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Spotlight: Nature Flooring focuses on the fundamentals

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13         

By Reginald Tucker

 

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-32-26-amNature Flooring isn’t one of the largest players on the market, but it’s certainly looking to become one of the most exciting and dynamic players. The strategy, according to the company, is to continue to build on its growing distribution network while offering innovative products designed to pique retailer interest.

“Our strategy for next year is to try to fully stock all of our SKUs,” said Luxia Hong, director of operations. “We are also bringing new products such as WPC, laminate—which we haven’t carried in the past 10 years—and LVT. We are also working on a 7-inch-wide engineered product, which is trendy right now. It’s a distressed, wire-brushed look.”

Up to this point, Nature Flooring predominantly focused on solid and engineered hardwood offerings. Some of its staple collections include: World of Exotics, which entail exotic species such as Peruvian tigerwood, Brazilian walnut and tigerwood, acacia, Brazilian cherry and teak; the Americana Collection, which spans several varieties of oak—including tobacco, whiskey and caramel, to name a few; and the World of Woods line, which features variations of Pacific mahogany, birch and hickory. The lineup has been expanded to include the WPC collection, which includes “hand-scraped looking” products in several decors.

One new product Nature is particularly excited about is a Peruvian Pecan species available in a 5-inch-wide, hand scraped format. As Hong describes it, “It is very similar to Brazilian pecan, which is dark brown in tone. We are also trying to make a couple of stains for that product so our customers can distinguish them from different products.”

According to Hong, its WPC and laminate flooring products are made in China. With respect to wood, the company operates its own factory in Peru. Down the road, the company plans to bring in some product from Cambodia. “We’re currently working with our distributors to find out what’s trending in their markets to meet their needs,” she said.

That takes care of the product side of the equation. In terms of distribution, Nature Flooring is busy shoring up its coverage of the U.S. market as well. “We are absolutely committed to growing the U.S. market by servicing our distributors; we have 10 distributor partners today and we are in the middle of hiring five more regional sales managers to cover the Midwest and Southeast areas,” Hong explained, adding the sales reps will only be calling on distributors, not retailers direct. “Before we only serviced the distributors on the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic.”

One of Nature Flooring’s distributor partners that saw the potential in the company’s product offerings early was Derr Flooring, based in Willow Grove, Pa. “We brought on the Nature Flooring line in 2008-09, right at the point during the downturn in the economy,” said Rick Holden, chief operating officer. “We’ve had a very good relationship over that time period.”

Derr Flooring positions the Nature Flooring line in what Holden calls the “mid range,” which makes sense given the clientele it serves across its most active end-use markets. “Most of our business with the Nature Flooring line is residential, but there’s some new home construction as well,” he explained. “The product mix that we’re involved with is not really oriented toward commercial at this point, mostly due to the construction of the product. What we sell is mostly solid wood, so it’s not really something that’s designed for slab construction.”

Another key distributor partner in the region is Allstate Flooring Distributors, which services customers in the Mid-Atlantic area via its headquarters in New Jersey. Mike Corsetto, vice president of purchasing and operations, said the Nature Flooring line dovetails nicely with its expansive hard surface offering.

“We’ve been with Nature Flooring since its beginnings,” he said. “They work very hard at making sure they have the right colors and stains for our market.”

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Wood: Product quality hinges on sourcing, manufacturing capabilities, attention to detail

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13         

By Reginald Tucker

 

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-27-41-amIn the world of football, you’ll find the top teams consistently execute in all three facets of the game—offense, defense and special teams. Things are not all that different when it comes to the hardwood flooring industry, where a continual emphasis on the fundamentals—sourcing, manufacturing capabilities and quality controls, to name a few—usually produces optimal results.

This is particularly critical when it comes to natural materials such as hardwood, where the determining factor as it relates to product quality often begins at the source—the forest. This tenet generally holds true for suppliers across the board, regardless of the region where the logs are harvested.

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

Mohawk believes the Made in the USA label means more today than it ever has with all the press on the various environmental issues out there. To that end, the company has people in place to ensure all facets of its hardwood flooring production—including everything from finishes to adhesives—are in compliance. “You’re not going to have that kind of control outside of the U.S.,” said David Holt, senior vice president. “When you’re dependent upon someone else to control your manufacturing assets, you’re always going to have too much of the ‘bad’ thing and not enough of the ‘good’ thing. That does not equal good service; it amounts to upset customers out in the field. Manufacturing in the U.S. allows us to meet our customers’ needs at the drop of a hat.”

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

Shaw manufactures many of its own products and sources from strategic partners in the U.S. and internationally to offer a broad portfolio of products to meet diverse customer preferences. In doing so, the company sets high standards for itself and its suppliers. Shaw takes numerous steps to verify that its products, regardless of where or by whom they are manufactured, meet customers’ high expectations. These steps include: performing manufacturing site inspections to ensure suppliers meet the same high-quality standards the company practices internally; setting raw material specifications that restrict the use of certain chemical substances of concern; and ensuring all products meet the indoor air emissions requirements of California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method V1.1 (2010).

Manufacturers that specialize in supplying hardwood flooring for distributors, i.e., private-label programs, also stress the importance of responsible sourcing. Case in point is American OEM, which relies strictly on stateside forests to build its programs. One of the major benefits, according to Allie Finkell, vice president, is the proximity to the customer and the speed of response time. For instance, American OEM can cut samples within its own manufacturing facility, which cuts a great deal of time out of the process.

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-27-47-am“Having an in-house sample department allows us to make sure the samples are representative of the product,” Finkell said. “The people we have making the samples are only making our samples, so they are familiar with our product. Secondly, it gives us one more look at the finished product. So if the sample department takes a board out of our finished goods inventory, they have a quality control board to compare it to. They are comparing to the standard. If you were doing that remotely, they are not going to know what the product is supposed to look like.”

Another benefit of controlling the supply is being able to develop specific programs for distributors based on their location. While some of American OEM’s non-competing distributors can buy from a collection of similar products, the overall mix might be slightly different—not all of them buy the exact same SKUs. This allows wholesalers to buy smaller quantities at a time, Finkell explained.

However, those companies that do import raw materials as well as finished product believe their products hold up just as well as American-made goods. Nature Flooring, for example, imports many of its hardwood flooring products from Peru. According to Luxia Hong, director of operations, there have not been any issues.

“We own the forests where we harvest the wood, and the trees we cut are only the really old trees,” she explained. “In addition, we follow a strict forest management strategy approved by the Peruvian government. We have the chain of custody and FSC certification. We assure that every process has the proper supply chain certification approved by the FSC.”

That’s a similar approach taken by California-based Alston, which sources its products from China. “What makes us different is that we are a family owned and operated business, with our own manufacturing facilities and mills in China, and our own stocking distribution warehousing facilities here in the United States,” said Alan Chou, president. “This insures that all critical steps—from preparation of the raw materials, to manufacturing, hand selecting, sorting, packaging, shipping and the final distribution of our products—are completely controlled by us. This is why we can ensure the products that people buy are of the best quality available, and the pricing will still be very competitive.”

The key to ensuring quality when sourcing product from overseas, suppliers say, lies in hands-on management. Case in point is Canada-based Divine Flooring. As Sean Stewart, managing partner, explains: “Like many companies we source from China. But what makes our approach different is we actually have our own employees in China. We inspect everything before it ships. Granted, that doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but many of our competitors are not inspecting anything.”

 

Proprietary processes

Beyond sourcing origins, suppliers are also looking to distinguish themselves from the pack by virtue of their approach to finishing. Such is the case with DuChateau, which opts for natural, low-luster oil finishes in lieu of aluminum oxide, polyurethane-based coatings. “We’re very focused on design and aesthetics on the European hard wax oil visual, and that’s all we do at DuChateau,” said Mitch Tagle, president and CEO. “Other companies have jumped on the bandwagon, but what usually happens is the quality isn’t there because we are on the higher end in terms of price point.”

Other companies like HF Design, which specializes in the European Oak look as well, also takes a unique approach to finishing and treating its products. For instance, the company applies a special thermal treatment process to many of its products for added dimensional stability. “By treating our French oak differently than our competition, we have created a product category that is exclusive within the independent retail channel and is, therefore, very profitable and very desirable,” said Alex Shaoulpour, president. “For our retailers it’s a breath of fresh air because they don’t get beat up on margins from big box competition.”

 

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Nature Flooring hosts tree planting at Wangari Gardens

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.55.33 AMExton, Pa.—Nature Flooring has long touted its environmental stewardship. On May 16, it put its words into action by planting trees at Wangari Gardens in Washington, D.C. Founded in 2012, Wangari Gardens is designed, created and sustained by the community for the non-profit benefit of local residents.

The trees are the latest addition to the Wangari Gardens’ effort to create a green oasis at the crossroads of Irving Street, Kenyon Street and Park Place NE in urban Washington, D.C. Species of trees included are Weeping Willow, Santa Rosa Cherry, Magnolia Tree, Sugar Maple and Willow Oak.

“As founder of the Greenbelt Movement, Wangari Maathai of Kenya (professor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) was instrumental in inspiring others to conserve the environment for a greener, cleaner world,” said Raymond Zhu, a Nature Flooring spokesman. “We promise to plant more trees for a blue sky for our next generation.”

The Wangari Gardens planting is another step in Nature Flooring’s commitment to sustainable development and forest protection, Zhu said. Its parent company, Nature Home of China, has planted more than 20 species of ecological forests in China and Peru. The company, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, is serving as the zero-carbon partner of 2015 Milano Expo. Nature Flooring is a core member of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Forest & Trade Network.

“With each tree planted, we undertake the social responsibility for sustaining our world,” Zhu said. “We guarantee our safer and healthy hardwood flooring to American customers through our green management.”

Nature Flooring said all of its products are responsibly harvested to ensure they are legally sourced and logged, and comply with formaldehyde emission standards set forth by the SGS Consumer Testing Services/California Air Resources Board (CARB). Nature Flooring meets standards set by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, the world’s largest forest certification system. The company was the first Chinese hardwood flooring manufacturer to earn Forest Stewardship Council certification, signifying its products come from well-managed forests.

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Wood: New staining techniques create heightened designs

February 2/9, 2015; Volume 28/Number 16

By Ken Ryan

(First of two parts)

As the trend of wider widths and longer lengths becomes more mainstream, hardwood flooring manufacturers are turning to the latest in staining techniques to differentiate their offerings. Several of these were attention grabbers at Surfaces 2015.

Armstrong

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.53.06 PMArmstrong has added depth and more choices to its Prime Harvest collection, bringing hickory and maple into a portfolio that already included oak. All species are available in multiple widths, colors and gloss levels across solid and engineered.

The beefed-up Prime Harvest line now gives retailers more options for its customers, according to Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of residential marketing. “So now a consumer comes in [the store] and says, ‘Hey, I really like that color but I don’t like oak; do you have it in cherry?’ Before it was almost impossible to navigate her there. Now we say, ‘Yeah, we do have that color in cherry.’ Then she starts looking and says, ‘I love that color in maple but I just got back from my builder and he said I need engineered.’ Before it would be ‘No, that’s a different collection. Let’s start over and pick a new color.’ Now we say, ‘Absolutely, we have that in engineered.’ Then the retailer can demonstrate in one width but there are multiple. It makes it easier to navigate instead of finding a line with different names and features.”

Also, Armstrong has added maple to its successful American Scrape line, which now boasts a range of colors from light—almost white—to black with some grays in the middle. “It’s a softer, more refined scrape, not as aggressive as you would see on the oak or hickory, which are more grainy, with more character in the wood,” Villanueva-Heras said.

Boen

Wide widths and long lengths are all the rage in hardwood, and no company makes a louder statement than Boen, which showed 12-inch wide x 9-foot long oak products. Specifically, Oak Highland and Oak Graphite were the two big hits at the show, according to Dennis Hrusa, managing director. The company utilizes a stain process that creates distinctive variations in color in the big boards.

Oak Highland, which retails for $14 to $15 per square foot, “is an eye catcher,” Hrusa said. “It’s used in big rooms, and in big rooms people tend to be more conservative.” Oak Graphite (top product is Mystic Jungle) provides a certain European oak look that Boen prominently displayed at its booth to grab attention.

Elegance Exotics

Elegance Exotics already sources from South America, Central America, Asia and Africa; now, for the first time, it is adding North America to the list with two hickory products. “One thing we wanted was to be well rounded,” said Lukasz Piatek, vice president of sales. “The one place we weren’t getting it was North America. It adds value.” Piatek said what drew the most attention at Surfaces was a ½-inch thick engineered line featuring three birches and two hickories.

Elegance also sought to make further inroads with top-tier dealers at Surfaces, especially National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) retailers. Elegance has existing relationships with about 10 NFA dealers. “One of our goals is to continue to grow with the NFA,” Piatek said. “We want to be one of their core vendors.”

Elof Hansson

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.53.00 PMThe first hour of the first day of Surfaces proved quite busy at the Elof Hansson booth where Bruce Hammer, sales and marketing manager, engaged customers about the company’s new Brazilian walnut and Brazilian Plantation species. The Plantation Series grows extremely fast, from seedling to maturity in seven years.

Brazilian walnut comes in dark colors, including chocolate and coffee. “One of the issues you have with the staining process is it homogenizes the whole color and takes the variation out and gives a more uniform color,” Hammer said. “As a result we are getting some of the sellable looks of the exotics but at a lesser price.”

Hammer urged retailers to carry the product because of its uniqueness, ability to make money and Made in the USA angle. “We bring the material in raw and finish it in North Carolina. If a customer says, ‘I like that stain but want more espresso in it,’ we can do it. Having that plant in North Carolina is one of our big advantages.”

Johnson Premium Hardwood Floors

Johnson’s Alehouse Series was a Best of Surfaces winner in style and design. Its dimensions (7 1⁄2-inches wide by 7-feet long), design (beveled edges, light brushing) and numerous color variations kept booth visitors intrigued. Alehouse is offered in nine dark tones.

To achieve the desired effect, a multi-layer, hand-staining process creates an inner glow appearance that darkens toward the timeworn plank edges. The line is the heir apparent to English Pub, one of the top looks at Surfaces 2014. Bill Schollmeyer, CEO, said he is not sure Alehouse will outsell English Pub but believes both will have strong appeal in both commercial and retail markets.

Kährs

Kährs, which in December merged with Karelia‐Upofloor to create one of Europe’s leading wood floor producers, showcased its Real collection (up to 10-inches wide) and lengths (up to 12 feet), as well as the Smaland line from Sweden, which includes 12 strip oak floors. The company is taking advantage of its European heritage with a two-part staining process that displays the high gloss of the acrylic-based urethane.

Nature Flooring

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.52.54 PMJaman Stepp took over as CEO of Nature Flooring in December, so Surfaces was an opportunity to meet with distributor partners and outline a plan for 2015. “We want to reassure these folks we are going to step it up a notch.”

Stepp acknowledged Nature’s service level hasn’t been where it needs to be; therefore, his 2015 focus is on building an infrastructure to support the business model. “Building the team from the inside out. It is going to be a challenge but I am looking forward to it.”

Nature Flooring has plenty of production capability at its disposal: it owns four forests, operates 19 facilities in China and runs a Peruvian manufacturing site. “I want us to be a leader in the exotics category,” Stepp said. “Having ownership of the plants and forests is key.”

In 2015, Nature Flooring will move into a new corporate facility in north Georgia.

Preverco

Preverco highlighted the launch of a mobile app and a new merchandising system.

The app uses augmented reality, allowing users to view their existing flooring and substitute it virtually with Preverco floors. “The tool will give consumers confidence they are choosing the right product,” said Etienne Chabot, Preverco’s vice president of marketing. The mobile app is available free in the App Store for iPad users.

The new merchandising system can fit 20% more samples while taking up 8% less footprint; it also features enhanced LED lighting to show samples in the best light. “It can be customized and configured the way you want it,” Chabot said. Preverco showed a prototype of the merchandising system at last year’s Surfaces and made enhancements based on customer feedback.

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Nature Flooring makes big push into U.S. market

Feb. 17/24 2014, Volume 27/number 21

By Ken Ryan

Nature Flooring isn’t new to the U.S. market, having sold through distribution for the past seven years. However, in many respects, Surfaces 2014 represented a coming out party for an international hardwood flooring company that boasts new executives, sales reps and customers.

Founded in 1995, Nature Home Co. (Nature Flooring in the U.S.) is a world leader with international brand recognition. It is part of China Flooring Holdings Co., a publicly traded company on the Hong Kong exchange backed by Morgan Stanley and HSBC.

Nature Flooring’s corporate values are focused on social responsibility (it plants a tree every time one of its floors is sold) and the production and delivery of first-class flooring, according to board chairman Se Hok Pan, who met with FCNews at Surfaces.

The company is looking to make a big splash in the U.S. market. To that end, in 2013 it hired Scott Nebenzahl as its national marketing manager and George Tammany as its national sales director/international business development. Their task is to drive the Nature Flooring brand in the U.S. through strong distribution partners.Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 1.41.48 PM

At Surfaces, Nature Flooring displayed its new products on the main floor, including its French Oak collection and held meetings in a room upstairs. “Surfaces was an amazing show for us on multiple levels,” Nebenzahl said. “We had numerous goals achieved. We wanted to emphasize our international leadership in flooring as a company that is involved in literally the acquisition of the forest to the delivery to the customer. All the benefits we provide assure a quality, reliable, value-oriented product in the market.”

Nebenzahl said the company was able to “create some synergy” and develop new relationships at the show. “It was a great way to come out of the chute for the new year.”

Nature Flooring met with distributors to outline its plans to expand significantly in the U.S. It has added sales reps in all the major geographic regions and will soon announce new distributors joining its ranks.

“We’re like the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Tammany said. “The message we are trying to get across is this: Yes, we have a current base, and we want to be the global company that hires U.S. citizens and those abroad. We are adding new salespeople and new distributors as we go.”

Derr Flooring, one of the top 10 U.S. distributors for hardwood flooring, has been a Nature Flooring customer for seven years. Derr carries three of Nature’s lines, including a ¾-inch solid and an engineered exotic with a distressed finish.

“The exotic product is nice because—honestly, for us—they have very aggressive pricing and their inventory levels have been very good,” said Rick Holden, COO at Derr Flooring. “Nature Flooring is a large corporation, and the company is committed to having backup inventory in case we miscalculate things.”

Holden said the engineered product complements the solid and provides greater options for dealers. The engineered selection is available in handscraped and click, as well as glued, stapled or floated.

While many hardwood-flooring companies left exotics when the recession hit, Holden said, Nature Flooring stayed the course. “Because they remained committed to the market, they were able to keep consistency with the product, which is pretty important to us. We appreciated that.”

Nature buys raw materials in the U.S. for its red oak flooring and, in some cases, ships to China where it is manufactured. “The Chinese think red oak is beautiful,” Nebenzahl said.

Owning the forest

Nature Flooring owns forests in France and Peru, which Nebenzahl said allows it to control its destiny. “Owning the forest gives us certain strengths. We can keep track of every piece of wood we have. As we grow larger we will be more beneficial for current and future wholesalers. We can assure a quality, reliable, value-oriented product goes to market. We can produce a product for anyone in anybody’s market, and that is what makes us exciting.”

The company’s portfolio includes unfinished engineered and solid hardwood, exotic engineered and laminate, and its breadth of offerings is what appeals to distributors. “I don’t want to say we have one popular product because the market changes,” Tammany said.

Nature’s Pacific Mahogany collection is hand selected from premium trees in the company’s own concession. It oversees the entire logging and production process to ensure white and red oak finished products are of the highest quality.

While company executives said it received strong orders at Surfaces, it is “what is on the horizon” that will bring about the evolution and growth that Nature Flooring expects.

“We want to exponentially grow our business in the U.S. market,” Nebenzahl said. “A committed Nature with the resources and balance and depth we have will be a major force in the market.”

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Recycling effort a success at Surfaces|StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas

Volunteers from Las Vegas Habitat for Humanity stack vinyl flooring donated by a Surfaces exhibitor.

Dallas — Being “green” has become the new way of exhibiting at Surfaces| StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas (S2). For the second year, S2 partnered with Mountain Re-Source Center and Tile Partners for Humanity on a recycling initiative focused on post-show product donations at the close of the three-day event, held Jan. 29 to 31 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Mountain Re-Source Center solicited all S2 exhibitors prior to and during the show. The participating exhibitors were very generous, offering thousands of square feet of material which filled seven 53-foot semi-trailers to capacity, more than doubling the donations from last year’s inaugural initiative. Continue reading Recycling effort a success at Surfaces|StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas

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Recycling effort exceeds expectations at Surfaces 2012

Dallas — Being green is no longer a trend or fad – it’s a way of life. This was dramatically demonstrated last week at the recently completed SURFACES | StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas (S2). For the first time, S2 partnered with Mountain Re-Source Center and Tile Partners for Humanity on a recycling initiative focused on post-show product donations at the close of the three-day event, held January 24-26 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The outstanding results of this inaugural program speak for themselves and exceeded all expectations. Continue reading Recycling effort exceeds expectations at Surfaces 2012