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Wood: Anticipating trends is the key to successful product development

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.”

 

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Laminate: In mature category, specialty retailers can still compete

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.53.16 AMIn the perennial slugfest with the home centers and big discount merchants, specialty floor covering retailers who sell laminate continue to find ways to differentiate themselves from low-end providers. Successful strategies range from focusing on higher-end goods (12mm or thicker), promoting private-label branded products that can’t be shopped around and providing professional installation services.

A prime case in point of an independent flooring retailer who has achieved success in the laminate category by adhering to some of these principals is Fred Wee, owner of Interiors and Textiles, Palo Alto, Calif. Already predisposed to higher end, luxury flooring goods (he sells more wool than nylon-based carpet products, for example), he tends to avoid laminate flooring products that retail at the lower end of the spectrum.

“Historically, laminate was not a big category for us primarily because it’s not a luxury good—it’s a synthetic product,” Wee explained “But laminate’s appeal is primarily its functional capabilities, durability and ease of maintenance. Also, the product itself has improved tremendously over the past few years, both in terms of the looks and its performance.”

While salespeople at Interiors and Textiles typically don’t lead with laminate when prospecting (natural products like hardwood provide much higher margins, Wee notes), the retailer makes sure he is ready to show customers samples and installed laminate floors in case the shopper asks for it. “The value proposition of laminate still exists in spades,” he said.

Other flooring dealers are finding they, too, are having success selling laminates without leading with it at the point of sale or by heavily promoting the category via marketing and advertising. Char Smith, manager of Gallagher’s Flooring, Grand Junction, Colo., shares her secrets to success: “Our goal with any flooring is to match the correct product with the customer’s needs, wants and budget.”

Gallagher’s has seen particularly good results with its mid-level laminates. “With the fantastic graphics and looks available we can almost always find something to fit our customer’s vision,” Smith explained. “We do not promote laminate any more than our other products. However, because it is such a versatile product, it is something we go to often.”

More importantly for Smith and dealers like her, focusing on the mid-to-upper-end laminate tiers provides a buffer against the home centers and big boxes—many of which aggressively promote laminate flooring in the $0.99 to $1.29 range.

“We try not to compete with box stores on any product,” Smith explained. “For the most part they are selling to people who are only interested in a price point and have no idea or concern regarding quality of product. We have chosen to deal with laminate suppliers that produce quality products.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.53.09 AMWhen educating consumers on the differences between the various grades of laminates available, Smith goes beyond the subject of price. “In coming to my store, the customer is dealing with staff that has been trained in all the products we carry and has the expertise in proper installation and problem solving. We believe that is worth its weight in gold when it comes to customers who are looking for straightforward answers regarding laminate and its benefits and limitations.”

Interiors and Textiles’ Wee employs a similar strategy when positioning his laminate products vs. what’s sold at discount merchants. “I simply don’t sell the comparable products to the home centers. My laminates cost me more than $1.99.”

Laminate flooring suppliers are well aware of the inherent channel conflict. To that end, they are doing their part to ensure specialty retailers can compete (profitably) against the big boxes while still serving a broad array of consumers.

“We’ve always tried to create differentiated products in terms of style and performance so those products can compete with one another in the marketplace,” said Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and wood, Mohawk. “So far that strategy has worked pretty well. We’ve not only been able to do that with respect to the quality of the product itself but also with respect to our brands that have meaning to the consumer and the trade. It is a challenge, but that’s why we have so many products in the pipeline.”

Armstrong is taking a similar approach. “We are committed to continued innovations in performance and design to not only compete but also give specialty retailers more products that can’t be shopped at the big boxes,” said Morgan Hafer, product manager.

Manufacturers, by and large, are stepping up their game by incorporating enhanced features that translate into higher-margin opportunities. Case in point is the new Repel line from Shaw Floors. “Repel has been specially designed to take laminate to the next level in water-resistance technology,” said Carr Newton, vice president, hardwood and laminates. “It’s the hottest revelation to hit the laminate industry in a decade.”

Others agree that ongoing enhancement is the key. “Continued innovation in the laminate category has kept it competitive,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “We see continued growth for the category as a whole.”

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Wood: Latest Mirage offerings put focus on color, design

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.47.17 AMSaint-Georges, Quebec, Canada—Mirage has expanded its offering across four signature collections to meet growing consumer demand for trendy colors, patterns and designs.

The Sweet Memories collection, which hearkens back to the charm and authenticity of old-fashioned floors created via Mirage’s exclusive brushing and staining processes, gets two new colors: Gelato and Peppermint. Gelato is a beige-gray hue that imparts a distinctive, luxurious look ideal for minimalist modern décors, while Peppermint is a pure ash gray shade with hints of mineral streaks.

“It’s a fashionable addition that’s sure to be embraced for its timeless, classic style,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for Boa Franc, maker of the Mirage brand.

Both colors, which are available in maple, feature Mirage’s Classic technology in 3¼- and 4¼-inch widths, or engineered in 5-, 61⁄2- and 73⁄4-inch widths and in locking technology in 45⁄16 inches. Gelato and Peppermint are also available in yellow birch grade in a 4¼-inch width and Cashmere finish.

Next up, the popular Flair collection gets Nightfall, which conveys a rich yet classic look. The new color features velvety brown tones with golden highlights, giving homeowners flexibility in their design options. Like other colors in the Flair collection, Nightall features the natural look of oiled flooring without the maintenance hassles, achieved using Mirage Floors’ ultra-matte, highly resistant DuraMatt finish. Available in maple and red oak character grades, Nightfall comes in widths ranging from 4¼ inches (classic) all the way up to 5-, 61⁄2- and 7¾-inch widths (engineered).

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.47.23 AMMirage’s Admiration collection gets Cape Cod, a creamy beige Scandinavian-inspired tone that evokes seaside or coastal living. Cape Cod is available in maple and red oak species in 3¼- and 4¼-inch widths; in engineered formats ranging from 35⁄16, 5 and 6½ inches; and in a 45⁄16-inch locking format. It is also available in a yellow birch species in a 4¼-inch width and in a 35⁄16-inch engineered version. All formats feature Mirage’s semi-gloss, Cashmere finish.

Lastly, the Imagine collection gets Driftwood, a new color the company describes as a refined, highly nuanced gray shade that will add structure and character to any décor. “With its cork look and textured surface, this new color is perfect for modern, streamlined interiors,” Williams said.

The Imagine collection, which is designed for active families and pet owners, features a textured surface to help hide scuffing and scratch marks.

Driftwood is available in several species, including maple and red oak, and comes in a variety of widths ranging from 3¼ to 7¾ inches.

In addition to the new colors, Mirage is making select products in planks as long as 82 inches. According to Williams, the new lengths make any room in the house look bigger. Plus, because fewer boards are needed to cover a given area, fewer joints are visible, thereby resulting in a more seamless installation.

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Technology: Houzz programs support retailers, suppliers

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

By Lindsay Baillie

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.30.44 AMHouzz, a visual-based, online platform focused on home renovation and design, is working to provide flooring retailers a space to develop name recognition in their local markets. The goal is to help retailers reach new customers and network with other flooring/home remodeling professionals.

“Houzz is the largest platform for home remodeling and design,” said Kathleen Hegedus, industry marketing representative for Houzz. “We have more than 40 million people using this site and app every month to get inspiration, get smart about home improvement and ultimately find the right professionals for their projects. Whether that’s a small or large project, we have something for everyone.”

The company offers free and easy-to-use profiles to flooring professionals. It also provides additional local advertising programs that flooring retailers can use to drive extra exposure in their local markets and also gain new business. “We’re happy to talk with any local installer or retailer about the options that are available to them,” Hegedus said.

Houzz also has several co-op programs with manufacturers, including Armstrong, Mohawk and Shaw. In fact, Houzz acknowledges manufacturers and retailers with its “Best of Houzz” awards, which celebrate the best design, customer service and photography on the website.

Houzz strives to add value for its partners by regularly creating new features and enhancements. One example is Idea Books, which allows retailers to connect and communicate with prospective clients. “It also keeps a lot of that inspiration and communication in a single place, which can be beneficial for flooring professionals to stay organized as they share those ideas with their prospective clients,” Hegedus explained.

Looking to the future, Hegedus said Houzz is focused on making improvements by testing new features with its customer base. “We look forward to even more co-op and national partnerships down the road.”

Flooring professionals interested in opening an account can go to Houzz.com/pro to sign up.

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Carpet: Weighing the merits of common dye methods

April 10/17, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 22

By Ken Ryan

 

As most flooring dealers know, there are two ways that fibers are colored, and each method produces different characteristics. One way to color fibers is to dip them in a vat of dye after they are extruded. This method, proponents say, yields bright colors and allows manufacturers to create smaller quantities of dyed fibers. In this method, known as piece dyed or yarn dyed, the dye penetrates just the outer surface of the fiber. (Think of a radish: the interior is white, but the exterior is red.)

The other way to dye fibers is to add the color to the liquid fiber solution before the fibers are extruded. This allows the dye to be mixed into the solution thoroughly, bringing the color all the way through the fiber once it is extruded. In this method, known as solution-dyed, the color goes all the way through the fiber. If piece-dyed is a radish, solution-dyed is a carrot.

Some companies are strictly solution-dyed mills, while others have needs for both methods. “We like the flexibility to do both,” said Todd van der Kruik, vice president of design, Bentley. “Many companies have moved to solution dyed because of the cost, but for companies who want the differentiation and the new looks, we like to keep piece dyed in our line to give designers more options.”

Brad Christensen, vice president, soft surface category, Shaw Floors, can attest. “We produce both solution-dyed and piece-dyed nylon and PET products and fully recognize the advantages of both.”

Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing for Mohawk, said dye methods are about creating a color and aesthetic. As such, Mohawk may use solution dyed as an accent yarn along with piece dyed to achieve the color variation its customers want. “We can achieve more color ranges and better performance with piece dyed. We will pay for color blending techniques that attracts customers and helps retailers upsell.”

Executives identified the advantages and disadvantages of solution dyed and piece dyed, and the role technology is playing in this process or coloration.

Advantages
Solution dyed:

With solution dyed the color is part of the yarn, making it resistant to discoloration from bleach and other harsh chemicals. Further, with the increasingly Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.23.49 AMpopular multicolor visuals, solution-dyed products allow for more color contrast between the base color and accent colors.

For primary colors like black, yellow, green, red and blue—where precise color matching is not required—solution-dyed yarns are recommended. Solution-dyed yarns are also ideal for use in producing bonded polyester and nylon sewing threads for both indoor and outdoor applications. With this method, experts say, there is little possibility of dye bleeding and UV fading.

Susan Curtis, senior vice president, product development, Phenix, said solution-dyed carpets can be developed that are colorful and complex “through the combining of individual yarns to create unique multis and intricate patterns. Also, solution-dyed yarns are inherently stain resistant and colorfast and deliver high performance.”

Engineered Floors built its story around the purported “superiority” of solution-dyed carpet fiber, first with PureColor, the PET fiber it originally created in 2010, and then later PureColor nylon in 2014. “Solution-dyed fiber has proven to be the future of carpet production, and we believe our PureColor technology will lead the way,” said Mike Sanderson, vice president of product marketing.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.22.01 AMPiece dyed:
The primary advantage with piece dyed is the seemingly unlimited range of color options available as well as better service due to the ability to quickly dye already tufted carpet. As Christensen explained: “Piece-dyed carpet also bulks during the dyeing process, resulting in a softer, fuller hand, and the carpet is washed to remove extrusion lubrication, which can leave an oily, soil-attracting residue.”

Bentley uses a piece-dye process called ColorCast, which allows it to manufacture vast amounts of carpet in a continuous process. “If we need a specific color to match a project for a designer, piece dyed allows you to do that,” van der Kruik said. “We can build complex combinations of various dye levels, luster types and textural looks that are unique and not available with solution dyed. It is a huge advantage over solution dyed—you can do some cool things with it.”

Disadvantages
Solution dyed:

The primary disadvantage of solution-dyed fibers, executives say, is the reduced color selection compared to other fibers. Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.22.10 AM“With solution dyed you have to be very committed to that one color,” Arnold said. “With no differentiation it limits the customer’s choice. With piece dyed consumers can be looking at 30-60 colors vs. a solution dyed that offers 16 colors, all very close in tone. It’s like the old Ford [Model T] method: ‘You can have any color you want as long as it is black.’”

Another drawback to solution-dyed fibers is customers may have to wait longer for their carpet. This is because manufacturers don’t always keep large inventories of solution-dyed carpets. From a business perspective, it makes much more sense for the manufacturer to keep a big inventory of greige goods, which can then be dyed into any color the consumer chooses.

Piece dyed:
Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.23.56 AMPiece dyed is more labor intensive and since there are more chemicals and additives used in the process, it is not deemed as environmentally friendly as solution dyed.

Curtis said another drawback is the limitation of working with only one or two colors in a dyebath and only being able to achieve tonal variations of that color. “Managing undyed carpet and dying to order can offset this disadvantage. Piece dyed products due to their dyeability can stain more easily than solution dyed products.”

Piece dyed is also a more costly process, which is a factor in mills opting for the solution-dyed process. However, some executives do not see the cost as necessarily a negative. “Piece dye has some impact on the total cost of goods, but there are ways to set up manufacturing [to minimize the costs],” Arnold said. “In the end it is not a cost decision—it goes back to trying to provide consumers with the color palette that offers the best selling product they desire.”

Technology’s role
Carpet continues to be made using better raw materials and manufacturing technologies, and that evolution includes dye process as well. Greater efficiencies in color blends will allow mills to create additional depth in style and color, according to Rodney Mauter, executive vice president of marketing for Lexmark. “The extrusion process continues to improve with advancements in spinnerets and raw materials.”

Shaw’s CleanStart scouring process is an example of technological advancements that have significantly improved the performance of solution-dyed products. Even though its newer extrusion equipment uses less lubrication, CleanStart ensures the proper removal of the spin finish that is responsible for leftover extrusion residue.

Engineered Floors’ PureColor Nylon relies on cationic technology to effectively reduce the number of microscopic dye sites that occur during fiber extrusion. By reducing the number of sites, stain resistance of the fiber can be greatly improved.

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Optimism reigns as U.S. economy slowly improves

by Matthew Spieler

Shanghai—With the U.S. economy starting to once again show signs of life and the Asian market continuing its strong growth trend, the 14th annual Domotex asia/ ChinaFloor (DACF) was filled with plenty of optimism.

The upbeat spirit was seen by both visitors and exhibitors and across all product segments on display—even by those who were not selling or buying products. “It’s been too busy,” proclaimed Bert Van der Stock, managing director of Flooring Industries, the division that handles the Uniclic licensing for Mohawk/Unilin. “I haven’t been able to leave the booth for the entire show.” Continue reading Optimism reigns as U.S. economy slowly improves