March 28/April 4, 2016; Volume 30, Number 20
By Reginald Tucker
U.S. laminate flooring manufacturer Swiss Krono—formerly KronotexUSA—has been quietly going about its business making moves to bolster its position in the North American market. But when all pieces finally come together later this year when the company officially celebrates its 50th anniversary, the fruits of those efforts will be apparent to the marketplace.
First and foremost, new leadership was brought in to help steer Swiss Krono’s business in America with the recent appointment of Zeb Portanova as CEO, U.S. operations. A veteran sales and marketing executive who previously served with Eli Lilly, a global Fortune 500 company, Portanova brings a fresh perspective on consumer marketing research.
“If there’s one thing I’ve been successful at over the years—aside from general management leadership—it is understanding customers,” Portanova said. “I will be focused on ways we can utilize research and development in order to innovate in the flooring space. The goal is to learn more about how we can provide real value for customers in ways that they are not currently getting. The way we’ve done things has been good, but there are always opportunities to get better.”
Then there’s the capital investment component. In recent months, Swiss Krono’s parent company in Europe pledged to invest more than $230 million to support its U.S. operations in the form of a new HDF plant ($215 million) in addition to a new flooring line ($15 million). The HDF facility is expected to be up and running in 2018, with the new flooring line slated to launch in 2017. The expansion will translate into a 30% to 35% increase in its flooring capacity with the number of full-time workers expected to increase from 150 today to approximately 220 full-time employees in two years.
“This is essentially going to allow us to move completely upstream in our channels and really control the supply chain in a way that we haven’t been able to before,” Portanova explained. As it pertains to the impact on Swiss Krono’s retailer and distributor partners, “It’s going to make us that much more competitive and pull us closer to our customers in the marketplace.”
This aggressive pattern of investment reflects Swiss Krono’s commitment to the U.S. market. This latest pledge comes on top of a $30 million investment the manufacturer’s parent company made several years ago to build a melamine resin paper treatment plant in Barnwell, S.C., which started production in 2014. “All of this [supports] our move to be vertically integrated,” said Travis Bass, executive vice president of U.S. sales and marketing. “Heretofore, we had outsourced our HDF production as well as our paper treatment.”
Last but not least is the branding and marketing initiative. On the macro level, the recent name change from KronotexUSA to Swiss Krono is designed to emphasize the parent company’s Swiss manufacturing heritage while giving the Swiss Krono Group a single face and common identity. “As our company matures, we are taking on a much more professional management style which will benefit every type of customer we have,” Bass said.
From a micro perspective, the ongoing development of the American Concepts brand of laminate flooring—made in America using European and North American components—will be paramount moving forward. “We take our position in the specialty retail market very seriously,” Bass added. “We are a one-product company and our intent is to be a full-service, single-product provider to specialty retailers with the American Concepts line.”
At the end of the day, Portanova said, “It’s all about doing things that benefit our customers, whether it’s the retailers, our distributor partners or the actual end users who are buying our products. It’s a really exciting time to be a part of this company.”