By Ken Ryan
Following the scathing “60 Minutes” report on Lumber Liquidators in which it was accused of selling Chinese-made laminate flooring containing levels of potentially carcinogenic formaldehyde exceeding the legal limit in California, flooring companies sought to reassure customers that their products are safe and meet the most stringent environmental standards.
The report, which capped a seven-month investigation, also revealed Lumber Liquidators’ factories in China were deliberately mislabeling the laminate products as CARB 2 compliant.
Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), said the “60 Minutes” segment “certainly woke everyone up.”
According to Dearing, the fallout gives specialty flooring retailers a boost because it will allow them to leverage their expertise and possibly sway consumers away from the low-priced stores such as Lumber Liquidators.
“It’s a gift handed to them right now,” he said. “The ‘60 Minutes’ report was an indictment of Lumber Liquidators’ practices, not of the category.”
However, several said the damning report does impact everyone to some degree.
“This past week has been non-stop defense of the products we sell—American and Chinese,” said Bob Eady, senior vice president of sales and marketing at T&L Distributing, a top 20 distributor in Houston. “Consumers, builders and dealers are in some degree of panic. I fear it will hurt flooring sales overall as people are scared away.”
Sam Roberts, owner of Roberts Carpet and Fine Floors with eight locations in Texas, said that for some customers, there is nothing a Chinese laminate manufacturer can say that will give them adequate comfort. “If I were a distributor selling a Chinese-made line or a Chinese manufacturer selling direct, I would have the products independently certified by an American testing laboratory to be safe, and then have the results distributed to my dealer network and placed on every website [the company] participates in,” Roberts said.
A day after the report, manufacturers, distributors and retailers contacted their customers to allay any fears they may have. In a letter to customers, Shaw Industries wrote, “Recent news in the marketplace has raised questions about laminate and hardwood flooring products. Shaw has a long-standing commitment to sustainability. Shaw manufactures many of its own products, and we source from strategic partners in the U.S. and internationally to offer a broad range of products. In doing so, we set a high standard for ourselves and our suppliers, and we take numerous steps to verify that our products—regardless of where or by whom they are manufactured—meet your expectations.”
Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing, Mohawk Hard Surfaces, said Mohawk expects consumers to ask more questions about how laminate flooring impacts indoor air quality. “This is especially true for Chinese imported products,” he said. “At Mohawk, Unilin and Pergo, we can proudly state that all of our laminate floors meet CARB 2 standards.”
Other manufacturers, including Armstrong and Mannington, were also proactive in taking the opportunity to reassure customers. “These reputable laminate manufacturing companies responded immediately to the report, as they should have, and sent letters to their dealers the day after the ‘60 Minutes’ report aired,” said Casey Dillabaugh, owner of Dillabaugh’s Flooring America in Boise, Idaho. “While this makes us retailers more comfortable, it doesn’t necessarily do the same for the consumer. I’ve instructed my staff, when they field phone calls, to directly identify that Lumber Liquidators controlled its manufacturing and that particular product is unavailable to anybody but Lumber Liquidators.”
Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network in Shorewood, Ill., said its retail members received an email blast that included copies of letters from core vendors that can be used to address customer concerns regarding compliance. “Unfortunately the onus will fall into the hands of the specialty retailer to prove to the customer that what she is buying is CARB 2 compliant.”