Less than two weeks into his new position as president of Australian-based bamboo flooring company Style, Dewevai Buchanan is on the go, boldly planning the mill’s expansion in the U.S. market. He has met with flooring distributors and expects to add partners in the next 90 days to cover gaps in the Northeast, Southwest and elsewhere.
“My first task is to ensure we have market coverage,” said Buchanan, who joined Style after 10 years as vice president of Mohawk Industries’ Wood Products Division. Style entered the U.S. market last May.
Founded in 2004, the Melbourne-based company has manufacturing in China and additional operations in Europe, South Africa, Asia and Australia. It is recognized for its patented strand-woven technology, which converts sustainable raw timbers into exceptionally hard and dense material.
“Because of the manufacturing methods we use, the product is three times harder than [red] oak,” Buchanan said. “We take what some might consider low-value raw materials and turn them into high-value, styling product. In terms of expertise, we’re strong in R&D.”
The next step is taking that message to the market and executing. Buchanan is the second major hire in the U.S., joining Chris Cox, Style’s U.S. sales director.
Peter Torreele, CEO of Style, said Buchanan’s “in-depth knowledge of the market” will help the company execute what he calls “our ambitious expansion plans in the North American market.”
Buchanan, with 20 years of floor covering experience in the U.S., added, “My advantages are industry and product knowledge; No. 2 is my distribution channel knowledge; No. 3 is my operational knowledge.”
To date, the company’s six distributors are Tri-West and B.R. Funsten in California, Wanke Cascade in the Pacific Northwest, Buckwold in Western Canada, CDC Distributors covering Ohio and three nearby states, and Suncrest Supply in Florida. “Our goal is to have complete market coverage in the U.S.—it’s one of the key things I’m charged with doing in the states,” Buchanan said. “The second thing is product assortment, then ensuring the products are launched in the marketplace.”
Despite a soft overall market for hardwood flooring, Buchanan believes there is room for Style’s green initiatives. “In this market people respond to innovative product, and in our case strand-woven technology is innovative,” he said. “If you look at the landscape as to what is innovative, what is going to be the on-trend product, or what is the on-trend product, that would be strand woven. All the positives that a customer or distributor would look for in a product, Style has.” He said that once the company has market coverage with distribution, its goal is to get product into areas “where retailers really respond to innovative products.”
Products and pricing
The company markets its products under the Style brand. All 60 SKUs are based on strand-woven technology and construction and products are available in engineered and solid, in either a tongue-and-groove or Uniclic locking system construction. Style said it was the first to develop the Uniclic locking system on compressed bamboo at the behest of customers who wanted a floating floor system for quick and easy installation. Most of the products are 5 inches wide and the boards are 72 inches long. “Wide widths and longer boards are both in demand now, and we offer extra wide and extra long,” Buchanan said.
Pricing will cover the good/better/best spectrum and the company expects to be very price competitive with other green suppliers. “In terms of styling, we’re on trend with our oil finishes, our fashion forward colors and our textured products like wire-brushed and hand-scraped, and we’re using the latest stain technology that gives you visuals such as Brazilian cherry and tigerwood,” Buchanan said.
Green is ripe with opportunities Buchanan said the green product segment accounts for about $300 million of the estimated $1.8 billion hardwood flooring category. “Hardwood expects to be flat to 3% growth this year, and this [green] category is growing well over 30%,” he said, noting that it is taking share from traditional hardwood.
He said in a highly fragmented hardwood industry, Style stands out “because we are one of the only ones who have significant assets in manufacturing.”
Style will target both the residential and commercial markets. The performance and styling of its bamboo and eucalyptus offerings play well in today’s market, especially with residential remodeling projects, he said. “Consumers want a lot of selection, a lot of different products to choose from. This is one that fits the bill. It is different, it is green. It appeals, or at least resonates, with a vast majority of the people; and it’s not over the top. It would fit with their existing décor.”
On the commercial side, the fastest-growing LEED rating system in 2010 was the Existing Buildings program, and this trend is expected to continue in 2011 given the slowdown in new commercial construction.
But whether it is new or existing projects, Style is looking to seize opportunities in Main Street commercial and other niches, banking on flooring options “that are truly green because they are from renewable resources.”