NATIONAL HARBOR, MD.—Things are looking up for the hardwood flooring industry. So said Ed Korczak, CEO and executive director, National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), at the group’s annual convention here two weeks ago.
After a year in which the industry was down about 23% in dollars, Korczak said the association is seeing a 6% to 7% uptick in the first quarter of 2010 over the same year-ago period. “We attribute that to two things,” he said. “First, the consumer has a little more confidence due in part to unemployment remaining flat. Second is the result of pent-up demand.”
Optimism could be seen in attendance, both in head count and sentiment. Korczak pegged participation 10% above last year. “We are seeing optimism amongst attendees who have made it through the recession and are planning their come- back.”
To that end, NWFA’s educational program featured sessions on how to take advantage of a recovering economy. One such seminar was led by Mike Marks, principal, Indian River Consulting Group, who told audience members they needed to reposition their companies to reach a new consumer.
“The consumer today is visiting the Internet before purchasing a product,” he said. “In the past, they would rely on families and friends to get references. Now they do that electronically. So social media becomes an important part of your business. You need to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. You need to learn how to take advantage of blogs so the consumer recognizes you as an expert in your area. The whole world is turning to electronic dialogue, and to be successful you must be part of it.”
NWFA initiatives for 2010
NWFA is working on a number of initiatives this year. The primary focus is on helping get more U.S. hardwood forests certified. Unlike softwood, where the forests are owned by mega- companies like Georgia Pacific and Weyerhauser, 90% of hard- wood forests are privately owned, under 200 acre lots.
“So how to you get those people to certify their forests?” Korczak asked. “We are working with some of the major environmental groups, like the Forest Stewardship Council, American Tree Farm, Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Alliance, Environmental Investigative Agency and World Wildlife Federation. If we can get them working together, we can do a lot to certify many forests in the U.S.” The importance of this, he said, is showing the consumer that the hard- wood she is buying has been responsibly harvested.
Another initiative in which the NWFA is involved is the recently completed life cycle analysis for engineered hard- wood flooring. Conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, research revealed an engineered wood floor has a positive lifecycle analysis in its unfinished form, which is slightly compromised when a finish is added to it.
However, even then it is still considered acceptable in the lifecycle analysis for energy and water usage in the manufacture of the product, the length of the product’s usage and its after- life—how it is disposed. “We are very positive because almost all environmental groups including USGBC are turning to lifecycle analysis to determine the green- ness of a product,” Korczak said.
Aside from its environmental-related initiatives, the NWFA is also trying to build a communications channel with the A&D community, the goal of which is having this sector increase its focus on wood flooring. Right now wood comprises a small percentage of the commercial market.
The effort comes at a time when the industry is focusing on residential. Korczak cited two reasons for this. First, commercial is going through the recession that plagued residential for the last four years. Second, wood has never held a strong position in that market, and many manufacturers are reluctant to target a new channel when it’s weak.
“The other reason we are targeting the designer is because the average consumer looks to the shelter magazines for ideas to remodel her home,” Korczak said. “If we can get the design community to put a greater emphasis on wood flooring, it will expose our product to even more consumers.”
The NWFA even added a section of the educational program for architects and designers. “We are working with them on how to utilize wood flooring in design, for residential and commercial applications,” Korczak said.