by Matthew Spieler
Talk of laminate’s demise may be greatly overstated, especially to those who at-tended Surfaces. Yes, sales have suffered more than most since the recession started. Yes, the category is under tremendous pressure from competing products like LVT. And, yes, margins are being squeezed razor thin. But none of this has stopped laminate companies from investing in technology and creating products that either mimic the real thing or have a unique look.
This was clearly on display as manufacturers rolled out an array of goods to meet today’s top design trends. As Gary Cissell, director of flooring for Nebraska Furniture Mart, one of the largest flooring dealers in the country, told FCNews, “I went into the show with the thought laminate is a dying category. But when I got to Surfaces I was pleasantly surprised with the level of innovation. It was very impressive.”
What exactly did he and others see during the three days in Vegas?
Touting the only 5G locking system with aluminum, Cindy Thornton, marketing manager, said Alloc’s new Prestige line is in a “class by itself. We’re not going to play in the low end. In fact, our entry level is others’ medium to high-end.”
She noted Prestige comes in seven realistic wood looks in 5-inch planks and five “natural sleek wood tones or earthen stone detail” in 11.8-inch planks.
On the Berry side, Elite and City Scapes are two new lines. Elite is a 12.3mm thick, top-line product in six visuals, while City Scapes is an 8mm entry-level line in six styles.
“We’re investing in new plates,” Thornton added, “and we’re opening a Georgia warehouse as backup for our distributors. It’s about customer service; between unsurpassable product quality and ensuring the product is in stock, we have it covered.”
With its new lineup as part of a $45 million expansion at its South Carolina facility, Fred Giuggo, vice president, had plenty to show for both the Formica and Kronotex brands. “One of our goals was to make this a domestically made product line, and now, thanks to our recent investment, we have lots of new capabilities to produce things here instead of from our European facility.”
In creating the offerings for the coming year, he added, “Consumers want a high quality product, one that looks good and performs well at a fair price. For example, Lexus sales are down, Honda’s are up.”
That thinking didn’t stop the company from beefing up all price points. Some examples Giuggo pointed to were Classic Estate in Formica and Beaufort Traditions in Kronotex. The embossing on the 12mm product has been switched so the high spots in the grain are matte and the low points glossy. “We literally reversed the plate.” Both come in their own package of six colors, yet the Formica line has a lifetime warranty while Krontex offers a 30-year guarantee.
On the other end of the scale is Dalton Ridge in Formica and Ridgeline in Kronotex. “Distributors asked for an entry-level product so they can buy Made in the U.S. instead of Asia,” he said. The result? An 8mm, four-sided bevel handscraped product in four colors for each brand.
In between, a host of additions and changes were made for 2012 to add value, Giuggo explained, such as updating the popular Formica-branded Messina line to include not just different looks but a factory-attached pad for the new Messina PA. “And with our new facility allowing us to be more efficient, we even lowered the price.”
Taking advantage of its parent company’s massive capabilities, Derek Welbourn, CEO, said Inhaus not only utilized the latest technological components to come up with unique offerings, it created a lineup of products that allows both distributors and retailers the flexibility to create specific packages for their individual regions. “It gives them the ability to carry what will sell in their particular area as opposed to rolling out a one-size-fits-all blanket program.”
To help with that, a simple step display was developed in two options—one accommodating larger samples and one that is more economical.
On the technology side, Inhaus unveiled Dolce Vita. Also referred to as its silent or soft laminate, the six-color line features a pre-applied cushion but with a different twist than traditional laminates with a factory-attached cushion. Instead of putting the padding on the bottom of the laminate, Welbourn explained the company has slipped it in between the core and décor layers, meaning it is just below the walking surfaces. “You can actually feel the cushion. Plus, it helps make the floor sound and feel like you’re walking on a real hardwood floor.”
Inhaus also used its European roots in helping with styles. Daniel Lang, vice president of sales and marketing, said, “We’re seeing lots of crossover in design—mostly from Europe to the U.S.” He noted this is true in the growing popularity of grays and browns. “Some of the styles were originally designed for our European sales but they are now very popular here.”
An expanded Hemispheres collection was one of the focal points for Lamett’s laminate offerings this year, noted Perry Coker, president of North America. Featuring the mill’s proprietary TruEdge natural bevel technology which mimics the rolled edges of real wood, the line has been updated with five distressed, exotic looks.
Despite having the time-worn distressed look, the surface is smooth. “It’s an extremely clean, elegant look yet can stand up to active families because it is a laminate.”
The nine SKUs in Lamett’s Soho collection were also on display. Featuring a brushed or handscraped surface and Tru-Edge technology, Coker said the 12.3mm Soho has both the look and feel of real wood.
One of the many strong points for laminate is its ability to quickly get on board with the latest styles and trends. One of the quickest along these lines is Quick•Step, noted Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing for parent company Unilin, which is also part of Mohawk Industries.
“Quick•Step prides itself on being the first to market with the hottest styles, latest trends and most sophisticated features,” he said. “We have the technical ability to produce visuals and an unmatched level of realism our competitors cannot. And we feel this year’s Surfaces launch is our best yet.”
One example is Reclaimé, which capitalizes on the growing desire to turn reclaimed, vintage wood to home furnishings like flooring. At 12mm, 7½ inches wide and board lengths at nearly 55 inches, Farabee said Reclaimé “creates a substantial feel in the room. We’re going after the consumer who wants something unique but doesn’t want to pay a ton of money. This gives her a realistic, sophisticated look at a laminate price and durability. It’s the best combination of style and value in the industry.”
Modello is already one of the company’s most successful collections, he noted, and is poised to get more popular with two new oak designs featuring the mill’s MetaLux effect, which “accurately replicates sophisticated wire brushing in high-end wood.”
In wood, Farabee explained, the craftsman goes through a labor-intensive process of putting a gloss finish on wire brushed planks, wiping it off and then topping it with a matte finish. “The result is a textured plank with glistening highlights. We have captured this effect with our MetalLux technology. The result is a décor featuring a slight metallic accenting, lending a hint of modern sophistication and excitement to the traditional warmth of the rustic plank.”