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Laminate: Latest on-trend looks designed to entice dealers

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Reginald Tucker  

 

All the excitement swirling around the LVT, WPC and rigid core craze is giving competing hard surface categories a run for their money. But laminate suppliers are not sitting idly by; many are fighting back against some of these trendy products by leveraging laminate flooring’s well-known aesthetic attributes.

“Laminate and other categories have been under pressure from LVT, WPC, SPC and probably another 10 versions of multi-layered plastic products,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “However, what we see is laminate holding its own and continuing to grow. The key reason is value. And when you start to add high-definition digital printing, textured surfaces and even embossed-in-register textures in different depths and gloss, the result is a highly compelling and exciting visual that other categories of flooring have trouble competing with laminate. What’s more, you can provide all of this at a competitive cost. The value is very exciting.”

Other industry observers agree laminate looks have been elevated to new heights.  “Laminate designs over the last couple of years have really evolved from what we’ve seen in years past,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate, Mohawk Industries. “The level of realism you can get in a laminate product still beats what you see in other categories such as ceramic, LVT and rigid core products.”

In Mohawk’s case, Ward attributes the advances in laminate visuals to the design papers used—plus the four-color process the company utilizes in achieving realistic looks. “The level of pressing detail and registered embossing combined with our in-house design really takes it to another level,” he explained. “It’s why we position the category as RevWood over laminate because the things we do from a visual perspective combined with our waterproof story. It has really elevated the category over some of those other imitations you see on the market.”

Mohawk’s top-selling laminate lines include: Antique Craft, a 9½-inch-wide x

7-foot-long plank that plays on the growth of the wider/longer trend in hardwood. Another big mover is the Elderwood collection, a 7½-inch-wide product that replicates a sawn-face oak look. Colossia, a big seller in Mohawk’s Quick-Step line, also plays to the longer/wider craze, offering what Ward calls a “nice urban look” in a variety of fashion-forward colors.

“With Antique Craft we offer a very realistic design and texture combined with beveling for that ultra-wide plank look,” Ward said. “This is a look that would be much more expensive in a true hardwood product. It has really resonated with customers.”

Other major suppliers are also stepping up their game in the aesthetic department. CFL Flooring, for instance, cites growing interest in its signature Atroguard laminate line as a result of the investments the company has made in technology. “From a design standpoint, Atroguard puts a tremendous amount of effort in developing in-house stunning design visuals, using the specifics of laminate to really bring out something special,” said Barron Frith, president, Atroguard North America. “That includes playing around with varying lengths or random widths within one box or developing designs from different wood species used within a particular product.”

The structure of the surface is also key to developing realistic, eye-catching visuals, Frith noted. Laminate, he said, has the advantage of being able to make much deeper textures than resilient categories, including handscraped or embossed-in-register real wood surface structure. “Our biggest advantage is the number of unique visuals we offer within a given floor, making it very realistic and hard to see repeats once the floor is installed as opposed to vinyl or WPC floors for which this is technically more difficult to achieve.”

Improved visual characteristics are also driving sales of Shaw Floors-branded laminate. Among its most popular laminate collections are Pinnacle Port and Designer Mix. Pinnacle Port, which features light scraping to convey a natural texture, combines the beauty of wood visuals with the company’s Repel water-resist technology. Another standout product is Alloy, a sophisticated, gray-tone wood look. “Its on-trend design and three-color visual variation, combined with the features of our Designer Mix product line, make it a standout in laminate,” said Drew Hash, vice president of hard surface portfolio management. “Retailers love that both collections give consumers eye-catching visuals and lasting durability.”

Designer Mix, which boasts 12mm planks and embossed-in-register visuals, is part of Shaw Floors’ Mixed Width collection. The line, according to Hash, offers consumers three variations of plank widths in a single box, thereby allowing them to design the overall look of their spaces for a personalized touch.

Just like the real thing

It should come as no surprise that many of the top-selling laminate lines are replications of real wood floors. Case in point is Mannington’s award-winning Restoration collection, which generated double-digit sales increases last year, according to Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate. Among the most popular visuals in the line, he noted, are Arcadia, Hillside Hickory and Fairhaven. “All are light rustic visuals with phenomenal realism.”

Looking north across the U.S. border, Satin Flooring is seeing impressive sales of lines such as terra—hands down its best-selling pattern across all regions, according to Dennis Mohn, U.S. director of sales. He also cited popular tones such as warm gray, mystic gray and driftwood.

To render these realistic wood tones, Satin Flooring employs high-tech embossing techniques. “We offer on-trend colors, including tried-and-true hues like terra, with sought-after finishes,” Mohn explained. “Authentic embossed features contrasting depths and the pores follow the grain of the decor, meaning they flawlessly mimic the character of natural wood.”

Laminates’ improved visuals, as it turns out, do more than dazzle consumers. They also pave the way for retailers to trade up consumers to better-performing, higher-margin items. “What we’ve been able to do with these new products is bring retailers back to the laminate category where it might not have necessarily been there in years past,” Mohawk’s Ward said. “Our RevWood products are really giving retailers a reason to move the customer up from a cheaper laminate they may have looked at in the past.”

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Resilient: In a contested field, sheet vinyl still competes on value, visuals

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Mara Bollettieri

 

There’s no denying that LVT and WPC have nipped some market share from sheet vinyl, but by no means is the workhorse subcategory down for the count. Although other resilient formats are growing in popularity, the product still has a place in the flooring industry today, offering benefits to residential and commercial markets.

Thanks to new technological enhancements and product design innovations, resilient sheet is showing it can hold its own against the onslaught of hard surface competition both within and outside the category.  “WPC is getting all the attention today, but sheet vinyl has been waterproof since long before WPC came on the market,” said Mary Katherine Dyczko-Riglin, product manager of residential sheet vinyl, Mannington.

Mannington is working to remind retailers and consumers of the many benefits of sheet vinyl, such as its durability and ease of maintenance. With the company’s Revive collection, it’s promoting these positive attributes while providing dealers with unique and on-trend visual options to make it more appealing to customers. Dyczko-Riglin also emphasized the affordability of the product as a key benefit. “The key to sheet’s success is to remind people that it has those great features and benefits,” she explained.

Other industry executives believe enforcement is the key. “We are continually reminding our customers of the advantages of sheet vinyl—installation ease, quiet, comfortable, durable, inexpensive and future flexibility,” said Liz Marcello, director of residential products–marketing, Tarkett. To that end, the company plans to launch a new sheet vinyl product, TruTEX, which has the ability to dissolve moisture and is mold and mildew resistant while providing strength. According to Marcello, with this new sheet vinyl product, Tarkett is hoping to “create more excitement” around this flooring category.

Mannington and Tarkett are not alone. IVC, a Mohawk brand, is doing its part to keep sheet top of mind. “The attributes of sheet vinyl, such as durability and waterproof features, all go hand in hand with still offering the most economic resilient product in the category,” said Amie Foster, senior product director, IVC U.S.

Suppliers are also leveraging sheet vinyl’s other attributes. “The versatility of sheet vinyl makes it an ideal solution for any number of residential, commercial and project-oriented applications,” said Kurt Denman, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales, Congoleum. “This multi-tasking capacity has allowed sheet vinyl to journey into builder, multi-family and residential-remodeling applications.”

Emphasis on design

Technological advancements have allowed manufacturers to deliver updated sheet vinyl looks that have more realistic visuals. Many suppliers are leveraging new printing techniques to deliver stylish visuals that today’s consumers demand.

“Sheet vinyl’s upgraded visuals and its competitive pricing make it a competitive flooring option,” said Clark Hodgkins, director of resilient, Shaw Floors. “This isn’t the dated vinyl sheet that once graced the kitchens and bathrooms of old.”

Advancements in printing technologies, according to Hodgkins, allow for new pattern creations and gives sheet the ability to better mimic popular visuals like wood and tile. He believes costumers can get beautiful visions at a “fraction of the cost,” compared to other resilient flooring. In particular, he cited Shaw’s DuraTru sheet line, which features realistic visuals.

Other manufacturers are also leveraging technology to render improved looks. “Products like Mannington’s sheet vinyl are highly styled with embossed-in-register, realistic visuals—in all constructions,” Dyczko-Riglin explained. “If you think about it, sheet vinyl is also the ultimate long and wide product as well.”

A case in point, according to Dyczko-Riglin, is Mannington’s Revive collection—a line that draws its inspiration from natural materials. “Revive patterns are inspired by popular porcelain looks, which are making consumers do a double-take,” she said. “It allows them to get the aesthetic they are looking for.”

Equally important as aesthetics, supplier say, are the performance advantages resilient sheet provides. This is particularly critical in situations where hygienic conditions are a major requirement, such as healthcare applications.

“Vinyl sheet floors are seamed by heat welding, which fuses the sheet together and creates strong, clean, aseptic seams that resist the penetration of dirt and moisture,” said Dave Bailey, associate product manager, Armstrong Flooring. “New material and coating technologies have enabled a wider range of colors and patterns, better wear resistance, reduced maintenance requirements and improved chemical and stain resistance.”

Like many products in its lineup, Armstrong’s sheet vinyl products have been enhanced with its signature Diamond 10 technology. According to Bailey, the technology boasts resistance to stains, scratches and scuffs while providing high-indentation performance.

IVC’s Foster feels sheet vinyl has the advantage in this regard. “Visuals continue to challenge the best LVTs, hardwoods and ceramic looks, so the consumer is getting an economic product with enhanced visuals.”

End-use applications

A majority of the suppliers told FCNews that an advantage of sheet vinyl is the product’s ease of installation. This attribute makes the product suitable for a range of applications and environments, be they residential or commercial.

Beauflor, for instance, is seeing its Blacktex fiberglass sheet vinyl being installed in the builder and property management segment. That’s due in no small measure to the product’s exclusive black-textile backing, which allows for loose lay installations up to 500 square feet. “Manufactured housing and RV markets love Beauflor’s sheet for our proprietary 16 foot, 4-inch width capability on a dimensional stable, cold-crack proof, waterproof and flexible construction,” said Michael Finelli, director of strategy, product and marketing.

Then there are products like Forbo’s Marmoleum, which is being installed across a range of both commercial and residential applications. “This USDA- certified, 100% bio-based product also fits the bill for sustainable-minded customers looking for healthy flooring options,” said Lori Lagana, marketing manager, Forbo Flooring. “It’s ideally suited for a variety of commercial and residential applications, ranging from patient rooms, classrooms, hallways and boutiques, to kitchens, bedrooms and family rooms.”

Tarkett’s Marcello sees its FiberFloor being used in multiple rooms in the home for single families. She believes it’s the ideal floor for kitchens, bathrooms, great rooms and/or laundry rooms. She also mentioned its usage in multifamily homes as well, where it is typically installed in spaces that see a lot of use and foot traffic. Also, when paired with its ProSheet Plus 3 product, Tarkett’s FiberFloor and TruTEX sheet vinyl products have the ability to be installed over existing floors. Since TruTEX is moisture resistant, along with being resistant to both mold and mildew, it works in areas that tend to get wet, such as basements, laundry rooms and bathrooms, Marcello added.

Mannington’s sheet vinyl, according to Dyczko-Riglin, is going down in wet areas such as kitchens, laundry rooms, mudrooms and bathrooms.

All of this is no surprise given the category’s waterproof attributes. Shaw Floors’ Hodgkins believes these qualities make sheet vinyl the go-to product for areas of the home that are prone to spills, messes or accidents. “Consumers don’t have to worry if their beloved pet tracks mud through the house or their children make a mess—Shaw’s DuraTru sheet vinyl will maintain its look and shape,” he explained. Shaw’s sheet goods, he noted, features OptiClean technology—an innovation that offers an extra boost of stain resistance.

But sheet vinyl is not just a utilitarian floor as far as installation, maintenance and upkeep are concerned. At the end of the day, proponents say, consumers will select the product because they love the way it looks, along with its suitability for a variety of installation scenarios.

“We’re seeing ArmorCore installed throughout a living space—including entryways and hallways—because of its visual continuity across multiple substrates and subfloor conditions,” Congoleum’s Denman said. He sees this as partly due to the trend of open-concept living in homes, and the continuity of a singular floor to “visually open up smaller spaces.”

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Eye on inflation: Flooring industry meets economic threats head on

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Ken Ryan

 

The flooring industry is operating amidst significant inflationary pressures, the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the end of the Great Recession. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June that inflation climbed 2.8% in the last 12 months to its highest level in six years.

Inflation impacts all industries, including flooring, which is heavily dependent on raw materials and transportation—both of which have endured substantial cost increases.

“Inflation is a real business challenge that is facing Mohawk and many other industries today,” said Brian Carson, president, Mohawk Flooring N.A. “We hear about it in the newspapers, on TV, everywhere. We see it in our personal lives when we go to the store, the restaurant and even the gas station. The good news is our economy has strengthened over the past few years, but that strength has created constraints in many areas of our businesses—from lumber and petrochemical materials in our products, to transportation and labor to produce and deliver them.”

In response, suppliers across the board are announcing significant price increases in products. Others along the supply chain have acted in kind, passing along cost increases to their end users. At the same time, companies are working to maximize efficiencies to better withstand an inflationary period that some believe will be the new norm.

“If you have only been in business since 2006, you haven’t seen inflation—we have been in a deflationary period,” said Tim Baucom, executive vice president of the residential division of Shaw Floors. “Since the Great Recession we’re feeling legitimate inflationary pressures for the first time. Going forward, we have to manage and lead with an inflationary mindset rather than a deflationary mindset, because we are moving toward a period like in the early ’80s where even if you are making significant improvements in product, you will have to raise prices to maintain profitability, so you can reinvest in your business; otherwise, you will fall behind.”

Like other manufacturers, Armstrong Flooring has implemented price increases and surcharges in cases where it can no longer absorb the effects of inflation. According to Steve McLean, director, global procurement, the company is proactively working to manage the impact of inflation primarily in lumber, resilient raw materials and transportation costs. “We consistently monitor basic energy, petrochemical feedstocks, key raw material markets and macro-economic indicators globally to understand pricing trends. This enables us to identify risks and opportunities in the market. Our efforts include negotiating with suppliers, particularly where prices are not warranted by market dynamics. We also leverage the extensive global supply base we’ve built up over decades to give us flexibility in sourcing.”

Distributors in the middle

Flooring wholesalers feel the pain of inflation as acutely as any member of the supply chain, as they have faced steady margin erosion even while looking internally to control costs. The consensus among several of the top 20 flooring distributors is the consumer of any goods or services should bear the cost of inflation. Accordingly, wholesalers typically pass along a portion of their increased input costs to the channel, much as their various suppliers do as well.

Raising prices or kicking the inflationary can down the road is not enough, however. At the same time, both distributors and their channel partners are working together to drive efficiencies. That’s according to Scott Rozmus, CEO of FlorStar Sales, a top 20 wholesaler based in Romeoville, Ill. Whether it involves finding lighter-weight (but still protective) packaging, reviewing and optimizing delivery routes, introducing additional technology to improve the speed and accuracy of order entry, or otherwise simplifying the business process, he believes any activity that reduces cost provides an opportunity to pass less along. “While we certainly are committed to such efficiencies, at the end of the day much of inflationary supply chain pressure has to get passed along to that end consumer of the goods or services.”

As with others, Haines has certainly dealt with cost increases, particularly in the transportation arena where ELD (electronic logging devices) mandates have caused a significant contraction of capacity. The industry’s largest wholesaler has worked over the past three years to find ways around what was then a projected increase in costs.

“As this forecast has become reality, these plans are helping us,” said Michael Barrett, president and CEO, Haines, Glen Burnie, Md. “We have worked to engage companies such as JB Hunt and CH Robinson to assist us contractually to ensure our costs are kept under control. On the delivery side, we have a multi-year contract with moderate escalators that has aided us in managing through the cost component of transportation. Companies like Hunt also have much greater capability to ensure our driver pool is maintained through their capabilities in sourcing and hiring drivers. The one variable that does affect us and others is fuel. As fuel continues to rise, we will have to address the cost impact of this charge. On the inbound freight side, the positive impact that CH Robinson provides is the ability to find capacity needed to move freight. We are seeing costs escalate here as well and we continue to monitor to ensure we can achieve our goals.”

Both of these approaches are within Haines’ business model. What is somewhat out of its control is manufacturer price increases. As Barrett explained, “[Manufacturers] are balancing all the transportation cost issues but are feeling pressure on energy costs to run factories as well as raw material cost increases. In these cases where price increases are happening, we are having to pass them through. We continue to look for ways to keep our costs under control, so we can minimize any internal need to raise fees or other costs. We will maintain that approach for the foreseeable future.”

To a large degree, increases in raw materials and transportation costs are part and parcel of doing business in any industry, flooring included. What’s different now as opposed to, say, six years ago is the pace of inflationary pressure, executives say.

Several distributors began working on inflationary strategies long before inflation began creeping into the picture. Madison, Wis.-based Jaeckle Distributing, for example, has had a fuel surcharge in place for many years to help cover the fluctuations in costs that can’t always be addressed through constant price revisions. That helps keep things more stable so the company doesn’t have to reissue standard pricing as frequently. “That said, price changes are happening more frequently these days, and it can be a challenge to stay on top of things and keep all pricing updated,” said Torrey Jaeckle, vice president. “We’ve had one vendor who has increased prices three times already this year. Given the fact that product might only be ordered by a customer once a month or so, it can be confusing for customers to be getting billed different prices on every subsequent order. It also creates issues for distribution and retailers who might bid a job several months in advance only to find costs have changed significantly once the order actually comes through.”

What’s more, he added, vendors seem to be giving less notice on price increases now, which gives distributors less time to implement the increases, which means they are absorbing some increases at least for a short period of time until they can work through the logistics of implementing it on their end. “In addition, pricing has become much more complex over the past several years, which increases the time to implementation,” Jaeckle said. “Many prices are now negotiated between the retailer, distributor and manufacturer, and when prices change trying to get all three of us on the same page with regards to new pricing going forward can be a challenge and time consuming.”

Adleta, a top 20 wholesaler in Carrollton, Texas, has absorbed as much as it could, according to John Sher, president. For the first time in years it has been forced to increase its delivery costs. “However, our one-charge drop fee is still a tremendous value,” Sher explained. “Our customers have told us the consistent Adleta delivery on our trucks with Adleta-employed drivers trained to handle flooring products is one of the value adds we bring.”

Exacerbating the inflationary pressures in 2018 are increases in labor—both in hiring and retaining—insurance premiums and fuel costs. “Workers costs have gone up; entry-level costs have gone up substantially in the last three to five years but really in the last year,” said Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, a top 20 distributor based in Owings Mills, Md. “The fact is labor, insurance and fuel all continue to rise. This time it’s for real.”

Given the tight labor market, several manufacturers say they have been forced to pay bonuses for new hires and to retain quality employees.

Retailers react

To no one’s surprise, flooring dealers say they are experiencing the same pressures as everyone else. Strategies to combat the inflation differ somewhat, however. Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery, Louisville, Ky., said some material costs can be caught upfront and passed on in some cases or not at all. “Retail prices are usually easily adjusted, but builder/multifamily can be hard to change more than once a year,” he said. “Freight and fuel surcharges are those hidden cost that are harder to recover, and those items really eat into the bottom line of a company.”

Adam Joss, co-owner of The Vertical Connection Carpet One, Columbia, Md., said inflationary pressures haven’t negatively impacted his business since the increases get passed on to the consumer anyway. “Personally, I think there’s more to it than just labor shortages and raw material costs—it’s also a result of years of consolidation.”

In talking to many of its dealer partners, Mohawk’s Carson said he knows they have seen inflation in their costs as well—things like installation labor and rents. “At Mohawk, we are constantly investing in our plants to innovate new products, but also to innovate our processes to drive efficiencies and lower our costs and to do our best to offset inflation. Despite these efforts, sometimes the input costs rise to a degree where we have no alternative but to pass them along. I know that’s difficult, but it’s a reality in today’s markets. I think these pressures of additional inflation will be with us for a while.”

Keeping its plants financially healthy is the fuel that allows for continued investment in new products, new capacities, new services and new efficiencies, Carson added. “These investments in innovation are vital to all our businesses whether the dealer, the distributor or the manufacturer. Mohawk will always be committed to continuous innovation.”

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Shaw’s Bellera strikes a chord with retailers

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Ken Ryan

 

Shaw Floors’ Bellera High Performance Carpet has only been in the market for a little over a month, yet flooring dealers are already touting this new, feature-rich collection for its vast potential in soft surface.

Shaw Flooring dealers have been eager to get their hands on the collection since first seeing previews in January. Although still early in the launch, their initial impressions are very positive.

“Everything in the line is a home run—colors, pattern, fiber and Lifeguard backing, and the pricing is very reasonable for what you get,” said Steve Weisberg, president of Crest Flooring in Allentown, Pa. “If I am correct in thinking there will be more of this type product, Crest Flooring will be stocking it in the future.”

Steve Vanderhye, vice president of Banter Floors and More in Cedar Lake, Ind., noted sales have been excellent in the first month since the first displays arrived. “The customers are drawn to the styles and are excited about all of the benefits that come with this carpet,” he said. “The softness/looks of the styles, the Lifeguard backing, excellent warranty and its great pricing are the perfect combination to make this product a big success.”

Other flooring dealers likened Bellera to a top baseball prospect making his debut in the big leagues. While not ready to put the product in the Hall of Fame, they see the potential is unlimited. “I went to their show in January closed minded and wanted nothing,” one dealer told FCNews. “I said 2018 is the year of the vinyl plank, which it still is. But I have to say, I came away very impressed with their presentation on Bellera, and the color lines were impressive. If it performs the way they say it will—and with all the guarantees it has—it will be a gold mine.”

Bellera High Performance Carpet has been more than two years in the making. It isn’t an extension or enhancement of a previous line, it is altogether new. In fact, Tim Baucom, executive vice president of the residential division for Shaw Floors, said he challenged his team to start with a blank sheet of paper to create what is now Bellera. “I told them, ‘Take out your perceptions of incremental thinking.’ How would you build a great product that hits these [mid-range] price points?”

The making of Bellera was buttressed through discussions with consumers and dealers. “We looked at consumers holistically—how they purchase, what they purchase, what are their pain points, what are their concerns—and how do we develop a product to meet those needs,” said Heather Yamada, marketing director, retail, Shaw. “We know consumers really want durability and performance, but they also want beautiful. Here, they didn’t have to have one or the other, they could have both. We wanted to give them confidence that this is a great product.”

Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management for Shaw, said the vetting process also entailed product knowledge presentations and demonstrations. “For people who shop for carpet every seven to 10 years, demos are very powerful. You don’t have to visualize or imagine this product; you can see it right here in the display.”

Shaw believes Bellera can be a legacy collection of the type that 10 years from now dealers will look back and say this was one of the most impressive soft surface lines they have ever carried. “It’s certainly not a one and done,” Baucom said. “It creates a category of exciting products in the mid part of the market.”

Bellera High Performance Carpet will retail between the mid $20s and low $30s. For that, consumers get a product that has no compromises, Yamada said. “It’s not just one feature, it’s a package of features.”

After extensive testing, key attributes of Bellera have been designed to ensure that when it is placed in an active household, it will look as good after five years of wear as it did on day one, thanks to high-performance fiber that features crush resistance while retaining its softness.

The collection comes with LifeGuard Spill-Proof backing, which is debuting its new blue color on Bellera. The company believes the ‘Backed by Blue’ moniker will resonate with consumers. Bellera is also engineered with R2X Soil and Stain Resistance, which keeps spills and messes on the surface of the carpet longer for easier
cleanup. A “no surprises, worry-free” warranty is added to give consumers peace of mind. “It’s unheard of to say you won’t have to worry about spills or pet accidents on carpet, but we’ve made that possible for consumers with Bellera,” Baucom said.

Bellera hit the market with 13 new styles and over 200 product offerings in solid textures, tonals, tweeds, loops and patterns. It also offers on-trend colors and patterns geared toward a variety of tastes and interiors. “The carpet’s visual aesthetics and color options were born from trend tracking, consumer testing and countless hours of research,” said Pam Rainey, ASID, IIDA, vice president product design for Shaw. “The wide variety of patterns, textures and colors ensures Bellera can fit seamlessly into any modern to transitional home’s design scheme.”

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Wood: State of the industry—Builder business, remodel sector propel category

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Reginald Tucker

 

Preliminary anecdotal information shows the hardwood flooring category grew between 3% and 4% in 2017, placing the estimated value of the category just north of $2.31 billion at the first point of distribution. That growth, manufacturer executives say, puts the category on par with the estimated growth of the industry as a whole but slightly above the total gross domestic product for the year.

In terms of volume, that growth estimate equates to roughly 930 million square feet, lifting the hardwood flooring category ever closer to the 1 billion-square-foot threshold.

Ask a roomful of hardwood flooring manufacturer executives to identify the root cause of this growth, and many will point to the strength of key end-use sectors here in the U.S. market.

“Single-family construction and residential replacement continue to be the core drivers of demand for hardwood,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminates, Mannington.

Natalie Cady, hardwood category manager, Shaw Floors, agrees, citing consumption trends and demographic shifts. “Residential is driving the market, and for Shaw that means both single family and residential re-do. And as our single-family business grows, it has that wonderful trickle-down effect.”

By that, Cady means more people are able to get into a new home while sellers have been able to get better market value on their existing properties. As for the former, she is finding that many people strongly aspire to real hardwood and wood lookalikes. She also sees a direct correlation to influential purchasing segments. “Millennials want wood, and they are the No. 1 consumer right now. At the same time, the empty nesters are downsizing and finding they can afford hardwood flooring.”

But that doesn’t imply that it’s going to be smooth sailing. “For us, the driving factor is still the housing market,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S., Mercier Wood Flooring. “Although this segment is trending up, we are still below normal levels.”

Other executives are seeing hardwood growth across virtually all end-use sectors, including commercial specified and Main Street applications. “We think it is all of the above,” said Michael Bell, vice president, hardwood, Armstrong Flooring. “A more stable economic environment continues to steer the hardwood segment on a course of steady growth, with increases in demand in both the new construction and remodeling markets. We also see hardwood opportunities in the commercial marketplace.”

But that doesn’t mean all segments within the hardwood flooring category are growing at the same pace. When it comes to solid vs. engineered, for example—or even between subcategories within the engineered flooring offering—activity can be quite mixed. “While the wood category grew by low single digits in 2017, the growth rates were different between solid and engineered, with solids declining in overall volume and engineered growing by mid-single digits,” Mannington’s Natkin said.

It’s not that the solid segment of the hardwood flooring business is no longer an in-demand category. Truth be told, it still is preferred by many customers, home builders and designers in markets like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Rather, experts say, the rapid development and evolution of products that fall under the category of engineered floors is opening up opportunities even in hardcore solid markets.

“There’s never been more changes taking place in the wood flooring segment than what we’re seeing before our eyes right now,” Tom Lape, president, Mohawk Residential, told FCNews. “The biggest trend we’re seeing in the wood flooring segment today is a blurring of the lines within the product categories. For example, we’re clearly seeing many customers, dealers and consumers moving away from solid at a rate that has been running unabated for five years running and continues to accelerate. We see the engineered category evolving right in front of our eyes from what was historically a 5-ply construction format to an HDF product solution.”

Mohawk is so convinced that engineered wood flooring products based on an HDF core are quickly overtaking conventional, multi-ply hardwood flooring options that it is banking on wholesale consumer and end-user acceptance of the emerging format.

“When you see high-end custom builders and high-end production builders in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest coming off solid, it is eye-opening,” Lape said. “That’s not to say that people living out in the Hamptons are buying engineered. Solids are not going away, but where there is a reasonable trade off of in terms of cost, value, etc., I think you’re seeing the market accelerate the move to engineered.”

And all this plays to Mohawk’s strengths, according to Lape. “We try to focus on our game, which is leveraging our position as a true, integrated and vertical HDF engineered wood producer. Making all our own HDF internally gives us an advantage in terms of consistency and uniformity of the product. Second, we produce all those products here in North America, which gives us an advantage in terms of supply chain and reliability.”

For others, the continued migration from solid to engineered doesn’t necessarily spell the end of a category. While engineered floors offer opportunity for design innovation combined with installation flexibility, solids still have their place.

As Armstrong’s Bell explained: “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.”

Innovation, Bell added, continues to happen across both structures. “While there is significant activity in engineered floors, we also see that solid wood flooring remains the go-to product in certain parts of the country and for key consumer segments.”

While it is generally accepted that consumer tastes differ by region and/or climate, some point to inherent limitations of solid products as an impediment to acceptance beyond the core solid markets. “With the demand and overall trend moving toward longer and wider, there are limitations you have with solids that are not there with engineered,” Shaw Floors’ Cady said, citing the tendency of solid floors to expand and contract more easily than engineered. “Having the ability to go longer/wider will help people move more toward engineered. Plus, with single-family home construction on the rise, that represents an increase in concrete slab construction—and that lends itself to engineered. At the end of the day, we believe the solid market—which includes both finished and unfinished product—is steady, not actually shrinking.”

With consumers continuing to ride the longer/wider wave, suppliers remain committed to giving them more of what they’re looking for. “The good story is the industry is not sitting still; we’re giving consumers more of what they want—wider and longer,” Mohawk’s Lape explained. “We’re selling planks up to 80 inches long and 9 inches wide, and we’re making better-performing products for contractors, retailers as well as consumers.”

While all this continues to play out, suppliers continue to fortify—and diversify—their product mix to ensure they have all the bases covered.

Over the past 18 months, for example, Quebec-based Wickham Hardwood introduced several new engineered offerings designed to complement its solid hardwood collections. According to Paul Rezuke, vice president residential sales, U.S., the breakdown seems to follow along geographic lines. “As part of our engineered strategy, we targeted two platforms based on a ½- and a ¾-inch format. We initially envisioned that the ½-inch product would be most suited for the U.S. market and the ¾-inch line for our Canadian business partners. What we are seeing is the demand in the U.S. market for a thicker platform appears to be on the rise. With this demand, we are projecting a significant demand for ¾-inch platform engineered products in our U.S. footprint.”

Tracking design trends

The shift in product preference within the hardwood flooring segment is not limited to the product’s core construction. Industry observers are also keeping a close eye on changing consumer tastes relative to color, species, surface texture and even board length and width. For many suppliers, staying ahead of consumer trends and anticipating what’s going to be the next big thing is akin to shooting after a moving target.

“The key is making sure we stay out in front in terms of styling and design,” Shaw Floors’ Cady said. “We’re still seeing the move toward longer, wider planks, but we are also seeing a move toward more traditional visuals. Instead of going into the European wide-oak visuals, we’re going back to basics by focusing on the natural characteristics of hardwood—meaning showcasing less texture and lighter colors so consumers can see the actual wood, not covering it up with dark stains.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some suppliers are seeing a mild resurgence in demand not for domestic species—which had been rising in popularity—but for exotic looks. With anecdotal information and consumer purchasing trends showing shoppers gravitating more toward home-grown species such as walnut, hickory and birch, to name a few, others—including companies like Ribadao Wood Boutique—say there’s still a viable market for imported product.

“We’re still very bullish on exotics, although it’s just one line that we offer,” Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, said. “It’s true the U.S. market is nowhere near what it was for exotics about 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for us. We consider our products to be more ‘boutique’ offerings. It’s still a viable product line for us to be offering.”

Ongoing challenges

Hardwood flooring has long been linked to its ability to contribute to rising home values, and it remains—as suppliers argue—the product that many homeowners covet. But aggressive competition from competing “wood-look” visuals available with LVT, WPC, laminate and, now, ceramic is a cause for concern.

“The growth of wood-look products such as WPC is an issue,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “While cannibalization is minimal for the consumer who really desires hardwood, there is conversion for consumers who are not sure what product is right for them.”

Armstrong’s Bell is in agreement, adding that—with the exception of tile— most of these products cost less than real hardwood. Also at play, he said, is the fact that the quality of the visuals and textures has evolved so much that many consumers feel comfortable using these faux wood products instead of the real thing. “However, there is nothing that can truly compete with genuine hardwood from either a look or value equation. It is a great long-term investment and can actually become a strong resale argument, exceeding the initial installation cost of the floors. And, it’s organic, natural and renewable, and, of course, since it is natural, has less pattern repeat.”

Traditional, hardwood-only suppliers seem to be taking it in stride. As Wickham’s Rezuke explained, “Currently, WPC appears to be the category of the month. We’ve experienced this in the past with both laminate and LVT.  Our position remains that there will be new products that will present challenges. But in the long run, hardwood will always maintain a significant market share in the flooring industry.”

Those companies that supply the full range of competing hard surface materials believe all products can successfully coexist. But that doesn’t mean equal market share for all product segments.

“It’s an ongoing conversation with all flooring suppliers and it comes down to having products to fulfill consumer needs and wants, Shaw Floors’ Cady said.

But wood’s classification as a natural product also subjects the category to price fluctuations due to rising raw material costs. “We are seeing some upward pressure in raw material pricing,” Mannington’s Natkin said. “Certain regions are more dramatic than others.”

Armstrong, one of the suppliers to pass on increases to its customers earlier this month, also attributes the hikes to rising natural gas and electricity prices—all of which impact costs to power the plants. Bell doesn’t see any let-up in sight. “We expect this cost pressure to continue throughout 2018.”

Despite these challenges, suppliers are optimistic about the category’s prospects in 2018. “We predict the overall hardwood category will have a moderate growth rate of 3%-5% this year,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. “We feel our greatest opportunity continues to be within our existing network. We will continue try to understand our customers’ needs and focus on creating opportunities for them.”

Don Finkell, president and CEO, American OEM, is confident the category will grow by at least 6% this year, surpassing the rate of growth achieved in 2017. The prospects look even better from an internal standpoint, he noted. “I expect our company to more than double that growth rate at about 12% to 15%. “We are adding new products for our existing distributors, building on our private-label programs and developing coverage of our new Hearthwood brand. Plus, we will be adding more domestically made products to our Hemisphere brand.”

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Shaw Floors celebrated as recipient of Sherwin-Williams Vendor of the Year Award

Dalton, Ga.—Shaw Floors recently received the 2017 Vendor of the Year award from Sherwin-Williams. Presented at the Sherwin-Williams National Sales Meeting in Orlando, Fla., the award celebrates Shaw’s high-quality flooring products and partnership with Sherwin-Williams locations across the country.

The fifth-consecutive award win of its kind, Shaw Floors is honored for its consistency in offering creative floor-covering solutions to solve customer challenges. Further, its associates are praised for demonstrating outstanding field support, working closely with Sherwin-Williams sales representatives to offer unique services in addition to Shaw’s superior flooring products.

“We are proud to be a partner Sherwin-Williams can count on,” said Layne Dugger, Shaw Floors’ vice president of national accounts, multifamily. “A partnership like this only succeeds with a commitment to shared values and a strong desire to see each other thrive.”

The award recognizes Shaw Floors’ efforts to be a strategic partner to its industry peers, rather than simply a supplier. “Sherwin-Williams is proud to yet again award Shaw Floors with a Vendor of the Year award,” said Tracey Gairing, vice president of marketing and purchasing. “Shaw’s creative solutions and strong support have helped to lay the foundation for future growth.”

Accepting the award on behalf of Shaw Floors was Dugger; Tim Baucom, executive vice president of residential division; and Mickey Long, senior vice president, builder sales.

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Hardwood price hikes slated for April, May

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Reginald Tucker

Price increases on select brands of hardwood flooring are scheduled to take effect this spring.

Armstrong Flooring plans to initiate a 5%-7% price hike on solid hardwood products in the United States and Canada in May. “We have experienced significant increases in raw material costs, with lumber inflation across wood species and grades, coupled with energy, transportation and operating cost inflation,” Brent Flaharty, senior vice president of sales, North America, explained. “Rising natural gas and electricity prices are increasing our manufacturing facility operating costs, and fuel and transportation rates are rising, thereby impacting our delivered cost.”

Hardwood prices are also going up at Shaw Floors. Beginning April 2, the company will institute a 10% increase on its solid products. Tim Baucom, executive vice president of Shaw Floors’ residential division, also cited significant increases in the cost of solid hardwood raw materials in the last several months. “We have done our best to absorb these increases since they began in mid-2017 while continuing to provide superior products—at the same price—to our customers. After months of resisting, we must now raise prices to cover the cost of raw materials needed to make our solid hardwood products.”

Other major suppliers are taking a wait-and-see approach. “We are not planning any price increases at this time,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “But we are monitoring raw material prices very closely.”

Canada-based Mercier, which raised prices on solids back in January, is holding for now. “We aren’t planning any increases

at the moment,” said

Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S. market. “However, a couple more increases [on the supply side] and we may be forced to.”

Mohawk Industries told FCNews that it is not its policy to comment on any inquiries regarding price increases.

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Gold Rush: Shaw Floors' 2018 Color of the Year

LivingRoom1_V_NoRug_Landmark MapleDalton—Gold Rush was recently declared Shaw Floors’ 2018 Color of the Year. The warm neutral celebrates the return of gold to the home after grays and other cool palettes have owned the design spotlight for years.

“Gold Rush speaks to the past: familiar, comforting, peaceful,” said Debbie Houston, creative director at Shaw Floors. “Yet when used in unexpected ways, Gold Rush manages to feel new and modern. There’s a yearning for warmer hues and we see that coming to life as touches of gold and brass accents return in popularity. Gold Rush brings energy to a room, creating a range of emotions from warmth to excitement, from serious to playful.”

The color, style and design team at Shaw Floors, which tracks trends year-round through global expeditions and continuous research, noted how small dashes of warmth can refresh a room and create a whole new look. Equally, when Gold Rush is used as the dominant color, it highlights rich texture and creates an elegant stamp of personal style.

This marks the fifth year that Shaw Floors has declared a Color of the Year. Previous years’ colors were Lush (2017), White Hot (2016), Lady in Gray (2015) and English Royal Navy (2014). Houston said the colors Shaw Floors has selected build on one another and layer together nicely in the home.

“Gold Rush pairs beautifully with navy as a glamorous pop and lush green as an elegant punctuation. Irresistible against white, Gold Rush also complements cool grays,” Houston said.

Watch Now: Shaw Floors reveals 2018 Color of the Year

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Dalton innovator receives GaMEP 2017 Faces of Manufacturing Award

Marten Hutchison (left), lead innovation manager at Shaw Industries, and John Zegers, GaMEP at Georgia Tech northwest Georgia region manager.
Marten Hutchison (left), lead innovation manager at Shaw Industries, and John Zegers, GaMEP at Georgia Tech northwest Georgia region manager.

Dalton, Ga.—The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) has named Marten Hutchison a 2017 Faces of Manufacturing Award recipient.

Hutchison, lead innovation manager at Shaw Industries Group, headquartered here, is one of four Georgians who are being recognized for their respective contributions and commitment to the manufacturing industry, which is a key driver of the state economy.

Hutchison has been with Shaw since 1993. He accepted his award Oct. 3 during a special ceremony at Shaw’s MakerSpace.

Since joining Shaw, he has held numerous positions, including one where he led a team to build one of the largest plastic bottle recycling facilities in North America. A graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering, Hutchison has focused on equipment and technology to improve processes and incorporate automation into Shaw’s plants.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as a Face of Manufacturing in Georgia,” Hutchison said. “I’m proud of how Shaw’s approach to manufacturing has become increasingly innovative.”

GaMEP is a federally funded economic development program of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. It works with manufacturers across the state to help them remain viable and economically competitive.

Collectively, more than 10,000 manufacturing companies operate in Georgia. Those companies, which span all sizes, employ more than 365,000 people and produce a total manufacturing output of $53 billion per year.

The Faces campaign showcases the sector’s importance to Georgia’s economy. Hutchison and the other three award recipients were selected from an initial pool of nominations and chosen through a public voting contest consisting of 10 finalists. Following more than 4,500 votes cast, Hutchison emerged as one of the top four.

In addition to his Shaw duties, Hutchison is a FIRST Robotics team coach at Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy, where he helps students conceptualize, prototype, design, build and program robots for competition. The team recently was awarded one of four Rookie Inspiration awards at the world competition.

“We are very proud of Marten and grateful to him for his dedication to educating students in the STEM disciplines and exciting them about manufacturing, as they are the future of our industry,” said David Morgan, Shaw’s executive vice president of operations.

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Wood: U.S. ‘domestic exotics’ broaden their appeal

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 3.46.08 PMAs demand for certain “tropical exotic” hardwood floors softens in the U.S., the popularity of several domestic exotic species has been steadily rising, industry observers say. While there continues to be niche market opportunities for tropical species such as Brazilian cherry, Santos mahogany and the like, more American consumers are leaning toward homegrown species such as birch, hickory and walnut, manufacturers say.

One of the primary drivers behind the market shift, which began in earnest about 10-12 years ago, is a change in preference of wood plank formats and construction. Many tropical exotics—known for their density and durability—perform well and look great. However, trends in the U.S. have leaned toward more textured, rustic and casual looks whereas many exotics convey a more formal, smooth appearance, experts say. Today tropical imported exotics tend to perform well in niche, regional markets as opposed to national, wide-scale acceptance.

Observers say the rapid rise in popularity of wider, longer planks also contributed to increased consumption of domestic exotic species. As manufacturers tell it, many of these popular looks such as birch, hickory and walnut lend themselves to extra long planks and wider boards. The reason being: wider, longer boards naturally show much more of the variation and character inherent in a lot of these domestic exotic species. Combine that with the incorporation of various surface texture techniques such as hand scraping, wire brushing and cerusing, and you have a winning recipe.

“Consumer preference continues to move toward wider and longer on the engineered side,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “Demand for these types of products has really driven some changes, both in terms of investment in the U.S. as well as products sold in the market.”

Following are some of the U.S. domestic exotic products trending today.

American OEM
In keeping with its “Made-in-the-USA” mantra, American OEM offers popular domestic species, including hickory—both rotary peeled and sliced face—and walnut. The company sources classic hardwood from sustainably managed forests across North America. It then creates flooring products designed to showcase the rich natural colors, textures and features of each species. “When consumers buy our American-made hardwood, they can be sure they are buying the best flooring possible at a value unmatched in the industry,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Armstrong
Armstrong adds engineered hickory to its Prime Harvest and American Scrape collections. Featuring a range of colors, Prime Harvest easily coordinates with furniture, wall colors and other décor elements.

Conversely, American Scrape’s rustic texture complements hickory’s distinctive graining and knots. Additional Armstrong hardwood offerings—including Rustic Restorations and Woodland Relics—feature hickory and/or walnut and birch.

Johnson Hardwood
Popular species like birch and hickory populate the Frontier and Pacific Coast collections from Johnson Hardwood. Frontier’s offering consists of four colors in birch (Homestead, Tomahawk, Dakota and Bison), while Pacific Coast features eight colors covering a wide spectrum. Both are available in 5-inch-wide planks.

Mannington
Hickory and walnut species permeate several popular collections from Mannington, including the namesake American hickory, Blue Ridge hickory, American walnut and smokehouse hickory lines. Hickory, the hardest American wood, is known for its rich character and distinct graining. Versatile and adaptable, this floor is an ideal upgrade or addition to any room. Meanwhile, walnut—a species found in exclusive furniture lines—is among the most cherished of all American hardwoods.

Mercier
Mercier’s Element series—part of the Elegancia collection—has been expanded to include American walnut. The addition supplements existing domestic exotic species such as hickory and yellow birch. By design, the species highlights the wood’s natural, random character. The product’s black and blonde nuances create highly versatile floors designed to blend with virtually any style.

Mohawk
Weathered Vision, one of several newly launched products from Mohawk, aims to capture classic Americana and the rustic beauty of old structures such as barns. The collection, which features deep, sandblasted texture and heavy wire-brushed planks, characterize this homage to countryside living. Weathered Vision is available in popular long, wide planks (as broad as 7 inches in random lengths up to 6 feet) to satisfy consumer demands.

Mullican Flooring
Several collections in Mullican Flooring’s offering of trendy products have been expanded to include hickory, birch or walnut. For instance, the Merion and Devonshire and collections—both 3⁄8-inch-thick engineered products—feature hickory, while Castle Ridge, also 3⁄8-inches thick, is available in birch and sports a hand-sculpted surface texture. The Nature collection, a 3⁄4-inch-thick hickory product, has a lightly wire-brushed surface texture.

Shaw Floors
The Epic Plus collection of long 9¼ x 82½-inch-wide hardwood floors from Shaw Floors is stacked with domestic exotic species. Landmark walnut features two colors, while Landmark hickory offers a trio of captivating colors that add a multi-dimensional, time-worn feel. By comparison, Landmark hickory scraped includes a pair of colors complemented by soft, subtle texturing and hand staining. Lastly, Fremont hickory features scraped texturing that accentuates and highlights the wood’s natural grain, knots and rustic character. Six colors are available.

Wickham Hardwood
Mountain Home collection from Wickham offers an authentic distressed look due to hand-scraping techniques by the artisans in the tradition of Renaissance-era woodworking. New planks are hand sculpted, one at a time, to create unique custom flooring of timeless originality and distinction. No two planks are alike. Species available include birch, cherry and walnut.