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Laminate: Do moisture-resistant claims hold water?

Observers debate merits of overplaying the ‘waterproof’ card

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

The excitement surrounding laminate flooring of late is a testament to the strides the segment has made both in terms of visuals and performance. Much attention has been focused on the latter, particularly enhancements and coreboard treatments designed to increase the product’s ability to withstand moisture penetration and/or water damage.

But that begs the question, “Do moisture-resistant coreboard claims hold water?” (Pardon the pun.) Viewpoints among some industry observers are mixed.

“We are very skeptical,” said Ben Case, manager of the Carpet Collection, Lockport, N.Y. “However, we have done no independent testing to prove it.”

When it comes to touting flooring with waterproof properties, Case said he is more confident in WPC and SPC. (He also prefers the visuals currently available in those categories vs. what’s shown in laminate.) However, he said, “We will continue to offer moisture-resistant laminate options to see where trends may take us in the coming years.”

Other dealers embrace the emphasis on laminates’ so-called new and improved water-resistant attributes. Eric Mondragon, hard surface buyer, R.C. Willey, based in Salt Lake City, believes laminate manufacturers have taken the category’s performance to the proverbial next level—specifically with respect to resistance to moisture. “Companies like Mohawk and Quick-Step have really stepped it up.”

To suppliers’ credit, investments are being made in product development as it pertains to moisture resistance. “Most laminate is significantly moisture resistant, with multiple manufacturers developing new technologies to make the product nearly impervious to liquids,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington. He cited the company’s SpillShield technology, which is featured on the company’s signature Restoration collection.

At the same time, Natkin cautions against overselling the technology’s attributes; the innovation, he notes, aims to address everyday spills—not catastrophic events such as floods. “What we talk about are the real-life things that happen in the home. Historically speaking, if you have a traumatic flooring event in your house, the flooring is going to get replaced no matter what.”

Other suppliers are also investing in technologies to repel water. CFL, which introduced its AtroGuard water-resistant laminate line several years ago, believes the technology has come a long way. “It’s not 100% waterproof, but it has advantages the resilient category doesn’t have,” said Thomas Baert, president. “It’s also good for bathrooms, kitchens, etc., meaning homeowners can wet-mop it. It has been proven on the market now for more than three years, and it is one of our best sellers.”

Mannington and CFL are not the only manufacturers backing claims that support the category’s improved resistance to moisture and water damage. “We believe it is helpful for the category,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Ever since the change in core construction from particleboard to high-density fiberboard in the 1990s, laminate has stood up well to moisture. But through new innovations, this feature has been enhanced.”

At the same time, Welbourn advises retailers to exercise caution. “Laminate is still a wood-based product and it’s important that we don’t oversell these features and disappoint consumers. If a company tries to sell a laminate as being impervious to water, we need to ask the question, ‘Can you install it in a shower or a steam room?’ If the answer is no, I would question the waterproof claims.

Managing expectations
Reported overstatement of the product’s capabilities—something that negatively impacted the segment’s reputation in its early days in the U.S. 20 years ago—is a growing concern for some industry observers. Back then it was about overselling the product’s resistance to dents and scratching, leading some to suggest it was virtually indestructible. Today, it’s mostly about managing consumer expectations when it comes to claims about moisture resistance.

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Shaw is not going to make claims on a product that could ultimately disappoint the consumer,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product/category management. “We choose to be more conservative in our approach.”

Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Industries, also warns against the dangers of misleading consumers about moisture resistance. It’s critical, he noted, to remind dealers that not all products are created equal. “Based on some of the testing we’ve done, some of the products do not live up to the claims they make. The question becomes, does it create significant consumer dissatisfaction and potential blowback for the category? That remains to be seen.”

As Farabee sees it, many laminate manufacturers and marketers are focusing their efforts on how to minimize visible damage from water incursion at the edge of the products as opposed to the tongue and groove area. Some, he notes, have been introducing coreboards that are less susceptible to swelling. The problem is, he explained, the majority aren’t concentrating on improving water resistance at the joints—those areas where water can seep in and wreak havoc on the panels or, worse, make its way under the planks where it can cause other issues like subfloor damage or mold growth.

For its part, Mohawk said it has developed products that are far more moisture resistant than laminate floors made many years ago. “We have personally developed technologies that enable us to make some moisture-resistant claims far beyond what everybody else could,” Farabee stated. “We’ve had these products out in the market for more than two years now, and it has given us a position where we can go head to head with one of the No. 1 attributes that LVT and rigid core floors have been talking about for the last several years.

Not to be outdone, companies like Uniboard have upped the ante in the area of moisture resistance. As one of the biggest producers of panels in North America, the company also controls the fiber species and the resin recipe of the boards—all of which helps prevent swelling and adds dimensional stability. By focusing on its core competencies in HDF coreboard manufacturing, Uniboard is looking to leverage its strengths in water-resistant board development.

“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 have to buy the technology on the open market.”

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U.S.-China tariff tiff troubles some flooring executives

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

By Ken Ryan

 

Flooring executives are acting with trepidation amid the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China, which ratcheted up a few notches last week when the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs on some $50 billion in Chinese imports across 1,300 categories of products.

The imports targeted for 25% levies range from high value-added goods, such as medicines and medical equipment, to intermediate products like machine tools and chemicals as well as durable consumer goods such as dishwashers, TVs and automobile parts. The list also includes machinery used in the production of some flooring products, including carpet and rugs, as well as milling or molding machines for products such as wood, cork, hard rubber, plastics or similar hard materials.

The day after Trump’s announcement, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced plans to impose a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of U.S. exports. The 106 affected products included soybeans and chemicals and came one day after China announced tariffs on $3 billion in imports of U.S. food and other goods, 128 categories in all.

The penalties will not happen right away, if at all. The designation of targeted products will be followed by a comment period in which American companies can provide feedback to the Trump administration on the product choices. The administration will hold a public hearing on the submissions on May 15 in Washington, and companies will have until May 22 to file final objections.

The move stems from a White House investigation into China’s use of pressure, intimidation and theft to obtain American technologies.

Flooring executives argue that in a global economy, any trade war between economic powers would ultimately result in a slowdown of the world economy. Thomas Baert, president of CFL Flooring, a China-based LVT supplier, said issuing large import tariffs sounds like a great idea since theoretically it would help local production in the West but would hurt categories like LVT, which are mostly sourced in China. “In our industry, the product categories that are imported at this stage cannot be made on the domestic machines,” Baert said. “Although several manufacturers are now transforming some production lines to be able to, it is questionable whether this will truly replace China production.”

Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM, a domestic wood manufacturer, had a different take as he pointed to the U.S. trade deficit. “We’re running at an $800 billion trade deficit with the rest of the world, of which $500 billion of that is with China. Most economists say that it is unsustainable, but they don’t really agree on what the consequences are. It’s been this way for more than a decade and growing. Since more jobs are involved in making a product than in importing a product, loss of jobs seems to be the long-term consequence of a trade deficit.”

Finkell said wood flooring going to China from the U.S. has a combination of tariffs, fees and taxes in the range of 27%. If there is a tariff on wood flooring under these trade actions, he said he would expect it to be in the range of 25%. He termed it “significant but not catastrophic to the industry.”

Flooring observers say the tariffs—should they be implemented—would impact the full line distributor to a greater extent than other sectors since wholesalers have been importing LVT/WPC/SPC products in large part to promote their own private-label brands. Jeff Hamar, president of Galleher, a top 20 distributor from Santa Fe Springs, Calif., which sources from China, said he would be very surprised if flooring is ever involved in the tariffs. “There are already duties on wood flooring produced in China so, in theory, the government is already adjusting those prices to reflect market realities,” he said. “If they were to go after rigid LVT flooring the argument would be that there is so little U.S. domestic capacity, who are they harming? Clearly, any duty would be passed onto the consumer and would result in higher prices. Duties on LVT would cut the gap between wood and LVT possibly helping wood flooring sales.”

Jonathan Train, CEO of Houston-based Swiff-Train Co., which also sources extensively from Asia, is clearly not an advocate for excessive tariffs. “Small tariffs that are clearly understood and fairly implemented are fine and do not block trade,” he said. “Plus, they add a reasonable means of revenue for the government. But larger, volatile and retroactive tariffs disrupt markets unnecessarily and do not fix anything.”

Many economists see a trade war as little more than punishing the other country rather than protecting domestic producers. Some flooring executives have similar views. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be a ‘tit for tat’ kind of game that we can’t afford to play,” said Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network. “Imagine just for one second if Walmart couldn’t fill their stores with goods—it would be Armageddon.”

manufacturing to make more stuff here in the U.S.,” said Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network, Shorewood, Ill. “But unfortunately, it’s going to be a ‘tit for tat’ kind of game that we can’t afford to play. Imagine just for one second if Walmart couldn’t fill their stores with goods—it would be Armageddon.”

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Frith partners with Chinafloors North America

Barron Frith Pic 090214Shanghai — Industry veteran Barron Frith has joined Chinafloors North America.

“We are excited to have Barron partner with us at Chinafloors North America,” said Thomas Baert, president of Chinafloors Holdings Ltd. “We are experiencing a dynamic sales expansion in North America, and Barron is widely respected across many industry channels.  Our executive duo of Perry Coker and Barron will continue our aggressive growth strategies.”

Chinafloors is a leading western producer of flooring, with manufacturing and distribution facilities in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. and can be contacted at www.lamett.com North America.

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Optimism reigns as U.S. economy slowly improves

by Matthew Spieler

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

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