Although hardwood is one of the oldest categories of flooring, it never fails to evolve with consumer tastes and innovate to meet her needs. Her tastes gravitate toward softer character looks and texturing for unique and authentic visuals, while her needs are for a floor that will withstand a busy, often demanding lifestyle without the need for refinishing or touch-ups. Mills came forward this year to meet both those needs simultaneously with fashion-forward styling and finishes that promise to look as good as on the day of install through its life.
Making life easier for the installer, Ark introduced the Unilin drop click system on engineered line, starting with its exotic species in jojoba and mahogany of a 2mil veneer, 1 ½-inch overall thickness.
“Our customers have been asking for click systems for a few years so we wanted to research and make sure we got it right,” said Phil Reifinger, vice president. “We found exactly what we wanted to go ahead with.”
The mill also introduced to new solids; Rengas Cherry and Capirona Natural, and six new engineered products; Dadank Chestnut, Santos Mahogany, Wild Toona Nutmeg, Oak Brushed Linen, Wild Toona Caramel and Oak Saddle.
“There are a lot of products out there, from designer blue to funky cool patterns to basics,” said Laurie SanFilippo, marketing director. “Our customer base is those who aren’t architects that want a nice floor to last and be beautiful. We are providing a broader spectrum of products to people out there buying products now.”
One of the largest hardwood suppliers in the industry rounded out its handscraped offerings at Surfaces this year, said Milton Goodwin, vice president of hardwood. Engineered constructions come in hickory, maple, acacia and birch, at 5-inch widths and 4-, 5- and 6-foot lengths all in one box. Solid boards are available in chestnut, acacia, hickory, birch and white oak in ¾-inch thickness and a 5-inch width.
“Our focus is to offer specifically handscrapes to fill the void there and we are expanding,” Goodwin said. “Between the two [engineered and solid] we believe we have the largest collection in the industry. It’s a process, not the end all, and we look to grow that collection.”
A solid, handscrape was part of the hardwood line five years ago, but looks have changed so this is a total update, said Sara Babinski, principal designer. The visuals in the handscrapes range from midtone to rich browns with a few requests for gray. “Europe and Canada go for grays but it will never be our bread and butter.”
Armstrong also introduced a solid exotic line which is more value oriented and aggressively priced. “Value is a term everyone is gravitating to and getting more bang for you buck is something we want to participate in,” Goodwin said. “We want to be America’s number one hardwood company. As the leading supplier it is our duty to offer products that provide value and price in the marketplace.”
He said while most retailers have engineered or solid handscrapes, the benefit with Armstrong character woods is having a brand that people trust. “They don’t have to buy product that they don’t where it comes from or how it is made,” he explained. “Our brands are proven through 150 years and that is how retailers can make money and differentiate themselves in the market.”
Expressing good turn out, George Celtrick, sales director for the Brazilian supplier had a number of new programs to promote. One of which was the Statesman Series, a solid, nail down. ¾-inch thick, 3-¼ wide exotic collection of five colors of Brazilian cherry light and Brazilian hard birch. “It’s an exotic but below prices that people expect,” he said.
“We’ve taken the Brazilian species and Americanized them with names like Jackson Tennessee Honey and Lincoln Springfield Night. With the resurgence in contemporaryvisuals, these colors are perfect fits,” Celtrick explained. “It’s hard and cost effective.”
He also touted the Curitiba line, an engineered 3 ¼- , 5-inch wide FSC certified product in Brazilian cherry, tigerwood, timberana, designed for glue down installation but can also be nailed or stapled. “Its another big piece of the market and a necessary SKU. This is cost competitive and well made, so it is aimed at the audience looking for value.”
He said there is still a demand for exotics in today’s market. “The performance and looks are unbelievable. You can’t make a domestic look like a South American specie: No matter what you do, hickory and oak will never look like brazilian cherry.”
The supplier has released Seringa, in both engineered and solid constructions, anywhere from 3½- to 5½-inch widths. Thickness in solid is ¾-inches and engineered is 9/16-inches thick.
“That is all plantation wood: We are a distinct and proud member of th World Wildlife Foundation,” said Barron Frith, vice president. “We have a close relationship and work hand in hand to ensure the wood we are sourcing meets all requirements to be imported to us.”
Along with the Lacey Act, the WWF has its own standards to which it adheres. “When you start talking about illegal logging in the past and deforestation, they are very involved in protecting the wildlife and protecting all forms in the domain,” Frith explained. “I don’t believe there is another importer that is a member of the wildlife foundation.”
He added Cryntel can provide any specie a distributor would need to supplement.
The manufacturer of hardwood and bamboo flooring presented DassoSWB—strand woven bamboo—in three colors that recreate the look of traditional hardwood with a 5G Valinge click system.
The mill was also showing exotic hardwoods like Brazilian teak, tigerwood, Manchurian oak, as well as the obligatory oak goods. Those species are available in three constructions: HDF core, engineered and solid.
“Being the factory our self is an advantage because it gives us direct access,” said Rick Gill, sales and marketing manager. “It is also our ability to help a small business grow and be successful but we can also create programs for big boxes. The customer service is the same for both. Mom-and-Pop or big box will get same tender loving care.”
The mill used Surfaces for a soft launch of the Riverstone Collection, a handsculpted finish with raised knots and rich coloring, and a hard launch of the Royal Oak reclaimed collection in eight colors. Hitting the market at the end of the first quarter, 7 ½-inch boards have a 4 to 6mil veneer of reclaimed wood from Europe on an engineered core. Random widths are built into the board for a custom look.
“We have a very distinct product—not the price driven product that everyone has,” said Scott Peterson. “We’re very protective of our dealers and make sure they get their margin. We do what we can as a company to keep out of price wars.”
The company known for its resilient also showed its successful wood line at Surfaces. Jason Train, import product manager, said the Legacy line with aluminum oxide finish, introduced last year at Surfaces, has been doing very well as a standard glue down. “The glue down market will stay,” he assured.
As far as new product, the supplier is taking a cautious stance with new introductions this year. “With the ITC investigation everything is on hold (FCNews, Dec. 6/13,2010). We’ve been active in this whole process and I’ve found a lot of people don’t understand the full scope of investigation,” Train said. “We’re getting a lot of opinions and judgments but its all speculation. Once we have significant answers we’ll be ready rock n’ roll.”
The suppliers of exotic wood touted their personal relationships and attention to detail as its Surfaces highlight. “We have gotten to know the American markets and climates and our own product line,” said Lukasz Piatek, regional sales manager.
Piatek said its claims are far below the industry average of 5%, due in part to the quality control measures in place. “Now we slice wood instead of peeling. We went from hot pressing to cold pressing and use slow drying methods.” The company works constantly to improve its value to its buyers.
“We do business with like-minded companies that want to do business the right way,” he finished. “We don’t want to be everywhere but we want to be in the right places. We protect our customers.”
Harris Wood by QEP
The makers of Harris Wood, Roberts and Capitol displayed their wares in a “general store” themed booth. “It conveys all that QEP has to offer as a company,” said Jason Webb, product manager, wood division. “We’ve got the underlayment, adhesives, tools and floor. That whole bag of tricks sends a powerful message.”
He said both its solid and engineered products are primarily U.S. made and there is strong pride in that. “We have strong heritage in Johnson City, Tenn., and Harris has been around since 1898.”
Though the solid market has found good headway, the mill does stronger business with engineered flooring due to the ability float a floor with a domestic click line in everything, from character scrapes to smooth finishes. Highlighted on the booth floor was a new prototype based on its Trail House hickory in a subtle charcoal gray.
“From a manufacturer’s perspective, we’re the only ones that offer everything,” Webb said. “That makes us sound more like a distributor.”
For the show, the mill brought 6 new additions, or 18 SKUs, to its 3n1 Collection, available in 3 constructions per wood species and color – HDF, solid and 5 Ply for a new total of 36 SKUs. “The three constructions allows a customer to choose the product that best suits their budget and installation requirements,” said Melissa Hill, director of marketing. “Combinations of those constructions on a job allows for budget cost averaging to achieve budget goals.”
Home Legends also highlighted Renew and Restore, a collection of 18 hardwoods and five bamboos. Engineered hardwood comes in 3/8-inch constructions and bamboo flooring is available in 3½-, 3¾- and 4¾-inch widths, booth in smooth or handscraped styles. Installation with the mill’s Seal-lock, click joint technology ensures quick and easy installation with water-tight seams. The line is backed with a 30-year limited warranty.
Furthermore, all Home Legend’s hard surface products achieved GreenGuard indoor air quality certification.
The Brazilian mill highlighted its Coterie Collection, a solid on solid construction with solidarity technology. Applicable to both walls and floors, it is a high-end residential, designer line, of which many designs come from IndusParquet’s owner, Kiko Uliana. Jason Strong, vice president of sales and marketing, touted a unique “bling” line with gold and silver finishes on a handscraped solid, flat sheen product.
The Coterie line will launch with all its distributors in the first quarter and a new website to support dealers will coincide with the release.
“All products are made in Brazil which, environmentally, is the greenest economy in the world for one of its size, as featured on “60 Minutes,” he said. “Evidenced under the guidelines of the government, IBAMA, we only take 8 trees per ¾ of an acre. We use all our waste, and use it for sculpture wall goods. We don’t produce any effluence at the mill.”
He also talked a little bit about the breathe process, in which lumber is left in the mill for an extended period of time to dry naturally. “It is capital intensive, but you have to let it settle so it can reach its potential,” Strong explained. “We have product that has been there for four years. It takes time, patience and money, but it’s the right thing for ultimate performance and really cuts down on checking and bowing.
Brand new at Surfaces was True Bamboo, a new bamboo floor with a unique visual. “90% of the stalk is used by cutting the stalk vertically and steaming it to flatten it out,” said Dan Natkin, wood manager. A bio-based, renewable coating gives subtle character to each plank.
Heirloom hickory was a softer response to last year’s strong character, Black Isle hickory. “Markets like Texas still love the heavy character look, but this is aimed to hit the subtle scrape trend,” said Natkin. Three colors tones highlight the natural character of the wood.
Ravenwood birch also featured a unique process, utilizing a print layer between the stain and coating to add subtle accent. Subtle handscraping and wirebrushing comes on three colors.
Mannington was also showing Earlthy Elements, introduced last year. “It has built a subculture,” Natkin said. “Installations have been very successful and users are buying into it. Once a dealer sells one job it becomes more popular.”
Overall it was a good show for the mill. “Our space is different than in the past and we’re very pleased with our traffic and sales,” said Ed Duncan, vice president. “After the first day of the show we were up over last year’s first day. We’ll be leaving the week much more optimistic than we came into it.”
The supplier brought out to new products this year at Surfaces, one being Outback, with a distressed and rugged surface. “The market has shifted decisively to distressed rugged surfacing,” said Peter Spirer, marketing director. “The old formal look doesn’t capture the young audience.”
He said it was the first time in the mill’s short history looking at a specific market sector and developing a product for it. “You look at it and know you won’t be hassled with maintenance. It will look terrific over the years.”
The second introduction was New Horizons that utilizes new technologies to clone patterns from anything and fasten it to an unthreatened species. From there, the pattern is actually etched or impressed to the base wood. “It’s done totally at random so the floor looks natural,” Spirer said. “Hardwood slow growth forests are disappearing so we thought we could make a minor contribution to the protection of those forests.”
It also has SuperMax coating, similar to aluminum oxide but with a different chemical formula that allows for resiliency. Spirer said the finish contains zero VOCs.
The big news at this Canadian mill is its new green finish, Mercier Generations, which is Greenguard certified. A soy-based finish, the official launch is Jan. 31 but was previewed here at the show.
I think there a lot of people talking about being green but we’ve always been involved in that discourse,” said Michel Collin, director of marketing. “We’re green with real facts and now all our finishes are green. We’ve heard a lot of greenwashing in the market but we are bringing real action with this product the ultimate commitment to being environmentally friendly.”
He continued that when a customer is willing to look for green goods, Mercier Generations will be the perfect answer to go with that product. “It’s the whole package. It’s something we’re proud of and our customers will be happy.” He expects the move to bring new business to Mercier and its retailers.
Creating a buzz on the show floor was the mill’s super hero trio, the moisture-fighting finish incarnation of Aquashield. Featured on the new Meridian Pointe collection, Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing, said the line is the industry’s first solid hardwood with a lifetime moisture warranty. “If you use the product correctly it will not warp, buckle or cup. With a patent-pending milling process and Mullican’s moisture map, it will perform very well.” After four years of testing with a major university, the line is currently available in oak.
Neil Poland, president, said Meridian Pointe is the most exciting product in the history of Mullican Flooring and maybe in the prefinished solid industry. “At a time when the market really needs some help to drive consumers to upgrade, the benefits of the product are more than equal to the price the end user pays for a lifetime moisture and finish warranty.”
Also new for Surfacs, the Castillian collection expanded into solid constructions in oak and hickory as a designer-oriented product. Treatments like white washing and wire brushing can be found on 5-inch wide, 50-foot long boards.
New to the lifetime finish warranty is Claritage Extra, from PPG industries. With exlucsive use of the name, Mullican now has the brand, Greenwell said. To add value, it will be applied to higher end collections like St. Andrews, Deerfield, Meridian Pointe and Green Haven.
The Canadian mill, founded in 1988, rolled out its updated merchandising system, Zone, for its new handscraped and wire-brushed texture products in single and double tone colors. “Our display system is design to facilitate consumer selection for colors, texture, finish and species. It is more consumer driven instead of manufacturer driven,” explained Louis Morin, XXXX. “In the past, every hardwood flooring display was set up for species, grade and width, which was very manufacturer driven.” Retailers can now show larger samples in a 24 x 70 display, in very limited space in the store. The removable sample system allows samples to be laid out on the floor for better consumer appreciation.
Also highlighted at the show were the Original and Engenius series, produced entirely in its Canadian factory with state-of-the-art technologies developed specially for Preverco. “As a manufacturer we still sell lots of natural and 1 stain colors in the well known North American hardwood species but our research shows consumers and/or retailers wanted more,” Morin said. “They wanted more product offerings made with our high quality milling and finish standard, which they can’t find elsewhere. It is a way for us to keep differentiating ourselves from everybody else and keep bringing innovation to this industry.”
Retailers win with this supplier because, “It gives them something different to sell,” said Thomas Dux. “The market is moving toward casual looks and UA its old Charleston [character] line.” Available in domestic and exotic species up to 7½-inches wide, there is also an aluminum oxide finish that prevents denting, even on walnut.
The mill also has a line dry sawn from a solid which is cut into wearlayers and glued onto exterior grade plywood. The initial intent is not to be less expensive but buyers can still achieve the beauty of wood on a concrete floor with a stable, glue down application.
“We did a job at the Ritz Carlton in Croatia at 25,000-square-feet with this product,” Dux said. “They wanted a quality, hardwood floor and now they get that because the application allows them to glue it down. They can’t achieve that look with a rotary peel.”
Stock is also a highlight of UA Floors. “We have $1 million worth of inventory ready to ship from our main office in Pennsylvania but because of our styling we are in predominantly glue down areas and spotty in nail down markets,” he finished. “We are well covered from D.C. to San Fransisco in the South but we are looking for additional distribution.”
New at the show was Almada cork, and it was the “unique and sustainable” flooring provider’s first time showing a wide assortment of narrow plank format. “Instead of traditional sheets, it really looks like an exotic wood floor,” said Piet Dossche, president. The line is available in 28 different colors.
Its strand woven bamboo collection expanded into a click, glueless system with drop technology in colorways from basic spice to customized hues. A delustered oil finish is also available on the collection too, similar to the sheen on its Navarre line.
New to retailers as well, the Green Island collection is an updated, best-of-best in cork and bamboo in an eco-friendly display format.
Also along the value trail is collection of exotic and domestic hardwoods. Exotics are available in 10 SKUs, with high resistance, anti-scratch finish with ceramic particles. “It comes in a 6mil veneer in effort to be sustainable as well as value conscious,” Dossche said. Domestics come in oak, hickory and maple 1.2mil veneer on an HDF core with the DropLoc system by Valinge.
Castle Comb is another unique collection for the floor and wall in antique, rustic oak looks. In wide, long plank at 84-inch lengths and 7 ½-inch widths with an oil finish. “The village in England is the inspiration for the collection; it is the perfect setting for the product,” said Dossche. “We’ve brought the collection out because it has opportunity to be on walls. Even cork as a wall application is a fantastic product. With cork and the Castle Comb collection, we present a lot of opportunities. As an accent or featured décor, it makes sense.”
The exclusively cork manufacturer rolled out new product and an education program at Surfaces. Showcased on the booth floor was the Longitude Collection with beveled edges on the long side only for a linear look. It features a Unilin click system with the proprietary Greenshield finish and an aluminum oxide wearlayer. Four colors and four different patterns have a distinctly marble look.
The Economical series got new colors including an ivory and a grey.
Much of the supplier’s attention was paid to its new learning program for dealers, a combination of tabletop charts and Powerpoint presentations with installation and sales video to make the dealer comfortable with product.
“Dealers really want to know about cork and want to educate their salespeople,” said Ann Wicander, president. “We’ve made it so the dealers can get it. Its not rocket science.” According to her retailers, consumers are asking about cork so the program was developed exclusive to WE Cork. A distributor representative goes to the store and gives counter training with an easy to understand, flip-chart, learning program. Next, the dealer goes onto WE Cork’s website, watches two installation videos and a sales video. Following completion, he or she takes a 20-question quiz that is sent in to WE Cork for a certificate of completion and preferential positioning on the corporate website. “When that happens your salespeople have that proof,” Wicander said. “We need to make them comfortable to sell it.” She added it can be done online or through snail mail in hard copies.
“Cork is the flooring product of the future, the freshest, hottest thing to hit the industry in year,” said Tim Tompkins, national marketing director.
New for 2011 are seven 48-inch plank SKUs in Cork Comfort, a foot longer than the current product. It’s also gone wider, from 4½-inches to 5½-inches. “It’s a profile that’s been going on in wood for the last ten years, so end users will start seeing similar looks,” Thompson said. “It’s also more appealing to the eye from an installation standpoint.” Visuals are reed bamboo in darker browns without the reds and natural striations.
Wicanders is also updating its merchandising tower to offer the top 18 selling SKUs to coincide with a new cork underlayment offering, also new at the show. “We’re streamlining from a manufacturing standpoint and reducing the number of SKUs so retailers have fewer to sell that turn quickly,” said Thompson. “This makes it more profitable for retailers.” The samples are removable and feature room scenes and graphics to be consumer friendly.
As the direct manufacturers of what they sell, Wicanders sees itself as the premium brand in cork. “As the public becomes more familiar with cork floors, that will drive traffic to retail stores.”