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Manufacturer spotlight: Uniboard striving to become retailers’ go-to supplier

October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.42 AMLaval, Quebec, Canada—Uniboard is working hard to dispel the outdated notion that it is just a laminate flooring producer. With its recent foray into the engineered hardwood flooring sector and, now, the rigid core arena, the quality-minded manufacturer is seeking to establish itself as the go-to source for retailers and distributors seeking an array of well-made, hard surface products.

James Hogg, Uniboard’s president and CEO, sees it as a rebirth of the brand and a recommitment to flooring across several categories. “We were originally a laminate flooring company, but we have repositioned ourselves to become a flooring solutions company.”

Truth be told, Uniboard was indeed a laminate powerhouse during laminate flooring’s heyday in North America circa 1996–2000. During that time, Uniboard operated a manufacturing facility in North Carolina that produced products for Perstorp Flooring, which marketed the Pergo brand—the market leader at the time. At full capacity the laminate plant cranked out about 15 million square feet. But following a split with Pergo, Uniboard sold off its U.S. manufacturing assets and exited the American market. The company turned its attention to the U.S. market once again in 2012 after surveying the landscape for new opportunities.

“But we knew being in laminate was not enough,” Hogg recalled. “We knew we had to expand our offering to include other hard surface categories.”

Uniboard discovered it was in a unique position to do just that. With roughly 90% of its business focused on producing HDF panels for furniture producers and cabinet manufacturers, there was a tremendous opportunity to leverage its strengths and expand the flooring side of the business. Founded in 1992 and privately owned, the company operates five plants: one flooring facility, three panel operations and one binding facility—a chemical plant the company employs to develop products that bind the panels and boards together.

“We are the leader in thermal-fused melamine in the Canadian market,” Hogg said. “In fact, we are the No. 1 supplier of cabinet panels for all Ikea locations across North America and we sell laminate flooring to many of the home centers in Canada. We also sell our boards to other flooring manufacturers on a private-label basis.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.49 AMSo what does all this scale and manufacturing expertise mean for Uniboard’s customers and partners on the flooring side? Uniboard is looking to leverage that expertise to create innovative, high-performing products tailored to each regional and end-use market it serves for each of the different categories in which the company participates. The goal is to raise the flooring portion of its business—which accounts for roughly 10% of its sales today—to 25% over the next few years.

“The key is to leverage our core competencies in HDF coreboard manufacturing,” Hogg explained. “Not only are we one of the biggest producers of panels in North America, but we control the fiber species and the resin recipe of the boards—which helps prevent swelling and adds dimensional stability to the panels. This is a huge advantage we have over other board manufacturers.”

This manufacturing prowess is readily evident in Uniboard’s new engineered wood flooring offerings. The product is built on an HDF core platform but features a real wood veneer. The line is manufactured via a series of steps the company calls the Uni-Process method, a five-step proprietary process specifically developed for the engineered wood line. How it works: The process begins with its Unicore high-density fiberboard core, which is made from 100% pre-consumer, reclaimed wood fibers. Next comes the Uni-Bond process, which uses an exclusive thermally fused dry glue application that, according to the company, significantly reduces cracking and checking on the surface of the planks. The third step, Uni-Veneer, entails the hand selection of the top layer to ensure non-repetitive wood patterns. The engineered wood manufacturing process is capped off with the Uni-Finish process, which incorporates a non-toxic, hypoallergenic coating featuring antimicrobial additives along with an anti-yellowing UV inhibitor. All these layers are combined together, resulting in an ultra-high performance engineered wood flooring product.

“We are an integrated company, so we manufacture the core to our specifications,” said Don Raymond, vice president, sales and marketing. “Other boards swell and pull apart; our boards have stronger integrity. We’ve designed the core to meet the highest specification in the marketplace in terms of swelling, moisture resistance and performance. Other companies can’t do that. They have to buy some of the technology on the open market.”

Into the rigid core ring
Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.54 AMAs Uniboard researched the U.S. market to scout out additional opportunities beyond laminate flooring and engineered wood, it took a close look at the burgeoning rigid core sector. Given the company’s established expertise in coreboard technology, it saw yet another opportunity to leverage its scale and strengths.

Enter Geonyx, a new line of waterproof, rigid core flooring featuring a laminate veneer over a stone-plastic core (SPC). According to Uniboard, this combination surpasses the density and rigidity of both LVT and WPC, and boasts resistance to both heat and indentation.

“The goal was to create excitement around the Uniboard brand,” Raymond said. “We have essentially reset and repositioned the business in terms of what sectors we want to participate in the market. Our engineered wood flooring line was the catapult, followed by Geonyx with the SPC core. We want people to come to Surfaces and say, ‘Wow, look at what they have. It’s not just laminate; it’s a variety of products and it’s not just me-too products.’ ”

Early indications suggest Uniboard’s customers will be pleased. Tapis Beaver, a Uniboard distributor based in Montreal, recently previewed the new engineered line and has high hopes for its potential in the marketplace. Already a longtime distributor of Uniboard’s laminate lines, Tapis Beaver is quite familiar with the manufacturer’s overall approach to product quality, high standards and service.

“We work more on the laminate side than any other product,” said Stephane Leveille, president, Tapis Beaver. “We placed around 150 displays since last December, and we sold about $1 million or more worth of product. We don’t have any complaints about the product. The quality is very good.”

Citing Uniboard’s innovative approach to manufacturing—as well as the proximity to its operations and customer base—Leveille hinted that there may be an opportunity to take on the new engineered hardwood line down the road.

Les Bois de Plancher PG, another Uniboard wholesaler, also sees the potential of the new engineered wood line. “We position the product for projects such as new high-rise apartments or contract commercial projects,” said Martin Emery, vice president. “It seems to fit the needs and requests for Canadian-quality made products as an entry-level hardwood product. We have a good feeling as to where they are going with it.”

As it refocuses on the U.S. market, Uniboard is working to shore up distribution. To that end, the company has tapped Gilles de Beaumont, a 40-year industry veteran, to spearhead efforts to get top U.S. wholesalers on board with the Uniboard brand. Given his stellar reputation throughout the industry, in addition to his expertise in strategic planning, operations and product management, he has the formula, and the pedigree, to help Uniboard accomplish its goals.

“Due to my relationships in the industry, I can help Uniboard determine the best channels to focus on,” de Beaumont said. “We have approached about one dozen distributors in the U.S., and we hope to have 10 lined up by Surfaces 2018.”

 

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Shaw LVT plant ramps up

March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.50.16 AMRinggold, Ga.—Three months after its first planks rolled off the line, Shaw Floors is already strategizing to manufacture more of the LVT and WPC products in its portfolio out of its brand spanking new facility here. After a substantial investment to convert the former Shaw Rugs facility to domestic LVT production, the game plan all along was to start with one collection and grow quickly from there.

The first Shaw domestically made product is All-American, a 2.5mm thick, 6 x 48 plank with a 12 mil wear layer. All-American is a glue-down product, but a click version is in the cards for later this year. Eventually COREtec from USFloors will be manufactured here as well as other lines. There’s certainly enough room: The facility—acquired by Shaw in 1992 with the purchase of Salem Carpet Mills—comprises 13.5 acres under one roof.

The facility was built with the future in mind, launching an initial product in January with additional offerings coming online in the second quarter. “We put in infrastructure for expansion, said Stephen Morton, plant manager at Plant RP, Shaw’s new resilient facility. “Everything is open. Why? The floors will be modular. As we determine that next generation of equipment, we can put the floors and walls exactly where they need to be rather than trying to fit a piece of machinery inside a constraint. That gives us a lot of flexibility in what that next generation of machinery for that product will look like. In addition, all systems like heating equipment, cooling equipment, compressed air are in a position to be installed very quickly when we expand.”

The project was among the largest expansions in northwest Georgia in quite some time, Morton said. Among the facility’s highlights is a state-of-the-art R&D lab that allows Shaw to test its formulations. “We are able to quantify or qualify materials here,” Morton said. “It is very sophisticated. We have the ability to press layers here and do mock-ups of what we will be doing on the production line. We also have the advantage of having our innovation technical group here so we can develop next-generation designs and patterns inside our complex. That helps us control some of our IP.”

And with that comes what Morton called a pilot line, which gives Shaw the ability to run some of those layers in a smaller format before it goes into production. Thus, testing does not have to interrupt main-line production. For the record, Shaw only manufactures the bottom three layers of its LVT; the visual and protective layers are sourced.

Aesthetics also play an important role in the uniqueness of the facility. Cylinders are 2 meters wide instead of the more common 1 meter. “This allows us to use a much bigger print film,” said Clark Hodgkins, resilient category manager. “So there is a much bigger repeat. Normally you get a six- or seven-plank repeat with LVT. We will often get a 13-plank repeat based on the size of the cylinder.”

Performance of Shaw LVT is enhanced by virtue of a two-coating process. While LVT is known to be much less scratch resistant than laminate, Shaw’s proprietary ScufResist Platinum coating goes a long way toward closing that gap, Morton said.

The facility also exemplifies Shaw’s culture of environmental stewardship. In illustration, a regrind room takes the trimmings from its calendaring process and prepares for reuse. “Any manufacturing process is going to have waste or byproducts,” Morton explained. “You can either send them to the landfill, sell them or reuse them. We are opting to reuse the material. Anything left over from this process will be re-extruded. It doesn’t degrade the product in any way; it’s just a way to displace virgin material with re-ground material.”

There are currently more than 160 Shaw employees who call this facility home. That includes line associates, the technical group, and management leadership and hard surface quality sourcing teams. “What makes this plant unique is the fact it is shared by all the channels,” Morton said. “For the first time ever, we have both our contract teams (Shaw Contract and Patcraft), our Main Street team (Philadelphia Commercial) as well as our retail, builder and home centers teams under one roof. Specialty markets will also eventually be here.”

 

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Shannon Specialty Floors becomes a Fuse Alliance preferred supplier

Milwaukee, Wis.—Shannon Specialty Floors, a high satisfaction, high performance manufacturer and supplier of flooring in the commercial market-segment, has entered a 22-month agreement with Fuse Commercial Flooring Alliance beginning on March 8.

Fuse Alliance is a member-owned organization of professional, commercial flooring contractors throughout North America. The two companies will commence their partnership at the 2017 Fuse Annual Conference in Austin, Texas on March 7 where Shannon Specialty Floors will be introduced as a new member.

“Our company looks forward to the opportunity to work with Fuse’s group of elite commercial flooring contractors across the country,” said Jeff Collum, Shannon’s president. “The experience, industry and product knowledge and established relationships that will come along with this partnership are unmatched.”

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CarpetsPlus names Karndean Designflooring Hard Surface Supplier of the Year

Karndean-Designfloor_logo-2-col-on-white-background-1024x270Export, Pa.—Karndean Designflooring, a market leader in luxury vinyl tile (LVT) flooring was named Hard Surface Supplier of the Year by the CarpetsPlus membership at the group’s annual summit in Atlanta on Feb. 27.

The award recognizes the supplier who has had the best overall performance in the past year. Award recipients were voted on by the CarpetsPlus Color Tile membership, comprised of approximately 400 retailers. More than 50 suppliers were eligible to receive this distinction.

The awards presentation was a culmination of a successful weekend for Karndean at the CarpetsPlus summit. Karndean sponsored the welcome cocktail party for the summit on Saturday night, participated in the Emerald Sponsor luncheon on Monday and was presented with the award Monday evening. Throughout the past year, Karndean has worked with CarpetsPlus to produce “Design Destinations,” a privately labeled display, which made its debut at the summit. Karndean was the only LVT supplier to be included in the Design Destinations program.

Karndean Designflooring joined the CarpetsPlus Color Tile group in 2012. The CarpetsPlus Color Tile group was established in 1996 and provides independent retailers with a menu of professional tools to grow a successful floor covering business, including product and sales training, national pricing and rebates, and member and consumer websites.

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Spotlight: Divine Flooring ascribes to a higher marketing power

November 21/28, 2016: Volume 31, Number 12

By Reginald Tucker

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-3-57-53-pmIn an increasingly competitive market segment such as the mid-range to high end, hard surface suppliers are focusing their efforts beyond core product construction and performance to differentiate themselves from other players in the field. For manufacturers like Divine Flooring, it’s all about marketing and optimal brand positioning.

As a supplier of hardwood, LVT, WPC and laminate flooring products for specialty retail, specified commercial and residential replacement, Divine Flooring is looking to cover all the bases—with the exception of the entry-level, low-price range. Its builder and residential replacement hardwood flooring products range from $4.50 per square foot (suggested retail price) up to about $20 per square foot for some of the higher-end custom collections.

“We have products in the mix that are focused more toward builders such as Farmhouse, which is a wide-plank, rustic,” said Sean Stewart, managing partner. “We also offer a variety of finishes such as aluminum oxide, lacquers, hard wax oil finishes, oxidative oil finishes and reactive oil stains—we cover the gamut. We also have a custom wood shop where we produce all of our own moldings, and we can also do custom work for architects or dealers. This includes wall treatments, stair parts, doors, etc. That’s an advantage from our builder experience that we can take on those special projects.”

The main idea, according to Stewart, is to provide options without “oversaturating” the market. “We do really well with dealers that understand the value of selling flooring at a higher price, and they appreciate the fact that we’re not on every street corner like much of our competition in the industry. It’s not only about our brand but our brand values as well.”

One way Divine Flooring avoids the “me-too” game is by focusing on custom-made offerings that can’t be shopped around. “One of the things that we do that’s quite unique is we work with award-winning designers when we develop our collections,” Stewart explained. “It’s a significant investment but it pays off because you’re getting someone who understands color trends, etc.”

A noteworthy example of this sort of collaboration is Divine Flooring’s Cosmopolitan collection, which was introduced in late 2015. Stewart called the line—which features trendy colors like white, gray and black in a variety of gloss levels and surface textures—the company’s leading collection.

Sheldon Peregrino, showroom manager at Fame Hardwood Floors, Los Angeles, took on the line about 10 months ago. “It’s been popular here in our area. The line has really good colors and they are right on with what our customers are looking for.”

Other Divine Flooring collections are turning heads as well. The company’s ultra-high end Louis XIV collection of French oak planks featuring matching square parquet tiles was the hardwood flooring product selected for the newly renovated Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. “It’s a very exclusive high-end product compared to others in the marketplace but still delivered at a much more competitive price,” Stewart said. “It’s also something that we stock, which also makes us very different.”

Joshua Kaswell, owner of Kaswell Flooring Systems, Ashland, Mass., the company that specified the flooring product for this particular installation, recalled the selection process: “A couple of years back I was asked by my client to find a unique prefinished product for the renovation of large suites in a world-renowned hotel in Washington, D.C. I instantly thought of Sean and his Divine Flooring line of both engineered wood and engineered parquets. After some presentation work with the client, ultimately several thousand square feet of Louis XIV prefinished parquet was selected for the suites and eventually purchased months later. Sean guided us with product information, literature and other marketing tools to both secure the order and ultimately guide the client appropriately on installation requirements.”

Five months after the installation, the floors are holding up well and looking regal. “This was a difficult project with a demanding client but the material was installed without any issues,” Kaswell stated. “The client and design team are thrilled with the results. We are proud to say with the assistance of Divine Flooring we have a successful installation at the famous Watergate Hotel.”