October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9
By Reginald Tucker
Laval, Quebec, Canada—Uniboard is working hard to dispel the outdated notion that it is just a laminate flooring producer.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.”
So 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
As 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.”