Visuals, performance, sustainability highlighted
Oct. 7/14 2013; Volume 27/number 12
By Jenna Lippin
S. Paio Olerios, Portugal—Consumers today have many options when they walk into a floor covering store. Ironically, the one product with which most shoppers—and in many cases, retail salespeople—may not be familiar could be the perfect choice: cork.
“[Cork] has traditional and modern visuals that work with the American lifestyle,” Antonio Rios de Amorim, the fourth-generation president of Amorim Cork, told FCNews. “It’s trendy because of its technical attributes—as well as the fact it’s ecological and sustainable—and we believe the new visuals meet the modern design trends for flooring.”
Aside from technical, environmental and aesthetic advantages, Amorim also noted the health benefits of cork flooring, citing scientific proof that cork’s resiliency is good for the spine, joints and knees, and its shock absorption helps prevent injuries in the event of a fall. This was confirmed in a study from the University of Valencia in Spain, which analyzed biometrics and compared the effects of standing on cork flooring versus other types. “We have to let the consumer know about [these advantages],” he stressed. In addition, according to the company’s research, cork absorbs over 30 heel strikes per hour, the most of any flooring type, including carpet.
Cork boasts sound-deadening and insulation characteristics in addition to its aesthetic, resiliency and sustainability benefits, and it’s still within the price range of most mainstream consumers. The issue, many believe, lies in a knowledge and confidence deficit among retail salespeople and consumers.
“Our goal is to spread the message of cork,” said Antonio Rodrigues da Cruz, CEO of Amorim Revestimentos. “The more people who know about cork, the more they will like it and understand and appreciate its advantages.”
Though much progress has been made in terms of generating awareness, some observers believe salespeople are still not comfortable selling the product. Consumers may walk into the store asking for cork, but many times salespeople point them in the direction of other products despite the specific requests.
“The U.S. market and its consumers value products that are environmentally friendly and contribute positively to long-term sustainability,” Cruz said. “This is exactly what cork flooring is all about. Communication to the market regarding cork’s uniqueness will be the contributing factor to its future success.”
With that, the 2014 Intercork II campaign will be launched this fall by APCOR, the trade body which represent cork producers in Portugal. Building on the exposure and momentum of the original 2010 campaign, this social media-based, consumer-driven program will look to push more consumers into retailers’ showrooms searching for the fashion-forward looks that cork flooring has to offer.
If cork is the stage, then Amorim is the global star. The 143-year-old company is the world’s largest supplier of cork. Wine stoppers (taking 35% of the market share) account for about two-thirds of its revenue. What is not used for wine stoppers is utilized in everything from consumer products—shoes, furniture, bulletin boards, etc.—to building materials such as flooring, underlayment, insulation, gaskets and more.
Many believe cork is the most sustainable flooring product because no trees are chopped down during the beginning stages of the manufacturing process. Rather, cork products are made from the bark of the cork oak tree, most of which grow in Portugal and Spain. After 25 years of growth, the bark can be stripped, and then again every nine years. The first stripping, referred to as “virgin” cork, has an irregular texture and is used for flooring. The second round of stripping is also earmarked for flooring, while the third and those thereafter are used for Amorim’s wine and champagne stoppers.
Harvesting begins in late June and lasts for a limited time, through late July or August, as it can only occur once the temperature reaches 75 degrees. Workers use a hand tool to carve out a section of bark, peel it back, stack it up and move on to the next stand of trees to repeat the process. It is said that harvesting increases the cork oak trees’ lifespan; some can live more than 200 years.
But Amorim’s sustainability story goes beyond its raw material. The company strives to have virtually zero waste. Any raw material that is not used for wine stoppers, flooring, underlayment or any other product it manufactures is used to power many of Amorim’s manufacturing facilities. According to Michael Bennett, CEO, U.S., cork dust is a very good source of fuel. So nothing is wasted in the production process of Amorim’s cork products; “everything is valued.”
Amorim also participates in a closed loop recyclability process. Bennett explained that Amorim works with ReCork, North America’s largest cork recycling initiative. The organization has collected over 43 million corks, which are used to produce premium footwear components in partnership with SOLE from Vancouver.
Worth the extra expense
There are a number of manufacturers that market their cork flooring in the U.S. today, some at lower price points than Amorim’s Wicanders brand. But according to Antonio Amorim, “you get what you pay for.”
So what differentiates the Wicanders brand in the marketplace, creating an appealing value proposition? Amor-im cited a few key points:
1. Extensive product offerings including planks, panels and tiles in cutting edge styles and designs. “Different dimensions offer visuals from traditional cork to wood, stone and even custom design possibilities.” Amorim added that since the introduction of a wide-plank line in 2011, the average number of square feet per order has increased significantly. “These items have become one of the fastest-growing product categories, rivaling the dramatic growth that engineered hardwood floors enjoyed from 1998 to present day.”
2. Long-term durability of the finish of the product. All Wicanders products offer a premium finish utilizing ceramic nano-bead technology.
3. Continued investment in research and development. “As an example, one of the most exciting recent introductions is a direct/digitally printed cork floor called ArtComfort,” Amorim said. “This new product features NPC (Natural Power Coat), which allows it to be used in most commercial applications, giving Wicanders three levels of penetration into the fast growing, green commercial flooring segment.”
4. Ongoing innovation. “One product we introduced earlier this year incorporates the beauty of cork with the added dimensional stability of a plywood substrate,” Amorim noted. “This engineered cork floor with a plywood chassis will allow us to further penetrate the traditional glue down markets of the Southeast and the Southwest U.S. In fact, several distributors in this area have expressed interest in the products for their rebounding builder markets.”
The company has made significant developments since it entered the flooring business in the late 1970s/early 1980s with the launch of its Amorim Revestimentos division. The initial product featured was a traditional cork visual with a 30 x 30 varnish. Today, Amroim’s Wicanders and CorkLife brands tout the latest technologies and designs in six collections: Corkcomfort, Woodcomfort, Artcomfort, Vinylcomfort, Parquet hardwood and Dekwall, a cork wall covering line.