The great squeeze on laminate flooring—from hardwood flooring on the high end to vinyl on the lower end— has forced many flooring distributors to decrease their dependence on the product. In some cases, wholesalers have reduced their laminate mix by more than 10%, and as much as 25% in the last three years.
Clearly, these have not been good times for laminate flooring, which is not to say that distributors are throwing in the towel. Indeed, the future looks promising, which is being buoyed by new, high-definition technology to create ever-realistic looks.
“Laminate is reinventing itself with newer styles and designs, and it’s going to hit the market in the fourth quarter,” said Jeff Garber, vice president of sales and marketing at Ohio Valley Flooring, Cincinnati. The distributor is carrying two new high-tech offerings: Décor Wood from Quick•Step and Endless Beauty from Kronotex. “Both products are very innovative,” Garber said.
“Your mother’s laminate won’t sell anymore,” he added. “No longer will a product sell just because it’s laminate.” However, he believes the new high- definition technology could energize the category. “The looks just coming out are unbelievably realistic. You take the expensive looks in wood and make it at attractive price points, and it will sell. It has to look like wood, though. It can’t look like laminate.”
Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, Owings Mills, Md., said the laminate category has undergone major changes in less than a decade. “In my region, there used to be 24 laminate [names] seven or eight years ago; today you’d be hard-pressed to find six. There has been quite a compression: Wilsonart dropped out and Pergo is not really a retail company anymore.”
The problem in the past was there was very little differentiation among good/better/best choices, according to Striegel. But fortunately, that is changing in a demonstrable way. “Today we have very sensible good/ better/best selections for laminate flooring, which is what we were missing a few years ago. Take Mannington’s handscraped distressed line; no one who looks at that product doesn’t think its not hardwood. You can’t tell the difference. I can’t tell the difference. This is a very healthy trend to better position retailers.”
While hope springs eternal for laminate amid new technology, 2010 and 2011 have not been boom years for distributors. In 2008, laminate accounted for about 20% of the business at FlorStar Sales, Romeoville, Ill. But then Wilsonart, which was a sizable part of FlorStar’s sales, exited the market. Today, laminate is about 10% of its business, said FlorStar president Scott Rozmus.
It’s the same story at Adleta Corp., Carrollton, Texas. “Laminate is down significantly for us as we combat the loss of Wilsonart,” said John Sher, president. The company has made up for that loss with additional offerings in fiberglass sheet and LVT.
For CMH Space Flooring Products, Wadesboro, N.C., laminate is now about 7% of its overall business as sales plummeted 28% from 2009 to 2010. “Ending our relationship with Pergo, and the pricing declines in laminate, made it a tough business in 2010,” said Hoy Lanning, president. To combat this, “We revamped our laminate lines and worked very closely with Quick•Step to broaden the lines we carry and added new displays. We are excited about the new products the company is offering later in 2011. We have also broadened our Carolina Lifestyles laminates with new looks.”
At NRF Distributors, Augusta, Maine, laminate is about 8% of its business and dropping. Other wholesalers have also cut back on laminate while increasing product offerings in other areas, notably resilient and carpet.
T&L Distributing Co., Houston, expects a 3% increase overall in 2011 over 2010. To achieve that, the company has cut back on laminate while adding to hardwood and resilient, specifically sheet and LVT for both commercial and residential customers. “We are scrapping for every sale,” said Bob Eady, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We are trying to be the one that has the inventory to deliver, that our dealers can depend on. But that has been made more difficult by some of the struggles our manufacturers have had. I think continuing to support the national brands like Anderson, Formica and Mannington are also important during the difficult times.”