October 12/19; Volume 30/Number 9
By Ken Ryan
For the first time engineered hardwood flooring has surpassed solid in sales volume. This market shift is not likely to be reversed anytime soon as engineered’s growth is fueled by numerous factors including versatility, style and design trends, and economics.
Since 2010 engineered has grown from around 40% of the market to 55% in 2014. Industry experts now predict that engineered is approaching 60%, and all indications point to its continued gain of market share.
As Dan Natkin, senior director of hard surface products for Mannington, put it, “I don’t think there is anything that is going to slow down engineered’s growth.”
Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), said the growth of slab subfloors has been a catalyst to engineered floors’ ascendancy. “Because of its cross-ply construction, engineered wood floors are more dimensionally stable than solid wood products. This makes engineered wood floors ideal for slab subfloors, which are more prone to moisture issues. Until very recently, solid wood floors could not be installed over concrete, so engineered products have made wood installations possible in areas that were previously not suitable for wood. This includes not only slab subfloors, but basements, kitchens, bathrooms and other areas that are prone to moisture exposure.”
With engineered wood the ease of maintenance appeals to people with active lifestyles. “This new generation does not want what their parents had,” said Mark Casper, national sales manager at Hallmark Flooring. “They like the warmth and natural beauty of engineered wood floors and the fact you can install it throughout the home. No more breaks in the lines of the design like you get with tile and carpet. The wood floors flow room to room through the home.”
When it comes to installation, engineered wood is more versatile and more flexible than solid floors thanks to dimensional stability and additional strength provided by the layer of plywood. “This dimensional stability allows engineered wood to better adapt to variations in humidity,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “It enables the floors to be glued down over concrete or stapled over a wood subfloor, making them much more versatile than solid wood floors. Engineered floors also have the required properties to be produced in a much wider format.”
Engineered wood flooring is also an attractive choice for consumers concerned about significant fluctuations in humidity and temperature. “Consumers seek out engineered hardwood flooring for installations below-grade or over radiant heating systems,” said Brian Greenwell, vice president of marketing and sales at Mullican Flooring.
Tony Mergreh, vice president of marketing and customer relations at Urbanfloor, said consumers benefit most from engineered floors because they offer the flexibility of creating better living spaces—such as fully furnished basements—that is not feasible with solid flooring. “Engineered flooring has less susceptibility to temperature swings, which results in less seasonal gapping and the unpleasant appearance caused by that.”
Some executives point to the increase in lumber prices a few years back as a major push for the engineered flooring movement. As prices increased manufacturers looked for ways to make more with less. Using the same raw material, 4 to 5 square feet of engineered flooring can be made vs. 1 square foot of solid.
“Solid lumber costs went up dramatically, about 50% to 60%, two to three years ago,” said Dick Quinlan, senior director of hardwood products for Mohawk Industries. “Prices of engineered did not rise nearly as dramatically. Factor the price difference with the range of looks and format sizes and engineered has found a sweet spot in the market. Lumber prices are not coming down to where they were three years ago and customers are just learning about engineered floors. Builders in northern markets, which were traditionally solid markets, are switching to ½-inch-thick engineered floors that they can nail down. You get the benefit of a better price and more stable product.”
Engineered hardwood also makes it possible to preserve more of the higher quality wood during production. “The heavy imports coming into the U.S. have made engineered the low-cost alternative in wood,” said Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing at Somerset Hardwood Flooring. “Also, new constructions and creative offerings coupled with better performing platforms make for fewer problems on the jobsite.”
Similarly, Justin Hypnarowski, wood quality manager at Armstrong Floors, said the long-term growth trend of engineered products is driven by the new home construction side of the market “but retailers in traditionally solid markets also are looking at this category as an option. Another important engineered trend is the migration away from imports to domestically manufactured engineered wood products.”
With increasing competition, suppliers are looking to find opportunities in the middle and high ends of the market. That includes USFloors, which offers retailers “good/better/best/ultimate” options with its Castle Combe collection. “We got out of the lower end years ago,” said Sam Ruble, vice president of sales. “Playing at the middle to upper end is advantageous to us.”
As engineered construction continues its upward trajectory, flooring manufacturers have dialed up their R&D efforts to stand out with products that perform well while meeting fashion and lifestyle needs.
Mercier Wood Flooring offers an equal number of solid hardwood products as it does engineered, but it is the latter segment that is growing “by leaps and bounds,” according to Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, United States. “Wider is the big trend and the only way to go wider is through engineered.”
Mercier’s Authentic collection, introduced earlier this year, features wide-width hickory and quarter-sawn white oaks in 6½-inch widths. “Retailers love the product because of its makeup,” Bondrowski said. “Because of the thickness of the veneer the product can be sanded and refinished, and that gives dealers an extra option to sell.”
Shaw is another manufacturer that continues to invest in new product development and advanced manufacturing practices. The most recent examples include the expansion of its engineered hardwood manufacturing facility in South Pittsburg, Tenn., to be completed this year, and the next generation of Epic hardwood.
“The rapid speed of construction has resulted in high-moisture concrete slabs, creating the need for a new type of product to achieve the look and feel that comes with hardwood while performing well in these environments,” said Katie Ford, hard surfaces marketing director for Shaw. “To find a solution, we traveled to construction sites and we consulted with climate specialists as well as premier wood and concrete scientists. We tested a variety of different types of core construction. We tested and then we tested again.” The result? Epic Plus with a Stabilitek core.
In what CEO Bill Schollmeyer called Johnson Hardwood’s “most exciting introduction ever,” the company is unveiling a wall panel system called Rowlock. The engineered product comes in both linear and diamond panels in hickory, walnut, acacia and oak species. “It opens up a completely new market segment for dealers with a product that can complement our floors or stand alone,” he noted.
Mohawk’s Quinlan noted that technology has allowed the company “to do things we could never do before.” Sales of Mohawk’s engineered products, particularly wire-brushed visuals, have soared, and the manufacturer is now launching a rustic antiques collection that replicates the look of fine furniture.