January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16
By Reginald Tucker
New home builders have long chosen solid hardwood flooring for many of their projects. Perhaps out of tradition, attractive cost or product availability—or a combination thereof—solid ¾-inch products have long enjoyed a sizeable market share in this key end-use sector.
However, advancements in manufacturing technology with respect to new engineered offerings that aim to mimic solid floors in terms of overall thickness are bucking that trend. These improvements mean that markets previously relegated to solid wood floors based either on local consumer tastes or regional climate patterns now have a broader selection of products and formats from which to choose.
According to FCNews research, the engineered category now represents roughly 55% of category activity—up from a 50-50 split just a few years ago. This shift is especially evident in markets such as the Northeast, which is traditionally a stronghold for solids. But with the advent of alternative formats, such as a ½-inch engineered option, professional installers and contractors have a product they can still nail down to the substrate.
With this wholesale shift to engineered products, industry observers are seeing markets traditionally accustomed to solids beginning to make the switch. “As you start to move around the country, we are seeing some markets that had previously used engineered flooring expand into some of the newer categories such as wider/longer products,” said Dick Quinlan, senior director of hardwood products at Mohawk. “Installers and contractors are being more aggressive in taking on new styles and designs, including wire-brushed and scraped products. Also, many builders are starting to recognize and appreciate the stability of engineered products. The core items are still selling, but compared to about five or six years ago the builder market is shifting more rapidly to newer products.”
The gradual transition, experts say, is a direct result of builder dealers doing a better job of educating new homebuyers about the features and benefits of engineered wood flooring products. For many builders, these new engineered products represent an opportunity to upgrade the homebuyer from a traditional solid strip product to something that is going to generate higher margins and, hopefully, deliver better performance.
One firm believer is Jay Smith, president, FEI Group, a network of contractors. “We see an increase in upgrade sales,” he said. “A robust, organized design center staffed by well-trained designers is still the primary path to homebuyers selecting better goods for their new home.”
Those builders doing a fair amount of high-end new home construction business can attest. NAFFCO, which services many builder accounts in southeast Florida, reports a growing interest in some of these new wider, thicker engineered products. “On average these are homes that range anywhere from $750,000 all the way up to $5 million,” said Pat Adipietro, president of the company’s insurance and builder and commercial sales division.
Suppliers are paying close attention to these trends and are responding accordingly. Lauzon, for example, recently introduced to the U.S. market a new ¾-inch engineered product designed to address cupping issues common in some ¾-inch solid products. According to Yves Myrand, vice president of sales and marketing, the product was well received in the market. Thicker engineered products were also the focal point for Wickham Hardwood Flooring, which is increasingly focusing on the builder and wood flooring contractor market.