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In Style: Wood design forecasting—Hitting the mark takes good timing

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Normandy_Oak_Brulee_1_Det_altFashion and style play a key role in the development of today’s floor covering products, and hardwood is no exception. While the correlation is well documented, many would also argue that the development of hardwood looks, patterns, colors and styles are largely a function of regional tastes irrespective of overarching, global fashion trends. The key for many suppliers, experts say, is finding just the right balance.

“Wood flooring trends have a bigger connection to regional trends more so than fashion trends,” said Joe Amato, vice president of residential styling, Mannington. “An example would be areas of the Midwest region that is still supporting refined rustic looks, but sections of the East Coast now moving to urban looks that are less rustic, with less character.”

With the tendency for fashion trends to literally come and go, how does one go about developing a product lineup several years in advance of product roll-outs that might not be in tune with regional or local tastes by the time the products are officially launched? “The biggest challenge is always developing a product inspired by a home fashion trend that’s too early for the market,” Amato explained, citing the rise in popularity of the color gray in markets around the world prior to catching on in the U.S.

Accurate trendspotting not only applies to pinpoint, precise color forecasting. As Amato explained: “In addition to color we follow wood formats, surface texture, wood species and surface gloss and try to time the development to the market needs. You don’t always need to be the first but you need to be ready to respond when the timing is right.”

That begs the question: Are retailers truly conscious of the correlation between fashion and styling with respect to how they prospect or close sales on a daily basis? If retailers embrace the fashion story in simple terms of current home fashion trends, according to Amato, they can truly justify and sell the corresponding looks and styles from the manufacturers. “Mannington goes to great lengths to create hardwood products that coordinate with the popular home fashion trends, but we need the retailer to emphasize the connection. We try to provide retailers the necessary tools to educate the consumer and tell the fashion story to make it a part of the selling experience.”

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Wood: Mythbusters set the record straight on bamboo

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

When it comes to selling bamboo, a big draw is the category’s well-known environmental, aesthetic and performance attributes. But achieving consistent success in retailing the product also requires educating the consumer or end user about the product’s attributes, advantages and limitations.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.13.19 AMFCNews recently rounded up several bamboo experts—including David Keegan, president and CEO, Bamboo Hardwoods; Philippe Erramuzpe, COO of USFloors; and Laura Nieto, communications and marketing specialist for Cali Bamboo—to get their advice on dispelling popular myths and misperceptions about the category.

1. All bamboo is the same.
Keegan:
Not all bamboo is manufactured with the same high-quality standards that veteran companies like ours insist on. Secondly, bamboo is a natural material just like oak, hickory, etc. Not every board will be identical in tone. A consumer who desires homogenous, zero-tone-variation flooring should be steered toward carpet, tile, laminate or WPC. With any natural material like wood and bamboo part of the beauty is the natural tone variation and infinite uniqueness of every plank. Like any hardwood, a good installer will rack out the wood from several boxes at once to create the best aesthetic result. Enjoy the beauty of natural bamboo produced by reputable, quality companies.

Nieto: When you think of bamboo floors, chances are the image in your head is of light-colored planks with uniformly cut strips and visible nodes. But that’s the bamboo of yesteryear. With Cali Bamboo’s fossilized process, flooring is not only much stronger but it’s also able to take on a huge variety of styles. Planks come in every color from intensely dark ebony browns to rich coffees and even grays and whites. Planks can also be distressed using hand-scraping, antiquing and French bleeds to give them a more weathered, rustic look. With the variety of looks available in bamboo flooring today, it’s difficult to determine whether you’re looking at bamboo or traditional hardwood.

2. Bamboo is not stable.
Erramuzpe:
While many manufacturers have been taking shortcuts in the manufacturing process—mainly by reducing the density and therefore the amount of bamboo used to produce a beam, or by using inferior adhesives or reducing the immersion time in the adhesive just to save money—the majority of these factories are out of business today. Bamboo flooring expands and contracts, but no more than any other wood floor when manufactured properly.

Nieto: This may have been a valid concern years ago—or even today if you go with the wrong manufacturer—but the production process has now been perfected to the point that, in the case of Cali Bamboo’s fossilized flooring, these are the world’s hardest floors. According to the Janka hardness test, Cali Bamboo scores upwards of 5000—well above Brazilian ipe and four times harder than oak.

The bamboo flooring of yesterday was made by slicing poles into uniform strips which were then boiled, dried, coated in adhesive and pressed together in horizontal or vertical rows. The resulting planks bore a distinct bamboo look but were not much harder than oak. Today, strand bamboo flooring presents a much harder product by shredding the bamboo into fibers which are then pressed into planks. The Cali Bamboo fossilized process takes this one step further by shredding the raw material even finer and compressing 30% more into blocks using increased pressure. The result is a much harder floor that is better protected against dents and damage.

3. Bamboo scratches too easily.
Erramupze:
Some bamboo flooring scratches easily, but that’s due to manufacturers using inferior finishes to sell at a low price. There’s another misperception that a scratch on a bamboo floor leaves a white mark, when in fact there might be a flaw in the coating system.

Nieto: A bamboo floor’s ability to resist scratches depends on the quality of the manufacturer’s finish. Not all bamboo flooring is created equal, and many producers cut costs by opting for a thinner or weaker top wear layer. This makes the flooring susceptible to scratching from high heels, furniture and pet claws. Cali Bamboo avoids this by using a 10-coat aluminum oxide sealing system on all solid bamboo flooring, and 13 coats on the Engineered bamboo flooring line.

If two floors appear similar, but one is significantly cheaper, there may have been corners cut that you can’t see—often affecting the finish and the adhesives used to bind the bamboo fibers. The flooring may look fine now, but after years of use you can bet it will show its age and require far more upkeep. A good way to ensure a floor will hold up under everyday wear and tear is to use a key or other hard tool to scratch test a variety of samples from several different companies.

4. Bamboo can’t be installed in extreme climates.
Nieto:
Homeowners who experience harsh seasons, very dry climates or high humidity are often hesitant to install bamboo, thinking it will warp or buckle. However, thousands of Cali Bamboo floors have been installed successfully everywhere from Florida and Hawaii to Arizona and Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.13.31 AMWith bamboo—like all hardwood flooring products—it’s all about controlling a space’s temperature and relative humidity. This is especially important during acclimation, when the environment should be set to typical ambient living conditions. Flooring should acclimate until its moisture content reaches an equilibrium with the home’s environment and no longer increases or decreases. In most cases, if a space can maintain 40%-60% humidity indoors, then bamboo flooring will work.

5. There are high claims rates with bamboo.
Keegan:
Less than half of 1% of our sales have claims, and most of those turn out to be installation or maintenance errors. When manufactured properly and installed following manufacturing or NWFA guidelines, bamboo performs extremely well both in terms of dimensional stability, finish and durability.

When bamboo was first becoming popular, everybody opened a factory in China as the Chinese government was giving out capital loans like candy on Halloween. The result was that for a period of time, the industry was flooded with poor-quality materials made by factories that didn’t have a clue. We have always vetted our sources extremely carefully. Nowadays most of those fly-by-night factories have gone out of business leaving a core of quality producers. There are some long-standing reputable manufacturers like ourselves that have always been producing fantastic high-quality bamboo flooring. Bamboo is an amazing quality resource.

6. Bamboo harvesting depletes the primary food source forpandas.
Keegan:
The bamboo we harvest comes from the temperate zones of China, not Sichuan and Shaanxi where the pandas are.   Furthermore, the bamboo flooring industry preserves bamboo forests, not eliminates them. A sea of mountains covered by indigenous bamboo groves survive and thrive all across Zhejiang and other regions of China most popular for bamboo production. If there was no industry revolving around this resource they would likely be removed.

But in bamboo regions, skies are blue and air is clean. Bamboo is never clear-cut. Every year new shoots reach their full height in one growth season of several months. When the culm is 5 years old, they are harvested. This means that the harvesting practice pulls out one of every five poles leaving the natural groves flush with leafy bamboo culms and an incredible rhizome system interconnected underground. It is truly a [prolific] plant in that it turns sunlight into biomass more efficiently than any other plant, it requires no pesticides to maintain. Plus, it is never clear-cut, it is evergreen and therefore constantly producing oxygen while sequestering carbon. It is a sustainable material that produces some of the most durable and beautiful hardwood floors available today.

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Wood: Wide-width surge fuels sales upgrade opportunities

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

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.08.26 AMThe growing popularity of wide-width/long-length planks reflects consumer demand for hardwood floors that add depth and character to living spaces, design experts say. What this means for retailers is many of these wider/longer products—which, by their very nature, entail greater use of the raw material—retail in the high-middle to upper end of the register. This has the dual effect of driving more consumers into retail stores in search of these trendy products while giving floor covering dealers an opportunity to improve their margins.

“By and large, the market has moved to longer, wider product—that’s where most of the growth has been in engineered hardwood,” said David Holt, senior vice president, builder and multi-family, Mohawk Industries. “That’s primarily what we’re making out of our Melbourne plant. With our capabilities, we’re able to do different things to the wood, from colorization to fuming to surface texturing.”

The recent investments Mohawk has made across its hardwood manufacturing operations aim to address emerging consumer demands for stylish, trendy products, including collections featuring longer/wider boards. Mohawk’s research shows more consumers are seeking floors with larger dimensions to conform with a broader interior design trend toward open floor plans. Another benefit of this trend is it opens the door to premium products that further differentiate Mohawk from commodity wood flooring producers.

“The wider/longer boards are really growing in popularity,” said Lew Grass, owner, All About Flooring, Taylors, S.C., which sells the Mohawk brand. “I really like the distressed looks in Mohawk hardwood, be it the hand-scraped or the wirebrushed look; those are the things that decorators are drawn to.”

Suppliers across the board are rolling out products that key on the wider/longer trend. Shaw Floors, for instance, recently added a number of new products in its signature Epic Plus collection of wide, long-length planks featuring its Stabilitek core, which is built for high performance and lasting durability. The company’s Epic Plus Extreme Nature line boasts the longest, widest hardwood planks made in the U.S. Each plank is designed in a large-scale format: 9¼ inches long by 82½ inches wide by ½ inches thick.

In the exclusive Extreme Nature collection, Shaw offers three species in four textures, including Landmark Maple, Landmark Walnut, Landmark Hickory and Landmark Hickory Scraped. “Consumers are searching for a hardwood floor that will bring continuity to their large, open interiors,” said Drew Hash, vice president, hard surface product and category management.

Mohawk and Shaw are not the only companies betting big on wider and longer. Mirage recently launched new board lengths up to 82 inches. The new lengths represent an average increase of 25% for Mirage Engineered 5-inch and 6½-inch widths.

“The trend toward longer boards continues,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand. “Increasing our board lengths—up to 82 inches now—supports that trend.”

Other prominent brands, including Mannington, are building on their existing product lines with wider, longer products. Case in point is the company’s new Norweigian oak product, a 61⁄3-inch-wide, engineered, wire-brushed, dual-stained floor featuring a matte finish. “The trend toward wider plank visuals lends itself to engineered given the enhanced stability of the product,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate.

Other noteworthy wide- plank offerings include: Uniboard’s 75⁄8-inch-wide floor from its Heritage collection, which, according to Daniel Seguin, senior director, business development, “features colors and styles designed for the U.S. consumer.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.08.34 AMOther examples: Johnson Hardwood’s signature Alehouse   and English Pub offerings, both available in a 7 1⁄2-inch-wide format. “Wider widths are definitely gaining in popularity,” said Bill Schollmeyer, CEO.

Then there are brand new products such as Mullican Flooring’s Wexford, a Euro-sawn offering in a 7 5⁄8-inch-wide format, and Ribadao’s Agus, a whopping 10-inch-wide, 95-inch-long product featuring a wire-brushed face and two-tone colorations. Another head turner is Mercier’s Fjord, which comes in a variety of widths and lengths to suit the consumer’s personal style. Available in both engineered and solid formats, the line is marked by gray hues combined with brown undertones and the natural golden color of white oak.

The wide range of wide-width floors on the market gives retailers virtually endless options from which to choose. When combined with unique species, surface treatments and colorations, those choices increase exponentially. Such is the case with the Covelo Canyon collection, a 6-inch-wide product, from Hemisphere Imports. “Most products in this range come in at about $6.99 per square foot, so we’re right in that sweet spot,” said Tom Karol, president. “With this product, we’re giving retailers something that offers above-average margins.”

Armstrong also offers retailers a variety of trendy products that fit the wide-width bill. Among them: Woodland Relics, Artisan Collective and Rustic Restorations. “We strive to bring our customers products that offer great design and performance,” said Christopher Moore, wood product manager.

Ultra high-end opportunities
Naturally, wide-width hardwood flooring products lend themselves to trade-up opportunities far beyond the high-middle of the market into the upper-end stratosphere. It’s comfortable territory for companies such as DuChâteau, which eschews the lower end of the market. The San Diego-based producer of wide-plank, oil-finished European oak products has its eye keenly on upscale, high-profit offerings in the $13-$25 range.

“We’re committed to quality design and aesthetics,” said Mitch Tagle, DuChâteau’s CEO and co-founder. “The DuChâteau brand focuses on European wood flooring with a hard wax oil finish. The brand has a European aesthetic—starting with the name, of course. It’s a look that’s exclusive to DuChâteau.

“We’re not the cheapest out there, and we don’t want to get into that category. We have the brand recognition, and people appreciate the quality of our products because of that.”

HF Design is another company specializing in distressed European oak products targeting that upper echelon. Like DuChâteau, Provenza, et. al, HF prides itself on staying out of the entry-level fray.

“The value we bring to our partners is based on turnkey marketing and merchandising combined with fresh new styles in hardwood flooring to help retailers stay ahead of the trend curve,” said Alex Shaoulpour, president. “We make sure we always use the finest quality materials while being fashion-forward and eco-friendly.”

Another supplier specializing in the stylish wide-width European oak look is USFloors, with its popular Castle Combe line. According to Jamann Stepp, director of marketing and product management, the product is gaining traction in the new home construction market, especially the mid to upper end.

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Armstrong Flooring launches Paragon solid hardwood

Armstrong Flooring Paragaon Solid Hardwood 4Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring is revolutionizing the hardwood flooring industry with the introduction of Paragon solid hardwood with Diamond 10 technology, offering the timeless beauty of genuine hardwood and the ultimate in scratch resistance.

Paragon hardwood is made from 100% solid Appalachian wood and offers today’s most in-demand wood colors and textures. The collection features a variety of choices in both high- and low-gloss finishes. Three popular looks include smooth hardwood, for a timeless, consistently beautiful look; scraped, for richly textured floors that are full of character and built for rugged durability; and brushed, planks that are textured by gently removing the soft portion of the wood for a natural visual full of depth. All Paragon floors come with a lifetime limited residential warranty.

Martha King, world champion competitive wood chopper, is the brand ambassador for Paragon in Armstrong Flooring’s “The Floor is Yours” campaign, which includes television commercials on HGTV, digital advertisements, social media content and in-person activations. Whether selecting, chopping, cutting or generally imposing her will on wood, Martha perfectly represents the refined beauty and world-class toughness of Armstrong Flooring hardwood.

For more information, visit powerofparagon.com.

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NWFA Wood Floor of the Year contest accepting applications

 

NWFA new 2013 (4-C) 2St. Louis—The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) recently opened the application process for the 28th annual Wood Floor of the Year contest. Recognized as the “Academy Awards” of the wood flooring industry, this competition celebrates innovation and quality craftsmanship in wood floor installations.

“Over the years, we have had the honor of presenting more than 200 awards to the artists and craftsmen behind these incredible floors,” said Michael Martin, president and CEO. “We are looking forward to showcasing these remarkable floors once again during our 2018 Expo in Tampa.”

This year’s awards will include the following categories:

  • Best Restoration/Makeover: Entries in this category include all types of restorations, repairs or refinishes, in either a residential or commercial application. Applications can include jobsite finished, manufacturer finished, solid or engineered wood flooring.
  • Best Color & Finish Application: Entries in this category include jobsite-applied applications of dyes, reactive colorants, layered colors and faux finishing.
  • Best Circular/Curved Application: Entries in this category include any circular shape within a flooring system, such as circles, ovals, curves and bent material. Applications can include jobsite finished, manufacturer finished, solid or engineered wood flooring.
  • Best Parquet/Inlay Application: Entries in this category include any parquet pattern, medallion, marquetry or intarsia inlay. CNC and laser cut applications are acceptable, but must be identified.
  • Best Textured Wood Application: Entries in this category may include scraped, wire-brushed, distressed or any surface that is not traditional flat. Applications can include jobsite finished, manufacturer finished, solid or engineered wood flooring.

NWFA also will recognize the Members’ Choice Award. All entries submitted will be eligible to receive this award, which will be presented to the floor that receives the popular vote among NWFA members.

New this year, a Best of Social Media award will be featured. The floors will be featured on NWFA’s social channels, allowing followers to share, like and comment on their favorite. The floor receiving the most engagement will receive this award.

The NWFA has updated the submission period to Oct. 1-Nov. 30. This will provide adequate time for the judging process and time to correspond with winners prior to the public reveal at the NWFA Expo in Tampa, Fla., April 11-14, 2018.

For more information and to submit an entry, visit nwfa.org/wfoy.

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Wood: U.S. ‘domestic exotics’ broaden their appeal

September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 3.46.08 PMAs demand for certain “tropical exotic” hardwood floors softens in the U.S., the popularity of several domestic exotic species has been steadily rising, industry observers say. While there continues to be niche market opportunities for tropical species such as Brazilian cherry, Santos mahogany and the like, more American consumers are leaning toward homegrown species such as birch, hickory and walnut, manufacturers say.

One of the primary drivers behind the market shift, which began in earnest about 10-12 years ago, is a change in preference of wood plank formats and construction. Many tropical exotics—known for their density and durability—perform well and look great. However, trends in the U.S. have leaned toward more textured, rustic and casual looks whereas many exotics convey a more formal, smooth appearance, experts say. Today tropical imported exotics tend to perform well in niche, regional markets as opposed to national, wide-scale acceptance.

Observers say the rapid rise in popularity of wider, longer planks also contributed to increased consumption of domestic exotic species. As manufacturers tell it, many of these popular looks such as birch, hickory and walnut lend themselves to extra long planks and wider boards. The reason being: wider, longer boards naturally show much more of the variation and character inherent in a lot of these domestic exotic species. Combine that with the incorporation of various surface texture techniques such as hand scraping, wire brushing and cerusing, and you have a winning recipe.

“Consumer preference continues to move toward wider and longer on the engineered side,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “Demand for these types of products has really driven some changes, both in terms of investment in the U.S. as well as products sold in the market.”

Following are some of the U.S. domestic exotic products trending today.

American OEM
In keeping with its “Made-in-the-USA” mantra, American OEM offers popular domestic species, including hickory—both rotary peeled and sliced face—and walnut. The company sources classic hardwood from sustainably managed forests across North America. It then creates flooring products designed to showcase the rich natural colors, textures and features of each species. “When consumers buy our American-made hardwood, they can be sure they are buying the best flooring possible at a value unmatched in the industry,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.

Armstrong
Armstrong adds engineered hickory to its Prime Harvest and American Scrape collections. Featuring a range of colors, Prime Harvest easily coordinates with furniture, wall colors and other décor elements.

Conversely, American Scrape’s rustic texture complements hickory’s distinctive graining and knots. Additional Armstrong hardwood offerings—including Rustic Restorations and Woodland Relics—feature hickory and/or walnut and birch.

Johnson Hardwood
Popular species like birch and hickory populate the Frontier and Pacific Coast collections from Johnson Hardwood. Frontier’s offering consists of four colors in birch (Homestead, Tomahawk, Dakota and Bison), while Pacific Coast features eight colors covering a wide spectrum. Both are available in 5-inch-wide planks.

Mannington
Hickory and walnut species permeate several popular collections from Mannington, including the namesake American hickory, Blue Ridge hickory, American walnut and smokehouse hickory lines. Hickory, the hardest American wood, is known for its rich character and distinct graining. Versatile and adaptable, this floor is an ideal upgrade or addition to any room. Meanwhile, walnut—a species found in exclusive furniture lines—is among the most cherished of all American hardwoods.

Mercier
Mercier’s Element series—part of the Elegancia collection—has been expanded to include American walnut. The addition supplements existing domestic exotic species such as hickory and yellow birch. By design, the species highlights the wood’s natural, random character. The product’s black and blonde nuances create highly versatile floors designed to blend with virtually any style.

Mohawk
Weathered Vision, one of several newly launched products from Mohawk, aims to capture classic Americana and the rustic beauty of old structures such as barns. The collection, which features deep, sandblasted texture and heavy wire-brushed planks, characterize this homage to countryside living. Weathered Vision is available in popular long, wide planks (as broad as 7 inches in random lengths up to 6 feet) to satisfy consumer demands.

Mullican Flooring
Several collections in Mullican Flooring’s offering of trendy products have been expanded to include hickory, birch or walnut. For instance, the Merion and Devonshire and collections—both 3⁄8-inch-thick engineered products—feature hickory, while Castle Ridge, also 3⁄8-inches thick, is available in birch and sports a hand-sculpted surface texture. The Nature collection, a 3⁄4-inch-thick hickory product, has a lightly wire-brushed surface texture.

Shaw Floors
The Epic Plus collection of long 9¼ x 82½-inch-wide hardwood floors from Shaw Floors is stacked with domestic exotic species. Landmark walnut features two colors, while Landmark hickory offers a trio of captivating colors that add a multi-dimensional, time-worn feel. By comparison, Landmark hickory scraped includes a pair of colors complemented by soft, subtle texturing and hand staining. Lastly, Fremont hickory features scraped texturing that accentuates and highlights the wood’s natural grain, knots and rustic character. Six colors are available.

Wickham Hardwood
Mountain Home collection from Wickham offers an authentic distressed look due to hand-scraping techniques by the artisans in the tradition of Renaissance-era woodworking. New planks are hand sculpted, one at a time, to create unique custom flooring of timeless originality and distinction. No two planks are alike. Species available include birch, cherry and walnut.

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Hemisphere Imports’ not-so-secret weapon

September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 3.41.22 PMFirst-time visitors to the Hemisphere Imports booth space at the recent CCA Global Partners convention (FCNews, Aug. 14/21) found out firsthand what all the fuss was about. The focus was on a unique species called kupay, a durable, dense hardwood sourced from Paraguay. While it might not be easy to pronounce (it’s also known by its genus name, “copaifera”), the allure is crystal clear.

“It’s a unique species with a look and coloration you cannot get in China,” said Hemisphere Imports president Tom Karol. “It provides an opportunity to sell the features and benefits of the product and sell up instead of down. It’s the only product in Paraguay that’s FSC certified, and it has this unique look and is very durable.”

The primary goal, according to Karol, is to bring innovation and unique styling to the market while giving retailers a chance to make more money. With a suggested MSRP range of $5.49-$6 per square foot, the line targets what Karol calls the “high middle” of the market. “Most of the good retailers are at about $6.99 so we’re right in that nice sweet spot of a product that has all the bells and whistles. It’s not an entry-level product, but it’s definitely mainstream.”

So what kind of margin can retailers make on this line? “Above average, profits,” Karol said. “We’re giving retailers something they can trade up, but not a big step up. Consumers will spend the extra money, if they like what they see.”

Beyond attractive price points and aesthetics, another attribute of the kupay species is its rigidity. On the Janka scale, it’s nearly as hard as hickory (1500) and it’s also very dense. According to Hemisphere Imports, this species stays very stable in both dry and moist environments—a trademark of many tropical species from that part of the world.

“I wouldn’t say it’s bulletproof, but for wood it’s pretty darn close,” said industry veteran Don Finkell, who co-founded the company along with Karol. Interestingly, the species made its debut years ago in one of the collections offered by Anderson Hardwood Floors—a company Finkell ran for many years. “We’ve called it different things—i.e., Spanish hickory, Patagonian pecan—and now that the Lacey Act has come on, we just call it what it is, kupay.”

To further strengthen the product, Hemisphere Imports employs eucalyptus—which is itself as hard as oak—as the core material. According to Finkell, this makes an already stable product even sturdier.

A rare find
Finkell and his team at Anderson came across kupay when it began researching species that would not only excite U.S. consumers but also offer an alternative to products that were linked to excessive harvesting in that part of the world. While it generated some interest in the early 2000s, he said it really took off when a hand-scraping texture was applied. “It was Anderson’s biggest seller at the time,” he recalled.

Fast forward to today, Hemisphere Imports believes kupay, perhaps no longer the best kept secret, may be poised for a resurgence. “No one else is selling this species, not that I’m aware, and that’s key to our distributors,” Karol said.

Abraham Linc, based in Bridgeport, W. Va., is a believer. Earlier this year the distributor rolled out the Canyon collection from Hemisphere Imports, and the reaction from retailers was swift. “It has 10 fantastic colors and great visuals that are not me-too looking products,” said Terry Warne, vice president. “The response among our customers who have seen it has been really good.”

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Armstrong plans to consolidate wood flooring plants

August 14/21: Volume 32, Issue 5

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 3.31.34 PMArmstrong Flooring has announced plans to consolidate its wood manufacturing operations, paring production down to six plants in the U.S. The move will result in the closure of two manufacturing facilities—Jackson, Tenn., and Vicksburg, Miss.—in the fourth quarter of this year. The closings will result in the elimination of more than 300 jobs—215 in Jackson; 93 in Vicksburg.

According to Don Maier, president and CEO, the initiative is designed to better align Armstrong’s wood flooring manufacturing capacity with its current customer demand and to leverage productivity benefits realized across its wood flooring operations. “Although this change is necessary due to the natural evolution of the market, closing a plant is always a difficult decision because we recognize the impact it will have on valued members of our team. Our co-workers in Jackson and Vicksburg have produced quality flooring used by customers across the country and have supported the development and success of Armstrong Flooring. For that, we thank them and will offer them our support as they prepare for their next opportunities.”

Maier emphasized the plant closures will not impact product availability, service or cost to customers. For instance, production from the Jackson plant, which manufactures 2- and 3-inch-wide solid products exclusively, will be transferred to Armstrong’s other domestic wood flooring plants, reflecting a shift in demand. In recent years, consumption of engineered wood flooring has outpaced that of solid wood flooring.

With respect to the Vicksburg plant, which produces core veneers and plywood used in production of engineered wood floors at Armstrong Flooring’s Somerset, Ky., facility Armstrong Flooring will continue engineered wood flooring production here. There will be no change in surface veneer suppliers, which means product visuals will not be affected.

“Across the industry, we’ve seen increasing demand for wider-width wood planks and textured surfaces, and our six other wood plants in the U.S. have the capability and capacity to manufacture a full range of products to meet customer demand,” Maier explained.

The latest consolidation announcement marks the second reduction in staffing in response to strategic initiatives. Earlier this year, Armstrong realigned its residential and commercial divisions and combined resilient and wood manufacturing operations, resulting in the loss of 40 positions (FCNews, March 13/20, 2017).

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Armstrong Flooring to close two wood floor facilities

Armstrong Logo 2016Lancaster, Pa.—Armstrong Flooring released its reported financial results for the second quarter, which ended June 30. The company also announced the planned closing of two wood floor facilities.

“Second quarter 2017 results were disappointing to us and fell short of our expectations, with the main driver soft demand in our legacy categories, primarily residential sheet and wood flooring,” said Don Maier, CEO. “Our LVT sales continued to grow at a double-digit rate, although they did not fully offset the declines in other areas. In response to the challenging results, which we expect to continue through year end, we are taking active steps to transition our company to deliver our medium term financial goals.”

Maier continued, “We are intensifying our efforts on innovation-based growth initiatives, taking a harder line on costs and rationalizing our manufacturing footprint. [For example] we have completed our previously announced organizational realignment, which we continue to expect to generate annualized SG&A savings of $6 million to $7 million. In June, we completed the acquisition of Mannington’s VCT assets, which improves our capacity utilization as we increase sales in this attractive category using our existing production facilities. Additionally, we have announced the planned closing of two wood flooring facilities, which we expect to improve our cost position in the future. These announced actions, along with other planned initiatives, reinforce our commitment to achieving a 10% EBITDA margin by 2020, under a range of growth scenarios.”

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Wood: Canadian suppliers seek to play the ‘Q’ (as in quality) card

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.14 PMIn some circles, Canada is renown for developing some of the greatest hockey players—and teams—in the history of the sport. Well, the same could be said for the nation’s formidable forestry sector, which has produced some of the most prolific producers of hardwood flooring.

But it’s not just high volumes that some of these well-respected companies are cranking out. Many industry observers would argue that they manufacture some of the industry’s highest quality hardwood flooring products.

Take Rochester, N.Y.-based Installers Warehouse as an example. This wholesale flooring distributor ranks the Wickham line high on its portfolio of hardwood flooring products. Craig Dupra, president, has toured the Wickham plant on multiple occasions and is always impressed with what he sees. “Wickham has a unique business model in that it produces an enormous amount of product, but the company doesn’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor. I don’t know how it manages the logistics of it, but the company is very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still gets it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives retailers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen.”

Perhaps it’s the signature, tight-grained maple species native to the various Canadian forests where lumber used for flooring is predominantly harvested, or maybe it’s just an ingrained mindset embraced by the major wood manufacturers operating here, but there’s definitely something to be said about the quality of the upper-end hardwood flooring products originating from Canada. Marketplace reputation probably plays a role as well, observers say.

Abraham Linc, which took on the Wickham line late last year, also attests to the company’s focus on high standards. “Our entire team is excited to partner with Wickham and offer this line to our customers,” said Darren Abraham, president. “The high quality of the products, fashion-forward colors and design, combined with our commitment to inventory, delivery and sales support gives our dealers an exciting new line.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.31 PMAsk virtually any top distributor or retailer to corroborate many Canadian hardwood flooring manufacturers’ claims that their products are among the highest quality available on the market today, and you are not likely to find a lot of hesitation. Jaeckle Distributors, based in Madison, Wis., is a case in point.

“Mercier gives us a first-quality Canadian manufactured wood line that fits all possibilities in today’s ever-changing customer lifestyle,” said Steve Flanagan, product and marketing manager. “Mercier fits the consumer’s need anywhere from a quality entry-level product in their Pro Series to the most fashionable 7-inch pine long board or other popular species like hickory, maple, red and white oak, and their entire exotics series.”

Jaeckle’s experience with the Mercier brand continues to generate positive results. For 2016, Brad Myers, sales manager with Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors in St. Louis, won the manufacturer’s Best Salesperson of the Year award In addition, for the third straight year, Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors earned Wholesaler of the Year honors from Mercier.

Other top distributors are singing the praises of Canadian hardwood. For instance, No. 1-ranked Haines counts the Mirage Hardwood Flooring brand among its best sellers. “Mirage’s Flair collection features a next-generation finish called Duramatt, an extremely durable, low-gloss urethane finish that has the appearance of an oil finish without the maintenance required for oil,” said Shawn McCloskey, marketing manager. “Duramatt also contains anti-microbial agents and is 20 times more wear resistant than a conventional oil finish.”

Other Mirage distributors, including No. 4-ranked All Tile, applaud the virtues of not only the manufacturer’s high-quality products but also the company’s steadfast approach to manufacturing overall and attention to detail. So much so that All Tile recently decided to expand the territories in which it will distribute the Mirage brand. Specifically, All Tile’s single-source trading area for Mirage Flooring will be widened beyond Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Wisconsin, northern Indiana, Illinois and Michigan to include North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and all of Wisconsin.

“This is a great opportunity to provide a high level of quality service with outstanding customer service, inventory and technology to Mirage customers and help them selling the top-quality hardwood flooring brand on the market,” said Bob Weiss, president of All Tile, a Mirage wholesale partner since 2007. “We are very happy about extending our partnership with Mirage to a new territory.”

Focus on innovation
Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.20 PMMuch like their counterparts south of the border in America, most Canadian hardwood flooring manufacturers face stiff competition from other quality-minded suppliers operating in their market. To gain a competitive advantage, many employ proprietary techniques in their respective manufacturing processes. One common denominator, though, is the obligatory attention to detail.

That same emphasis on strict quality control measures is observed at Lauzon. As Priscilla Bergeron, brand manager, explains: “We have numerous points of control to make sure every step of the way our quality is maintained. This starts right from the forests where we choose which tree we’re going to cut all the way through to delivery to the retailer. We also have state-of-the-art equipment to make sure the quality is maintained consistently. We test and re-test to make sure everything we produce has the highest standards in the market. And we communicate that message to the marketplace.”

This focus on attention paved the way for innovations such as Sunshield, which is designed to mitigate the harmful effects of UV light. Lauzon also developed a titanium finish, which it says is one of the strongest coatings on the market. And then there’s Pure Genius technology, which aims to provide air-purifying capabilities for homeowners.

“We have won many awards for Pure Genious alone,” Bergeron said. “In 2015 we won the Best of IBS Award in Las Vegas and we also won the Bronze Innovation award from IIDEX Canada in the flooring category. We also won an innovation award at Domotex in Germany in 2015, and we ranked high among environmentally friendly products at the Greenbuild show as well.”

Even Canadian newcomers to the hardwood arena are looking to leverage the country’s reputation for quality products. For example, Uniboard Canada, which previously only produced laminate flooring, launched its first engineered hardwood flooring line (Kalista) at the NWFA convention in 2016. Since that time, the company has expanded the color and species offerings to give dealers and distributors more options.

Tapis Beaver, a Uniboard distributor based in Montreal, recently previewed the Kalista 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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.24 PM“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 their 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 Kalista brand down the road. “We have looked into the product but we didn’t start to sell it yet. We are still in discussions with Uniboard management to see how we could work with our customers.”

Other major Canadian suppliers are also garnering attention for their innovative approach to hardwood manufacturing. Earlier this year Satin Flooring took home a Best of Surfaces Award for Wirebrushed, part of the Generations engineered wood collection. The innovative, environmentally friendly product is treated with Satin’s proprietary, non-allergenic, formaldehyde-free Eco-Last finish with UV protection and an anti-microbial finish, which prevents bacterial and fungus growth. It also features the company’s SolidFused technology, which is used in its engineered flooring production.

According to Dennis Mohn, director of U.S. sales for Satin Flooring, the company only uses lumber from well-managed North American forests—a big selling point for both existing and potential customers. “As a leading user of one of nature’s most precious and inspiring resources, we have a special responsibility not just to our environment but also to each other.”

Many Canadian distributor partners generally believe all these attributes—product quality, attention to detail, responsible use of natural resources—translate into products that provide higher margin opportunities with low claims rates. “Wickham has allowed us to grow our business by leaps and bounds,” Installers Warehouse Dupra said. “By stocking the Wickham line, we have easily doubled our bottom line.”