Surfaces 2011: Laminate mills play it cautious with intros designed to fill gaps

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Las Vegas—In years past, it was easy to define the top design and technological trends in the laminate category as most introductions included one or both. But with the recession taking a major toll on the category, manufacturers at Surfaces were all over the board as they focused on rounding out their offerings in anticipation of more consumers opening up their purse strings as the year progresses.

That is not to say companies abandoned innovations or slouched on their designs; far from it. Despite lackluster sales the past four years, manufacturers continued to invest in technology, such as locking systems that help make installation even easier, and style through improved visuals and textures to make a product look as real as possible.

The difference from previous years was most companies were focused on how they could best fill out their product offerings, either through added colors and designs or with entire new collections. In some cases, if a certain design was working well for a company, it would use it on a new format. For example, a style previously offered only on a 12mm construction is now available on an 8mm.

Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Unilin, echoed the sentiment of most companies by saying the idea is to “give the consumer more value with her purchase.”

This does not mean the category was lowering itself to an even lower price point. “A good value proposition doesn’t mean cheap,” he explained. “It means offering consumers a quality product at an attractive price. A strong price/value relationship is of paramount importance to consumers.”

The following is an alphabetical round up of what a number of laminate manufacturers were showing during Surfaces.

Alloc/Berry

Showing the two brands together in a showroom off the main floor, Cindy Thornton, marketing manager, was “really happy with how well we’ve been doing. We’ve been fully booked with appointments and they have all been showing up. The distributors are cautiously upbeat about the year but have been really happy with what we have for them.”

As proof, she pointed to the Quick Ship display. “We pre-sold 600 of them.”

Among the new products, the Alloc brand, which is being positioned more toward commercial environments, was showcasing the Prestige collection. The line is the first to incorporate the new 4G aluminum locking on the long side – and the new 5G-S “side-push” locking system on the short side.

On the residential side is the Berry brand. Along with enhanced designs to its Lounge line and Tile collection, the company introduced Lounge-Plus, which features the same attributes as the original products except in a wider format. The two Lounge lines also feature new, thicker, short end drop locks for easier installations.

Armstrong

Also exhibiting in a showroom off the main floor, Yon Hinkle, product manager, residential tile and laminate, said the space was “constantly busy” with retailers and distributors.

While the company wasn’t showcasing much in terms of new laminate products, he said it was presenting a new concept to make it easy for installers. In one carton, Armstrong has combined 3-, 5- and 7-inch wide products.

Prior to this, “we had random lengths. In wood it is OK but it is really not conducive to laminate.” By placing a set amount of the three different widths in each box Armstrong has taken the guess work out for the installer since he knows exactly what he is getting in every carton.

For Armstrong, Hinkle said it is not always about new products, rather it is about “bringing new and innovative concepts” to market that make life easier and more profitable for its customers, and that includes installers.

Eternity

With sales up 12% the first month of this year over last, the company came to Surfaces with new collections and a focus on keeping its expansion going throughout the U.S.

To do this, Eli Shawat, president, said one of his goals for the show was finding at least two new distributors to handle Eternity in the U.S. Not only did he hit his goal in this department, “the show helped bring in additional prospects in a couple of other places.”

He said Eternity was able to meet this goal so easily because, “We have a strong focus on making good, quality products at prices everyone can make money with. People are disappointed with the quality, price and/or service they are getting from other suppliers and they are coming in the booth based on our growing reputation.”

In terms of new products, Eternity was offering everything from 8mm to 12mm, from embossed-in-register styles to a unique pressed edge. And, keeping with the company’s environmental commitment, Shawat said the HDF boards feature recycled content and  it is “trying to find a reliable source for recycled paper.”

In addition, he noted Eternity will be offering an HDF topped with a bamboo veneer. From this the company can print the look of another wood species directly onto the bamboo. As a result, “it will not come into conflict with the ITC ruling” expected at the end of March.

Formica/Kronotex

Smack in the middle of a $45 million manufacturing expansion, Travis Bass, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the company was using Surfaces to show its customers prototypes of the “loads of new products we’ll be coming out with.”

Taking advantage of some of the industry’s latest technological advances and combining them with extensive consumer focus groups and a Proprietary Design Team the feedback on the new styles was “excellent. They’re creating a lot of excitement with our distributors and retailers,” Bass said.

Even though the company will not start shipping new products until mid summer, Fred Giuggio, vice president of sales and marketing for Formica, noted, “everyone wanted to know how quickly we can get them the new stuff.”

As proof, he added, “We have commitments (purchase orders) from every distributor on the new Quintessa designs.”

So just what can dealers expect to see later in the year? “Our immediate agenda,” explained Bass, “is six Kronotex and 12 to 14 Formica branded products that will make up both new collections and additions to existing ones.”

The designs and constructions, he added, will include various gloss levels and textures, different bevels, attached pads and some “totally new things,” some of which could even be patented.

Home Legend

When a company has an official Walt Disney license and all laminate products certified under GreenGuard’s rigid Children and Schools criteria, it has plenty to talk about. And so was the case for Home Legend, noted Jamann Stepp, vice president of sales.

“The GreenGuard certification is a key reason we were able to obtain the Disney license,” he explained. “When you consider it is children who are its audience, Disney wants products bearing its brand to be as safe as can be.”

Featuring 10 exclusive Disney designs for both boys and girls, in a stand-alone display, Stepp said the collection generates excitement in and of itself. But, taking it to the next level is the fact Home Legend’s Disney license extends to rugs. Taken together, he noted, the two “make a powerful combination.”

Lamett USA

At last year’s Surfaces, the rage in laminate was extra long planks, or boards stretching to 7-feet or more. This year, many laminate manufacturers shied away from the style but not Lamett USA which has seen a good deal of success with its long planks.

Perry Coker, president, North America, told FCNews, beyond having the right designs, features and performance, one of the main reasons for the company’s success in this area has to do with how the products are displayed. “It’s been an inherent challenge for many companies to show the full length of the boards because everyone generally has a waterfall display. And you can’t adequately show these types of products in that setting.”

As such, he explained, when Lamett first introduced the collection last year, the company came out with a simple, unique merchandising unit to go with line. Full length boards are displayed upright in what many have described as a ski rack.

This year, Coker said Lamett was filling out the line with a Hickory look. “It’s something we didn’t have last year and have seen it become a popular look on the wood side.”

Mannington

This year, Besty Amoroso, director of corporate communications, said the company took a look back in time with the Restoration Collection. The 12mm thick line comes in Historic Oak and Black Forest Oak and is geared toward consumers seeking products that provide a good value.

“The thickness of Restoration,” she explained, “as opposed to traditional 8mm planks, appeals to consumers because it provides a quieter floor.”

Historic Oak comes in three colors and features “unique, embossed in-register technology giving it all the character and depth of a reclaimed wood floor with realistic saw marks and nail holes for a one-of-a-kind feel,” Amoroso noted.

Black Forest Oak, available in four hues, “combines the rich grain of oak with the deep, yet subtle, character of wirebrushing for a naturally chic look,” she said. “In addition, this pattern has a unique surface texture which creates a 3-D effect.”

Along with Restoration, Mannington introduced Jakarta Teak, the first product in its Coordinations collection to feature the company’s proprietary NatureForm embossed-in-register technology.

Quick•Step

At Surfaces 2010, the company introduced its GenuEdge technology “and it was a tremendous hit all the way down to the consumer,” noted Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Unilin, maker of Quick•Step products.

As a result of its success, and recognizing that consumers will continue to be price conscious the company has expanded GenuEdge to its Veresque Collection as part of Quick•Step’s strategy to focus on mid-range price point products.

Celebrity designer and Quick•Step design partner, Erinn Valencich, said consumers are “looking for ways to express their personal creativity and make their homes more beautiful, while staying within a budget.”

Two maple and two cherry smooth finish designs make up the initial Veresque with GenuEdge technology offering. “Veresque’s new products provide a lower gloss finish that is reminiscent of traditional furniture finish hardwood, lending a high-end refined look to a room,” Farabee explained. “Furniture finish products are becoming the logical successor to high gloss finishes in the next generation of laminate.”

In addition to expanding the use of GenuEdge, the company launched the Modello Collection, which includes both exotic and traditional designs.

But making perhaps some of the biggest noise at the show was not Quick•Step’s traditional laminate products, rather it was the company’s introduction of Decorwood.

Touted as a “totally new modern flooring category,” Farabee said it is not wood, and it is not laminate, “but the best characteristics of the two combined to offer the natural beauty and finish of wood on luxurious, sustainable, long planks.”

Utilizing HiDef Color Fusion Technology he said the company fuses color directly onto an eco-friendly substrate, composed primarily of pre-consumer recycled wood, and then finishes each plank with a semi-gloss urethane coating just like that found on real hardwood.

“Quick•Step is widely-known for our leadership in using innovative technology to achieve exceptional visuals, at a price attractive to the majority of a retailer’s customers,” Farabee said. “With Decorwood, we once again lived up to this reputation.”

Tarkett

This year, the idea was to keep things simple, explained Jeff Katz, director of laminates for North America. “The category is challenged; it has been for years as the big boxes are controlling more and even dictating things. How does the specialty retailer combat this beyond stocking a load of inventory that most do not have the space for?”

The answer? Sell only the best-of-the-best in a compact display that makes it easy for the consumer—and salesperson. To that end, Tarkett redid its sampling by reducing it to a 3-foot area as opposed to a 9-foot section.

The 41 SKUs that now make up Takett’s laminate program were developed by taking not only the top sellers, but using them as the starter for its design team and consumer focus groups to get their opinons on what was missing. “We filled the line in from this input,” Katz said, “and the initial reaction has been off the charts, especially with the three new items in our Trends collection, along with the new Frontiers offerings.”

The compact display, he added, was also gaining favor among Surfaces’ attendees because it shows the full plank. “And all 41 styles are shown this way making it very easy for consumers to shop.”

-Matthew Spieler

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