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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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NALFA celebrates 20 years of leadership, innovation

September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 2.30.49 PMNew York—Current and long-time members of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) convened here earlier this month to mark a significant milestone—20 years in the business. The event included an update on the standards-setting group’s objectives and goals, a recap of the state of the laminate flooring industry and, most importantly, the unveiling of a new website more indicative of 21st century technology.

The improved website—nalfa.com—sports a brand new look and feel with updated content and improved mobile access. It is designed to enhance the experience of consumers, trade professionals and industry members.

“We are excited about the redesign of our website,” said Dan Natkin, NALFA president. “We have worked hard to make the website user friendly for consumers who are researching their floor options while continuing to be the voice for the laminate flooring industry. We are proud of the final product.”

A few highlights of the revamped site:

Fresh new look. Reflecting a more modern 21st century feel, the new-look nalfa.com site—which features the NALFA 20th anniversary logo atop the homepage—provides easier navigation by using the top tabs or clicking on the photos. “Consumers can also view all images on one site instead of clicking through to the various members’ sites,” said Barbara June, who in addition to handling legal/marketing matters for Swiss Krono also serves on the website committee.

More consumer oriented. More consumers are conducting research online before they buy. To that end, the site reflects the customer as opposed to NALFA corporate.

Better responsiveness. “We didn’t have a responsive, mobile-friendly website—now we do,” June stated.

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 2.31.18 PMThe next step in the site’s evolution, according to June, will entail a search tool that lists all certified laminate installers by state.

“I would like to thank all the members for their time and input, especially Dan [Natkin], Travis Bass [executive vice president, Swiss Krono] and Roger Farabee [senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk]. They went above and beyond the call of duty.”

State of the industry

In his address to members and guests in attendance, Natkin provided an overview of the laminate category in the U.S. “In 20 years it has become a $1 billion-plus industry. Members in this industry employ hundreds of people who are involved in the production of laminate flooring, and

the retailers and installers employ thousands who service the end customer.”

He also reminded attendees how the category has withstood intense pressure from competing flooring segments, particularly wood, LVT and, now, WPC.

“People forget laminate is one of the most environmentally sound products—and that’s coming from a wood guy. Laminate comprises 95% renewable content.”

More importantly, Natkin cited the high level of cooperation of NALFA membership, which includes the likes of Arauco, Armstrong, DMX Underlayment, IVC U.S., Kronospan, MP Global Products, Mannington, Mohawk, Pak-Lite, Pergo, Quick-Step, Sealed Air Floor Care Products, Selit Foam Solutions, Shaw Floors, Swiss Krono and Torlys. These companies, he said, represent the vast majority of laminate flooring sold in North America.

“There is a higher level of engagement in NALFA than any other trade organization in which I’m involved,” Natkin stated. “And as we enter our third decade of existence we’re continuing to serve as the police of the industry. We’re unique in that we are led by the members. The individual voices come together as the collective voice of NALFA. Each leader in this room dedicates an amazing amount of time, effort, energy and passion toward advancing our message around the goals of standardization and the benefits of laminate flooring to both the consumer and the industry.”

Not the same old laminate
“Both regular and associate NALFA members are continuing to invest millions of dollars in the production of laminate flooring in support of continued demand among consumers,” Natkin said. He cited a number of innovations, including water-resistant coreboard technologies, improved visuals and surface technologies. “It’s not the laminate flooring of 20 years ago,” he told attendees.

Mohawk’s Farabee agreed, adding the group is focusing on building a platform for the future. “It’s our job to remind people of the incredible benefits this category offers. It’s a wood-based product; it’s the most durable hard surface product outside of ceramic; it’s the easiest to install; it’s the most cost effective product on an installed basis; and it offers the most realistic visuals of any ‘replica’ product on the market. For consumers today, the potential for future sales is greater, particularly as we focus on new aspects such as moisture resistance. There’s a role for the laminate category to play with respect to the new products that are starting to emerge.”

 

Tribute to a colleague and a friend

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 2.33.22 PMNew York—The 20th anniversary celebration of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) came to a close with a touching tribute to Bill Dearing, the man who served as its president from the group’s inception in 1997 until his passing in late 2016. Dearing, who not only presided over NALFA’s evolution but was also instrumental in bringing the Pergo brand to the U.S. market, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 75.

“We are members today because of Bill,” said Peter Barretto, president of Torlys, a long-time NALFA primary member. “He was a class act and gave to everyone in this room. He was the glue.”

Dan Natkin, current NALFA president who also serves as vice president of hardwood and laminate at Mannington, concurred. “Bill was always there for you if you needed anything. I considered him a colleague and a good friend.”

Natkin credited Dearing for bringing standardization to the laminate industry, eliminating the “Wild West” mentality that existed around claims. “He lived and breathed laminate flooring; he was passionate about it. He became synonymous with laminate flooring.”

Jack Boesch, marketing director for MP Global Products, a long-time NALFA associate member, recalled his early interactions with Dearing. “We were the first company outside the flooring manufacturers to get involved with NALFA, so naturally I asked a lot of questions about the laminate category. Bill welcomed me with open arms.”

Lars von Kantzow, former CEO of Pergo, hired Dearing in 1990 to help launch the Pergo brand in the U.S. “Dearing was literally Pergo’s first sales rep for Pergo,” he said (FCNews, Oct. 24/31, 2016). “He mapped out our distribution strategy and made the first contacts. He brought in retailers Carpet One and Color Tile, and then distributors such as Misco Shawnee, Bayard and William Bird. He was absolutely instrumental in putting Pergo on the map.”

Many industry members and associates were on hand for the tribute, including Roula Dearing, Bill’s wife of many years.

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NALFA introduces new leadership

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 9.58.40 AMWashington D.C.—The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) has announced a new leadership structure for the 20-year-old association.

NALFA’s board of directors recently called a meeting to discuss the association’s future and direction following the passing of industry pioneer Bill Dearing, who served as president of NALFA since its founding in 1997.

The new leadership team is as follows.

  • Dan Natkin, president: Natkin is the vice president of hardwood and laminate at Mannington. Dan has served NALFA’s board for seven years.
  • Roger Farabee, vice president: Farabee is the senior vice president of laminate and hardwood for Mohawk North American Flooring division and has been with the company for 22 years. He has served on NALFA’s board for 10 years.
  • Barbara Ellenberg June, CFO: June serves as general counsel and public relations for Swiss Krono USA; she has been with the company since 2012, having previously served as outside counsel since 2004. She has served NALFA for four years.
  • Travis Bass, marketing committee chair: Bass is executive vice president of sales and marketing for Swiss Krono, a position he has held since 2000. He has served NALFA for four years.
  • Jean Briere, technical committee chair: Briere is the hard surface innovation director at Shaw Industries Group, a company he has been with since 2001. He has served NALFA for 20 years.
  • Dennis Bradway, technical committee vice chair: Bradway is the corporate product and standards manager at Mannington Mills. He has been with Mannington Mills since 1982. Bradway has served NALFA for 18 years.

“Bill Dearing was the driving force behind NALFA’s success since its inception,” Natkin said. “Not only does the new leadership have big shoes to fill, we have to ensure our members are well positioned and laminate flooring continues its growth trajectory in an ever-changing marketplace. The leadership team’s passion and knowledge of the industry is unmatched. It’s a great team to be part of.”

Founded in 1997, NALFA united laminate flooring manufacturers to develop and implement an ANSI-accredited certification of laminate flooring products and underlayment, as well as to promote the continuous and responsible growth of the laminate flooring industry.

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Bill Dearing, NALFA president, 75

October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Ken Ryan

photo-trade-dearing-e-cE.C. “Bill” Dearing, who served as president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) since its inception in 1997, and who was instrumental in bringing the Pergo brand to the U.S. market, lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 24. He was 75.

Flooring industry executives hailed Dearing as a terrific ambassador for the laminate flooring category and a person with great zest for life. Indeed, while NALFA’s mission was to be the “voice” of laminate flooring in North America, Dearing was the one who amplified that voice, executives said.

“He was more than just the figurehead of NALFA, he was the glue that held it all together, said Dan Natkin, senior director of hard surface products for Mannington, who considered Dearing a close personal friend and one of the most influential people in the industry. “He brought some standardization to the industry and eliminated the Wild West mentality that existed around claims. He lived and breathed laminate flooring—he was passionate about it. He became synonymous with laminate flooring.”

Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood products, Mohawk Industries, which counts its Pergo, Quick-Step and Columbia brands as NALFA members, agreed. “Bill was a fascinating fellow with a varied career including the military and martial arts training as well as a long history in the floor covering industry, including a significant contribution to the laminate industry.”

Lars von Kantzow, former CEO of Pergo, hired Dearing twice—the first time in 1986 with Swedish Match, a safety match company, and then in 1990 to help launch the Pergo brand in the U.S. “Bill was literally our first sales rep for Pergo,” von Kantzow told FCNews. “He mapped out our distribution strategy and made the first contacts. He brought in retailers Carpet One and Color Tile, and then distributors such as Misco Shawnee, Bayard, William Bird—Bill orchestrated everything. I was based in Sweden initially and Bill was our lighthouse in the U.S. He was absolutely instrumental in putting Pergo on the map.”

Moreover, people just genuinely liked Dearing. “He had a diplomatic posture and skill about him,” von Kantzow added. “He was the ultimate team builder who had a knack for getting people to work together. He got the best out of people.”

Jim Gould, president of the Floor Covering Institute, worked with Dearing during the Pergo days as founder of Distribution Services (DSI), which provided logistics and administrative services to international flooring manufacturers wishing to enter the U.S. market such as Pergo. “Bill’s outgoing personality was perfect to bring distributors and large retailers into the Pergo fold. One of Bill’s personal objectives was to create a professional industry association for the laminate category fashioned after the European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF). Almost single handedly, Bill created the NALFA.”

Friends said Dearing, a former Marine, had a love for life that included extensive travel around the world, an interest in Judo and martial arts. He authored books about the warrior way. Farabee recalled, “I remember many entertaining, wine-filled dinners with him and his lovely wife, Roula, at our NALFA meetings. They had fascinating travel and fine dining stories which they loved to share.”

Von Kantzow, who remained close with Dearing even though he left the flooring industry 12 years ago, summed it up: “Bill was a great guy who left us too soon.”

An industry stalwart

Many industry observers agree that through Dearing’s efforts, NALFA was very proactive in advising the consumer media of the differences of laminate flooring, NALFA Standards and the association has gained notable traction and recognition from the press. This was especially critical during the time period of the now-infamous “60 Minutes” expose on Lumber Liquidators and the scandal involving Chinese-made laminate flooring products that contained excessive levels of formaldehyde. Industry advocates say the efforts that Dearing put in both behind the scenes and in the media has aided the image and told the truth about quality laminate flooring products. As Dearing stated at the time, “What we started in development of standards 19 years ago has proven to be of incredible value for the laminate flooring producer and marketer who is concerned not only about style and technology but the whole picture of health and well-being. It worked.”

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Armstrong Commercial Flooring joins NALFA

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 4.37.44 PMChattanooga, Tenn.—Armstrong Commercial Flooring has joined the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) as its newest Regular Member.

NALFA offers three levels of membership: Regular Manufacturing Membership, Associate Membership and Testing House/Lab/Academic Membership. NALFA Regular Members are manufacturers, importers or marketers that offer laminate flooring for sale within North America. Other NALFA Regular Members include Columbia Flooring, Mannington Mills, Mohawk, Pergo, Quick-Step, Shaw Industries and Torlys.

“Armstrong is an important standard bearer for the laminate flooring industry and a welcome addition to NALFA,” said Bill Dearing, president of NALFA. “Like our other members, Armstrong has long demonstrated an aptitude for product and manufacturing innovations that drive a healthy laminate flooring trade.”

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Registration opens for NALFA Installer and Inspector Certification classes

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.03.40 PMWashington, D.C.—The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) has opened registration for the 2015 Advanced Laminate Installer and Inspector Certification classes. The specialized courses offer numerous benefits to installers and inspectors including a potential for higher income and increased business exposure.

The Installer class will include a hands-on installation and will be taught by Anthony Palandro, an installer, inspector and consultant who has worked in the floor covering industry since 1972.

The Inspector Certification class will include hands-on training, installation requirements, inspection tools and standards, product defect review and certification testing and evaluation. This course will be taught by Ron Starkey, a NALFA Certified Installer and a NALFA Certified Inspector with over 20 years of experience inspecting floor installations.

2015 NALFA class dates and locations are as follows:

Installation: July 9 Ringgold, Ga.

Inspector: July 10, Ringgold, Ga.

Installation: Oct. 22, Salem, N.J.

Inspector: Oct. 23, Salem, N.J.

All classes are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST.

Each class is $350 per person and is available for WFCA scholarship funds. A discount is offered for those attending both classes at one location. To register, download the registration form at nalfa.com and fax it to NALFA at (423) 634-9074 or email Valerie Roy at valerie@kmtcreative.com.

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NALFA Certification provides quality, CARB compliant laminate

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.56.11 AMWashington, D.C.—In light of recent news stating Lowe’s has halted sales of some of its Chinese manufactured laminate flooring products, the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) assures retailers that laminate flooring products carrying the NALFA Certification Seal of approval have passed rigorous ANSI performance tests for quality and are also CARB 2 compliant.

“Ultimately, we want consumers to have peace of mind that the products they place in their homes are safe,” said Bill Dearing, president of NALFA. “When retailers place NALFA certified products on their shelves that goal is achieved and both retailers and their customers can rest assured that a good decision has been made.”

Prior to earning the NALFA Certification Seal, laminate floors must pass a series of 10 rigorous performance tests including static load, thickness swell, light resistance, cleanability and stain resistance, large ball resistance, small ball resistance, water resistance, dimensional tolerance, castor chair resistance and surface bond. An independent laboratory completes the testing and submits the results to the NALFA board for final approval.

For a complete list of NALFA certified products, visit nalfa.com.

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NALFA tackles worries of formaldehyde following ‘60 Minutes’ exposé

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 2.46.30 PMWashington, D.C.—The North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) offered some points of differentiation for retailers who carry NALFA-certified products, in light of a recent “60 Minutes” report regarding the dangers of high formaldehyde content in Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-manufactured laminate flooring, to help assure customers that not all laminate flooring carries the same danger.

  • NALFA is the only ANSI-­accredited trade organization exclusively dedicated to the North American laminate flooring industry and representative to the International Standards Organization (ISO).
  • NALFA-­certified products must pass 10 rigorous tests conducted by an independent third party laboratory, including meeting or exceeding CARB 2 emission standards, to be approved to carry the NALFA Certification Seal.
  • This seal serves as verification that a product will provide the retailer and consumer a safe flooring option.
  • Laminate flooring products bearing the NALFA Certification Seal must undergo laboratory testing that affirms compliance with applicable federal and state regulations pertaining to formaldehyde content.
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Laminate: NALFA takes the high road

January 5/12, 2015; Volume 28/Number 14 

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.33.37 PMThough laminate flooring’s market share has been negatively impacted by LVT—often the result of a direct sales-pitch assault espousing LVT’s superiority due to its water resistant, silent nature—North American Laminate Floor Association (NALFA) members have refrained from responding to the attack. Now, for the first time, NALFA president Bill Dearing discusses the issue in an exclusive FCNews interview.

FCNews: Why hasn’t NALFA responded to the LVT suppliers specifically selling against laminate flooring?

DEARING: We at NALFA have an understanding that we should promote the benefits of NALFA rather than get caught up in political nonsense and attack a single category. Our personal belief is to talk about what you can do, not what the other guy can’t.

FCNews: Is NALFA aware of the separation issues some click and loose lay LVTs are experiencing? And, if so, why not capitalize on it?

DEARING: I don’t want to come off as knocking LVT, but strictly from a technical perspective it does have some drawbacks—every product does. All I’ll say is that laminate doesn’t experience those joint expansion issues that could arise from seasonal temperature changes.

FCNews: So laminate won’t expand or shrink from exposure to sunlight or turning the heat up or down?

DEARING: No. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, NALFA-certified laminate is used extensively in Toronto condominiums because it won’t separate or pop up from raising the heat in winter or cooling the condo down in the summer. Laminate flooring has been proven to work in Canada and in climates around the world that are much more severe than what is experienced in the United States.

FCNews: Though NALFA won’t directly counter LVT, is it doing anything new to promote the category?

DEARING: We will have a pavilion at the Las Vegas NAHB International Builder’s Show—that market is coming back as far as real estate is concerned; they’re upgrading to laminate. We’ll also have a pavilion at Surfaces again. This will be our second year of having a pavilion there.

FCNews: Any additional thoughts or points about laminate you would like to convey?

DEARING: I don’t understand why laminate continues to be portrayed as a weakened category or why some of the trade press gives that impression. Not only have we seen sales increase the past two years, but, more important, we’ve seen a significant increase in square-foot prices. That’s a good sign that the consumer is able and willing to loosen her purse strings and go after better products she didn’t consider a few years ago. That should make everybody happy. It’s nice to talk about square-foot increases, but a price increase you can take to the bank. It’s good for the dealer and our membership. That’s significant.

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Mohawk, Quick-Step, Pergo, Columbia to be featured in NALFA booth at TISE 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 3.07.48 PMDallas—Mohawk, Quick-Step, Pergo and Columbia will be featured prominently in the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) booth #S7371 during the upcoming International Surface Event (TISE) 2015 tradeshow at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas Jan. 20-23.

The NALFA booth is designed to serve as a showcase for NALFA certified products. Only laminate flooring that meets the strictest criteria regarding quality can achieve NALFA certification. All Mohawk, Quick-Step, Pergo and Columbia floors are NALFA certified.

“When purchasing our brands, consumers can have full confidence they are bringing flooring of the highest quality into their home,” said Paij Thorn-Brooks, vice president of brand marketing for Unilin.