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Bamboo: Dispelling misconceptions, earning confidence

March 16/23, 2015; Volume 28/Number 19
By Amanda Haskin

Obsidian-USFloors“It’s not bamboo’s fault; it’s people’s fault,”  said Dan Harrington, senior product specialist at Galleher Hardwood and chair of the newly formed National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) bamboo standards committee.

Harrington’s statement is a firmly held belief among bamboo manufacturers when defending the misunderstood category. It quickly gained popularity in the early 2000s but has since been blemished by years of claims, complaints and confusion. Most consumers don’t understand it, retailers are afraid to sell it, installers don’t know how to install it, and questionable manufacturers and low-quality products have inundated the industry as a whole. But the reputable bamboo manufacturers that have been around since the beginning are far from giving up.

The early days

Many believe bamboo’s current problems are due partially to the fact it came into popularity too quickly, causing a flood of material on the market and resulting in price pressure from American buyers on Chinese manufacturers. But industry leaders stress that it is impossible to make a high quality strand bamboo product cheaply.

“The fact is that it costs a lot of money to manufacture a quality bamboo flooring product,” explained Tom Goodham, vice president of manufacturing and operations for Teragren and member of the NWFA bamboo standards committee. “If the product you are purchasing is inexpensive, one or more of the essential components or steps have been compromised. While you may get lucky, the costs of failure are high.”

Because of bamboo’s rapid rise, many entrepreneurs were starting bamboo factories without any technical product knowledge. “They were buying poor machinery, poor kilns; they were doing everything the cheap way,” said David Keegan, COO of Bamboo Hardwoods, also a member of the NWFA bamboo standards committee.

Myths and misconceptions

The misconceptions about bamboo began as soon as it rose to popularity. Keegan recalled a particular article published around 2000. “Bamboo was touted as being bulletproof, that you couldn’t dent it, but that wasn’t true because there wasn’t strand-woven bamboo yet. So [consumers] were disappointed because expectations were set too high.”

Today’s high quality strand products can be extremely durable and up to three times harder than oak. But Harrington made it clear that Janka hardness tests can be misleading as they were designed for wood, not bamboo.

Another misconception about bamboo is that it cannot be environmentally friendly if it is coming from China. However, companies like Teragren have proven that bamboo can be one of the most environmentally sound flooring options by partnering with the Bainbridge Graduate Institute as well as freight and other transit groups, to prove that all Teragren products are carbon negative at the time of delivery in North America.

Many consumers are also under the impression that bamboo simply does not perform well in certain areas of the country with extreme swings in humidity. But manufacturers are confident that quality bamboo that has been acclimated and installed properly should not have any issues.

Acclimation and installation

Parquet-WellmadeDue to the nature of the process of making strand bamboo, as well as the fact it is difficult to measure its moisture because of its density, bamboo floors are often not acclimated enough upon installation.

“When we come up against acclimation issues, it’s almost always strand, and it’s because of the density of the material,” said Caitlyn Kari, Teragren’s director of marketing. “Acclimation is all about bringing temperature and moisture content to equilibrium between the product and environment, and when you’re working with such a dense material the process just takes longer.”

Another issue is that many installers don’t know how to install bamboo correctly, and there have been no formal guidelines established. “Right now there are different standards depending on which manufacturer you buy from, and that creates confusion with both consumers and dealers,” said Gary Keeble, marketing manager, USFloors.

Setting standards

In June 2014, the NWFA established its bamboo standards committee, and manufacturers continue to sing the praises of this decision.

“There’s no right or wrong; there’s just the truth,” Goodham noted. “There are some things that are not open to interpretation—the flatness of a plank, the amount of gap that should be left during installation. We need a common language because if we don’t [have one], it hurts everybody.”

Kari added, “[The committee is] game changing. It clarifies the rules, and if everyone is playing by the same rules it makes it so much easier for everyone to do their jobs. And it guarantees the end consumer a higher quality, more reliable product.”

The future of the category

The general consensus among manufacturers is the bamboo industry has already started cleaning itself up. Through all the negative connotation manufacturers continue to laud bamboo’s endearing attributes. “Bamboo is among the most versatile, rapidly renewable and environmentally friendly natural resources on the planet,” said Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing for Wellmade. “In the end, reputable manufacturers will regulate their own quality control and stand behind their products.”

Goodham also noted the strength of knowledgable, committed manufacturers helping bamboo prevail. “Through attrition we have already seen many small manufacturers drop out who were not able to uphold basic quality level standards. We are all learning from mistakes that have been made by others, and we are rising as a group.”

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Bamboo: How to position the product on your showroom floor

August 4/11, 2014; Volume 28/Number 4

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.01.06 PMThere was a time not long ago when many flooring retailers, perhaps looking to tout the environmental attributes of bamboo flooring, merchandised the category in its own “green” area on the showroom floor. USFloors, for example, even created a “Green Island” display for that very purpose.

But times have changed; bamboo is still green as ever, but the term has become so mainstream, executives said, that it has lost some of its marketing clout. Today, you are just as likely to see bamboo displayed in its own section in a showroom or within hardwood—and still in some cases a green area—as dealers have any number of choices in how to position bamboo.

Not surprisingly, industry manufacturers and retailers offered different views on how best to position bamboo. For example, Bruce Boulden, national flooring sales director at Bamboo Hardwoods, believes bamboo should be positioned among other hard surfaces. So, too, does Mike Boshart, president of Teragren, who is also of the opinion that selling green no longer offers the competitive edge it once did because everyone claims to have green products.

However, Ryan Bechtold, operations manager at Contract Furnishings Mart, Beaverton, Ore., believes bamboo is a large enough category to merit its own section on the showroom floor.

What everyone does agree on is that while positioning is important, a trained and educated sales staff is the most critical factor when selling bamboo. “How you differentiate your product offering from the mass market, i.e. Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators, is the challenge independent retailers face,” said Sean O’Rourke, vice president of hard surfaces at Avalon Flooring in Cherry Hill, N.J. “Strand bamboo [the most popular choice today] in any format pretty much looks like the next strand bamboo whether there is a quality difference or not, and nothing but sales professionalism and great product knowledge will separate you from a low-cost option available down the street.”

O’Rourke said recent developments of strand on an HDF core make the product viable again in a click-float format; he noted that Teragren is returning to more offerings in a traditional tongue and groove that makes sense, especially if a customer wants to cover a large area without transitions.

As an alternative hardwood product, bamboo is both a challenge for dealers as to where to display it, as well as an opportunity for them to sell something different.

Bamboo area

Contract Furnishings Mart (CFM), with 11 stores in Oregon and Washington State, was cited as being one of the best retailers in merchandising and selling bamboo. Its showrooms vary in size, and the way in which bamboo is merchandised is at the discretion of the store manager. In general, Bechtold said, CFM has been successful selling bamboo in its own space, generally between 200 and 350 square feet, displayed near hardwood.

“Many consumers don’t think of bamboo as an option, but it may be the look they are looking for,” Bechtold said. CFM’s sales associates are trained to engage customers in conversation to better define their flooring needs. “As the conversation unfolds, often we may say, ‘Have you considered bamboo?’ It is a viable category and we do well with it.”

Green area

Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing at Wellmade Performance Flooring, said he thinks many retailers are missing a great opportunity to highlight a portion of their showrooms to green products, including bamboo, cork and FSC-certified hardwood. “A beautiful showroom floor, coupled with room scenes, props and green attributes, can go a long way to stimulating the consumer’s imagination,” he explained.

“In the case of Wellmade, our bamboo is FloorScore certified for indoor air quality, rapidly renewable, ultra-low in VOC emissions and qualifies for LEED points. And with all the recent price increases in hardwood flooring, we’ve maintained very attractive pricing, and that is another great selling point.”Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.01.43 PM

Hardwood area

Some flooring executives said the term “green” has lost some of its luster as a marketing strategy. “Green has reached parity in the marketplace,” Boshart said. “Everyone is promoting the fact they are green—whether it is how the product is manufactured, proximity to the market, how it is disposed of, etc., and they are totally legitimate cases. But by segregating green products, you’re doing customers a disservice and not representing those products as they might be. With green evolving, it makes more of a case to display with other hardwoods.”

Gary Keeble, product and marketing manager at USFloors, agreed that green is not the differentiator it once was. He said the Green Island display for its cork and bamboo products was a good idea in 2008 but is not as effective in today’s market.

“We look at bamboo as an alternative product to hardwood, and we believe for retailers to have success, bamboo should be in the hardwood area,” Keeble said. “We’ve moved away from the term green; we talk more about sustainability, the overall environmental impact.”

Boulden said there is a movement afoot among retailers to move bamboo products to the hardwood section. He suggests retailers place bamboo “just as they would another hardwood product, as aligned within the current display structure, or as one of similarly priced products, such as a hand-scrapped option within that section; or simply by species if that is what works for that retailer. Bottom line: Integrate bamboo as you would any other hardwood species; just don’t segregate it.”

Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery in Louisville, Ky., said his stores have used many versions of bamboo over the years with differing success. “Our most consistent luck has been with the stranded products, and our current best seller is the group from USFloors. They have a stranded veneer on a high density core over a cork base. So far this combination has given us the durability of strand, with a stable product that still sounded like a real floor to walk on.”

Both dealers and manufacturers said there is no magical way bamboo should be displayed. What’s most important is there are adequate samples; bamboo should be installed on the floor for consumers to walk on and for it to be shown in the proper light. “It’s incumbent upon the professionals to be able to say to the customer, ‘Here is another option—bamboo,’” Boulden said. “Education is extremely important because not all bamboos are created equal. We may be biased but we see bamboo as another hardwood, a product that offers different visuals—smooth, distressed, brushed, French bleed.”

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Teragren adds to technical support team

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 5.30.39 PMBainbridge Island, Wash. — Teragren has beefed up its technical support team with the addition of Aaron Cline as technical manager. The company said Cline brings a broad knowledge base and a strong understanding of best practices and will provide Teragren customers at all levels the highest quality support from product selection through installation and long-term care.

Cline joins a technical team based out of Teragren’s headquarters on Bainbridge Island, Wash. With an in-house testing lab and vice president of operations Tom Goodham leading the division, Teragren’s technical team is involved from the conceptual stage for new products through item retirement and ongoing support for Teragren customers.

“Our goal is to bring to market only the highest quality products” Goodham said. “We work closely with our factory partners to ensure that Teragren floors meet quality and performance expectations, as well as meet our high standards for environmental and human health impacts. Our product specifications are the most rigorous in the bamboo space. However, we know that ultimately customer satisfaction depends on the knowledge and execution of the flooring installer, and that’s why we’ve brought on Aaron, as well as partnered with the NWFA to provide easily accessible resources and expert knowledge to our industry partners.”

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Bamboo: Strand-woven, wider planks, vibrant colors

Volume 27/Number 23; March 17/24, 2014

The bamboo flooring market is moving in unison to strand-woven, an engineering process intended to make floors harder and more durable while creating a visual that closely resembles hardwood.

Today’s bamboo companies are combining that strand-woven look with styles (wide planks and strips) and colors (pink sand to jet black) that have refreshed the segment and, in some markets, given flooring dealers a differentiated selling option.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.21.31 AMBamboo Hardwoods

David Keegan, COO, said that in response to market demands, Bamboo Hardwoods has responded with a variety of looks, including distressed, hand-scraped, hand-woven and French bleed.

“We’re always approaching [design] from what the market wants rather than us saying, ‘Hey, we think this is cool. Why don’t you sell it?’” Keegan said. “We are listening carefully to our dealers and then responding so this is not some crapshoot.”

Driftwood, featuring gray tones, and Tawny, with its warmer brown/nutmeg look, are popular within the company’s Arcade and Suite collections. These bamboo products are available with a wire-brushed look or French bleed on the edges.

In June, Bamboo Hardwoods will launch Chalet, a hand-scraped line with a strand-woven wearlayer and multilayer plywood core. “Customers on the East Coast, West Coast and South into Texas have been asking for these looks, colors and construction,” Keegan noted

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.21.51 AMECOBamboo

Developed and offered exclusively by Dasso, EcoBamboo uses an unfurled format to press the round bamboo canes flat instead of cutting them into strips for the traditional formats or shredding them for the strand-woven styles. The process leaves the natural outer skin on the face, which is the hardest part of bamboo; this becomes the floor’s natural finish. Products come in a range of widths, including 5-inch planks.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.22.30 AMEcoFusion

ColorFusion African Safari, a strand-woven engineered plank, is 9⁄16-inch thick, 5 inches wide x 73 inches long. Targeted for residential settings, ColorFusion can be floated, glued or nailed down.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.22.55 AMTeragren

Moisture problems have at times plagued bamboo, but Teragren’s hot press manufacturing process—in which heat is applied consistently to all four sides of the bamboo—produces a dense, more stable product, the company explained.

In 2014, Teragren will introduce 13 new looks in its Visions and Vantage II lines, including eight colors and a new wire-brushed finish option on the Vantage II engineered platform.The products include a hard wax oil finish that recently came to the North American market after experiencing success in Europe.

Interestingly, one of Teragren’s current best-selling products has been around for 20 years. “Our traditional-style floors have seen a skyrocket in the flat-grain, caramelized color (FGC),” said Caitlyn Kari, marketing communications manager. “This is one of the colors that we launched at the very beginning, 20 years ago.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.23.15 AMUSFloors

As with other bamboo manufacturers, USFloors is following the strand-woven trend with its Muse Strand collection of eight plank SKUs in dimensions of 5 1⁄2 x 73 x 1⁄2 inch, and two strip-width products in a 2 1⁄2  x 73 x 1⁄2-inch format.

Muse is an engineered product constructed with an HDF core; as such, it is more dimensionally stable and is designed to handle extreme weather. “It is the all-climate floor,” said Gary Keeble, product and marketing manager. “It will resonate with dealers who like bamboo.”

Muse is further distinguished by its staining techniques and a soft sculpted wire-brush look that provides a more random visual than the typical machine-scraped product. Muse displays ship in late March.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.23.34 AMWellmade

Strand-woven continues to drive Wellmade’s bamboo programs through all sales channels, with the company’s engineered strand collection the big seller. It features a seven-ply eucalyptus base and 4mm thick-sawn wearlayer, and is targeted for residential and commercial use. “Best of all, it can be used on any level of the project and performs in any climate, from humid to arid,” said Steve Wagner, director of sales and marketing.

Wellmade’s Old Growth Series features reclaimed visuals applied directly to a bamboo core, using the company’s high definition Clear-Tec bamboo imaging process.

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Teragren debuts prefinished hardwax-oil bamboo collection

Teragren-Visions-Slate-GreyBainbridge Island, Wash. – Teragren announced the launch of two new bamboo flooring collections featuring a high-performance hardwax-oil finish, on both a solid and an engineered platform.

Made from the company’s Xcora strand bamboo, said to be 160% harder than oak, the new Visions and Vantage II collections from Teragren feature 13 products, eight new colors and a new wire-brushed finish option on the Vantage II engineered platform.

“We’ve been looking into adding an oil finish to our assortment for a few years now” said Mike Boshart, Teragren president. “There are many uncertainties out there among retailers and installers around oil finishes, and we wanted to make sure that we brought to market the highest performing, easiest to maintain option. We found the right match with Rubio hardwax oil, and in conjunction with the design-forward color options, believe that these new looks meet the Teragren standards for performance, style, and environmental friendliness.”

Hardwax-oil style finishes have been popular in Europe for over two decades, but have just recently started making their way into the North American market. Unlike traditional oil finishes, the hardwax-oil from Rubio that Teragren has selected as the custom finish for its new Visions and Vantage II flooring collections is resistant to water spots and other liquid spills, and the flooring comes prefinished with a UV-cured hardwax-oil and ready to install.

The hardwax-oil finish works by molecularly bonding to the top fibers of the flooring plank, thereby sealing the surface and leaving a matte finish that offers a strong protective coating, highlighting the natural fiber of the floor with an open-grain look.

“Our new oil-finished collections are a great option for commercial installations” Boshart said. “Wear patterns from foot traffic can be easily refurbished as part of an ongoing maintenance program with minimal disruption to the business, without the need for a traditional sand and recoat.”

Many commercial installations have already opted for a Rubio hardwax-oil finish, including the W Hotel in Dallas, the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, and Google offices throughout the world.

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Teragren launches Luxury Wide-Plank Flooring sale

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.05.47 AMBainbridge Island, Wash.—Teragren has launched its Luxury Wide-Plank Flooring Sale. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, customers can save up to $1,500 on Teragren’s premium wide-plank flooring lines at all Teragren displaying dealers throughout North America. With almost 3,500 participating locations, customers have plenty of opportunity to take advantage of this event. Rebates of up to $1,500 are available on all wide-plank bamboo flooring lines including the Portfolio, Synergy Wide Plank, Craftsman II and Studio lines. Continue reading Teragren launches Luxury Wide-Plank Flooring sale

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Flooring companies make the grade in Consumer Reports

Armstrong, Teragren score in multiple categories

July 22/29, 2013; Volume 27/Number 7

By Louis Iannaco

Armstrong’s Coastal Living  White Wash Walnut took the No. 1 spot in the laminate category.
Armstrong’s Coastal Living
White Wash Walnut took the No. 1 spot in the laminate category.

The results are in, and a number of flooring manufacturers have much to boast.

The July issue of Consumer Reports published its annual hard surface flooring ratings across five categories, with overall scores based mainly on resistance to foot traffic, scratches, dents, stains, sunlight, moisture and slips. In the end, Teragren, Armstrong, Harris Wood, Congoleum and Avaire were at the head of the class in their respective categories.

Teragren’s Portfolio Naturals Wheat was the highest-ranked prefinished solid wood floor, while the company’s Synergy Strand with Xcora Java stood at No. 2 in engineered wood. Both categories encompass cork and bamboo. A high-quality and high-value product is the result of numerous factors, said Mike Boshart, president, Teragren, who noted the company has worked closely with the same factory partner for 20 years to source the highest-quality raw materials and refine its preparation and manufacturing processes. Continue reading Flooring companies make the grade in Consumer Reports

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Customers save up to $1500 with Teragren flooring sale

Bainbridge Island, Wash.—Teragren is excited to launch their Spring Designer Flooring Sale. From April 1st through May 31st, 2013 customers can save up to $1500 on Teragren’s premium Xcora™ Strand Bamboo flooring at all Teragren Displaying Dealers throughout North America. Continue reading Customers save up to $1500 with Teragren flooring sale

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Latest looks in Bamboo

By Jenna Lippin

Volume 26/Number 22; March 18/25, 2013

In recent years, bamboo has become a prominent topic of discussion in the flooring industry. Thanks to technological advances, especially HD imaging, bamboo visuals have reached new levels of realism. With a variety of fresh styles and designs, bamboo players have released their most innovative offerings to date. Continue reading Latest looks in Bamboo