Chou says was responsible for his inspiration and the idea to eliminate the third backing layer of the traditional three-layer format, is hesitant to take the credit. “I’m not an engineer by any means; it was more timing than anything,” Train explained. “With everything that was going on that year with anti-dumping, it required people to put their heads together and think outside the box.

What Alan and Sunny created was something that’s unique and really just a great, stable engineered product.”

Actually, it’s more of a “hybrid” engineered-solid product. As Chou explained, “It’s an engineered product that still installs like a solid—you can staple it or glue it down or even float it.”

In terms of the person who actually brought the design to fruition, Chou—whose expertise is in architecture, building and design (he’s also a certified flooring installer and NWFACP wood flooring inspector, by the way)—credits his brother Sunny Zhou, who has a structural engineering degree from the University of California Irvine. Together, the brothers own a manufacturing plant in China where they have been making hardwood floors for more than 20 years. According to Chou, the facility is ISO 9001:2012 and ISO 14001:2017 certified. “Our product lines are 100% FSC certified, compliant with CARB NAF and do not contain added formaldehyde,” Chou stated.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-54-41-pmChou applied for the patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for this two-ply engineered hybrid product in 2012, and the company reports it has been awarded with the Patent Number: US9,340,984 in May of this year. Chou holds the U.S. patent; his brother Sunny owns the patent in China.

Market impact
So far, Swiff-Train, which conducted a soft launch back in January, says the response has been positive. “With this line, Alston has bypassed the entry-level category and moved to a better product with better veneers and a great offering of species. Now we’re trying to get more of our people to concentrate on the Alston product line.”

On a broader scale, Swiff-Train believes the new Alston two-ply product addresses the pricing volatility often seen with solid wood floors. Given the fact that this is considered an engineered product that features the thickness of a solid and can be installed as such, that age-old price fluctuation issue shouldn’t be a factor. “Nationally a lot of people are moving away from solids to the engineered platform,” Train said. “That’s where Alston has an opportunity to take over some of that wood share that was solid. By using this platform it gives retailers the reach that most solid products don’t offer.”

Train also likes the product’s potential for installation beyond the home. “It’s a product that’s sold very easily from a residential standpoint, but it has huge potential for commercial business. Alston uses thick wear layers—sliced from sawn veneers that are 4mm thick—which is definitely a plus for the commercial sector. Then there’s the environmental story; Alston ruled out of the CARB-2 testing which speaks volumes. There are very few products that are out of the scope of CARB.” Furthermore, this product is also exempt from the upcoming EPA regulation TSCA-Title VI.

More importantly, the new line also provides retailers and distributors with profit opportunities. According to Alston, the new two-ply line retails in the vicinity of $7 per square foot. The product comes in three collections—including a 100% hand scraped line, a smooth line and a wire- brushed oil-finish look—and is available in five stock species: oak, maple, hickory, mahogany and walnut in ½- to ¾-inch formats. However, Chou said the plant is equipped to produce the product in acacia, red oak or exotics. “Because the foundation of the product is so stable, we are able to make it in any format or species.”

From an industry-wide perspective—particularly as it pertains to anti-dumping regulations—Chou believes the hybrid line is poised to make an even greater impact. “I think you will see a lot more people trying to do the two-ply method now that the doors are partially open. Nobody thought a two-ply would work because they don’t think it’s stable. But this changes everything.”

 

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Installation: Preventing hollow spots in hardwood flooring

FCICA Installments

Hollow spots in hardwood installations

By John Brown

John_Brown_Photo_9_15_1One of the most frequent consumer complaints about hardwood flooring installations is the common creaky, hollow-sounding floor that can develop once the job is complete. Noisy floors are annoying and a nuisance that many homeowners prefer to do without. These hollow or loose spots can even detract from the overall visual and essence of a hardwood floor.

Most hollow spots or loose areas in a glue-down wood floor come from not following the flooring and adhesive manufacturers’ installation specifications and limitations.

Hollow spots are often blamed on adhesives but they are rarely the cause. If a bad adhesive is used to install wood flooring, the entire installation would be negatively impacted—not just a few select areas. Most complaints concerning hollow spots make up less than 5% of the entire area that was installed.

The most common cause for hollow or loose spots in a wood floor system is not getting the concrete substrate level to industry requirements. The National Wood Flooring Association recommendation for flatness of the substrate for an engineered hardwood floor installation is no more than 3/16” deflection or variance in the slab within any 10-foot radius of the floor. If the substrate reveals any variance greater than 3/16” in any 10-foot radius, proper subfloor preparation steps must be applied to rectify the situation. Grinding the substrate and/or leveling with a Portland cement underlayment may be required to achieve flatness. Hollow spots will occur if the party responsible fails to ensure the substrate is flat enough for the specific installation.

The flatness of the substrate becomes even more important depending upon the hardwood product being installed. It is imperative to have a flat substrate when installing boards that are greater than ½” in thickness and greater than 5” in width. The thicker and wider the board, the less likely it will conform to any deflection or variance with the substrate and thus the occurrence of a hollow spot.

Other common causes for hollow and loose spots are neglecting to apply the correct amount of adhesive or not ensuring the flooring is in contact with the adhesive during the curing process. If a board is laid into wet adhesive and raises up from the substrate before the adhesive cures, a hollow spot will occur. This can be avoided by applying weight to these areas until curing.

Using the proper flooring trowel when applying the recommended adhesive is very important. Installers’ comprehensive understanding of trowel requirements is highly recommended by adhesive manufacturers. Insufficient adhesive application may cause substandard adhesion and/or final bond strength and in many cases development of hollow spots can occur throughout the installation.

Some hollow and loose areas require removal of the wood flooring, flattening of the substrate and replacement of the wood flooring. This is expensive and time consuming for all parties involved.

Injection repair kits are available and allow an installer to inject additional adhesive under the flooring specifically in the section where popping conditions or voids have developed. This typically alleviates the issue and causes popping sounds or creaky conditions to dissipate. These repair kits are typically easy-to-use, eco-friendly and cost effective. The more user-friendly kits are water-based, which makes them very easy to clean off of a hardwood surface.

Premium-grade, pressure-sensitive wood flooring adhesives will remain tacky for the lifetime of the floor and allow you to simply apply weight or walk the floor to correct the issue if proper contact is not achieved during the installation.

John Brown is a field technical representative for DriTac Flooring Products. He has several years of experience in the hardwood flooring and adhesives industries.

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Mullican partners with HGTV's ‘Property Brothers’

mullican 30thJohnson City, Tenn.—Mullican Flooring is partnering with HGTV’s top-rated show, “Property Brothers,” as the exclusive provider of hardwood flooring for its upcoming season, scheduled to premiere later this month. Mullican also provided products from several of its solid and engineered flooring collections for seven episodes of the popular show’s fourth season last year.

According to company statements, HGTV was a top-10 cable network last season among viewers ages 25 to 54, drawing an average of more than 18 million primetime viewers each week. “Property Brothers” has ranked as one of the network’s most-watched programs since the show’s 2011 premiere.

“Our diverse product lines, which offer selections ranging from wide widths and longer lengths to textured surfaces and exciting new colors, ensure that designers and homeowners alike can choose flooring that perfectly suits their projects and personal tastes,” said Neil Poland, president, Mullican.

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HomerWood retailers get a glimpse inside production

Titusville, Pa. – HomerWood and distributor Tom Duffy Co./B.R. Funsten is making sure to keep retailers competitive in today’s market by taking them right to the source. The premium hardwood manufacturer hosted several retailers from the Fairfield, Calif.-based Tom Duffy network, including Jeff and Wendy Meltzer of Los Angeles-based Universal Hardwood and Jeremy Probell and Jennifer Shaw on behalf of Pioneer Floors of Santa Barbara, Calif., as well as Donovon Johnson of Finishing Touch and Andy Moore with Precision Flooring.

“In promoting and selling HomerWood, our sales partners need to effectively tell our story and convey our value message,” said Paul Walker, general manager, HomerWood. “When a flooring retailer is effectively presented with all that HomerWood offers to their business, we get 100% buy-in.” The retailers were able to see how the mill employees work together to create the product and how well they interacted with each other. “The teamwork that we saw was great and it was refreshing,” Meltzer said.

And while the mill tour was eye opening for the group, it also provided them with an education that they could bring back to the show floor to help boost future sales.

Meltzer noted that after being on the tour, she could sell HomerWood even more confidently than she could before. “The quality control at the mill is great,” she said. “I can tell them all about quality control and how so many eyes are on a piece of product before it goes out the door.

“HomerWood’s history and product offering is unique, and communicating this ‘story’ to our customers improves our own selling opportunities,” she continued. “But my favorite part is that HomerWood products are Made in America. That’s still a huge story and it’s something I am proud to tell my customers.”

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Wood: Latest trends include less raw material angst

 Volume 28/Number 6; September 1/8, 2014

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.50.28 AMAfter 18 months of quarterly price hikes among major domestic hardwood flooring manufacturers—the result of volatile increases in raw material costs—the last five months have seen relative market tranquility as lumber costs have stabilized.

While that is good news on the surface, prices remain at higher than normal levels, and there have not been any significant decreases in the past few months.

Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood products at Armstrong, said the conditions that sent prices soaring in late 2012 “are still potentially out there, ready to rear its ugly head.”

But, at least for now, raw materials costs have hit a ceiling and are not increasing as they were six months ago. “This is good news for all in our industry as things could not have remained the same without severe impacts on the overall sales of hardwood floors,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing for Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand.

Drew Hash, vice president of hardwood, Shaw Industries, said raw material costs are always a key factor in manufacturing. “Engineered wood products represent a good option for more price-point-sensitive consumers,” he noted. “Technology offers new textures and visuals such as wire brushing and different scraping techniques.”

Wider, wider, wider

In terms of product trends, bigger continues to be better when it comes to wood planks. The reason is apparent, as larger, longer boards add visual interest to a room, as does combining multi-widths in one space, flooring pros said. “Planks aren’t limited to the floor, but rather are being used everywhere—from walls to ceilings, and even bedroom headboards,” said Pricilla Bergeron, communications manager at Lauzon Distinctive Hardwood Floors.

Whereas 2¼-inch strip flooring was once the standard, 5-inch strips are now in vogue, with 6- and 7-inch widths becoming the new upgrades, according to Dan Natkin, director of laminate and hardwood flooring at Mannington. “We are seeing widths as large as 10 inches; however, these are highly specialized,” he noted.

Made in America

The natural appearance and authentic look of North American species such as oak, maple and hickory is resonating with consumers who are choosing domestic over exotic and imported species in greater numbers. Robitaille suggested this is because consumers are looking for wood with more character and because they tend to purchase local.

Indeed, the Made in America movement (as well as Made in Canada) is gaining steam as a marketing advantage for domestic producers. Last month, for example, continuing a recent spate of onshoring developments, Armstrong announced it was closing an engineered hardwood flooring facility in China and relocating it to Somerset, Ky.

Armstrong, which has enjoyed success with its American Scrape collection, is readying a slew of 2015 introductions and will continue to tout its Made in America message.

Others are leveraging that message as well. “We are continuing to see consumers get behind the Made in America movement and self-limit their selections to products manufactured in the United States,” said Brian Greenwell, vice president of marketing at Mullican Flooring. “As a result, we are seeing significant consumer demand for four domestic species: white oak, red oak, hickory and maple. Considered to be traditional, oak has always been popular.”

Oak remains the popular domestic species due to advancements in wire brushing techniques, etching and distressed looks. “Harvesting improvements and the way manufacturers are able to craft and cut each board allow for more customization of the look and feel of oak,” Hash said. “All these things together have given oak a new look, bringing it to the forefront of the market once again.”

Design, color trends

The increase in consumer interest in the hickory and maple species can be attributed to the continued popularity of hand-sculpted textures, as most hand-sculpted business is done with those species.

Natkin said oak is seeing a tremendous resurgence, particularly the white variety. “Colors are becoming softer and more muted, and darker colors are fading in popularity,” he said. “Character in the wood continues to rise as the naturals trend continues. The types of knots and mineral that we were cutting out 10 years ago are now extremely desirable.”

Robitaille also noted that lighter colors are starting to reappear and are being combined with very rustic grading of wood with knots and dark mineral streaks—all of this on wide widths.

Some hardwood executives said smooth, high-gloss wood floors are losing ground due to their manmade, mass-produced appearance, while low-gloss or matte surfaces are the new favorite, especially those that have been scraped with a soft wire brush, revealing the true character of the grain.

Bergeron said neutral tones tend to reveal more of the grain pattern and create a welcoming feel in a room. “Mixing up the décor with multi-tone paneling adds additional dimension and appeal to any space,” she explained.

Michel Collin, director of marketing at Mercier, said while dark colors are fading out, replaced by lighter ones, “wide, textured and color variation are still in demand.”

Conversely, Greenwell said darker colors create what he called “a dramatic and stylish look throughout the space, accenting the wood grain while masking scuffs and scratches.”

Outlook

Several executives said the first half of 2014 was sluggish for the remodel market while builder remained quite strong. There is hope for a stronger 2014 finish for the remodel sector. “Based on the latest consumer confidence numbers—which are trending higher—we are hopeful we will see some improved remodel activity,” Natkin said.

And there’s no surprise in product trends: The hot style will continue to be wider widths, punctuated by hand-sculpted and wire-brushed finishes.

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Pinnacle’s new HQ to assist growing needs of customers

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 11.14.47 AMCarrollton, Texas – Pinnacle Interior Elements Ltd., a global hardwood flooring manufacturer, recently unveiled the site of its new corporate headquarters. Effective immediately, Pinnacle’s new location at 1445 Bradley Lane, Suite 101, Carrollton, Texas, will facilitate service for its growing family of valued distributors.

As well, the Texas-based company has partnered with a third-party logistics facility to house, manage and facilitate Pinnacle’s hardwood flooring inventory.

“The hardwood flooring industry is steadily increasing, and the demand for Pinnacle’s products is growing,” said Brenda Cashion, Pinnacle’s vice president of marketing and operations. “This new facility will help Pinnacle manage that growth and continue providing quality service to our expanding distribution family.”

Meanwhile, distributors from Maine to Florida will find more focused and dedicated service when Pinnacle opens its East Coast Distribution Center in late September.

CA International, Pinnacle’s parent company, also has relocated its office from Berkley, Calif., to Richmond, Calif., where it will share offices with Pinnacle’s West Coast distribution center.