April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21
By Reginald Tucker
Much of the recent talk about a certain mass merchant and its ongoing legal troubles surrounding flooring products that didn’t pass the formaldehyde sniff test have mostly centered on one product category: laminate. But one positive aspect of all the media coverage—and the ensuing retailer/consumer backlash—is the opportunity it has afforded hardwood suppliers and importers to demonstrate their products do indeed comply with federal guidelines and requirements pertaining to consumer safety.
If it’s one thing that both suppliers and retailers stress, it’s the fact that not all hardwood floors are created equal. This not only applies to the nuances of how specific products are handled and treated during the manufacturing process but also where certain species are sourced. To that end, manufacturers are working closely with retailers and distributors to ensure they have the utmost confidence in knowing their products conform to regulations such as the Lacey Act.
“This is an area where we stand apart from the rest,” said Doug Leigh, vice president, U.S. division, Triangulo Hardwoods, a manufacturer and importer of tropical exotic species. “Since we are the only manufacturer in Brazil that sources nearly 100% of our products from our own forest, the chain of custody and the Lacey Act have been normal operating procedures from the start. As the owner of the forest, we are able to provide sourcing information that only a prime supplier can issue. Additionally, Triangulo is the only manufacturer in Brazil that can provide documentation for every plank in every carton from the stump all the way to the retail showroom.”
Some industry observers believe Brazilian suppliers have been unfairly scrutinized in this regard. “Many people are misinformed about how the forests are managed,” said Steve Rosenthal, senior vice president of sales and marketing for All-Tile, which counts the IndusParquet brand among its tight group of hardwood vendors. “They actually do a very good job of that in Brazil and in South America [as a whole].”
While the Lacey Act is most commonly associated with imported goods, the regulation—enacted five-plus years ago—actually covers material from “every country, including all wood and wood products harvested and produced in the United States.” And although it represents a certain level of achievement that hardwood flooring manufacturers and importers must strive to attain if they want to continue to do business in this country, some experts believe it’s just a common-sense philosophy that suppliers should embrace as part of their normal business activities.
“Most of the retailers dealing with our company today are well aware that we have a long history of being a trusted supplier in the marketplace,” said Dick Quinlan, senior director of hardwood products, Mohawk Industries, which also markets the Quick-Step and Columbia brands. “They have the confidence that we are doing everything we need to do to bring them products that meet all of those regulations. Due to our size we have a compliance team comprising several individuals whose sole job is to make sure we’re doing the testing and confirming the [materials] we’re bringing in and selling to our customers have been purchased legally and meet requirements. It’s a full-time job. We do everything by the book and we don’t put the customer at risk.”
This is critical, particularly in the age of the Internet with so much product information readily available on the web or shared through social networks and in online forums where news (and misinformation) can spread quickly. “There’s a lot more awareness today on the part of the consumer in terms of Lacey compliance or CARB 2,” Quinlan said. “Ten or 15 years ago there were no CARB concerns or Lacey laws. People didn’t think about these things.”
Nowadays, manufacturers have to be more proactive by getting out in front of these issues. Many companies including Armstrong, Boa-Franc, Lauzon, Mannington, MaxWoods, Mercier, Mohawk, Mullican, Shaw, Somerset and Wickham Hardwood Flooring, to name a handful, are making their compliance status transparent to the consumer by incorporating the appropriate seals and certifications (i.e., Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] or Greenguard Gold, among others) into their packaging and marketing materials.
Whether it’s engineered hardwood flooring products or laminates that utilize wood-based cores, the standards often cut across categories. “We sit on the board at NALFA [North American Laminate Flooring Association] and all members have to certify their products to the NALFA standard, which includes CARB certification,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products, Mannington. “On top of that, those NALFA members are often certified to other third-party air standards as well.”
Ultimately, observers say, it’s about ensuring the proper chain of custody across the entire channel, which—fairly or unfairly—puts some of the onus on the retailer. As Mohawk’s Quinlan put it: “At the end of the day the consumer walks into a retail store assuming what she is buying is legally acquired and is a good product. The retail consumer trusts that flooring dealer.”