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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

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

By Reginald Tucker  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the real thing

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

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

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

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

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Mohawk’s Thomasville facility earns Gold Award for safety

Thomasville, N.C.—For the eighth consecutive year, Mohawk Industries’ Thomasville laminate manufacturing facility has received the Gold Award from the North Carolina Department of Labor. The award is presented to employers across the state whose safety incident rate is less than 50% of the average for each industry group. Cherie Berry, North Carolina commissioner of labor, presented the award at an annual banquet on May 22.

The Thomasville team attributes their success to a culture where everyone works together to identify and remove hazards, share ideas for process improvement and help each other work safely.

“We’re encouraged to always keep our eyes and ears open,” said Jeff Mika, a press operator and 14-year employee. “It only takes a few minutes of inattention to safety for an injury to occur.”

Mohawk employs more than 300 people at the Thomasville facility, which has also been recognized for safe working practices within the company and by Liberty Mutual.

“Our leaders at Mohawk wants all of us to be able to go home to our families safely at the end of the work day,” said, Sammy Shoaf, a distribution team leader. “We start off our day with safety in mind, and it’s a constant focus throughout the day. I believe that’s why Mohawk in Thomasville continues to receive these awards year after year.”

Thomasville has added two new production lines in the past year and has expanded operations to support the growing demand for Mohawk’s innovative and award-winning flooring products.

“Our team members have maintained their track record of exemplary safety as we’ve continued to expand and hire new employees,” said Mary Hennessey, human resources manager.

For years, Mohawk has focused on a holistic approach to meeting the needs of the company’s employees. World-class safety standards, comprehensive benefits and opportunities for advancement through nationally-recognized training and development programs create an environment where employees can thrive in current and future positions with the company.

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Award of Excellence: Mohawk returns to winner’s circle as Best Overall

May 28/June 4, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 25

By Ken Ryan

 

Garden City, N.Y.—For the third year in a row, Mohawk Industries was voted Best Overall Manufacturer—one of four Mohawk-branded honors, and six in all for Mohawk Group—in FCNews’ 22nd annual Award of Excellence competition.

Mohawk won for Best Carpet Manufacturer (Group A), Best Commercial Carpet Manufacturer and Best Laminate Manufacturer (Group A), as well as Best Overall. Further, two Mohawk companies took home top honors, including Dal-Tile, which was named Best Ceramic Manufacturer (Group A) for an unprecedented 20th consecutive year. Karastan won top honors for Area Rugs.

“At Mohawk, we continue to invest heavily in the future,” said Tom Lape, president of Mohawk residential, who attended the annual affair at the Garden City Hotel with several members of the Mohawk team. “We are honored that retailers recognize our products, such as the industry’s first hypoallergenic soft flooring—Air.o; our SmartStrand franchise and our revolutionary wood flooring—RevWood, as innovations that contribute to their business success and consumer satisfaction. Mohawk is not only thankful for their resounding endorsement of our products but also of our hardworking employees whose talent and dedication earned our company these prestigious awards.”

Dal-Tile has done what no other company or brand has done—won the award for two decades running. According to John Turner, president, the victory laps never get old. “Winning the Award of Excellence is meaningful to Dal-Tile because it reinforces how our customers feel about their relationship with our business and how they value our Daltile, American Olean and Marazzi brands,” he said. “Each team member plays a critical role in ensuring that we forge relationships with our customers through superior service and products that lead the industry in style, innovation and quality. Our long history of success in this awards program illustrates our commitment to excellence and the significant partnerships we enjoy with our customers.”

Mohawk wasn’t the only dominant company. It was a big night for Shaw Industries and its divisions as well, with five awards. Shaw won Best Manufacturer for LVT (Group A) and Best Manufacturer for Hardwood (Group A); Anderson Tuftex took home top honors for Carpet (Group B) and Hardwood (Group B), while USFloors took first place in the inaugural WPC/Rigid Core category.

“The Award of Excellence is a coveted and respected industry award and receiving this award for both LVT and hardwood is an immense honor for Shaw Floors,” said Herb Upton, vice president, hard surface. “We’re thrilled to see our latest hard surface products have been well received, and these awards confirm Shaw Floors leads the way in hard surface innovation.”

Drew Hash, vice president, Shaw hard surface products, added, “To be chosen for these prestigious awards by our retail partners speaks to the success of Shaw’s efforts to put customers at the forefront of all we do. We thank our dealers and Shaw associates who make our shared achievements possible.”

For the first time a separate category for WPC/Rigid Core was established, a nod to the explosiveness of the waterproof vinyl flooring segment. USFloors, marketer of the highly successful COREtec brand of WPC, won the award for WPC/Rigid Core after taking top honors for LVT the previous two years. “To achieve an Award of Excellence from your customers is the most meaningful and valuable recognition any company can wish for,” said Piet Dossche, president of USFloors. “I am very proud and honored to receive this trophy on behalf of our entire team of dedicated people who are working hard to provide the best product and service to our retail partners. The revolution our COREtec product has created in the WPC product category has been great for our customers who have embraced this exciting new product wholeheartedly. Thank you, FCNews and Informa Exhibitions, for organizing this yearly contest and event.”

Being part of the Shaw family, Dossche added, has given USFloors more opportunities to grow the COREtec business. “We are committed to remain the leader in this category and building COREtec into a strong consumer brand.”

Among the repeat winners, Emser Tile won for the second year in a row in Ceramic (Group B), and Inhaus took top honors for Laminate (Group B), marking its second consecutive year in the winner’s circle. “Emser Tile is proud to be recognized by our customers and receive the FCNews Award of Excellence,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer. “As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, this recognition validates our service promise commitment to our customers and inspires us to continue to find new ways to innovate and enhance the overall customer experience.”

Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus, commented: “We feel extremely fortunate and are honored that our customers voted for us. We have a passion for our product offerings and strive to create products that people are excited about both in terms of innovative design and quality. In our eyes, this award is a recognition of our efforts, and we are very appreciative of that.”

A new classification (Group C) was established for the first time to recognize quality, smaller-scale companies. In carpet, Southwind won for Group C while HomerWood was honored in hardwood.

“Southwind and all of our employees are honored to have won this Award of Excellence,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president. “It is a team effort—not one individual. Southwind strives to bring to market the most innovative and forward-thinking products that provide solutions to the marketplace. We would like to thank our valued customers for recognizing our efforts for this award.”

Methodology

Sponsored by FCNews and Informa Exhibitions, proprietors of The International Surface Event (TISE), the Award of Excellence is a way for manufacturers’ customers—retailers, distributors, designers, installers and specifiers—to honor the companies they feel consistently provide the best service, professionalism of sales force, management responsiveness, value, design, B2B, handling of claims and ease of doing business.

“The Awards of Excellence are honors bestowed to manufacturers by the heart and soul of the flooring industry—the retailers,” said Dana Teague, vice president, Design Group, Informa Global Exhibitions. “It is a pleasure and an honor for Informa/Surfaces to co-sponsor this year’s awards with Floor Covering News. We are delighted to share our enthusiasm for innovation with brands that continually strive for excellence. Surfaces is the platform that manufacturers use to launch or highlight many of the winning products to the delight of the thousands of retailers, distributors, designers and installers that come to Las Vegas every January. Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s awards.”

Readers of FCNews, as well as other industry personnel visiting trade shows such as Surfaces (and not employed by a manufacturer), voted between October 2017 and the end of March 2018 for the companies they felt best met established criteria in the following floor covering categories—Carpet, Commercial Carpet, Area Rugs, Resilient, Resilient Sheet, Resilient Commercial, Hardwood, Tile, Laminate, Cushion/Underlayment, WPC—as well as the Best Overall mill. Ballots were featured in FCNews and readers could mail or fax them back, as well as vote online and at industry events such as Surfaces.

While the category awards were done on a simple, one-vote-per-category/company format, the Best Overall award required voters to fill in their choice for first, second and third place. Votes were weighted so that first place was worth five points, second place worth three points and third place one point. Point totals were tabulated and the company with the most in each was named the winner.

As has been done for the previous nine years, individual category winners were selected in two or three groups based on their volume. Also, manufacturers did not have to pay a fee to be eligible to receive a vote, which has been customary since the first Award of Excellence competition. Any and all manufacturers of floor covering products in the above-referenced categories were allowed to receive votes.

More than 2,200 votes—representing flooring retailers, distributors, designers and installers—were cast, with more industry professionals voting online than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

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Carpet: Fiber report—Color, cleanability and durability get the nod

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Ken Ryan

Today’s carpet products are developed with the consumer firmly in mind as mills gather research to ascertain what’s on their customers’ wish lists. More often than not, it is luxuriously soft carpet that combines stylish design, vibrant colors with durability.

That’s a tall order to deliver, but consumers have shown a desire to spend top dollar for these goods, and mills are working hard to accommodate them. “When we talk to consumers, soft is one of the top attributes they want, so we put our resource and development toward that,” said Jamie Welborn, vice president of residential carpet product management and development, Mohawk Industries.

Shaw Floors, meanwhile, looks at today’s residential market and sees active families with kids and pets who put great demands on carpet. “They have greater expectations of performance for their flooring,” said Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management, Shaw. “They need their carpet to be durable and spill resistant, yet soft and beautiful.”

It’s not just the carpet mills working on these innovations. Invista, maker of the Stainmaster and PetProtect brands, has spent significant R&D on its Antron fiber. It recently announced a $30-million expansion in small-lot equipment specifically for solution-dyed nylon 6,6 bulk continuous filament (BCF) fiber production to support growth of the Antron brand and the Lumena fiber portfolio that serves solution-dyed BCF nylon commercial markets. “The new technology will expand our capability to continue offering high-quality, solution-dyed nylon fiber solutions,” said Kip Kimball, vice president of Global Commercial Solutions and Home Textiles for Invista.

Phenix Flooring continues to work on new fiber systems that utilize unique cross-sections that—when combined with particular deniers and twist levels—produce textures and an outstanding tactile experience for consumers. “In addition, we constantly update our solution-dyed color bank to keep up with current color trends and styling preferences as well as supplement with leading space dye advances that give sophisticated ombrés and gradations of color,” said Chris Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

According to Mike Sanderson, vice president of marketing, Engineered Floors, consumers are becoming more receptive to the term “solution dyed,” and that is affecting their purchase decisions. “They are finding out that it’s superior to traditional piece-dyed carpets, which is exciting for our Dream Weaver retailers.”

Residential segment

The days when consumers carpeted the entire house are long gone, as residential carpet has been relegated mostly to the bedroom. However, studies have shown that when consumers are in the market for carpet, they are willing to spend extra money.

There’s even more encouraging news down the road, according to Shaw’s Brad Christensen, vice president, builder strategy, who observed that while Shaw is certainly seeing growth in its residential segments, single-family homebuilding is also trending.

“The average age of the first-time homebuyer is 32. With that statistic in mind, by 2025 there will be 24 million Americans between the ages of 30 and 34. Previous studies showed the millennial market preferred densely populated, walkable, urban neighborhoods that offer multifamily living spaces to the suburbs of their childhood. Yet, new surveys demonstrate that while millennials might be content urban, multifamily dwellers right now, they see themselves as single family homeowners in the future.”

Residential represents the largest growth segment for Southwind, according to Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president. As such, the company is putting the necessary resources behind it. “I think residential is the biggest growth opportunity for all of us and why we are trying to be innovative with our products. It’s a very big market.”

What’s new

Mohawk has championed the push of luxurious soft and that continues to be a major thrust with SmartStrand. As Mohawk’s Welborn noted, “SmartStrand fiber is softer than nylon and polyester, performs extremely well and has nice hand/bulk, and you will see us continue to expand in that area.”

As the movement toward cleaner homes grows, Mohawk, among others, is responding by adding Forever Clean to SmartStrand as well as ActivFresh technology to its Silk Colorwall line, which features new products in 2018. “Some of the products are tighter, denser, cleaner than the old Silk,” Welborn said. “From a technology standpoint, we added ActivFresh, an anti-microbial additive to the carpet, which is a new feature. You will see us expand in that growing segment.”

In Bellera High Performance Carpet, Shaw is giving consumers a wide variety of patterns, solids and textures from which to choose, albeit without sacrificing resiliency. “Our designers were extremely intentional with their choices, giving consumers numerous styles to match current trends,” Tran said. “We offer glamorous styles as seen in Outside the Lines, classic patterns in Diamonds Forever and Lead the Way, as well as visuals with a more organic look to complement modern farmhouse or coastal design trends. Each of these styles includes the attributes that make Bellera one of a kind.”

The fiber in Bellera has been treated with R2X soil and stain resistance technology and now features crush resistance to keep carpets lasting longer. To showcase the durability of its re-engineered fiber, Shaw simulated five years’ worth of activity with real people on Bellera carpet. When new Bellera samples and those with five years’ worth of wear were placed side by side, customers and RSAs alike were unable to tell the difference, Christensen said.

Phenix, which began showing carpet styles tufted from one of its new fiber systems during the winter markets, has identified a new yarn that provides great bulk and apparent value. “It has become one of our most anticipated launches, which we expect will lead to additional product opportunities,” Phenix’s Johnson said, referring to Opulence HD. “It’s a softer yarn that provides a look of luxury.”

Engineered Floors uses PureColor, a proprietary solution-dyed fiber, as its go-to market strategy at residential retail. “We try to educate the RSA and consumer on PureColor as often as possible,” Sanderson said. “Both groups are learning that since the color goes all the way through the fiber, stains that are detrimental to other carpets aren’t an issue with PureColor.”

Southwind’s Classic Traditions collection, a soft PET line, is being marketed as “eclectic patterns for everyday elegance.” It was shown at Surfaces 2018 and will feature eight stylish Color Point and LCL patterns that the company said are fashion-forward fabrics for the floor. “We had such a great response at Surfaces,” Abramowicz said.

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Made in the USA: U.S. suppliers leverage advantages of domestic production

April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23

By Mara Bollettieri

Many domestic flooring suppliers cite numerous advantages in producing stateside. A huge benefit that Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM, pointed out is the ability to respond quickly to changing design trends in the industry. “We are closer to the market, so we are more aware of consumer preferences,” he explained. “In addition, consumer trends favor locally made products. American made has become a whole movement of its own.”

Others cite much shorter lead times as being a key benefit. “We have the ability to deliver product for large installations within four weeks,” said Michael Raskin, CEO of Raskin Industries. “In addition, we can fill in our domestic inventory to support distribution and our distributors can bolster their supplies if needed, which provides excellent support and turnaround.”

Matt Rosato, director of portfolio management, Anderson Tuftex, concurred. “When you have domestic production vs. something that’s sourced overseas, we are more agile and able to quickly hit lead times, especially for some project work. If it’s overseas, you’re looking for, after production time, 12-16 weeks of transit time into the U.S., where we can turn it around in a couple of days.”

For executives like Jimmy Tuley, vice president of residential resilient, Mannington Mills, being able to innovate and bring products quickly to market go hand in hand. “We’re also in control of our process. It’s one of the cores of Mannington—to be able to control your own destiny. And when you produce, you control that whole supply chain.”

Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential, can attest to that notion. Mohawk Industries is in the middle of a major push toward domestic production, with $700 million invested in five different plants. He noted that 90% of what the company produces is being sold right here at home. Beyond that, he said, “there is a high level of supplier reliability; the more you in-source, the more you create a more reliable customer and there are fewer big surprises.”

Onshoring creates jobs

Opening plants here at home, suppliers say, has increased the number of employees that suppliers need to hire. Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing, Somerset Hardwood Flooring, shared that the number of employees has increased exponentially over the years now that the company has onshored production. “I started work at Somerset in 1999. At that time, we had roughly 225 employees; today, we employ more than 900 people throughout all of the Somerset operations.”

The creation of more jobs, in turn, sparks work in other industries as well, executives say, thereby stimulating the overall American economy. Mannington’s Tuley illustrates how opening plants throughout the U.S. has done precisely that. “If you look at a plant that’s growing and expanding, chances are there’s a restaurant in that area that’s opening, there are roads that are being worked on—all sorts of service industries spring up around manufacturing facilities.”

Anderson Tuftex’s Rosato also believes there’s a direct correlation between plant openings and the creation of jobs in surrounding communities. “We have a large project in Alabama with Shaw that we are investing millions of dollars in, stimulating local jobs in that state as well as other states in which we manufacture—be it California, South Carolina, Tennessee or Alabama. This is definitely impacting and increasing the workflow and job creation in those states.”

Don Maier, president and CEO, Armstrong Flooring, also feels his company is contributing to the increase in jobs in certain states. “Our domestic manufacturing supports local jobs, and we are a significant employer in many of the communities where our U.S. plants are located,” he stated.

Inherent challenges

Despite all the advantages to onshoring, there are some inherent challenges. The most prominent is the void associated with the rise in manufacturing job openings vs. the lack of a skilled workforce to fill those positions. Somerset’s Stringer can attest. “I think this new generation has frowned on factory work or production work,” he told FCNews. “Young people today want to work on computers or sit in front of a screen. They don’t see themselves doing physical labor.”

Vance Bell, chairman and CEO, Shaw Industries, concurs that finding employees in this modern age is difficult. However, he said, the company is trying to encourage people to work in this field. “We believe we have an opportunity to educate students about the rewarding careers available in manufacturing and the diversity of career paths they can take here at Shaw.”

But even in cases where you have skilled employees, there’s still somewhat of a learning curve—especially when opening up a new plant. “It’s extensive and it takes time to train people, to get equipment exactly how you want it,” Mannington’s Tuley said. “It’s a major undertaking to be able to do manufacturing in the U.S.”

Other challenges that suppliers face is the competitive pricing of products from overseas. “The most notable is the battle against cheap imports,” said Frank Douglas, vice president of business development, Crossville.

Some consumers, he noted, are indifferent when it comes to the whole Made in the USA movement, opting instead for less expensive goods.

Potential impact of tariffs

Many flooring industry executives say it’s too soon to tell whether policies instituted by the Trump Administration have helped accelerate domestic production (see related story on page 20). On some level, though, many feel the mere threat of U.S. tariffs on some Chinese imports could indeed enhance domestic production.

According to Gregg Link, senior director of product management, Dal-Tile, those who make products overseas may be at a disadvantage if these tariffs are enacted. But that’s a big if. “For those that don’t have manufacturing capability and have a heavier reliance on sourced goods—and in particular China—that’s obviously going to be something that they’re going to question,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any definite direction.”

American OEM’s Finkell sees the threat of tariffs on some imported goods as beneficial to Made in the USA. “I do believe that uncertainty around what President Trump will do with tariffs is helpful to the domestic industry. Prudent buyers are increasingly hedging their bets so as to not to have all of their eggs in the import basket if a trade war breaks out or significant tariffs are imposed on imported wood floors.”

Mannington’s Tuley is uncertain about the threats as well but feels those who onshore have the upper hand. “It’s so difficult to tell in our current environment what could happen. Certainly, tariffs could change the pricing structure of flooring products if they’re taxed in certain ways. And that could give companies that manufacture in the U.S. an advantage. But it’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen.”

Shaw’s Bell feels that regardless of whether the tariffs happen or not, Made in the USA is the way to go. “We just believe it makes economic sense for any company to have some level of in-market production for their products,” he said. “That is the overall trend globally.”

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Hardwood price hikes slated for April, May

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

By Reginald Tucker

Price increases on select brands of hardwood flooring are scheduled to take effect this spring.

Armstrong Flooring plans to initiate a 5%-7% price hike on solid hardwood products in the United States and Canada in May. “We have experienced significant increases in raw material costs, with lumber inflation across wood species and grades, coupled with energy, transportation and operating cost inflation,” Brent Flaharty, senior vice president of sales, North America, explained. “Rising natural gas and electricity prices are increasing our manufacturing facility operating costs, and fuel and transportation rates are rising, thereby impacting our delivered cost.”

Hardwood prices are also going up at Shaw Floors. Beginning April 2, the company will institute a 10% increase on its solid products. Tim Baucom, executive vice president of Shaw Floors’ residential division, also cited significant increases in the cost of solid hardwood raw materials in the last several months. “We have done our best to absorb these increases since they began in mid-2017 while continuing to provide superior products—at the same price—to our customers. After months of resisting, we must now raise prices to cover the cost of raw materials needed to make our solid hardwood products.”

Other major suppliers are taking a wait-and-see approach. “We are not planning any price increases at this time,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “But we are monitoring raw material prices very closely.”

Canada-based Mercier, which raised prices on solids back in January, is holding for now. “We aren’t planning any increases

at the moment,” said

Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S. market. “However, a couple more increases [on the supply side] and we may be forced to.”

Mohawk Industries told FCNews that it is not its policy to comment on any inquiries regarding price increases.

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Mohawk accessory program aims to complete the package

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Reginald Tucker

 

To many retailers, Mohawk is regarded as a supplier of all manner of hard- and soft-surface products, including hardwood, laminate, LVT/P, ceramic and carpet, to name a few. But the supplier is looking to remind dealers that it also provides a vast array of accessories.

Among Mohawk’s line of complementary installation products are: transitions and moldings, flooring adhesives, underlayments and care/maintenance items such as cleaning products and tools. “We sell these items for all our products; it’s a full program,” said David Moore, senior director of accessories.

But these are not me-too products, according to Mohawk. Rather, the accessories program is built on the idea of innovative products that differentiate the company from others in the market. An example of that innovation is a new technology utilized across its moldings/transition programs. This entails a multi-functional molding whereby the installer is able to handle multiple types of transition needs with one piece of inventory.

“For example, in a typical installation you’ll need a T-molding when you’re bridging floors of equal heights; a reducer when you’re going down to a thinner floor; or an end molding when you’re going up to a sliding glass door,” Moore explained. “We offer a product called a ‘5-in-1’ molding that we have in our laminate, hardwood and vinyl assortment. In essence, it’s one item that needs to be inventoried, one item that needs to be ordered or sold; and the installer can convert it to any configuration he needs.”

Being a full-service, vertically integrated supplier also brings other advantages compared to the host of standalone accessory suppliers in the field, according to Moore. By managing the accessories programs holistically, he said, the company is able to leverage best practices from all the different groups and provide focus and consolidation. “As our sales force goes out to sell those products holistically, having that single point of contact and consistency throughout all the different flooring types is something we thought was very important to our customers.”

This strategy applies to other accessory products, not just moldings. Take Mohawk’s V 1 glue, which is engineered to address different scenarios. “This adhesive, depending on the way it’s installed, acts as a pressure-sensitive, but it can also be a permanent bond adhesive,” Moore explained. “It’s an innovative product that will accomplish everything you need it to do, but at the end of the day it’s still just one item.”

Technological bells and whistles aside, Mohawk’s accessory products and add-ons also provide an opportunity for retailers to make more money. “Dealers can improve their profitability in a variety of ways—from the multi-functional standpoint, they are able to order less SKUs and keep a lower inventory, which translates into fewer items they need to send out to the job site,” Moore explained. “That means less risk to the dealer in terms of inventory that might go out of style. In addition, from a pure revenue standpoint, accessories provide retailers with an opportunity to really look at their margins and charge a premium for products that offer more innovation and that consumers are going to value.”

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Laminate: State of the industry—Segment thrives despite impact of WPC, LVT

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Reginald Tucker

 

For all the talk about laminate’s demise in the face of intensifying pressure from competing hard surface categories, the now-mature product segment is proving it has staying power. Ongoing innovations in the form of dramatically improved resistance to moisture, ultra-realistic replications of natural materials like wood and stone, and upgrades in surface texture and product performance are keeping the segment in the spotlight.

While the laminate flooring category has certainly ceded some market share to red-hot products such as WPC, SPC and LVT, the fact remains it is still a viable option since its official entry into the U.S. marketplace more than 20 years ago. “As manufacturers, it’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits laminate flooring offers,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries. “We’re asking consumers to take another look at the product category and great visuals and performance it offers. They can now have a premium wood look without any compromise. At Mohawk we are still very bullish about the product.”

Farabee is not alone in his assessment of the product’s capabilities. Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington, attests to both the category’s long history and reputation for durability, as well as the newfound focus on waterproof attributes. “In some cases, we’ve lost sight of what makes laminate great—phenomenal realism, all bio-based, superior indentation and scratch resistance, and the fact the vast majority is made in the USA. Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant as well, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids.”

Other proponents are bullish on the category’s current position in the marketplace. “I think the laminate flooring industry is in a good place,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO, Inhaus. “It continues to enhance its core value proposition, which is a great-looking floor at a leading price point that won’t let you down on performance. We see continued evolution in terms of design and features that are creating some amazing looks and furthering the value proposition of laminate.”

Travis Bass, executive vice president, Swiss Krono, also sees the laminate flooring category moving toward better visuals, deeper textures and innovative products. This provides an opportunity, he said, to continue educating the consumer—via retail exposure and industry associations such as NALFA—about the benefits of laminate. “It’s a wood-based product with the look and feel of solid hardwood, but with less maintenance and more durability,” he noted. “It’s easier to install and offers a much healthier, sustainable environmental impact than many competing products.”

Despite all these benefits and attributes, the category is not without its challenges. Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually bulletproof. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

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

For executives like Barron Frith, president, CFL North America, the attributes must square with a particular manufacturer’s marketing claims. “We have been big believers in water-resistant laminate since we launched our Atroguard line in 2013. No doubt the water-resistant feature is the future of the laminate category and will leave less space for regular laminates. Many big players are entering this market, at the same time leading everyone to push further marketing claims about being ‘waterproof’ as opposed to ‘water resistant,’ causing confusion about the performance of the product.”

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

What Farabee can say for sure is many companies are focusing on how to minimize any visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. “Most of them have been introducing lower-swell coreboards, which will help that problem overtime, but the one we worry about—which is also an issue with floating vinyl—is the majority aren’t doing anything with their joint systems. And while they may have minimized damage through topical moisture on the edges of the plank, you still have moisture penetrating the joints and creating issues under the floor.”

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

While some companies remain cautious about specious product claims, other major suppliers welcome all the hoopla surrounding waterproof/water-resistant marketing. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” Inhaus’ Welbourn stated. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced. However, laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof statement.”

Mannington’s Natkin also sees benefits in touting the category’s water-resistant attributes. “Realistically, laminate is already one of the highest performing product categories given its resistance to indentation and scratching, as well as the ease of installation. Water resistance is the icing on the cake.”

CFL is also embracing the renewed focus on the product’s performance attributes. “Water-resistant laminate is far from new for CFL,” Frith stated. “The bulletproof reputation has proven to be a big positive for us since we launched Atroguard more than four years ago. When consumers started shifting toward more waterproof vinyl categories, they did so without really realizing they were accepting a product that was inferior in terms of scratch resistance. No special coatings on vinyl flooring currently on the market come near the performance of a laminate in terms of scratch resistance.”

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Mohawk Industries makes rank on Training's elite list

Calhoun, Ga.—Mohawk Industries once again took top honors on the 18th annual Training magazine “Top 125” list, placing 47th alongside some of the United States’ most highly regarded businesses. Other organizations on the list include Edward Jones, CVS Health, Walmart, U.S. Postal Service, La Quinta Holdings and Best Buy.

This marks the 12th consecutive year Mohawk has earned a spot in the “Top 125” rankings compiled by the leading publication for learning and development professionals. The 2018 rankings were unveiled at a black-tie gala on Feb. 12 as part of the annual Training Convention & Expo, held this year in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center.

“Being recognized on Training’s ‘Top 125’ list every year for over a decade is a testament to how Mohawk’s learning culture actively brings value to our customers,” said Becky Redd, director of Mohawk’s Learning Resource Network. “Whether in formal programs or through informal training, coaching and mentoring, we are investing in our people to ensure that they have the skills to succeed in their current and future roles while delivering industry-leading design, service, quality and innovation.”

Training magazine’s annual list evaluates excellence in employer-sponsored training and development programs across all aspects of business: manufacturing, logistics, sales, administrative functions, safety and compliance. The magazine employs a panel of judges to evaluate the results of these initiatives both qualitatively and quantitatively, seeking the impact of the programs to the business.

While Mohawk facilitates many robust training initiatives across the enterprise, one point of pride is the company’s nationally-recognized, registered mechatronics apprenticeship program. The program combines work experience and classroom education as part of ongoing mechatronics training that includes mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, control and computer engineering skills. At the end of the program, which can be completed in four years or less depending on initial skill levels, participants receive their apprenticeship certification and have the option to complete additional coursework to receive an associate degree in mechatronics. Mohawk covers the cost of tuition and books, as well as compensating apprentices for classroom hours and on the job training.

“At Mohawk, we recognize the need to attract and develop talented individuals who can meet the increasingly technical demands of our highly competitive industry,” said Linda McEntire, director of technical training. “The company invests in state-of-the-art technology and needs people whose talent and skills can optimize that technology to benefit our customers and maintain our position as the innovation leader in the marketplace.”

Since its 2014 launch, the Mohawk Apprenticeship Program has attracted more than 60 apprentices at 14 manufacturing locations across the country and has maintained a 94% retention rate with 100% of apprentices becoming full-time, skilled Mohawk employees.

“Our Mohawk Apprenticeship Program and other company initiatives are contributing to a trained workforce, an increase in local workforce development, and strong partnerships with local technical colleges and career academies,” McEntire said. “Mohawk is not only advancing the future of our company, but we are also advancing the lives of people in our communities.”

The current “Top 125” was highly competitive, according to Training magazine. The rankings are determined by assessing a range of factors, including the scope of development programs and how well those initiatives assist the organization in achieving its business goals and objectives.

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Mohawk recognized for reducing its environmental impact

Calhoun, Ga.—For the eighth consecutive year, Mohawk Industries has earned recognition as one of Newsweek’s 500 greenest companies in the United States. The company ranked 265 in the 2017 Green Ranking program, which uses key indicators to measure environmental performance of large publicly traded companies that are delivering solid business results while minimizing their environmental impact. The rankings focus heavily on how efficiently businesses manage resources, which is a critical component of corporate sustainability.

“Our commitment to sustainability drives the way we design, innovate and manufacture flooring,” said Brian Carson, president, Mohawk Flooring North America. “We are excited to be recognized yet again as one of Newsweek’s top green companies in the U.S. Mohawk is passionate about corporate sustainability and about extending our leadership role in the flooring industry to reduce our environmental impact. These values are the foundation of our innovations that delight customers, create meaningful jobs and give back to the communities in which we live and operate. Put simply, it allows us to grow our business profitably.”

Mohawk is building a waste-responsible culture on a facility-by-facility basis around the globe, and the results have been significant: 5.5 million plastic bottles recycled annually; 25 million pounds of tires recycled into doormats annually; and 7.1 billion pounds of annual recycled waste.

George Bandy, Mohawk’s vice president of sustainability, noted that the manufacturer continues to make great strides toward expanding its commitment to sustainability. “Across the business, we have taken important and innovative steps to reduce waste, lower water consumption, improve our energy efficiency and recycle resources to produce better products in better ways.”

One model of energy efficiency is Mohawk’s Glasgow, Va.-based facility, which produces commercial carpet tile. Investments like lighting retrofits and replacement of aging boilers and ovens with new, more efficient ones have led to significant reductions in energy consumption in Glasgow.

Throughout North America, Mohawk has fine-tuned its domestic logistics from warehouses to transportation assets. Practices like route optimization and use of renewable fuel are driving sustainability, which is good for business and the environment.

Mohawk has a Zero Landfill (ZLF) program, which began as a pilot in the company’s rug and mat business and has now been implemented at 44 production sites worldwide. The program has led to a 26% reduction in waste intensity since 2010.

“At Mohawk, we talk about a circular economy,” Bandy said. “We believe in broadening our network of technical solutions and keeping materials out of landfills. We do this by manufacturing products with cleaner materials that produce less waste as well as by giving existing materials a longer, more productive life. Through programs and projects that reuse and recycle flooring, we’re shrinking our industry’s environmental footprint.”

The Green Rankings, sponsored by Newsweek in partnership with Corporate Knights, is one of the most recognized environmental performance assessments of the world’s largest publicly traded companies.