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 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.
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 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.”
The 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, 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.
Jaman 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 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.