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Wood: Oil and urethane—A winning combination of aesthetics, function

Blend of finish formulations expands end-user options

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Reginald Tucker

With the advent of aluminum-oxide finishes, hardwood manufacturers were able to deliver high-performance products that could withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear. But as consumer trends evolved over time, consumers began to clamor for a more natural, low-luster topcoat—hence the resurgence of the oil-based finishes that are trending today.

Manufacturers are facing a new challenge: How to develop a finish that will allow the natural beauty and characteristics of the wood veneer to show through and yet provide the durability consumers and end users have come to expect from today’s advanced finishes. To address this issue, some suppliers are offering the best of both worlds by developing special blends of oil and UV-cured urethane finishes.

Case in point is Provenza Floors, which combines two different finishing technologies on some of its collections. As Ron Sadri, principal owner, explains: “We put a lot of money and research behind it to make sure we came up with the look we wanted while offering a product that was easy to maintain. So we put two technologies together (polyurethane and oil), which was challenging but it paid off in the end.”

Provenza Floors has more than 20 years of experience under its belt in developing different finishing processes and treatments. Some techniques, Sadri noted, were born out of pure experimentation.

“We tried to use an air-dried polyurethane finish vs. aluminum oxide or UV, which dries very quickly,” he explained. “Our finishes usually air dry and cure for about five to seven days before we package the product. This process provides a very natural look.”

Techniques such as these, he said, dovetail nicely with the advent of so-called “reactive” finishes and fuming processes—another area in which Provenza Floors specializes. “We combine that with staining and oil looks to create a UV oil, which provides a harder, smoother finish with less maintenance,” Sadri explained. “The technology has evolved to the point where we went from hard wax finishes to polyurethane combined with reactive stains.”

It’s an approach whose benefits are not overlooked by Provenza Floors’ distributor partners. “Provenza is a step ahead of the market,” said Alan Gage, president of Tri-West, a distributor partner for nearly 20 years. “They bring us products that are innovative and cool. The reactive stains and fumed products they produce are very popular in our market. Consumers love them. In fact, the entire lineup is ahead of the curve and right on with colors and tones.”

Other major producers are leveraging their manufacturing expertise to develop finishes that combine both advanced and traditional technologies. The Winery collection from Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, features a matte, five-degree, UV-cured oil finish for an Old World look with modern performance enhancements. The multi-ply, 3¼-inch-wide product features a sturdy Baltic birch plywood construction with a 4mm veneer for added durability.

“We use soybean components, allowing us to claim that our oil finish utilizes the most enhanced environmentally friendly technique,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales, U.S. “The biggest advantage to oil-finished flooring is the simple fact that it is highly repairable vs. a lacquered floor. An oil finished floor also is appealing given that the floor is relatively static free; therefore, the accumulation of dust is minimal. I would also point out that oil finished floors are also a better choice for high-traffic applications. This finish will stand up better than a lacquer-based finish.”

Not only can Wickham Flooring provide distributors with products that feature these hybrid finishes, but they can customize them according to a distributor or dealer partner’s specifications. “Wickham has a unique business model in that they produce an enormous amount of product, but they don’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor,” said Craig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesale flooring distributor. Aside from the visuals, he likes the flexibility and deep range of options the Wickham Hardwood Flooring brand offers his customers. “I don’t know how they manage the logistics of it, but they’re very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still get it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives dealers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen. Having Wickham as a vendor is like having 10 lines at the same time.”

Even the niche suppliers are getting in on the act. Monarch Plank, a division of Galleher Hardwood, provides specialty, wide-plank flooring that can be customized according to the client’s specifications. Many of those products feature UV oil finishes. Case in point is the Domaine collection, a ¾-inch-thick, 9½-inch-wide x 8-foot-long product with a hefty 6mm top layer.

“Today’s high-end contractors are turning more to prefinishing—either in their own shops or through custom prefinishing like ours,” said Todd Hamar, senior vice president. “The colors designers are demanding nowadays are often only achieved through processes like fuming, bleaching and reactive stains that are difficult—if not impossible—to work with on site. Designers are also increasingly seeking to customize texture in ways that are too tedious to achieve on the job site.”

The Monarch Plank manufacturing plant, a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, features dedicated lines for UV oil and urethane finishes, plus vacuum coaters, standalone spray booth and a spray line. Hand finishing as well as commercial-grade finishes are also offered.

“By coloring and texturing in a shop, customers have the opportunity to work with these processes in a controlled environment using labor-saving machines,” Hamar told FCNews. “More importantly, clients have the opportunity to dial in the look and get approval before installation.”

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Bogner joins American OEM as COO

Burns, Tenn.—American OEM has added Harry Bogner as chief operations officer. Beginning April 2, Bogner is responsible for the manufacturing plant and design center, reporting directly to Don Finkell, the company’s CEO.

“Bringing Harry on will have a tremendously positive impact on our business in very short order,” said Finkell. “His knowledge of engineered hardwood manufacturing and operations, as well as his entrepreneurial spirit, make him a perfect fit for our team and culture.”

Bogner is equally excited for the new venture, stating, “The opportunity to work for American OEM, a company committed to the sustainability of American hardwood and manufacturing in America, is exciting. It is an honor to be a part of the team and I anticipate fresh opportunities, growth and a bright future ahead for American OEM.”

Bringing 14 years of industry experience to his new role, Bogner has served in senior manufacturing and operations positions at both Mohawk and Armstrong. His background includes extensive plant management in engineered and solid hardwood flooring, overseeing both domestic and international facilities. He also brings logistical and financial experience from outside of the wood industry, working as general manager for Sunbeam and holding an accounting position at General Electric Plastics.

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Ribadao seeks to stand out with differentiated offerings

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

In a sea of European oak, wide-plank/long length sameness, Ribadao Wood Boutique is looking to set itself apart from the pack. The key, according to the company, lies in targeting the mid-to-high-end tier of the market with visuals, profiles and product formats consumers and commercial end users won’t find among the bevy of commodity offerings currently flooding the market.

Utilizing its expertise in raw materials sourcing (the company has long maintained manufacturing and finishing facilities in Portugal), Ribadao focuses on various exotic species from South America and Africa as well as wide-plank European oaks planks. Once a private-label supplier to major importers as well as manufacturers based in the U.S., the company is focusing on driving awareness of its own brand by leveraging its manufacturing capabilities and history.

“The company has been producing hardwood flooring for a long time—just not under its own brand,” said Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales, Ribadao Wood Boutique. “The company was founded in 1976 by the father of current president and CEO Pedro Tavares. His dad began trading African lumber and commodities and then started making flooring and other products. The company quickly became a global leader in the production of exotic flooring, lumber and decking, supplying several OEM and private-label programs to some of the leading brands and U.S. manufacturers in the industry. Now it’s looking at being a branded manufacturer in America.”

Ribadao’s go-to-market strategy in the U.S. market will entail, essentially, a dual-distribution approach, according to Hammer (formerly of Elof Hansson), who teamed up with Tavares several years ago while they were developing new collections for the American market. “We are going with distribution in certain markets, and we will go it alone in other territories,” he explained. “We have a mixed bag of products that bring value and selection to our customer base.”

But don’t expect to find your run-of-the-mill, entry-level hardwood flooring options among those offerings. “We’re still very bullish on exotics, although it’s just one line that we offer,” Hammer explained. “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.”

The company’s signature offerings include the Exotics Skins line and its Rio collection. Ribadao is also working on an engineered exotics line and—in a limited number of SKUs—engineered birch. Outside of exotics, Ribadao also offers European oak wide planks, some as broad as 10 inches wide in a ¾-inch format with a 4mm wear layer. “There are a lot of companies out there today offering 7½-inch European oak planks, but there’s a limited number of suppliers that can do the wider widths and longer lengths,” Hammer explained.

Priced for profit

For retailers, Ribadao strives to offer products that will command a higher price point at retail and, more importantly, higher margins for dealers. Take the company’s Exotics collection, for example. Considered a “medium- to high- priced” offering, the line opens at roughly $5 per square foot for certain grades and moves all the way up to $14 for some species.

Outside of retail, Ribadao has also been successful marketing to the commercial sector. According to Hammer, 30,000 square feet of the company’s products were installed at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, and the company also has a contract to supply Chanel stores globally.

“High-profile installations are a feather in our cap,” Hammer said. “But we also know that to get good turns out of inventory we have to have products sold through retail that’s not just an A&D spec.”

 

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Välinge expands its horizons

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Ken Ryan

 

Las Vegas—Historically known for its prowess in the area of locking systems, Välinge Innovation is now positioning itself as a complete manufacturer, revealing plans to open a new hardwood production facility in Viken, Sweden, this summer that will produce what it hails as “a new generation of surfaces.”

The Nadura and Woodura surface technologies from Välinge provide durable surfaces with outstanding impact and wear resistance and can be used with a wide range of applications such as flooring, desktops or kitchen countertops. The company said Nadura is an extremely durable solid surface based on recycled wood fibers. Woodura, marketed as “real wood but stronger,” is a reinforced wood surface created by fusing a thin sheet of wood with a powder mix layer. The powder mix fills up the natural openings of the wood to enhance the wood appearance and create a stronger surface than traditional solid oak.

How it’s produced: Wood fiber, binder, hard particles and pigments in powder form are mixed together, creating a unique wood powder mix. The wood powder mix is scattered on a carrier and stabilized with liquid and heat prior to being processed under high pressure at 180°C. In the Woodura surface production process, a wood sheet is applied on a stabilized powder prior to the pressing operation. This allows the wood powder to be fused together with the wood sheet.

The product is “one of a kind,” Fredrik Olsson, manager business development, told FCNews at Surfaces.

Välinge also showcased Liteback, a core technology for thermoplastic flooring—LVT, SPC and WPC—that it said opens up opportunities to reduce raw material consumption during production and to make transportation more efficient. “We see that coming to market in the next six months,” Olsson said. “It brings advantage from the producer to the consumer. You can recycle it and put it back into production.”

Liteback saves on freight, the company said. How so? By using a grooving unit, grooves are milled on the backside of the floorboard. The grooving unit can be integrated in the regular production process, thereby eliminating the need for extra handling of the panels. The material that is removed in the process is recycled back into the production process and reduces material consumption by up to 20%.

“We are not a one-trick pony,” Olsson said. “At any one time we have five or six projects going on. This is an industry where you either evolve or die, and we prefer to evolve.”

The company’s signature 5G and 2G locking systems have both been optimized for resilient and thin products. The 5G locking systems are available for flooring products in thicknesses down to 4mm and the 2G angling locking system down to 3mm. “SPC is growing like crazy,” Olsson said. “We have a technical team on the ground in Europe and China and they inspect first runs, work with the manufacturer and make between 50 and 100 visits a year. With our technical team, you can get to market much faster.”

All of Välinge’s development activities take place at its state-of-the-art research and design center in Viken, where it creates new concepts and provides manufacturing, testing and technical support. Since its founding in 1993, the company has signed more than 200 licensees for its signature click technologies.

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Cali Bamboo debuts herringbone style, new colors

San Diego, Calif.—Cali Bamboo has launched seven new bamboo floors, including two made for herringbone style installations. All new floors feature a solid Fossilized bamboo construction—Cali’s proprietary manufacturing technique yielding floors with Janka hardness scores of over 5,000.

The two new Herringbone styles—Riverwood and Outer Banks—both bear a smooth wood grain, with Riverwood wrapped in a subtle storm cloud gray and Outer Banks glowing from a calming palm brown. Outer Banks also comes in a traditional 6-foot-length plank with tongue-and-groove milling. The four additional new colors—Bourbon Barrel, Savanna, Bordeaux and Treehouse—come in traditional planks. All are tongue-and-groove with the exception of Bordeaux, which has a click-lock construction.

“We put a massive effort into spotting and acting on trends before they hit the broader North American market and have been tracking parquet-type patterns like herringbone in Europe,” said Doug Jackson, president, Cali Bamboo. “The time was right to grow among high-style clientele while giving our customers this popular flooring option along with all the strength our Fossilized bamboo is known for.”

As with all Cali Bamboo Fossilized flooring, the seven new styles feature a 10-coat scratch resistant finish, ideal for spaces with heavy traffic or large pets. Planks are safe for the home and have ultra-low VOC with no added urea formaldehyde. The flooring is also backed by an industry-leading 50-year residential warranty and a 15-year commercial warranty.

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Armstrong Flooring enacts price increases

Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring will initiate a 5%-7% price increase on solid hardwood products in the United States and Canada in May 2018.

“Over the past several months, 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,” said Brent Flaharty, senior vice president North America sales. “We expect this cost pressure to continue throughout 2018.”

Flaharty added, “Rising natural gas and electricity prices are increasing our manufacturing facility operating costs, and fuel and transportation rates are rising impacting our delivered cost. In spite of every effort, we can no longer fully absorb the extent of these increases.”

Learn more at www.armstrongflooring.com.

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Anderson Tuftex turns heads in Surfaces debut

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Ken Ryan and Reginald Tucker

 

Putting the brands together just makes sense because this is how people live in their homes. That’s how Katie Ford, director of brand strategy, describes the thought process behind the combination of the Anderson and Tuftex brands to form one company.

Rest assured, this is not just a merger of brands for simplicity’s sake. “We have reconceptualized both brands, updated the merchandising along with a new website so everything is fresh,” Ford said. “It’s on trend with everything our consumer is looking for. She’s not thinking about hardwood or carpet; she’s thinking in terms of how the overall room is going to come together.”

Retailers got a firsthand look at the combined Anderson Tuftex at Surfaces.

Wood
According to Ford, Anderson’s hardwood offering had somewhat “fallen off over the years and started looking like everything else.” So when the company decided to put the two brands together, she said the goal was to make sure it came out with some bona fide show stoppers. The first is called Fired Artistry, a new design available in four colors. Ford explained the origin of the name: “It’s based on an ancient Japanese wood preservation technique call yakisugi. We paint it black, put the stain on top and then hand sand off an area so you can see the black peeking through the product. It has great board definition as well as a matte, low-luster finish. It’s definitely trending in hardwood.”

Another head turner is Triology, which comprises oak, maple and hickory in one board. By using this combination, Ford said, customers get different patterns due to the grain variation. “When we do the painted technique on top of it, you can see how the different species take the color differently. Everybody wants distressed, time-worn and lived in, and you’re really seeing that look on this product.”

Anderson Tuftex also sees an opportunity to promote more traditional products inspired by old ¾-inch favorites in the line (Bernina hickory and maple). As Ford describes it: “It really goes back to that antique, old-school visual. With its thin strips, it almost looks like an antique floor in an old warehouse. Because it’s not your wide-plank board, it has a timeless feel to it.”

Then there’s Old World, a long/wide board product that Ford calls the “star of the show.” Available in an 8-inch-wide format in lengths up to 72 inches, the line is a fixed-link 6 x 24 herringbone that can be installed in various patterns, including a basket weave. For good measure, the line features a naturally oxidized aging process (NOA) for effect. “It already has great bones; we just added this oxidation process to speed up the aging process to get a look that would naturally occur over time.”

Carpet
Anderson Tuftex showed three lines for 2018, including Tavares and Tanzania, each noted for their patterned cut-pile constructions in Stainmaster Luxurell nylon fiber with SoftBac backing.

This premium brand is not afraid to be bold and edgy. At its booth, Anderson Tuftex installed a distressed concrete visual more commonly seen in hard surfaces. The ability to use advanced technology to create such a look in carpet can also complement the brand’s wood products. Another Anderson Tuftex SKU showcased a 3-D raised medallion. “Our carpet styling is on point,” Ford said.

Anderson Tuftex will be introducing carpet styles in nine design themes in 2018. Products will begin shipping in March.

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Surfaces Wood Coverage: New finishes, formats steal the show in Vegas

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Reginald Tucker

 

Hardwood flooring suppliers across the industry are combining creativity and technology as they seek to develop the next generation of products that will compete against the likes of WPC, LVT and rigid core floors.

Case in point is the staining technology employed by Hearthwood in the manufacture of its Controlled Chaos and Dynamic Earth lines. Designed to mimic a process known as reactive staining—whereby chemicals are used to manipulate the visual appearance of a hardwood floor—the technology Hearthwood employs is able to produce more consistent results. As Allie Finkell, executive vice president, explains: “Some of the chemical reactive staining processes are really hard to control, making it difficult to be consistent across production over time and from run to run. But we’ve been able to recreate the highlights of those chemicals utilizing a regular water-based UV-cured stain, which is done in our Tennessee plant with low-emitting finishes.”

Controlled Chaos features a light wirebrushed finish on white oak for a more contemporary look in a 7-inch-wide x 8-foot-long format in colors ranging from, in Finkell’s words, “shocking to subtle.” Meanwhile, Dynamic Earth, which is also in a sliced white oak product, has more of a reclaimed, scraped texture. “Our handscraping technique is not the old, machine-scraped process that’s common in the industry,” Finkell explained. “Our process delivers more of that reclaimed barnwood look. This way the customer gets a modern format in long lengths and wide widths, but she can still pick a timeless color so she’s not going to get sick of looking at the color.”

The latest offerings from Provenza also represent a play on color and texture. Several new additions are being added to the Lighthouse Cove line, which is part of the award-winning Colour Nation collection, which took home a Best of Surfaces award in 2017.  “We are bringing in white oak product from Europe in a format and range that appeals to all levels of consumers,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner.

Also new from Provenza is the Dutch Masters collection—a portfolio of unfinished European species that are stained at the company’s facilities in the U.S. “Dutch Masters falls under our custom collection category, which is exclusive to us,” Sadri said. “These products provide better margins for dealers; it’s not going to be in every store and it’s very exclusive.”

Other European-inspired lines come courtesy of The Dixie Group, which showcased its first hardwood line, Fabrica Fine Wood Flooring. The Fabrica collection will feature 70 SKUs—40 for the floor and 30 companion SKUs for wall covering. The line will include French oak, maple and birch—with a style and quality consistent with the Fabrica brand promise, said T.M. Nuckols, president of the residential division of The Dixie Group. Each flooring panel features the letter ‘f’ for branding purposes. “We are sourcing the product both domestically and in Canada and Europe to create the assortment,” Nuckols said.

The Fabrica wood line will be launched initially in the Southeast U.S., and will be priced at the upper end of the market. “We are restricting distribution—not everyone is going to have it,” said Dan Phelan, vice president of marketing, residential division, The Dixie Group. Those that do get the line will primarily be high-design retail flooring stores. “We feel the wood line fits for Fabrica because it is consistent with the high-end quality of Fabrica’s name.”

HF Design is also playing the quality card, but with a twist—making its floors more accessible to mainstream consumers. To that end, the company took the wraps off two new collections: Pacific Point, a 7⁄16, 3⁄8-inch, 6-inch wide product that’s thermotreated and topped with a  urethane finish, and Brentwood Hills, which is a step up 5⁄8 platform, 7 inch wide.

High-end looks at an affordable price was also the inspiration for the latest offerings from USFloors. While its name may be associated with the wildly successful launch of the COREtec brands, USFloors wants retailers to know it is a bona fide player in the hardwood sector as well. To that end, the company is unveiling a total of 56 SKUs across various collections and formats.

“Our biggest launch right now is our Natural Woods line, where we took some of our best-selling products in the Castle Combe oil finished lines an put an acrylic finish on them,” said Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management. “You still have that oil finished look without all that gloss in there.”

EarthWerks, historically known for its LVT offerings, is also looking to make some noise in the hardwood arena. The strategy, according to Brenda Cashion, who heads up hardwood product development and marketing, is twofold: Expand EarthWerk’s wood program beyond Texas into other markets around the country, while positioning the Pinnacle brand as an upper-end “designer” offering.

“The EarthWerks hardwood brand has always been in our distribution footprint paired with the LVT teams,” she explained. “Now we are taking a select group of products nationally. We had to reengineer and redevelop those products to give them a broader appeal nationally.”

Whereas EarthWerks wood is being positioned as the “meat and potatoes line,” Cashion said, the Pinnacle offering will be positioned as a high-style designer driven. Standouts include Country Estate, which features a natural, almost unfinished, matte look, and Grand Reserve, which is a hefty 4mm dry-sawn face with a suggested retail price point of $5.99 per square foot.

Over at the Satin Flooring space, the company put the focus on red and white oak species in a 7-inch-wide format, mostly engineered. “We’ve been happy with the feedback,” said Dennis Mohn, director of marketing. He cited interest from top distributors such as NRF and Galleher “We also sell some unfinished solid products to certain markets such as Chicago.”

New formats are also coming out of the Preverco camp. The company is putting the spotlight on Max 19, a ¾-inch thick engineered product featuring a 4mm top wearlayer on a ½-inch-thick vertical quartersawn softwood core, backed with a 2mm bottom panel for balance. Right below that is a 5⁄8-inch thick engineered product featuring a 2mm top layer on a 9⁄16-inch five-layer construction. range of budgets.

Wading into water
SEM Group showcased Aquawood, the company’s waterproof hardwood line. The product is patent pending in 14 countries and features real hardwood on a waterproof core. “Not only is it waterproof, but it’s also great in extreme climates,” said Nathan Carter, product sales/development and hardwood specialist. “We have two versions available: Elegant Traditions is our 7½- inch wide 3⁄8 product and we just launched Carson—our 5⁄16 overall with a click and pad attached.”

Both versions are fully submersible in water and can be maintained just like tradition hardwood floor. What’s more, the products contain zero repeats.

In that same vein, Uniboard offers Aqua Allira, a waterproof engineered wood flooring made of a rigid core and a real veneer overlay. According to Daniel Seguin, product development manager, it marks the next generation of Allira engineered flooring, which produced by transforming 100% reclaimed pre-consumer wood fibers into a coreboard. Allira products use specially-formulated HDF panels that offer greater resistance than a plywood core, he noted.

Focus on green
Suppliers are also leveraging wood’s environmental story. For instance, Lifecore has developed a unique selling story to help retailers increase margins. Lifecore created Ai.r with no added formaldehyde to its adhesive, According to Jim Fiore, vice president North America, Samling Global USA, the product is 70% below the current CARB 2 regulations. “We’ve also been awarded the Indoor Air Quality Certification which is unique and we’re proud of that. Our focus when we were launching this line was giving the retailer something that would be of value to them and have a story behind it. With this line, it’s all about not having to compromise.”

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Wood: Anticipating trends is the key to successful product development

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

By Reginald Tucker

 

Fashion trends come and go, but hardwood flooring installations are designed to last for many years. For manufacturers, that poses a challenge: How to accurately forecast color/style design trends several years in advance of actual product rollouts?

“The biggest challenge is always developing a product inspired by a home fashion trend that’s too early for the market,” said Joe Amato, vice president, residential styling, Mannington. “A perfect example is the color gray. We followed gray-colored hardwood products for years prior to introducing the color in the United States. As the color family started to become popular in furniture and cabinetry, we knew it was time to launch it in hardwood. The gray story was popular in Europe and Canada well before becoming popular in the States.”

When attempting to accurately forecast hardwood flooring color trends and patterns, many stylists and designers look to take their cues from the fashion industry. But it’s important to remember that one dress doesn’t fit every Betty; with wood flooring, patterns, colors and styles are still largely a function of regional tastes. “Regarding fashion and hardwood trends, it is not so much about design and patterns but more about color,” Amato explained. “A perfect example would be the popularity of warm grays in flooring as well as fashion. Wood flooring trends have a bigger connection to regional trends more so than fashion trends. An example would be areas of the Midwest region still supporting refined rustic looks while sections of the East Coast now moving to urban looks that are not so rustic and have less character.”

The ability to accurately forecast trends goes well beyond shades or stains. “As well as color we follow wood formats, surface texture, wood species and surface gloss, and we try to time the development to the market needs,” Amato said. “You don’t always need to be the first, but you need to be ready to respond when the timing is right.”

Manufacturers across the spectrum are working hard to do just that. Beyond color, suppliers are taking into consideration changing trends relative to product format, i.e., engineered vs. solid. As Michael Bell, general manager, hardwood, Armstrong, explains: “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.”

Other executives still see the pendulum tilting toward engineered. “From a product level, we’re seeing continued growth in engineered hardwood sales as the industry shifts in preference from solid to engineered hardwood,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface, Shaw Floors. “This shift is happening for a variety of reasons, namely due to engineered hardwoods’ versatility and enhanced performance story. We also see great opportunity in high-end hardwood products for next year.”

Some manufacturers believe growth will be driven by products that successfully combine innovation in aesthetics and performance, which are the No. 1 and No. 2 factors driving consumer demands for hardwood. “On the design side, we see trends moving away from more rustic to more refined visuals and the continued shift to wider and longer plank sizes,” Armstrong’s Bell noted. “On the performance front, scratching remains the primary concern for consumers shopping for hardwood.”

That’s a trend that suppliers don’t see changing anytime soon. “While we believe the bulk of customers desire the authenticity, permanency and unique beauty of a real hardwood floor, performance factors may drive them toward wood-look flooring options,” Bell added. “At Surfaces 2018 we will be launching a brand new collection of solid hardwood, Appalachian Ridge, with Diamond 10 Technology. We originally applied this proprietary technology with our LVT flooring and have now expanded it to hardwood. By providing enhanced scratch and stain resistance, we are addressing one of the key performance attributes that is important to consumers: durability.”

Hardwood manufacturers point to another trend that stands to impact future product development: The popularity of sawn-faced veneers in the production of engineered floors. “We expect wood flooring will grow at about 6% in 2018, and the continued popularity of wide and long boards will fuel most of that growth,” said Don Finkell, CEO, American OEM. “We’re seeing the continued growth of sliced veneer faces over rotary-peeled veneer faces along with more complex finishing techniques—technologies at which we excel.”

American OEM is not the only company seeing increased demand for sawn-faced product. Mohawk, which recently expanded its Melbourne, Ark., plant, is banking on it. “We have built the largest sawn-faced plant in the United States,” said David Holt, senior vice president, builder and multi-family. “We have also added a brand new cold press to the line. We believe we have come up with a better product that’s more dimensionally stable than other hardwood floors on the market.”

One of the first products to roll off the new lines at the Melbourne plant is Mohawk’s new Vintage Elements collection—an offering that reflects “Old World” styling in a family of six wire-brushed, cerused oak species. Boasting a high-fashion color palette, Vintage Elements comes in a 7-inch-wide, ½-inch-thick format in random lengths up to 6 feet.

Others are also looking to capitalize on the sawn-face craze. Mullican Flooring, known for its innovative approach to manufacturing, has expanded its American-made engineered product line with two new collections, Wexford and Nature. Wexford, a “Euro-sawn” line, combines three traditional North American sawing techniques to create a classic European look. This 1⁄2-inch-thick product is offered in 7-inch widths and random lengths up to 7 feet. The collection’s prefinished version is available in six selections of white oak.

“We have mastered the Euro-sawn cutting technique, which produces a highly desirable look that is gaining prominence throughout the market,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing. “We are proud to integrate this process into our robust Made-in-the-USA portfolio, which offers customers superior materials, shorter wait times, sustainable manufacturing practices, and premier beauty and quality.”

 

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Spotlight: Southwind provides retailers with the complete package

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Southwind Carpets, a division of Cherokee Carpet Industries, has been known for providing a range of residential and Main Street commercial carpets to dealers throughout the U.S. and abroad. Since its hard surface division launched in 2015, the company has added LVP, WPC and hardwood collections to its portfolio—providing retailers with the complete flooring package.

Southwind’s leap into hard surfaces occurred when the company saw an opportunity for a smaller business to take stock in the marketplace, said Randy Hatch, president and CEO, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We felt there was an opportunity for an alternative to a lot of the big guys that are out there—specifically a need for a company that focuses on providing great service to our retailer base as well as focusing on quality and making sure we are perceived that way by our customer.”

Even though the company is innovating in the hard surface arena it has not forgotten about the success of its soft surface offerings. Southwind launched its first soft, polyester fiber into the market in January, which is receiving positive feedback from retailers.

Hardwood Displays - Southwind“We’ll continue to introduce new products on both sides,” said Richard Abramowicz, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Cherokee Carpet Industries. “We try to coordinate everything we do in hard surfaces with our carpet offerings. We look at making quality products that are dependable and available to the customer.”

As a smaller flooring manufacturer, the company prides itself on offering its retail partners more personalized attention. In fact, Southwind takes the time to listen to consumer needs before developing new products. “We want to stay competitive in the marketplace and make sure we provide whatever flooring products the customers are asking for,” Hatch explained.

Retailers such as Amanda Dagnan, office manager at Factory Carpet Warehouse, Knoxville, Tenn., have noticed the benefits of working with a smaller company. “We have carried Southwind for as long as I have worked at Factory Carpet—at least 15 years. Southwind is a small mill just like our business. It is nice to pick up the phone and get the same people every time or know exactly who to talk to when there is a question or issue. Their carpet line is eco-friendly and outperforms most of the bigger mills. Plus, they are able to keep their prices lower since they are a small business.”

Factory Carpet Warehouse is finding success with selling not only the company’s carpets but also its hard surfaces. “Southwind’s LVP is our best-selling floor,” Dagnan added. “We have never been one to stock hard surface; however, we have been through approximately 50 pallets since its line was introduced. We have not had one installation problem or one complaint about wear and tear. We even tested the waterproof capabilities by breaking a water line in a customer’s house.”

Ernie Cavender, owner of Cavender’s – The Interior Company, Cookeville, Tenn., has carried Southwind carpet for more than 25 years and recently started selling the company’s hard surfaces. “I was a little bit surprised when Southwind announced it was going into hard surface, but my experience with the products has been nothing but positive. We started with a couple of hard surfaces and we’ve been very successful with selling them.”

In addition to a wide range of products, Southwind offers retailers good quality, strong price points and the opportunity to increase margins, Cavender explained. Combine these points with the company’s desire to give retailers personalized attention and, as Cavender said, “It’s about a relationship rather than just a sale.”