November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13
By Reginald Tucker
Fashion trends come and go, but hardwood flooring installations are designed to last for many years. For manufacturers, that poses a challenge: How to accurately forecast color/style design trends several years in advance of actual product rollouts?
“The biggest challenge is always developing a product inspired by a home fashion trend that’s too early for the market,” said Joe Amato, vice president, residential styling, Mannington. “A perfect example is the color gray. We followed gray-colored hardwood products for years prior to introducing the color in the United States. As the color family started to become popular in furniture and cabinetry, we knew it was time to launch it in hardwood. The gray story was popular in Europe and Canada well before becoming popular in the States.”
When attempting to accurately forecast hardwood flooring color trends and patterns, many stylists and designers look to take their cues from the fashion industry. But it’s important to remember that one dress doesn’t fit every Betty; with wood flooring, patterns, colors and styles are still largely a function of regional tastes. “Regarding fashion and hardwood trends, it is not so much about design and patterns but more about color,” Amato explained. “A perfect example would be the popularity of warm grays in flooring as well as fashion. Wood flooring trends have a bigger connection to regional trends more so than fashion trends. An example would be areas of the Midwest region still supporting refined rustic looks while sections of the East Coast now moving to urban looks that are not so rustic and have less character.”
The ability to accurately forecast trends goes well beyond shades or stains. “As well as color we follow wood formats, surface texture, wood species and surface gloss, and we try to time the development to the market needs,” Amato said. “You don’t always need to be the first, but you need to be ready to respond when the timing is right.”
Manufacturers across the spectrum are working hard to do just that. Beyond color, suppliers are taking into consideration changing trends relative to product format, i.e., engineered vs. solid. As Michael Bell, general manager, hardwood, Armstrong, explains: “The dynamics are different in solid vs. engineered. In engineered we see much of the growth occurring on the bookends of the market, with significant increases in the opening price point/value engineered products and the best/premium sliced- and sawn-face engineered products. Solid is similarly seeing increased activity on the best/premium side of the market.”
Other executives still see the pendulum tilting toward engineered. “From a product level, we’re seeing continued growth in engineered hardwood sales as the industry shifts in preference from solid to engineered hardwood,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface, Shaw Floors. “This shift is happening for a variety of reasons, namely due to engineered hardwoods’ versatility and enhanced performance story. We also see great opportunity in high-end hardwood products for next year.”
Some manufacturers believe growth will be driven by products that successfully combine innovation in aesthetics and performance, which are the No. 1 and No. 2 factors driving consumer demands for hardwood. “On the design side, we see trends moving away from more rustic to more refined visuals and the continued shift to wider and longer plank sizes,” Armstrong’s Bell noted. “On the performance front, scratching remains the primary concern for consumers shopping for hardwood.”
That’s a trend that suppliers don’t see changing anytime soon. “While we believe the bulk of customers desire the authenticity, permanency and unique beauty of a real hardwood floor, performance factors may drive them toward wood-look flooring options,” Bell added. “At Surfaces 2018 we will be launching a brand new collection of solid hardwood, Appalachian Ridge, with Diamond 10 Technology. We originally applied this proprietary technology with our LVT flooring and have now expanded it to hardwood. By providing enhanced scratch and stain resistance, we are addressing one of the key performance attributes that is important to consumers: durability.”
Hardwood manufacturers point to another trend that stands to impact future product development: The popularity of sawn-faced veneers in the production of engineered floors. “We expect wood flooring will grow at about 6% in 2018, and the continued popularity of wide and long boards will fuel most of that growth,” said Don Finkell, CEO, American OEM. “We’re seeing the continued growth of sliced veneer faces over rotary-peeled veneer faces along with more complex finishing techniques—technologies at which we excel.”
American OEM is not the only company seeing increased demand for sawn-faced product. Mohawk, which recently expanded its Melbourne, Ark., plant, is banking on it. “We have built the largest sawn-faced plant in the United States,” said David Holt, senior vice president, builder and multi-family. “We have also added a brand new cold press to the line. We believe we have come up with a better product that’s more dimensionally stable than other hardwood floors on the market.”
One of the first products to roll off the new lines at the Melbourne plant is Mohawk’s new Vintage Elements collection—an offering that reflects “Old World” styling in a family of six wire-brushed, cerused oak species. Boasting a high-fashion color palette, Vintage Elements comes in a 7-inch-wide, ½-inch-thick format in random lengths up to 6 feet.
Others are also looking to capitalize on the sawn-face craze. Mullican Flooring, known for its innovative approach to manufacturing, has expanded its American-made engineered product line with two new collections, Wexford and Nature. Wexford, a “Euro-sawn” line, combines three traditional North American sawing techniques to create a classic European look. This 1⁄2-inch-thick product is offered in 7-inch widths and random lengths up to 7 feet. The collection’s prefinished version is available in six selections of white oak.
“We have mastered the Euro-sawn cutting technique, which produces a highly desirable look that is gaining prominence throughout the market,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing. “We are proud to integrate this process into our robust Made-in-the-USA portfolio, which offers customers superior materials, shorter wait times, sustainable manufacturing practices, and premier beauty and quality.”