Wilsonart to cease flooring production in the fall

Home Inside FCNews Wilsonart to cease flooring production in the fall

Temple, Tex.—As Floor Covering News was going to press last week, it learned Wilsonart would be exiting the flooring industry this fall—Oct. 29 to be exact—citing “the sluggish U.S. economy and continuing declines in sales.”

As such, the company said it will not only discontinue the Wilsonart Flooring product line, it will close the business unit’s manufacturing plant here, which opened shortly after the mill announced it was entering the industry (FCNews, June 19/26, 1995)—which is also when the laminate category took off as a legitimate segment.

Bill DiGaetano, president of Wilsonart in North America, said in addition to competing for consumers within the category, the company faced increased pressure from other flooring products. In addition, a long, drawn-out recession has caused many consumers to seek lower-priced options as well as cause strains in overall construction.

“All of these factors have worked against us,” he said, noting consumers continue to opt for lower prices versus higher value options as they look for ways to save, and competitive forces and foreign markets continue to put pressure on prices.

DiGaetano admitted as the only high pressure laminate (HPL) flooring product still manufactured in the U.S., Wilsonart is also one of the highest priced laminate flooring offerings in the market today. “Despite focused resources and programming toward building preference for high pressure laminate flooring and changes in processes, procedures, people and product, we have not been able to sustain any turn-around in our business. This convinces us that we will be unable to uphold these businesses for future growth or investment.”

Interestingly, even though more than 95% of all laminate flooring goes into the residential market, Wilsonart was one of the only companies to have success in the commercial sector. That is, however, until that part of the economy nosedived in late 2008.

“The HPL model was particularly well suited for the commercial market,” DiGaetano admitted. “However, the commercial market has not been particularly strong and is still projected to be weak in the areas where our product would most likely be used—retail, hospitality and corporate. We didn’t look for the cavalry coming over the hill here.”

Wilsonart Flooring is a business unit of Wilsonart International, which is a division of publicly traded Illinois Tool Works. Within a year of announcing its entry into flooring, the first products rolled off the line. With a powerful brand name that consumers recognized and trusted, it didn’t take long for the company to gain national distribution and become a top three producer in the category with a dealer base surpassing 10,000. Today’s number is about half that.

In the late 1990s Wilsonart’s exhibit spaces at Surfaces were must-see attractions—one year it had the cab of a company semi-truck “crashing” through a wall—and its after-hours receptions at Caesar’s Palace were record-breaking events for the fabled casino.

It hit its peak in the early 2000s with sales estimated to top out around $125 million. According to a Wilsonart International press release, flooring represents “about 4% of the company’s business.” Based on its 2009 corporate report, flooring sales were approximately $35 million last year.

While the company will discontinue flooring operations on Oct. 29, DiGaetano said the business will officially cease operations on Dec. 3. He was quick to emphasize Wilsonart will continue to stand behind products sold prior to and throughout the shut-down period. “All warranties will be honored through their designated timeframe.”

To do this, DiGaetana explained, “We will maintain safety stock for replacement claims. We will be announcing more details of how warranties will be handled soon.” Wilsonart will be posting periodic updates at wilsonartretail.com and wilsonartsynergy.com.

In addition to its flooring business Wilsonart will be closing its cast sinks manufacturing operations here, also on Dec. 3. The company expects approximately 50 full-time employees around the country to be impacted by the shutdown due to job eliminations.

When Wilsonart officially exits the flooring industry, DiGaetano said it will really be gone, meaning the company has “no plans” to license the Wilsonart name, which continues to be a popular brand with consumers.

For more information visit the above mentioned websites or call 254.207.7000.

-Matthew Spieler

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